Hello faithful readers and sock-monkeys of my imagination,
Just to let you know, my site has put on her big girl shoes and is taking her first steps in them over at this new beauty of a website (that I only spent a few sleepless nights on…):
As a student of the Bible, it is hard for me to miss biblical references and religious themes in music. Such language carries a certain amount of weight for me as I listen. If I am unfamiliar with the artist’s story, I might wonder if he too is a Christian. I normally know better, though, and find myself wondering what he was thinking while referencing these stories and what other listeners might find in the meaning.
It seems that biblical stories have become a kind of folklore for our generation–a common language to reference for impact in art and conversation. I suspect that the decline of reading and family time with fairy tales and classic novels have led to a more compact set of language, thus driving some to what they can recall from childhood Sunday school lessons and Bible-thumping friends. The artist knows that the overall meaning might be open to interpretation, but the basic meaning or background story he wants to get across can be said quickly and poetically with one quick reference.
In an NPR interview, Sam Beam of Iron & Wine said, “I could say, ‘Joe and Bob, where one is jealous and cruel and one is innocent and everything we want to be, they represent the duality that lives in each of us.’ Or you could say ‘Cain and Abel went to McDonald’s and smoked a bag of weed.’ It creates an economy of language.” You can see his latest use of Christian language in the narratives throughout Iron & Wine’s Kiss Each Other Clean. It is most blatantly weaved through “Me and Lazarus,” Godless Brother in Love,” “Your Fake Name” and definitely in “Walking Far From Home.”
In an interview with Drowned in Sound, Beam says that he would not call himself a religious person: “..but I’m definitely fascinated by religion, and the way it works and the approach it takes. Christianity’s a big deal here, but mostly I like to use aspects of it just because it’s such a big part of our culture.” How incredibly ironic that churches are fighting to be more culturally relevant by avoiding Christian language while agnostics are naturally relevant by embracing such language!
In an interview following their 2010 album The Winter of Mixed Drinks, Scottish band Frightened Rabbit explains some of the themes found in their music. Frontman Scott Hutchison said, “Religious imagery is a very easy way to express ideas because it’s kind of universal, whether you are Christian or not. I just enjoy using the imagery; it’s there to be messed with.” In a radio interview about their 2008 The Midnight Organ Flight, Hutchison said that he uses the “quasi-resurrection” themes because ” there is something powerful in that imagery for things other than praising.” In working through the dark circumstances that humans face in life, such a theme, “helps make sense of the world,” he says.
What should I think when I am reminded that what I know to be absolutely true is being treated as a common fairy tale by the culture around me–by musicians that I dearly appreciate? Do I burn my CD’s and run for the hills? Goodness, no. Do I ignore those parts that I know may be skewed? Nope.
When it comes to my favorite artists, I listen to all of the lyrics with sensitivity, taking in the intended and the open meaning of the words (these artists write with both in mind). I think about it more, sometimes even reading or watching interviews for background stories (oh, how I love people stories!!). I might end up appreciating the biblical themes according to my Christian theology, which gives their music even more weight as I listen and experience it. Or I might conclude that their use of the languages is so flippant and skewed that I would rather skip the song instead of grit my teeth through it, as unfortunate as that might be. No matter what, though, I am hearing what they are saying and listening as they process life and write poems about the simplicity of love as they imagine it should be. And it all tells me about the human heart and the music that accompanies it–in the most beautiful and hideous ways.
My favorite climbing tree looked like a prisoner, stripped naked and hunching over in the corner of our front lawn. I wanted so badly to take my shoes off and climb up to let its branches cradle me while I tore at deep green leaves and twisted soft twigs into halos. But Ohio winters would never allow for something so reviving in Ohio’s February. Every winter it’s the same; I despise the cold for putting all of my trees to sleep! And now in the glory of springtime, I adore walking down a sidewalk painted in their shadows.
God has brought me to live in four different states, moving around twenty times (I lost count of the little ones), and each time I have always found a tree or two to be glad for. Texas was a decent place to live because I never had to go without my trees. Even when I lived in subdivisions there, I knew I could at least drive to a park and find a tree to lie beneath. The Northwest has some sturdy evergreens to climb (if you can reach the first branch) and the Oregon coast (okay, I didn’t live there, but one week of road trip was plenty to make an impression) has those majestic white oak trees all through the country side. As I was relaxing in my summer apartment this weekend, I noticed all of the trees whispering in the afternoon breeze. That sound is so relaxing to me. I can close my eyes anywhere and imagine myself on our back porch in Ohio, watching storms crawl across the cornfield while the nearby trees braced their leaves against it. Mmm the sound of home.
I remember once even last semester being so overwhelmed by a couple of family-related decisions to be made and felt alone in making the decision. So I used a class cut and took a walk to a nearby park in search of a good tree. I climbed right up into that God-made cradle and cried and prayed and cried some more. Today I ate my lunch in Moody’s plaza and looked adoringly at the good climbing tree while it beamed in the sunshine. And I just have to say that I am thankful for trees. I can see God’s grace to me in the feeling of home that he lets me find in them.
No matter where God leads me to live next, I am pretty sure that I will be just fine as long there is at least one tree within driving distance. = )
Those two words belong together. I long for them deeply, yet must continue to wait and hope for both. In my longing for home and eternity with God, I always think of Hebrews 11…But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them …and remember that I am a stranger, a wandering exile here. I don’t even have a home to call my own on this earth (ah, the vagabond years of our youth). So while I greatly anticipate home in the kingdom of Heaven and remember home in between family moves, I like to listen to music. It makes me feel like I can quit wandering and rest for a little while.
Last week I was really feelin’ that musical-induced rest with City & Colour’s cover of Adele’s “Hometown Glory”for all kinds of obvious reasons. (I may or may not have murdered the replay button on this video ). So I wanted to post of that hometown goodness (and lovely study music) for you.
I’ve been walking in the same way as I did
Missing out the cracks in the pavement
And tutting my heel and strutting my feet
“Is there anything I can do for you dear? Is there anyone I can call?”
“No and thank you, please Madam. I ain’t lost, just wandering”
Round my hometown
Memories are fresh
Round my hometown
Ooh the people I’ve met
Are the wonders of my world
Are the wonders of my world
I like it in the city when the air is so thick and opaque
I love to see everybody in short skirts, shorts and shades
I like it in the city when two worlds collide
You get the people and the government
Everybody taking different sides
Shows that we ain’t gonna stand shit
Shows that we are united
Shows that we ain’t gonna take it
Shows that we ain’t gonna stand shit
Shows that we are united
Round my hometown
Memories are fresh
Round my hometown
Ooh the people I’ve met
Are the wonders of my world
Last summer was the summer from hell–emotionally, at least. And as I look ahead to my plans for the coming months, I am noticing a resurgence of last year’s feelings seeping into my writing. The following poem is definitely still rough, but I have found that all my writing is always rough and never finished, which is why I rarely publish anything.
Maybe you can help me smooth some of it out? That’s what the comment box is for anyway.
Summer allure rolled through spring grass in a sprint for the forest
I chased after through the field toward the promise of a sweet and holy fruit
You enticed me toward the lifted cradle and made for me a dainty halo
And I made my home tucked into your trees,
Wooed by your lullabies of things Greater Than These
But the Greater never came
And you hushed away the These
Until the day my mouth was open and the wind rushed out of me
“Will you climb up or should I jump down?” I sang from a teetering cradle on a dying branch
With an eyebrow raised and a plastic grin you called up through the limbs
“Young girl, stay put in this tree, there’s nothing down here to taste or to see
sing if you wish, but know that I have the fruit abundantly”
So I sang with parched mouth from a vine not my own
Pretending that some how this might feel like home
“Sir, this tree bears no life and these branches lack water.
It shows who you are, not a lord or a father”
With a jester’s response, you smiled and smiled
and bellowed and bellowed from a heart turned mild
“Then let thy mouth be dry and speak no more! For this is my tree and I am its lord”
White petals shriveled to chalk and fell from my hair,
To a ground far below where nothing could grow
And cries of protest rattled through the trees
While the wind sang of things Greater that These
Then that wind shooed at my halo turned ash
Swirling into black leaves with a hiss
In time for your axe to cut through the mist
[part two: The Running soon to come]
It seems that some people-not just imaginary friends and sock monkeys-read this blog and they are wondering why I haven’t written in a while.
So for those of you who wonder, a brief explanation: work 25 hours per week between alumni and teacher’s assistant, 22 credit hours (including Greek, which is kicking my butt), church/community group, editing and writing for friends, trying to exercise regularly, personal reading, writing and meditating, etc. In addition, I made three blogs for other people and contribute to two others and now I’ve been very concerned with http://www.themoodystandard.com and making that a treasure to my classmates. So. get off my case??
I promise I will write to you soon. Three of my poems are almost ready for other eyes and I (this is embarrassing) have 15 unpublished drafts that will definitely need to see the light of your screen in the near future. Is that agreeable?
In the meantime, what do you think of my site? Is it Alexis-ish enough, but still somewhat understandable to the ‘normal’ population? Suggestions are welcome. = )
peace to you, loves.
At thirteen years old, I was stopped by my own breath. To see it leave my lips and spread forward into the air was fascinating to me. I tuned out the winter war and stood still by the silo, filling my lungs with cold air and watching it twirl outward, suspended in front of the frozen cornfield just beyond our snow fort. A wad of snow and ice whistled past my head…Scrunching my lips together, I snorted air out of my nose, feeling the warmth smooth down my chin and seep between the folds of my scarf. Shaping my mouth into a rounded tunnel, I pushed more air out, trying to manipulate the shape and direction of my breath. I moved my head from side to side in quick motions, watching the stream stop in tiny clouds in front of me. Then, I waved my face around in circles, watching the waves slide and shift and…”Alexis, what are you even doing? The boys stole our snowballs! We need more ammo!” Right…
A few people have asked me about how my New Year’s resolutions are coming along. Well, I have yet to floss, this is my second blog entry and this morning is the first time I have made my bed all year. But I sure do like this new year so far. Somehow, by what has to be some miracle from heaven, I have been able to continue in my reading along with the Book of Common Prayer and learning about the Christian liturgical calendar and seasons. And I have been immensely more intentional with my studying, meditating praying.
Thinking about what’s inside me and watching it move outside and away from my body, the intensity of reflection and action–it’s thrilling to me. I revel in introspection and the motivation that accompanies it. I can entertain all of the new year hooplah bandwagon stuff because of this. If nothing else to you, it gives me more of an excuse to retreat into my own world and think and think and overthink and dream and plan and conjure up ideas and then I actually get to talk about it because everyone else is doing it (kind of).
One night during winter break in Chicago, as I was running errands on bicycle, I stopped at a red light and decided not to jump ahead of traffic, but take a breather instead.
I slouched for a second and rolled my head around to loosen my neck and let out a deep sigh. My breathe rolled in front of me, in an almost-startling billow. I watched it leave my body and spread toward the traffic lights, suspended in red and yellow, before disappearing. My stomach expanded as I filled my diaphragm with chilly air and…Green light, Alexis.
I kept thinking as I peddled up the incline on Roosevelt. What is inside of me? What is lurking? What is waiting? What is stirring? What it sleeping? What is lovely? What is evil? Whatever it is, none of it was meant to remain just inside me. I want to see it spread outward and either dissipate–defeated at the break of light–or twirl into thoughts and dreams of genuine Love and selfless creativity. Still trying to decide on thoughtful New Year’s resolutions at that point, I decided to just chill and pray and let go of my action 2011 action plan and let the Holy Spirit, ruach, the eternal breath within me, show me where to inhale and exhale.
The last few weeks have been especially redemptive for me. My breathing has been labored or hesitant at some points. At others it has been deep and reviving. My new year so far has caused me to just stop–amidst the battles, amidst the traffic–and just watch the breath that God Himself sighed into me. And I am adoring it.
happy V day.
When I was a little darlin’, I used to host tea parties and invite my sock monkeys, porcelain dolls and action figures. When I sensed a lag in conversation, I would suggest relevant events and topics for discussion: the most recent Rocky and Bullwinkle episode, our upcoming family moves, forest adventures with my brother, etc. Yet even with such riveting subjects, my guests still were not particularly chatty. I wonder if they only came for my sweet-tea filled china cups and Easy-Bake Oven delectables. (Hmm..comparable to some unsociable, starving college kids?? Maybe.)
Anyway, this whole blog thing makes me feel like I am talking to porcelain dolls and action figures again. Only I never felt obligated to talk to them or pour their tea in order to somehow be faithful with my talents (shout out to Dr. Nyquist) or invest in my future… [Sigh of reluctant responsibility] But it seems that “blogging” is completely necessary for the modern-day lover of media and aspiring writer. And if I ever want to be a big kid and have a portfolio that is a little more colorful than my MBI Alumni writing, then WordPress is basically an Easy-Bake writing experience that I would be completely negligent to pass up.
It took a few years of looking into marble eyes for me to get good at serving coffee and cakes. But hey, I have real people to do that with now! So maybe it’s okay that publishing “blogs” makes me feel like I am talking with imaginary friends–at least I have a creative outlet and an audience (be they sock monkeys or forced friends) to start reading the obscene number of unpublished drafts that I have been hoarding.
Anyway. Here I go with a head-start to one of a few New Year’s rezies. If you have a pulse, leave me comments or send me an owl to let me know what my writing makes you think.
Hate slithered into a mother’s angelic song
Lullabies spewed the deepest chorus of her lying
“But nothing with me, daughter, nothing is wrong”
The daughter believed until the mother quit trying
Evil struck the foyer’s Mirror
And they were blinded from the Glory days
The mother’s face distorted in bitter tears
She writhed away from the Holy Gaze
The mother stepped from the Holy mirror, her reflection clouded in disregard
And her daughter was left sightless, allowing her pain to surmount
The mirror shattered to a million bloodied shards
And the daughter’s only Holy crushed to the pits of the Christmas House
The daughter had no face to see, no song to hear
The mother burned the bridge to Heaven
And gave to the daughter her own terrible fears
Left her groping under the scorn of a Felon
Halt, The dance of reflection at her scorching inhale
Her desperate reach now met by a veil
Here, a motherless girl who cannot exhale
[from The Christmas House: memoirs by Alexis Berry]
Her legs draped down the steps beneath her as she sat sideways in the steep stairwell. I stood at the bottom, watching her cry and mumble about the lesson I could learn from this paper.
What paper, mom?
“This is me, Alexis!”
She smoothed her hand over the ugly cream paper, the air pockets slid to the side of her palm as it swept across a gaudy floral design. Her hand stopped where a line of blue flower trails had abandoned the wall, revealing the wallpaper that it was meant to cover.
I still did not understand.
“Alexis, look at this—this original pattern. This beautiful farmhouse. Look at this paper!”
I reluctantly lifted my barefoot up to the blue carpet, which covered the hardwood staircase, and climbed the first two steps.
The Christmas House never ceased to astound me; even the eyes of her walls were enchanting. I pushed my mother’s scene away from the moment that the house and I wanted to share. The pattern was a rich, absorbent gold spaced evenly on an upright stage frosted in a more delicate gold. Oh, the stories this staircase must hold. The wallpaper carelessly strewn over it must shame those stories. Two fingers from my right hand touched the antique paper, wondering at the beauty. Why would anyone cover this wallpaper?
“Why would anyone cover this wallpaper?” she cried, pulling me back into her scene.
She sobbed as she wondered what flaw the paper was guilty of. Her cries grew louder as the wall’s flaw became hers. She wailed as the House’s flaws embodied all of her flaws (those flaws that were never her fault).
“What bastards would oppress such beauty?!”
Such reality, she wondered. But this wallpaper is exquisite and real—a part of the house.
The hideous blue floral lines spread across the cream nightmare was nearly murderous. And those lines were oppressing her.
The poor thing, my mother ruined in this stairwell, while the Christmas House silently watched. She was oppressed too.
The poor, wretched thing.
I watched, no more than ten years old, losing all of my wonder at the gold, now seeing her face in each pattern, completely oppressed. The familiar cry of her imprisoned self, every time I dared to look up at it.
Then. She had to free the House’s real beauty. It was up to her to redeem those walls. She wanted to free herself. No one else would do it for her she reasoned.
Her nails ripped desperately into the blue floral enemy lines and returned an unsatisfying patch that left adhesive residue on her gold frosted wall face.
“Help me tear this off!!!”
She frantically scratched for another strip of cream paper, trying to will me with her tears. But I stood frozen in the stairwell, watching her cry, hoping she would not drag me into this wallpaper liberation.
Whether I joined the rebellion or cowarded back down the stairs, I simply cannot remember. But I do remember wanting that pattern too. That pretty frosted antique character in the mysterious Christmas House. That House that blushed and curtsied in the spotlight that only a crazy woman and her confused daughter would shine upon her.
Sometimes I am actually grateful that I didn’t grow up in the church world (we’ll save why for another post).There are many other times, though, where I feel like I missed out. For example I had no idea who C.S. Lewis was until almost three years ago! Another example: hymns. What an exquisite treasure to Christianity we have in these profound works of literature! And save for those occasional and random moments when people decide to start singing an old hymn and I am left humming and trying to listen to the words, there are hardly opportunities today for us to really value the depth of hymns together-even in the churches. Tragic.
I’m not going to lie, most of the hymn knowledge I have so far has come from listening to Sufjan Steven’s during the holidays. I think I must have replayed “Come Thou Fount” for three days straight the first time I really listened to it. What better way to be exposed to such humble understandings of our relationship to the Holy God, than by way of banjo?
Have you heard of the Autumn Film? No? Well, you probably haven’t heard of their other musical endeavour then: Page CXVI (yeah C.S. Lewis reference). Basically they are trying to revive the spirit and practice of worshipping with hymns. I rather adore what they are doing.
So I know that “I’ve got the joy, joy, etc” isn’t a typical hymn that you would find someone appreciating for its musical or lyrical depth, but oh. my. word. What they did with it makes me say, “I feel ya, woman. I feel ya.” And then I praise Jesus.
And I can’t understand. And I can’t pretend that this will be alright in the end.
So I’ll try my best and lift up my chest to sing. about this. joy. joy. joy.
So I’ll be happy…
Paul K and I graced Warped Tour Chicago with our painfully cool presence. It was my first one ever. My assessment goes like this:
Dislike: I ate popcorn and Laffy Taffy to nourish my body. Later I washed it down with a $6 lemonade.
Like: Having a friend to finish the popcorn and lemonade so i don’t throw up. Thanks Paul!
Dislike: People with backpacks in the mosh pit. Really, fools?
Like: Feeling useful in operation: don’t let the crowdsurfers fall!
Dislike: Mike Poser
Like: There were hardly any Tooth and Nail bands that I would normally be stoked about. Instead we checked out bands that I hadn’t experienced too much of/at all. Good thinkin’.
Dislike: People not being concerned over the injured/ill musicians that they seem to care so much about. Maybe they did pay $40 and put up with NeverShoutNever’s screaming female crowd just to see Sum 41. But yelling “F**k you!” at Kevin Lyman, who I am sure was more bummed than you were? – Jerks.
Like: Bryce Avary’s cheer (and ridiculous talent) and Breathe Electric’s catchy dance parties.
Dislike: F**k at every rest and second-hand smoke from kids.
Like: Running around in a circle like a bunch of hooligans, dancing to We The King’s cover of The Middle.
Here’s their recap:
(Don’t worry, concerned citizens: we were not in Every Time I Die’s crawl of death)
After all of that perfectly weathered, healthy-paced craziness, though, I have to say that I am infinitely inspired. Every under-dressed, over-painted young person I saw reminded me of why I am in Bible school and working with youth. Every piece of literature I saw (especially the ones in need of editing) encouraged me to stay on the Print Media track. And the endless hours I’ve spent reading interviews and watching tour blogs gave me this concern for all of the vagabond band members that I know God will let me work with and do something snazzy with one day. Gaahhh the love. I just wanted to hug every person I saw (except for the guy that purposely cut two layered V-necks all the way down to display his chestpiece, his rib cage and his belly button; Ew. no hugs from me).
Poor Paul. The entire day I was rambling and beaming about all of the crazy ideas I have involving youth, media and music: a concert venue (that offers affordable water) and really loves on their guest bands; kids getting to know the band members and writing about them, being all creative and making their own influence…Oh, and me writing features and reviews that are infinitely inspiring…and, and, and…
Thanks for the day of churnin’ churnin’ youthful dreams, Warped Tour. And for carrying around all of that Willy Wonka candy and jumping around like a crazy fool with me, thanks Paul.
Roughly 4.8% of the people in my life know how terribly disappointing the month of June was for me. Those same people give or take a few also knew how eager I was to flee Chicago for a week and get my summer sunburn. Always such great expectations.
After I stayed up the night before doing absolutely nothing legitimate, Leighanna and I met at the airport and flew from Chicago to Houston.
Annoying society observation: people refuse to sit next to strangers until made to do so. Why is it necessary to leave a seat in between, making it difficult for families (or sisters) to sit next to one another? C’mon.
Neither one of us paid attention to our baggage claim info. Our parents are good for that stuff and we were on their time now. Ah…and there they were laughing at how alike we looked (drowsy and unintentionally matching) Leighanna gets mom hug, Alexis gets dad hug. Switch. Jarhett arrives. More hugs. Switch. And onward to the mom-cooked food.
What do the “grown-up” kids and their empty-nesting parents do for a vacation? Water park! We stayed at the Schlitterbahn Resort and were a bit more excited about the legendary water rides than the little children running around the park. Lined and talking time ‘a plenty.A couple days, some lost sunglasses, way sketchy food and a jelly shoe funeral later, we spent the 4 hour ride home discussing politics and economics. Talking time ‘a plenty. Another day later, we rented a boat and sped around the gulf bay, stopping every now and then to get out the raft and own some waves. By the end of the day, the Texas sun owned our skins…And before we knew it, everyone was whipping out his/her own way of saying goodbye. Texas talkin’ over.
Begin journey back to Chicago. “Leighanna, I don’t know how I feel about what just happened…”
And thank you God for a sister to have a completely necessary conversation with. We talked of creative freedoms, individual viewpoints, family ideals, purpose, biological dynamics, knowing each other, etc. and that it’s okay for those things to not be understood between parents and “kids.”
I struggled with the thought of us not agreeing as we form our own opinions, afraid of the thought of some root of dissension or judgment between everyone. What if we become one of those families that just debates over everything? Ick. And, even though my parents have always supported my pursuits (though they never fully understand why I’m going for those things), I still fear that what I aim for in life will mean less if they don’t get it and share my zeal for what I’m doing. But those aren’t fair expectations for them or for me.
I like talking through the growing up things with Leighanna.
Texas was actually a good break from my expectations, to say the least.
I appreciated the dad hugs, the mom food, brother-sisters time, and the thought-provoking talking. These are things I was ready and eager for. But I’m even more grateful for everything I was sent away thinking about and processing. Sigh. Growing up. It’s so not what I pictured when I was wishing for adulthood at 10 years old.
The Lord has promised good to me. His word my hope secures. He will my shield and portion be, As long as life endures. Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail, And mortal life shall cease, I shall possess within the veil, A life of joy and peace.
Some nights you might find me cross-legged in the center of my bedroom floor–my black tank again wearing through the red stitches it’s been mended twice with, my green scrub pants reminding me of the smell of bleach we wore together at the boarding home. Don’t try to approach me though; you might slip on the sea of glass I’ve tried to make for myself. My beads drown the carpet in deep, twisted hues while I add to and string them together–So walk lightly if you must, and take care to not find one stabbed into your heel.
What began as creative devotion for me turned into a consuming need that chained up the freedom I had through expression. The beads were for my Love, painted for him, to shimmer around his throne. As I set my hands to them, losing sleep over them, I moved with no desire besides offering them to the Artist of eternity. But now, as I work through the night, catching a passionless reflection in the window pane, it’s hard to picture these beads adorning anything lovely besides my bones.
When I loved my beads too much and caught their reflections of praise, I began to resent them, but could not resist a need for making worth in them. So I let my attention shift to the mirror where I could better accommodate the want for worth. As I stare at my spiritless frame, I love the lines, the dramatic structure complemented by deeply painted drops of glass. For all of the flaws I so easily find in my appearance, these jewels make up for it. They dazzle the skin that stretches at the base of my neck and smooths over the collar bones that hold the weight of a thousand beads.
So I add to my collection daily, fashioning heavy glass necklaces that twist and tangle across my chest and drape over my shoulders. They form the most impossible knots anymore–hence my glistening bedroom floor. But I still need them. I need to keep creating them, because if I stop I fear that that the creative devotion they began with will never be recovered. And I need them to see and to touch and to be able to show others and to show God. What if I don’t have them anymore? Where will I master beauty without them? What will I say without them? Further the thought of my neck being exposed to the unpredictable breeze, once again touching my skin, is terrifying.
Recently something that Paul wrote caused me to close my eyes and look at myself: This girlish, prideful island in the middle of a sea of sinful beads was what I saw. I saw that I am horribly guilty of an obsession with control (feel free to sing Mutemath here) and blatantly disregarding a truth that scares me: For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
God revealed to me the skewed intentions of my works and their inability to result in anything good apart from his work. What begin as devotion and expression, I often let become a requirement and expectation for goodness, resulting in an obsession and yoke that eventually wears me into exhaustion. And my anxiousness about expectations and pursuits that, at the end of the day weigh nothing against the glory of God, only spit in his saving face. My arrogance and independent insistence says, “That thing you did on the cross? Thanks, but uh I got this covered here today. I like my [limited] perspective here where I can see things that You are obviously missing from where You are…”
But I don’t want to be the prideful wretch that turns away help and life, thinking she needs to do everything better and on her own. I have been set free and I can no longer shut my eyes to this and try to make my own freedom, my own life, my own beauty. Paul says that our freedom comes through faith in God and His grace to us (Gal 5:4). So, he tells us to live like it means something to us, For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait for the hope of righteousness. (Gal 5:5)
It’s a sin for me to add to the mess of beaded burdens around my shoulders. They cascade in their own bitter splendor and spill onto the floor as a sea of unmanageable glass. So here I draw the line and say that what I create and what I pursue are never things to be consumed by. My worth and my righteousness are in no way dependent upon or even reflected by these things. And when I let my art, my education, my volunteering, my anything become supreme in my life, I hope that I will hear these words again and again reminding me that I have peace with God through Christ and that this is eternally freeing and never oppressing.
Saint James says that we can control the entire body with our tongues, like the bridle of a horse or the rudder of a ship. Taming the tongue can tame the body. We are going to stand before Jesus one day and give an account of what we did while in our body, whether good or bad (2 Cor. 5). And if our speech is so closely tied with the rest of how we discipline our bodies, how are we not more concerned with the impact of what we say?
In his letter, James addresses a church that simply is not loving one another. They are worried about money and social status, ignoring the true needs of each other and those outside of their group. And when they sensed tension and strife within the church, they are speaking harshly toward one another, only fanning the flames of contention and pride. They are destroying each other with their words, burning each other’s wounds and fears with salt.
Who hasn’t been both blessed and burned by the words of someone trusted? Who hasn’t experienced the immense power of speech? James says that uncontrolled, they can start vicious fires, turning the life of entire forests into ash–just from one.small.spark. How many forests have we seen burned down by a careless confrontation or two? How many sparks have we thrown into already choking thickets of uncertainty?
The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body…It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
Great. Not only is my tongue a match. Now it’s a flammable toxin itself. (And those, I guess, destroy the ozone layer and will melt and suffocate the entire earth into ultimate extinction! Flaming, poisonous tongues, oh no!)
I don’t think that James is saying that we shouldn’t talk because our words have no potential or goodness.
But he wants us to know the weight and the potential of our speech.
Words can kiss. Words can kill. They can warn and save, and they can sleep and coward.
The proverbs are all about wisdom and showing where our talk comes from and that they can hurt and they can heal. The prophets were called to ministry through their words alone – what they said would often be a bridge between the wrath and the mercy of God (hello, Ezekiel 33).
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring…neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
What we say has to come from more than just a whip of our tongues. When our words just happen to spew in every direction without any care for the depth they should come from or the ground they should fall on, flames are kindled, only a slight fan away from a merciless, uncontrollable fire. To praise God and to love our neighbors, our hearts have to be filled with what is true and eternal. What is this pool of refreshing goodness – the Word of God. Fill yourself with goodness and your words will be like the sweet rain falling on a parched land. Fill yourself with shallow thoughts and empty pursuits and your words will spark the same hopelessness wherever they are cast.
Jesus says it best, when confronting the fancy-talkin’ Pharises:
For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.
Store goodness within yourself!
From day one I’ve been an out-of-control mess of questions. My first breath was a desperate grasp for air in an alien world, screaming and crying like someone was already trying to undo the precious form that God had just spent nine months stitching together. There was no trust, no peace in me from the beginning.
I cursed the wilderness of my childhood, wondering how long I could bare it and into whose hands my life would fall. Stories and imaginary scenarios that I controlled distracted me from the most oppressing years. And even though I know who actually protected my life and captured my heart in those days, I still spit questions back in His face today.
My insolence carries on with this notion that He gets carried into the tides of my emotions and imagination, completely forgetting about the needs I think I have and the questions that plague me.
My questions in life have been relentless, sliding into every corner of my mind at any given time. And after hearing so much hype and hooplah in the Christian culture about navigating the will of God and having a ministry plan, goals, etc, my questions persist in what I have been led to think where so vital to my life as a disciple.
And I have the audacity to act like my questions are intended for heavenly purposes.
Where will I go? How do I get there? Will I know that its from You? Are you sure I can handle that?
What will become of the rest of summer? Where will we leave? How will we afford it? What should I pursue?
By whose side will I be? Are You sure I can handle that friendship?
On that day that day, when I escape this world, will You say Well done? Or will I have fallen asleep and been folded into the waters of complacency by then?
And even when I speak these questions before God, they’re still mine. I own their purposes and fears, casting them forth as I please. Sometimes flinging them like a yo-yo with a string still laced through my fingers. The ideal of knowing, of having something remotely visible to hold on to, to trust in, to call my own, and to control – it becomes my idol.
Yet I still slam my fists on the table before God, demanding an answer.
And when I see His calm demeanor remain steadfast before me and His hands gently slide across the table to clean up the heaping pile of distrust away from me, I see the vanity in every single question.
The truth is that His answers straight up terrify me. Sometimes He doesn’t even wait for me to let go. He rips the question marks from my fists, replacing them with immovable periods before I even get a chance to say goodbye to their romantic ideas.
The fact is that I am not entitled to know anything. The only knowledge that I can be sure of comes from the mercy of God and does not resemble any pea-brain concoction I could ever try for.
A scholar once asked Mother Teresa to pray for him to have clarity from God so that he would know exactly what He should be doing for God. She refused to pray for clarity. He protested, insisting that he only wants what she has had her entire life. Mother Teresa replied, “I do not have clarity, what I have is trust. I will pray that you can learn to trust God every day. He will show you what to do each step of the way.”
Francis Chan and Kendall Payne smacked me in the face with this:
She calls me away,
Untouched by the storm.
Into her lily bouquet.
Nothing will taunt me. nothing will taint me.
I love your still obscurity.
Her gentle waves wrap me in a shroud of calm.
She turns my body deeper, deeper into the grey.
The crystal waters kiss the surface of my flesh.
My bones creak as she rocks me away and away and away.
I have tasted of your colorless mystery.
The sway, the sway of her tranquil way,
bends my mind to forget that I live today.
She holds me, she hides me,
From the storm that’s inside me.
Your refuge so severe.
Her mist becomes my veil,
the waters, all I hear.
Placid purity turns my blood gray,
Something about your nothing charms me to stay.
The glass that covers my body tucks my mind in.
I’ll sleep through the ages,
While the storm rages.
Given over to her cunning, cool kiss,
Who cares about my sin?
I simply will not exist.
my empty fist crushed the glass
never again will we behold
water slammed against the window pane
in a now unrelenting rain
the sky had exploded from the south,
crawling towards me all too fast,
it’s billows growling my name
my hand is empty
my side is cold
i tried to wake you
a desperate elusion
blades of grass stab my feet
blood weighing my legs to stiffen
rain smothers my voice
vigilance grows harder to keep
my body longs for sleep
Your eyes look past mine
The cafeteria wall stares blankly back at you
I reach desperately into your dim face
So unwilling to accept despair
There is hope for us yet if you would only dare
The second-hand so unforgiving
My patience succumbs to desperation
Placid eyes, The calm is shifting
[How they tarry in the light, their songs have been stolen
Their chants are enticing the storm that will bury you tonight]
When time gets in the way
and silence fosters lies,
the gyrillidae shroud even
the most complaisant of eyes
Stone-faced, your intensity is a lie
I warned you!
How is your heart so reluctant?
I know they stole the life from your eyes
The droplets on the window pane
mark eras lost in silence
the first of the waters slither down the glass,
Hissing my name
Time has stolen away, the day is dying
You, my friend, will be wasted with it
as you sleep in your pitiful silence
Steady streams now run and flow into each other
They whispered my name into the skylight
From the memoirs of Alexis Marie Berry
The porch light of the Christmas House crawled up to my room, illuminating the raised structures of the window frame, but leaving its hollows dark and somber. I’ll never forget sitting in the hollowed corner of my window that night. My forehead did not move from the ice cold glass for hours as I looked onto the Antique Mall’s parking lot across the lawn. Rain drizzled slow and steady that night as my dad paced, and prayed, and cried. After another emotionally exhausting night with my mother, he had been pushed to the edge. Torn between honoring his marriage covenant and protecting his children, my father was on the verge of making a decision that would profoundly alter the course of my life.
The longer he persisted in his timid steps across every surface of that lot, the more my heart swelled with pain for him. I wondered if the gentle rain that night was meant to keep the circles he paced from starting a fire. Helplessly, I watched as his body shook and his face gave way to sorrowful tears. He wandered seemingly aimless for hours, begging God for an answer. At such a young age, I understood all too much the reality of sin and the immense burden it heaves on even the most innocent hearts.
No monument in my childhood compares to the haunting encumbrance of the Christmas House. When I was 10 years old “The Christmas Tree Store” was the fifth or sixth or seventh house I lived in (honestly, I’ve lost count). Before we moved in, every room of the 1920’s farmhouse was bulging with Christmas trees, holiday wreaths, homemade candles, glittering snow men, and a myriad of Nativity variations. My brother Seth and I were enchanted with the rich cinnamon and evergreen smell, the red and white lights shining from every corner, and the silver tinsel dripping from each door frame.
Once all of the decoration and sparkling splendor had been removed, though, the true difficulty of its character was revealed. The Christmas House was old and had been without an actual family for many years. It was in need of a modern update, reviving it from the ancient memories that it held in the original wood floors, the brick fireplace, and antique wallpapering. Yet my parents were captured by the potential they saw in the rustic beauty of the house’s original structure the way Seth and I were wooed by the magic that we saw in its decorations. My father identified something special in it. He saw a house that was worth investing his energies toward, no longer a temporary pursuit. He found the potential of calming my mother into a life of satisfaction with the house that she was so enamored with. The hope presented in the house was one that promised the idea of relaxing into a peace that our family had desperately longed for. We were finally out of the city with room to run freely and spread the roots that would end our tireless sojourning years.
The dream life in the Christmas House didn’t come easily, though. To say that we were “roughin’ it” for those first few months would be a callous understatement. The effort required in order to conform the House to our family’s hopes and dreams was absolutely exhausting for everyone. Our first few months there turned into the coldest winter of my life. The plumbing, electrical, and heating was an aged mess. We had no toilet for the first couple of weeks, no refrigerator for a month, and I don’t remember how long it took to get a bathtub. Until we had a refrigerator, milk and dairy essentials sat in a Goshen Dairy crate perched in a pile of snow outside the kitchen door. Chiseling milk over my breakfast cereal was a normal routine in the mornings. I remember my mother would heat water in our giant cast-iron stew pot for the four of us to take turns bathing in. And I can still feel the patterns on the heat registers beneath me and my yellow blankey cloak, as I would try to make a tent of warmth when the heater would kick on. Seth and I just had to learn to adapt without complaint as our family slowly seemed to give in and conform to the burdensome needs of the Christmas House.
During this time, the most pressing responsibilities of my mother were taking her medication and making sure that her children made it to and from school (busses didn’t venture out to the Christmas House). Because my mother struggled with both responsibilities, we were constantly late for class and often waited for hours for a ride home. Many of our late mornings were spent with Seth and I pining away in the Christmas House’s frigid foyer. There my grandmother’s heirloom mirror, hanging crooked on a temporary plywood closet door, had my scared reflection memorized, recalling too many mornings listening to her taunting and discouraging my father. I remember staring at myself, wishing that I could be older and take Seth to school on my own and take care of him when my dad couldn’t be at home. That mirror was eventually shattered during one of her increasing, drunken, manic episodes.
Perhaps the exhaustion of the effort required for her dream life caused my mother’s hopes to dwindle and her mind to falter. Both my mother and the House seemed to cling to the past and refuse the embrace of a hopeful future. It seemed as though the more effort my dad made to restore the hope of the Christmas House and my mother’s sanity at the same time, the more both resisted him. I don’t know if she gave up on us or the house or herself or all of the above. But something snapped within her mind, and she just quit trying to be healthy, hopeful, or loving. In the interest of still honoring her, I will just say that she made enough wrong decisions, succumbing to the pull of darkness, that within four or five months my father was driven to the parking lot of the ‘ole Antique Mall. The decision he made that night to trust God and sacrifice every possession and comfort of his in order to protect his children marked the definite beginning of the most heart-wrenching years of my life.
My vagabond days were far from over when we moved into the Christmas House. In fact, they were just beginning. After the parking lot night, a three-year divorce/custody battle was begun, resulting in too many encounters with police offices, counselors, and mediators. Those years of my life were spent wandering from the security of my dad’s house, to the staggering unpredictability of my mother’s House, to my future step-mom’s, grandparent’s, uncle’s, etc. With every traumatizing visit at The Christmas House and with every potentially redemptive moment with my mother spoiled by some effort of evil, my tears were absorbed by the walls of the house whose charm deteriorated with my mother’s grace. The corners of that house became my hiding places, the furniture turned into fortresses, and the bottomless piles of clothing in the laundry room grew around me as a cradle. I desperately clung to the power that I knew was in the Word of God as Jesus clearly protected me and drew me ever-closer into the fold of His wing. Yet The Christmas House still whined with the burden of evil wreaking havoc beneath its roof.
Each room eventually plundered by the darkness of my childhood, whatever innocent charm lingering in that house was otherwise raped and left a shameful mess. The walls of that house had seen too much, the floors shaken by too much, and for that reason had to be destroyed. The beauty of the historic house was eventually so degraded by the time my mother was removed from it, that it was best for it to be bulldozed into the grass. The abated fragments of treasured moments with my mother were left to fertilize the empty plot of grass where The Christmas House once stood along State Route 250. The only good left at all was from the
The emptiness of that land burrows into my heart as I feel the pain of a life that, even 10 years later, still gives me no peace. In some ways it has made me wiser and in others it has only confused me more. During the time Seth and I spent at the Christmas House for court-ordered visitation, I was essentially mothering him and making sure his needs were met. Gabriella, the baby that my mother had to a man now in prison, also ended up being a deep concern of mine. After 10 months of caring for her when my mother was unable, the baby was eventually taken into foster care. It wasn’t long after my dad was given sole custody and Gabriella put up for adoption, that my mother was torn away from The Christmas House and all of the hope that she found in it. She’s been in an out of hospital care, homeless shelters, and now has been taken into guardianship by her sister, whom I had never met.
The emptiness that my mother feels for the loss of her children and her idea of a normal life causes me deep sorrow. But the loss of my childhood digs even deeper, challenging my ability to care for her even today. I’ve only recently been able to allow God to pick up the broken pieces and offer a new hope with our relationship. After years of adhering to a no-contact order, I’m beginning to speak to her again. She constantly brings up the events of The Christmas House, the dreams that she feels she was robbed of, the family and the home that no longer exists. Moving on is impossible to her. And so, even today, as I make my feeble attempts to reconcile and have concern for my mother, our relationship is trapped beneath the failed roof of that house.
Since The Christmas House was destroyed, I’ve seen it from the road as my dad, brother, and I have driven past it on numerous occasions. It’s impossible to tear my eyes from that land as it drags across the car windows in passing. The fact that my dad has never offered to stop the car, though he knows it pains me to not even slow down, shows how determined he is to move forward from those years of darkness without looking back. And I know that this is what’s good. I’ve always trusted him. So I just keep quiet, my forehead against the cold glass and close my eyes, remembering my life in that house, turning over and over the image of my father realizing that it all must end if a life of new hope was to begin. It’s a cycle in my mind: I try to keep moving, looking forward. But even as I do, my mother always seems to be left behind, just like her Christmas House.
Chanting through the twilight air
their lovelorn songs scream for storms of despair
Wooing their own
Destroying your throne
Seizing your voice
Clamoring their noise
They choke the silence with the song you once sang
Screeching fills the midnight air
Crickets call forth the storms that rage against the seas
Whining to your enemies in a goading affair
Wooing their own
destroying your throne
The silence you succumb to is the disease that will overthrow you
the gryllidae seize your voice and sing your song
Calling forth the storm and with their lovers rejoice
As, with the morning, you are left alone
The terrifying aspect of God creating in me a clean heart and a pure mind is making me overwhelmingly aware of the fact that on my own, I am nothing more than a wretch with a disgustingly sinful nature.
If Jesus wouldn’t have saved me, I probably would have destroyed myself (and everyone around me) by now.
Who am I to live my days with the pride that I carry on with?