Giving and Not Giving Energy

When you give energy to a thing, you give it life. Energy includes mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual material like thoughts and posture and effort. When you give a thing or a person or an idea energy, you give it life.

The other, accompanying side is that when you remove your lifegiving energy from a thing, you starve that thing of life. It could be a shift in your focus onto a different task. It could be removing a contact from your phone. It could be the choice to leave a call unreturned. It could be a decision not to go for that walk you said you would take. 

Giving to a thing is a gift that keeps that thing going. Removing what you give, then, is a resounding endorsement of another thing. What will you give to in the upcoming days of your life? What will you choose? Who will you choose? 

The answer really is about what you want to keep alive, what you wish to sustain, or what you will starve. Chaos needs energy. So does peace. Toxic relationships require attention. Living as an ambassador of contentment does too. 

Thurman on Reconciliation and Unhurried Tenderness

We cannot be in a hurry in matters of the heart. The human spirit has to be explored gently and with unhurried tenderness. Very often this demands a reconditioning of our nervous responses to life, a profound alteration in the tempo of our behavior pattern. Whatever we learn of leisure in the discipline of silence, in meditation and prayer, bears rich, ripe fruit in preparing the way for love. Failure at this point can be one of unrelieved frustration. At first, for most of us, skill in tarrying with another has to be cultivated and worked at by dint of much self-discipline. At first it may seem mechanical, artificial, or studied, but this kind of clumsiness will not remain if we persist. How indescribably wonderful and healing it is to encounter another human being who listens not only to our words, but manages, somehow, to listen to us.

From Disciplines of the Spirit

Little Things

I remember a time when the first son cried when I left him.  He was really loud that one time when I dropped him with Auntie Maggie. Where was I going? It took forever to get there, listening to his cries in the car.

I thought those days were gone, especially since the second son was decidedly a mother’s son, if the first was a father’s son. Of course, both of them have gone back and forth about whose they are.

They are, in fact, their mother’s and their father’s. And this makes sense in the beautiful way big hearts with room to love deeply work. They work in ways beyond the mind, beyond explanation.

And hearing that my little one cries when I leave in the morning and hearing his voice on the phone when I’m minutes into my commute makes the entire day sound like a father’s joy.

Indie Arie sang, “it’s the little things.” And he hasn’t always cried. He won’t always cry. I hope I’ll always remember the few times he did.

When Someone Matters

One way to know that people matter to you is how long you keep them–in your head, in your heart, in your spirit–when they bother you, when they hurt you. It’s one thing to drop and run. It’s another thing to be tripped by the fact of their mattering.

If you drop and run too fast, who you thought mattered didn’t. If don’t quite cut and run, if you don’t bolt, and if you move slower out of connection, something else may be happening.

If your feet are clogged by the dry and wet grasses of disappointment, anguish, and sorrow, perhaps you were good at a little word called love.

If you think of your students long after the ringing bell; if you consider the comment made and how pained it made your listener; if you remember, hours later, that interaction and its biting chump into you, perhaps you have evidence that you have loved.

Perhaps what happened in those relationships actually matter. Maybe what you built, created, and cultivated made a difference. Grant it and grieve.

An Ode That Isn’t Exactly An Ode

I looked at you, the glossy, colorful ways you showed me what black beauty was.

I looked at the curves you featured. I took in the sumptuous reds on your lips and imprinted in my soul the kinky, curly, flat, puffy, drizzly, stringy, clipped, busy, avenues from your head.

I looked at smiling black men, fathers and uncles and brothers and teachers, people professing with their lives what it meant to make efforts, what it meant to pull it together, and what it meant to create for one’s own community counter-images which were truer, better, and accurate images.

You trained my gaze, expanded my vision, and showed me how to start my attraction, how to turn my sight, and how to see the bodies of women closer to me, men very near me, children around me, people whose faces would come to close to my nose, in conversation, around the table, at church, and on all my childhood playgrounds.

I sat struck and dumb and inspired to write because of images you created by showing up like a gift, directed to me, made for me, fashioned with me in mind, and in your every offering was an issue that made me imagine and reimagine how to be black and how to be man and how to be beautiful and how to be with other beautiful black people.

In you and saw what love and work looked like. I saw the sights of wonder. I saw the sights of accomplishment. In you was a body of work, a composed collection cracking my developing notions of the color that captured everything from cream to cacao and did so with hands and eyes and ears of appreciation for how good black looked.

Written on the latest public occasion to grieve a significant treasure all of us should remember well, Johnson Publishing, which is in its last stages as a necessary-but-dying institution.

Betting the Old Fashioned Way

My oldest son wasn’t going to win the bet we made and I knew it even as I crafted the challenge to him in the grocery line.

His hand was on a bag, a nicely packaged offering of sugar and fat and a list of things we couldn’t pronounce. Now, it helps to know that since he was his younger brother’s age, I’ve been teaching the boy how to conduct himself in a kitchen and a grocery store. He cooks with me. He has shopped with me. We’ve been to South side farms to see dirt and crops and farmers.

Aside from the fact that his memory is as poor as his pockets–he has no money and no memory–I’m banking on the faith that these lessons about meal preparation, taste, seasoning, contamination, and presentation are going somewhere.

Occasionally I test him. I ask, “What do you taste?” And his average gets better and better. The more I expose him, the better he gets. At least once way back in the day, he could use his taste buds and not his eyes to list the ingredients of a soup that I threw a dozen things in. And with 70% accuracy.

“If you can tell me how to make donuts, you can have it.”

The boy has not met a challenge that he hadn’t already met.

I tell him, in moments like these, “Use all your powers.”

“I’m going to ask Grandma,” he said.

“I don’t think my Mama has ever made donuts,” I said.

“It’s has to be like making cornbread.”

He went into the story that we laugh at about when Mama came over last year to show us how she makes her cornbread. It’s one of his ways of saying that he knows I can make cornbread but that Mama’s is better. The story is funny but that’s for another post.

I laughed and I decided at that moment where our Saturday afternoon would be. I whispered it to the littlest among us because he wouldn’t tell the secret. Then, we paid for our groceries and finished the first half of the day.

The second half included a visit to the Oriental Institute for my budding Egypt scholar. Then, I told them that we were getting dessert before dinner. I have learned to say these things upon knowing we would. We went to the place where we could buy the best donuts in Chicago, Old Fashioned Donuts. We stood across the street waiting for cars to pass, and I told them, “This is the place where you will eat the best donuts in our great city. And you’ll learn how they’re made.”

It was a really bad bet that I posed that morning. Going to Roseland and looking into that window while Mr. Bulloch worked his magic was everything. I didn’t forget the bet, but the boys did.

After all, I set the one up anyway. I wanted to take the boys to South Michigan, among that sea of South side wonder. I wanted to hear the older boy say, to the licking and smacking of the younger one, “This is the best donut in the city.”

 

Contemplation Plus Fatherhood

My friend said something to me years ago that I can’t remember. He says things I like to remember but the way he phrased his words slips me. What I haven’t forgotten is what I’ve done with what he said.

In my mind, what I’ve done is try to pull together the strands of fatherhood and contemplation. I do remember leaving that conversation thinking, “How can I be a contemplative father?”

I think back to his words, said to me on the street in our neighborhood and just outside our mechanic’s office, when I hear people say of their own child-rearing, “The years run by.” Or something like, “Don’t blink. You’ll look up and they’ll be leaving home.”

When people say this, I think of contemplative parenting. I think of my conversation with my friend. In my mental world, contemplative parenting brings together being a parent and being in the moment. Contemplation means being where you are. It means being centered and keeping your weight over that center. It means to be present.

Pulling together contemplation and parenting, it’s impossible to miss moments. Your practice is to be in those moments. You certainly don’t remember them all. Your brain does things with memories that you and I can’t understand. There are things that you lose or let go of. You forget. You will forget but that doesn’t mean you will have missed the moments.

You will have lived them. You will have participated in them. In that sense, those moments as a father (for me) will always be there (in the present), have been there (in the past), and left me available for being there (in the future). If my orientation is to be in the moment, I miss nothing. To be sure, it is exhausting, this orientation.

It’s easier to obsess about a future. It’s easier to fume over yesterdays. It is hard to be right where I am. May God continue to help me.

When You’re Stressed

Stress has a way of uncovering your faults, stripping you of your character costumes, and revealing who is left.

When taken into your body (and by that I mean all of you), stress is received as a signal to your system(s) to fly, flight, or freeze.

Another way of screening stress is by calling it your way of coming down to your basic self, your raw self, and who you are.

You’re surely more than any one decision, but you are definitely who you are when you’re raw. Angry, pissed, disappointed. How you interpret stress, how you take that stressful event in and live from it, will look differently from the next person. But you are in that response.

Take a look at your stresses. Take a look at your responses. Notice who you were in them. Notice who you still are.

Is that the person you want to be when the next stress comes? Is who you are consistent with who you thought you were?

Accept who you see. Love that person. And decide if you want to change.

Clinical Skill

A friend called me and I answered the phone, “What did I do?” She laughed and then asked me what my goals were for the year.

Having thought little about the calendar year, it took a minute. I live on a few calendars. My school calendar, my oldest son’s school’s calendar, my work calendar, and in an implicit way, the liturgical calendar.

Each project in my world has a calendar. In some ways, I’m modifying goals regularly based upon what happens in each mini-world.

So we joked a few minutes while I got myself together to answer her question. She and a few folks had listened to each other’s goals the day prior and she wanted to hear mine. She wanted to do me the favor of hearing my goals. Emmanuel Lartey, a pastoral theologian, wrote in In Living Color, that “Listening is a core skill in any form of caring.”

We traded goals and that was it. The thing is, when trading goals and expectations and hopes, I was–and she was–giving each other permission to participate. Trading was a step. Her asking me in a few months some version of “how are you doing with this one?” is another step.

It was a gift to me, having her ask the question, probe gently, and listen. I actually said to her, “This is what I do. I show up and ask people a question in order to hear them. How are you taking my role?”

I learned in that conversation that more people do what I do. More people are capable of coming alongside another person in order to listen, to care. I also learned that friends can take different roles playfully and that we can all do more or less than what we’ve done in the past.

That’s actually one of the learnings behind my goals, learning that I’m not, merely, what I have been and what I have done. My friends…always strengthening my and their clinical skill.

That Comment at Dinner about Manhood

The other day at dinner, we were all at the table, and you said something about “Trump.” I corrected you, told you to insert a “Mr.” and you did. Then, you went on with your story.

Since then, I’ve had a couple moments reflecting upon that parental intervention. I’ve questioned my response like I often do with you. Was it right? Where was I coming from? Was my approach authentic to the best parts of my upbringing, the parts that I want to pass on to you and to your brother?

And I’m thinking over the goods and bads of that insertion. That Mr. comes with problems. I didn’t go into the problems then, though they were on the borders of my thinking. I’m your father and a part of my role is to regularly be as close to my best thoughts as I can be because you and your brother come up with all kinds of things I want to affirm, correct, question, laugh at, or otherwise capture. It takes energy to be present. It takes energy to be a good father. I want to be both with you and number two. So the Mister.

In some ways, we’ve already discussed portions of the problematic insertion. In some ways, explaining myself at the time would have gotten us off the important point you were making and pulled us away from the more pressing matter of what you wanted to say. But this is why I blog, to post up little indications of increasingly critical and vulnerable discourse so that you and your brother will have trails of thinking where I’ve said my piece, made my peace.

There are issues with my suggestion about the current person sitting in the Oval, the broad white structure made by a lot of beautiful black hands and recently inhabited by a beautiful black family, the family there when we traveled to DC as a family so we could trek through the Museum while our president was Barack Obama.

First, everyone is worthy of being treated like a person. In my quick move to tell you how to put a handle on a last name, I was foundationally trying to say that you should treat “Trump” the way you’d treat anyone who was an adult and that isn’t by saying there name.

Second, this is an admittedly cultural application. You know people, some of them are your friends, who call people by names without handles, but that’s not the family you are being raised in, is it? Black people have conventionally raised each other to be honorable and that honor is expressed by an enduring respect for elders. That respect is easily translatable to others who aren’t old but who are older than you.

Third, you cannot restrict yourself to the limited experiences of people who use language irresponsibly. For better and worse, I am your father. You and your brother have inherited the godparental influence of Auntie Pat who on too many long rides corrected me and Uncle Mark and who wouldn’t let us get away with poor speech. I am passing that on. Of course, she has told you some of these stories herself. Both me and your dear mother are communicators in our own ways. There are certain phrases you must use, certain ones I’d strongly encourage you not to use.

Fourth, adults are adults. When you become an adult–and I plan to tell you precisely when that occurs!–those who are older are elders. As I said, adults and elders generally must be treated as, among other things, containers of deep wisdom. This comes out of your African heritage. It isn’t constricted only to blackness but it is certainly in your blackness. Your lineage includes honor for the elders.

I was coming out of these points of view. However, and now we turn toward the paradoxical and toward the ways I’m encouraging you to second-guess me and toward ways I’ve second-guessed myself on this comment at the table, some people are not worth your Mr. Some people–and I’d include this person in the Oval–are not worth your respect.

There are males who are only men by virtue of their maleness, who do everything to diminish your view of them because of how they conduct themselves in the world, and those males are not worthy of your respect. They may well be worth your acknowledgement of them as human beings, but they are unworthy of your respect. The men in your life, me among them, are aiming to teach you in how to discern which qualities make a man respectable. For now–and at the table–I was intervening, showing you this current example of a man who is unworthy.

You know because of how you are being raised by your dear mother, by me, and by our extended family (the plural collective that I’m collapsing in the singular term) that your respect is hard-won. Your respect is an indication of what it took for you to develop an idea of personhood broadly and manhood in (this) particular.

You have seen and loved and been by and loved by good men. For quick instance, your uncles are good men. All of them. For another instance, I am a good man. We are teaching you to respect yourself and how that respect is immediately and intricately related to respect for others. Since it’s hard-won, you ought not give away easily.

Giving your honor to a person means that you are extending to him or her some part of you that they ought to be able to accept, take in, and appreciate. People ought to be able to receive you, receive the pearls that come from you to use a biblical allusion. The man is the Oval, the current president of the country, is not one of those people. Again, this is complicated so I need to tell you more about why I’m offering a well-situated exception to the rule.

The current president, as you have told me, has been unkind to many people. This was a part of your heartbreak when he was elected. You remember how excited you and your peers were to vote in school, how surprised and perplexed you were when the man who said “those bad things about Mexicans and women” won. He has called for the harm of individuals and families. He has repeatedly told lies. He has admitted to participating in sexual assaults against women. He has deceived. He has consistently misapplied sacred texts, a devious consequence when a person is not a part of a sacred community. He has made decisions based upon people he knows and not taken the wide grace of counsel beyond his own comforts. He has encouraged violence and engendered, insofar as is possible for his talent, a national culture of division. He has been a successful businessmen in the United States of America without any real historically visible integration of spirituality which says more of the same. These may be true about other political misters but it has been documented by others in this president’s case and it has been experienced by you in your own life.

The current president will not always be the president. We will have others. So govern yourself accordingly. You can respect his personhood without extending to him what he would not extend to you. You can respect his personhood without accepting the type of masculinity that he models.

I wish I could tell you to use me as a guide. In some ways, you necessarily use me as a guide and measure of manhood. That is a delightful, bruising, high burden for me. But I’m imperfect as I often tell you. What I’m happy to do is point to the very contours from which you will judge me and judge others. Use these mentionings to hold me to the accountability of your best notions of respect. And use them to judge others too. They’re good enough for that, these cultivated ramblings.