I never understood that America had written my anthem, and yet—
I’ve been one poor correspondent, and I’ve been too, too hard to find
But it doesn’t mean you ain’t been on my mind
Agape is more than romantic love, agape is more than friendship. Agape is understanding, creative, redemptive, good will to all men. It is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. Theologians would say that it is the love of God operating in the human heart. So that when one rises to love on this level, he loves men not because he likes them, not because their ways appeal to him, but he loves every man because God loves him. And he rises to the point of loving the person who does an evil deed while hating the deed that the person does. I think this is what Jesus meant when he said “love your enemies.” I’m very happy that he didn’t say like your enemies, because it is pretty difficult to like some people. Like is sentimental, and it is pretty difficult to like someone bombing your home; it is pretty difficult to like somebody threatening your children; it is difficult to like congressmen who spend all of their time trying to defeat civil rights. But Jesus says love them, and love is greater than like. Love is understanding, redemptive, creative, good will for all men. And it is this idea, it is this whole ethic of love which is the idea standing at the basis of the student movement.
There is something else: that one seeks to defeat the unjust system, rather than individuals who are caught in that system. And that one goes on believing that somehow this is the important thing, to get rid of the evil system and not the individual who happens to be misguided, who happens to be misled, who was taught wrong. The thing to do is to get rid of the system and thereby create a moral balance within society.
From “Love, Law, and Civil Disobedience”
Most of what I think about politics
Brief dance lesson
A. asked if I had fun at the wedding; I said I did.
A. asked if I danced much at the wedding, and I said I didn’t because I’m not good at it, not as good as she is, and that she should teach me before the next wedding I attend. This comment was earnest, not flirtatious; A. is a great dancer. She looks like she is having fun when she dances.
She said, “When you imagine dancing, how do you picture yourself?” I’m not sure I’ve ever pictured myself dancing. The question strikes me as unusually helpful advice. If I begin to imagine myself dancing, I will probably begin to dance in a way that looks like I’m having fun.
- Habitat volunteers build alongside future homeowners and neighbors. The most surprising moment on the work site came today when one of the locals proclaimed, mid-dig, “Yesterday Edward Snowden revealed another secret!”
- Western volunteers typically come away from these international trips saying two things:
- "I thought I was coming here to contribute, but I took away much more than I gave," and
- "Their community is so tight; it is nothing like at home."
In last night’s team meeting I invited volunteers to tell about a community that sustains them. I talked about the book club that started meeting two years ago, which as we read together provided stability and knowing-and-being-knownness while I was in transition.
I asked the group to imagine what forges community in the village where we’re building. One person said that the villagers all face the same problems—they’re poor, water is scarce, jobs are low-paying, etc.—but I don’t think that’s it, and I said so. There are lots of people in Atlanta who share the conditions of poverty but do not forge community together.
Here is where I locate the difference: in order to move into a Habitat house, a family must help build their neighbors’ houses. After they move in, families usually continue helping each other build—fences, gardens, maybe extra rooms. Their conditions are shared, yes, but that’s passive; these people are actively building—they are improving their shelter and their village together—and the communal spirit that emerges from it is strong. You don’t see orphanages here because someone in the village takes in the orphaned kid.
Anyway, as we were talking about community, I looked around and saw therapists and web developers and stay-at-home moms and construction workers and big retail vice presidents, and everyone looked so lonely. Not at the moment—our team has bonded and is finding strength from each other—but back at home. I hope that they internalized the observation: community requires doing things with people.
- Bill Callahan is my constant companion. I would not have been able to pickax dirt or carry heavy trees unless I was singing in my head—sometimes out loud if no one was around, which is a luxury of being in the middle of nowhere—
Then the wind finds something to ping,
Then the pinging thing finds the wind;
We’re all looking for a body
or a means to make one sing
Building in Debre Berhan, Ethiopia with a team of Habitat volunteers.
- I am a great team leader. I believe that each volunteer has cried at least once, and we are only on Day Four.
- Each day we have a coffee ceremony in which a woman roasts, grinds, brews, and serves coffee. They invite volunteers to roast and grind, but as on a cooking TV show, they stealthily replace our demonstration beans with a hot pot of coffee pulled from behind a tablecloth. The coffee is brewed with coriander and cloves, which makes it taste like tea.
- The same woman makes us lunch. It is delicious.
- Here is something I believe deeply and that I understand as a major purpose of international volunteer trips: “What the rich need is an honorable way of divesting themselves of their overabundance.” (Clarence Jordan) It is exciting to see that happen. I will add, though, that our team is working hard and making ourselves surprisingly useful. The richest person is the hardest worker, which I will not tell my dad when I return home, because he will nod too hard.
- Would you have believed that I am handy with a pickax? I have broken up, shoveled, and tamped much ground. My back aches. Perhaps I will buy a tank-top to show it off.
Tonight I’m going to a concert in a city where I don’t know anyone, and I intend to whisper my Gmail password into the ear of a stranger as a continuation of my work on privacy and intimacy.
Put a handful of Reese’s Puffs cereal into your mouth
Think deeply into the taste. Separate the layers of the taste. Strip away that chocolatey flavor. Strip away the store-brand peanut butter tang. Strip away that marshmallow glaze. Do you taste it? It tastes like wheat. It is whole grain. It tastes like a wheat stalk freshly plucked from the field, bitten into like an apple.
I knew a guy who started a nouveau urban church, and I asked him what he was going to do to foster community—form neighborhood groups or affinity groups or classes or whatever—and he thundered, because he was a real drama queen and contrarian, “COMMUNITY is formed by SERVING TOGETHER.” Forgiving the dramaqueenness of his answer, I’ve spent about six years considering it and agree.
Breanne, pictured above giving me my first manicure (matte top coat with one beautiful, perfect blue nail), has been working on an art project in which she drives around the U.S. giving manicures. She understands the manicure not as a service but as an event that facilitates personal exchange. You can’t just show up in a town and talk to strangers, not if you’re going to get anything interesting out of them, so you have to do something together, and what she’s doing is inviting them into her RV and painting their nails. This loopy, wiry energy runs through the project. She’s so smart; I have already used Nails Across America twice as a flexible metaphor.
I spend my days coming up with activities for people to do—volunteer, go on a trip, use up a Saturday. "You’ve got to bust up a sidewalk sometimes to get people to gather round." Volunteers’ ostensible motivation is always to “give back,” but after performing the activity their stories tend to be about making friends or finding direction. The benefit that comes from these interactions grows, multiplies, bounces back. People show up to repair a dumpy house and leave with different ideas about status or race or local politics. I find myself bored lately with discourse. Maybe it’s just because I’m not reading. I see progress other places.
Implications for: activism, political persuasion, making friends in a new city, dating, babysitting, being a happy person.
Lemon, Cucumber, Feta, and Orzo Salad and Letting Go
I was in the grocery store the other night and picked up some red onions. There was an older man in a suit by the onions, picking up and inspecting each red onion in order to find the most perfect red onion. I swept in on the side and grabbed two and threw them into my cart. And the guy turns to me and asks how I’m able to pick out onions so quickly. And I look at him and say, “you let go” and walked away.
You don’t need to find the most perfect red onion because you’ll peel off the outer layers and if whatever bruise or ding has made it past the outer layers, you just cut it off and it doesn’t matter at all. All the red onions are fine. It doesn’t matter. Just grab one.
A recipe to go with this onion parable