Shape and Substance

meditations on faith and church

Tag: racism

The Face of Evil

He began, “The problem with this country…”
I ceased to listen. I grow weary
of scapegoats, cheap rhetoric, and answers
that promise much but cost me nothing.

She said, “Can’t we agree
that all lives matter? Why must
black lives matter more?” Because
until they do no life matters enough.

He said, “Let’s make this nation
great again,” and had a plan.
And I wondered at what price
greatness, and can we pay the cost?

The time is past for grand gestures,
for blaming great vexations
on vivid Devils. We must look
evil directly in the face.

You know the face I mean—the one
that fears the stranger, believes
its own truth truest, and knows
it must grab for all that it can get,

that thinks the past can be forgotten,
the future staked as claim,
that mine is mine by right
that it is someone else’s fault.

You know the face, but not the one you see
among the anti-heroes in the news.
Monsters dwell no more beneath the bed
but in the mirror.


On the occasion of the adoption of the Belhar Confession
by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A)

They stood around the room,
unseen saints, hanging
from the rafters, or floating
in the air, or marching
among us, invisible as ghosts—
the dead who ask the living:
How long?

Some wore the shackle, some the noose,
some bled from wounds from bullet
or sword, or hobbled, fractured bones
not yet knitted. Some bore the look
of hunger, with bloodshot eyes
hot with tears of hope denied
too long.

We took the vote to make
their words our own, to lift
their prayer upon our voice.
And there was silence.
And we knew. The time had come
to rest these ghosts, and make no more

The Wells of Gerar

Genesis 26:6-22
September 2015

They were my father’s wells, and though their names
are lost, I knew them once when I was young.
Come my turn to wander there, I found them
stopped and dry, as though never dug.

I dug other wells, not deep, but all my own.
What is a well? Is it just a hole
where water rises, and stretched skins descend?
Is it not a meeting of those above the soil

and those below, some who will thirst again
and some whose thirst has left on us a scar,
who seek from us naught but our remembrance?
Father! I remembered at Gerar!

But others there had memories of their own
some joyful, some oppressed with iron hand,
the bullet and the lash, the weeping eye,
the blood that moistens, baptizes the land.

These lives must matter, though they are not mine,
These thirsts be quenched, even if my throat is dry,
These truths be honored, even if contended;
These are family, at the edge of enmity.

But just beyond the range of human eye
if not beyond the yearning of the heart
is there not a broader place with room
for gathering all lives and thirsts and arts?

Shall we go and dwell there, our Rehoboth,
stand alongside those we lately fought,
and dig new wells and draw up hope and water
to wash away the blood and ease the drought?