The Pursuit of Bravery: When We're All Finally Home

Author: John Lucas Kovasckitz

 

My wife and I have been back in the States for a little over a month, after seven months traveling overseas and a year and a half of not having a home address. In the past year, we’ve sold two vans (our little “home” before we left, and our even smaller home while in New Zealand), we’ve trekked through the Himalayas, we’ve braved a lot of wild roads on scooters, we’ve played with baby elephants in Thailand, we’ve snorkeled with manta rays in Bali, we’ve walked through the Notre-Dame and the Coliseum, and we’ve eaten the best pizza ever made at a little shop in Naples.

The past seven months were were new and romantic and tiring and sweaty and breathtaking and stressful and glorious and monotonous and I was homesick but also wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to go back.

These days we’re figuring out how to be American citizens again...we bought a couch after three days of looking, we bought a car after two weeks of looking, and shopping alone I picked out an upright piano in about 30 minutes (although I’m sure that’s just a coincidence). Our books are unpacked and sorted, pictures are hung...but there’s a pesky frame that’s poorly made and I straighten it at least three times a day before giving up. We have a kitchen again, our own bed, car insurance, a recycling bin, and we’ve filed our late taxes. We’ve reconnected with people we love, hiked our favorite local spots, and gone back to our favorite restaurants.

Danielle signed up for classes while in India and has hit the ground running going back to school. I’ve been writing music and straightening that damn frame for the last time and I started working at a small woodshop a few days a week with my best friend. I’m honestly not super handy but I think I’m slowly learning. My first day on the job I nicked my hand with a power sander and last week I was lifting a table and completely threw out my back. Once I got home it took five minutes to get from the car to the living room floor where I struggled out of my dirty clothes and iced my back, and then I crawled up the stairs to have a small breakdown trying to reach the shampoo in the shower.

After a trip to the chiropractor, a lot of time on our three-day-search couch and a lot of ice, my back is still sore but it seems to be healing OK, and I just finished my first week in the shop without added injury. Mentally the past couple of weeks have been pretty difficult...I think I had grander ideas of what coming home would be like when I was gone. I’ve been restless; I thought that I would feel more purpose, a greater pull of creativity, maybe a greater sense of arrival. I guess I at least figured I would be able to reach the shampoo without issue.

I think I’ve been homesick coming home.

I know that sentence might not make much sense...but I’ve felt it. I think we all feel an ache we can’t quite explain, and a lot of us figure that maybe once we can travel the world or go home or retire or make our first million or meet our dream partner or have children the ache will go away once and for all. That last one on the list strikes true for me...on one of our flights I started crying at the ad (literally just a picture, mind you) in front of me showing a woman on a rollercoaster with her kids. I ache to be a father, but I know that my Deep ache will probably only multiply in the best way when the time comes.

To ache is to suffer, and I think true love requires the ache of suffering. I think we were all made to love, and thus (for a time) to ache and to suffer.

For those of you who quite vocally disagree with some of my beliefs, it will come as no surprise that I attended a week-long silent meditation retreat at a Buddhist center in Thailand. It was probably the most powerful spiritual experience of my life, and was shared with my wife and some of our best friends (Ben, Lydia, and Emily) and about thirty people from around the world.

For six days, we rose from our wooden “beds” at 4:30 each morning to a ringing bell (as an aside, the bell was a repurposed bomb left unused from the Vietnam War...and if that’s not the greatest story of redemption I’m not sure what is). During our stay, we locked up our phones, didn’t kill the mosquitos sucking our blood, observed strict silence, didn’t look in a mirror, skipped dinner, and practiced several sessions of walking, sitting, and standing meditations throughout the day. We got there a little late, so all of the cush contemplative chores like sweeping the meditation areas were already taken, so every afternoon Ben and I would strip to our shirts and underwear and silently scrub the men’s toilets together.

Before that week, I had never practiced sitting meditation in my life. I think growing up in the Christian church I’ve historically felt a bit of aversion to the practice, but now I think it’s really just prayer - perhaps in one of its truest forms. To meditate is to be Still...to empty oneself, to listen and observe - to be Aware.

It took several sessions to begin to learn how to physically sit still for an extended period of time, and to begin to train my mind to do the same. The second day, I pressed into my practice and was given a mystical experience - I felt the sensation of floating outside of my body and entered into a vision. For those of you that I’ve lost here, that’s OK...as Michael Scott would say, I’ll catch you on the flippity-flip.

Within this experience, I was in my body, aware of my breath, but also simultaneously outside of it. I rose to the tall treetops within a scene of alpine beauty: snow-capped rugged peaks, a clear blue lake, dark green trees. I felt an overwhelming peace and joy...an overwhelming Oneness. As I breathed I felt that I was breathing with the mountains, the trees. I was one with them and I understood them. I'm not sure how long I stayed in this state before coming fully back to my body, elated with the beauty and mystery of what I had experienced.

For those of you who quite vocally disagree with some of my beliefs, it will also come as no surprise that I have had a lot of difficulty over the last several years with Christianity, and whether or not I still have enough of its roots left to be covered by its branches. I think the easy thing to do sometimes is to cut and run when there’s conflict...as an Enneagram 9, I perhaps feel this more deeply than most. To stay with humility and tenderness despite differences and conflict is often a difficult arena. After my powerful spiritual experience within a Buddhist center, when I hadn’t experienced something at that level within the walls of a church, I thought for a bit that maybe it was my path to find God under a new tree.

Within Buddhism it is believed that the root of suffering is attachment - through the desire to have or to not have (craving or aversion). Buddhist monks are taught to picture a rotting corpse when thinking of sex, and if food is found to be especially delicious - creating attachments - you are taught to spit the mouthful into your hand, observe it, and then to swallow it again. Mmm boy.

Over the next couple of days, I tried not to create an attachment to again achieve an out of body experience, but nevertheless I suffered through the subsequent sessions. I was wiggly and couldn’t focus, slowly growing more and more frustrated. I struggled to wake up in the morning, and I struggled to go to sleep on the wooden bed at night without Danielle. I struggled with the mosquitoes. I struggled with the story of the Buddha...that to find enlightenment he had to leave his wife and child behind. I struggled with parts of Buddhist philosophy and especially the belief in reincarnation - what I believe to be an underlying excuse for tolerating and further turning the wheel of injustice. I think we learn the most through struggle...and over those several days I learned a lot about my marriage, my own selfishness, and I further solidified many of my beliefs.

I think I especially struggled with the idea of striving for non-attachment to avoid suffering. I believe that to avoid attachment is to avoid true love, and that to avoid love is the worst suffering of all. I want to love deeply...thus I want to fully take suffering head on, come what may. I want to enjoy sex with my wife without thinking of a rotting corpse, I want to enjoy good food without feeling the need to spit it into my hand, I want to father children and to call them my own, I want a comfortable bed unless I’m camping under the stars, and I want to kill a few mosquitoes every once in awhile.

I think God is the ache and God is the roots and God is the branches, and God can be found wherever we look because God is everywhere and in everything. Yet I think we all have our own stories, our own parents. As the days progressed, I learned more and more that I was no Buddhist; I was no monk. Despite the conflict and despite the differences and despite my unbelief, I believe Christianity to be my father, my mother...my roots, my story.

Particularly frustrated during a sitting meditation session, I looked around the room and to the banner at the front - one of the resolutions reading, that all people strive to realize the heart of their own religions. In that moment, I closed my eyes and prayed: Jesus, show me your heart. Immediately I was again lifted out of my body. No vision...just the same overwhelming feelings of peace and joy.

I think I’ve come to the peaceful realization that we’re all One, different parts of the Whole...and that God is within us all, but that Christians are my blood relatives. We share the crazy family reunions and the rituals and favorite stories that bind us together.

One of the most beautiful things about the week was that our teacher, a woman who gave up attending her own doctoral ceremony to be with our class, reminded me deeply of my Grandma K...one of my favorite people in the world. I didn’t catch my teacher’s name until the end of the week, so in my head she was my Buddhist Grandma K.

My Grandma K has Parkinson’s disease, and she trembles and shakes a lot these days. It was extremely special to learn how to sit still and to move and to walk with intention from someone who had her presence, her Spirit.

My Grandma has been one of my greatest teachers of love and of God, and how to fill a home with the joy of family. She lives in the little town of Hope Mills, and the Kovasckitz home on Main Street has been one of the great refuges of my life. However, these days even that home leaves me a little achy, a little homesick. My Grandpa isn’t there anymore in his den watching football, or playing Spider Solitaire on his computer being the grand gatekeeper of the sliding glass door. The pool feels smaller, the kitchen table underneath Grandma’s wind-up toys can’t fit as many of us these days. My cousins are all grown up, life is more complicated...and some of them have even had children of their own. This young generation has brought new life and perspective to meeting at my Grandma’s, but the ache still remains.

I think we’re all aching for God in our own ways. Wholeness. Togetherness. Peace. Family. I think we can get tastes on this earth, but it's never the full glass...there's always a piece or two missing.

I don’t exactly know what I believe about the afterlife anymore. I think like reincarnation within Buddhism, talks of heaven and hell and the afterlife within Christianity have allowed us to look past injustice as we meet it here and now.

But nobody knows for sure what happens after we die. Maybe we just fall asleep forever. Maybe we’re reincarnated. Maybe we’re all in a simulation and I’ve already died hundreds of times. I hope not. Personally, I believe in a loving Creator, and with the presence of temporary suffering I have to believe that it’s all leading somewhere, that somehow there is a purpose for it all. If there is an afterlife or a heaven, I believe that it will be a continuation...it will be familiar. It will be the earth as it should be, with pure peace and joy, because all of the reasons for those things to be absent will be gone. I believe that there will be an overwhelming sense of Oneness, wholeness, of family - because we will all be there, no matter what we said or did or believed before...for if we weren’t all there, it wouldn’t truly be complete. And I think we’ve all experienced enough hell on earth to know a good thing when we see it.

I don’t know if I saw and experienced a glimpse of the afterlife in my vision, but I wouldn’t mind if it was. I don’t know how we’ll reach life after death...if we go to another dimension immediately when we die or if we’ll all wake up together. If it’s all the same, I think I’d like to ride there through the night in the back of my family’s 1992 two-toned Chevrolet Suburban with burgundy interior. My dad will be driving because he knows the way, and my mom will have her headphones in and she’ll be singing. Danielle will fall asleep with her head in my lap soon after we start moving, and I’ll nod off and wake up just as we’re pulling into the driveway.

It will be Grandma’s white house, but instead of the pool in the back it’ll be right up against the alpine lake with a large garden to the side leading into the expansive forest. The house will already be full, but quiet, still, and asleep. Maybe Danielle and I will build a little neighboring cabin, but for now we enter. We’ll go in as quietly as we can, but the sliding glass door will make a noise and Mugsy will give a sleepy bark. We’ll steal upstairs to put our things away, and Grandma will be at the top of the stairs in her cotton nightgown. Her hair will still be white, but her eyes and limbs are young. My mom will tell her that we tried not to wake her, but she won’t answer - just smile and whisper, “hey, kids”. She’ll hug us and scratch our backs with fingers that don’t shake anymore. She’ll tell us that sugar cookies are in the jar, and we’ll silently eat cookies and drink milk, and my dad will eat a cold roast beef sandwich.

We’ll go make beds out of big pillows on the living room floor because all of the rooms are full, but we won’t mind. We’ll wake up late and pad our way out - Grandpa will be reading the paper with Mugsy in his lap, and Grandma will be watching the birds with Uncle John. She’ll have a cup of coffee in her hands, and outside the window Aunt Carol will be walking the garden with a cat or a chicken at her heels, and my dad will be pulling weeds. Steph will be outside running after Riven and Flapjack, and Grandma will giggle. When they see me come in, they’ll say, “morning, Luke”.

And that’s how I’ll know I’m finally home.

//

Six years old, but still holding true. I’ve gotten better at singin’ and recording and the boys have gotten better at videos, but I think this one is still special.

The Pursuit of Bravery: Both Poison and Fine Wine

Author: John Lucas Kovasckitz

Written from Jodhpur, India...an extension of “We Shall Overcome”.

 

The wheel of human suffering
begins and ends and starts again with ignorance;
and ignorance can be a choice,
for I know in my spirit that I have chosen not to see you.
I have spun the wheel with my eyes closed.

 

This land makes me uncomfortable to the core.
There are no good hiding spots -
for you or for me.
Here you have no modesty,
and I am not quick enough to avert my eyes.

 

I have seen your nakedness;
why did you expose yourself to me?

I have seen your hunger,
your thirst,
your sickness.
I have smelled the reek of your poverty -
y
our filthy hands have grasped mine,
r
efusing to release.

 

Is my life worth more than yours?
I know the answer to win applause,
b
ut I know the true response of my heart.
For if this were not the case,
m
y conscience could no longer float in the sea of my guilt.

 

But you beg not for the paltry coins of my guilt,
f
or guilt requires only a meager sum for relief.
No, you seek a ransom -
t
he fortune of my awareness,
m
y presence,
m
y very being.
You ask for all that I have to give;
f
or awareness is the road to love,
a
nd love requires The Path of Suffering.
I have seen without Seeing;
t
o be aware is to suffer.

 

I do not know if I can leave the comfort of my home behind.

 

This land makes my inheritance of perceived righteousness seem a curse.
I did not ask to be born into the false promised land,
o
n the winning side of this invisible border drawn in the dirt.

 

I have taken pride in my righteousness,
b
ut is this blamelessness in the sight of others
m
erely the privilege of my unearned inheritance of violence?
Starvation has never required my hands to steal,
o
r to harm another in fear of someone also hungry or afraid.

 

Oh God, why must you have come as a beggar?
You have shown me my own nakedness,
m
y own violence,
m
y own hunger,
m
y own thirst.
I am a false king from a false kingdom.

 

Oh God, I am willing to see.
Spit on your filthy hands and rub the blindness from my eyes.
Kneel with me on the banks of the Ganges,
a
nd we’ll sift for the gold left behind by those gone before -
s
mall as babies when they’re thrown back to the water.

 

The river is murky with death,
b
ut this is holy water -
b
oth poison and fine wine:
t
he wine of brotherhood.
Dip my body in the waters before the pyre
burn the ignorance of my flesh.

 

For in this water I am you and you are me.

 

//

 

The Pursuit of Bravery: We Shall Overcome

Author: John Lucas Kovasckitz

Inspired by the words and life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the work still left to be done - part of which is addressed in The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. 

 

We shall, we shall
we shall overcome -
my white brothers,
my white sisters. 

 

We shall overcome
the dark shadows of oppression
that we have cast -
at times with calculation,
at times without thought. 

 

Shadows
passed down like family heirlooms - 
we shall break the curse
and take up a new name,
a new mantle of righteousness. 

 

We shall overcome our power
that blinds us to the powerless.
We shall overcome our wealth
that starves and displaces the poor. 

 

We shall overcome
our apathy
our contempt
our fear
our comfort and self-preservation
through the path of destruction. 

 

We shall overcome our borders
until there are no outsiders.
We shall overcome our religions
until we see God.
We shall overcome our man-made structures
of law and order
that have ordered the laws
in our image - 
until our law is love,
and our gospel peace. 

 

Oh Lord, 
give us the courage
to open the prison doors
that have enslaved our brothers. 
Oh brother: 
I am the thief,
the swindler,
the criminal - 
and I have judged you wrongly from afar. 
Forgive me, brother, 
for I have sinned against you
and against God. 

 

Oh Lord, 
give us the moral fortitude
to wash the feet of the prostitute
with our own hair. 
Oh sister,
oh daughter of the King, 
no longer will you sell your body
to hollow power
for hollow bread. 
You will be honored,
you will be loved. 

 

Oh Lord,
give freedom to the captives,
bring justice to the oppressed - 
through our hands and our feet,
our blood and our tears.

 

Let us suffer with joy alongside those
who have suffered enough. 

 

Oh beautiful
Brothers,
Sisters,
this is my body,
broken for you. 

 

We shall overcome.
All of us.

 

For The Path of Suffering
leads to the Kingdom of God.

 

 

 

 

The Pursuit of Bravery: Milestones of light - with Danielle Kovasckitz, my better half

Author: John Lucas Kovasckitz with Danielle Kovasckitz

 

Danielle and I were married in late summer, under the wings of an old tree, surrounded by mist and those closest to us. We packed out the converted barn across the field, and we danced with the darkness with all of our collective might. It's perhaps stereotypical, but it was the best day of my life to this point...I've never experienced that much love packed into a single day.

In the few years that have followed, Danielle and I have grown our roots deeper. We've learned how to love better. We've learned how to better share the same bank account, and how to better share suitcases, and I'm improving my batting average of knowing when she says one thing but really means another deep down. We've learned that it's best not to grocery shop together if it can be avoided, and she's good at giving me my introvert time when I'm grumpy and just need to be alone with my guitar or tinker on a piano. We're still learning, we're still growing. 

We've packed about ten or fifteen years into our first few years of marriage. We've worked the night shift at a difficult facility together...where I would drop her off, giggling only a little, at one of her boys throwing all of his belongings out of the upstairs window, salute her goodbye, and go see what craziness I would find in my own cottage. We've traveled most of the U.S. together. We've worked on farms together, and we've climbed a lot of mountains together. At one point, we were raising ten kids together. We traded off with baby monitors at night and went full throttle by day. And we're currently in New Zealand, a month into seven of traveling the world together. 

To look back at the milestones of our life together so far is a bit insane...and I hope that pattern continues. I wouldn't be where I am now if it wasn't for Danielle; I wouldn't have the same line of thinking. It's wild to see how dreams collide to create something new and unique. 

But above all that we've done, it's truly been done together. She's made the faraway places feel like home, the ordinary days special, the horrible days not so horrible after all, and the days of sheer joy that much brighter. 

Danielle is the bravest person I know, mostly in quiet ways. Despite not (yet) having biological children, I know her to be a strong and beautiful mother. Her heart is a gift for others - sometimes a painful gift, as love often is. She loves well, she questions the world well. We've worked hard, but honestly it's been fairly easy for us to pursue our passions and dreams. Our marriage has had its times of frustration, but overall it's been easy to intertwine our lives together. Some days our experiences are difficult to place within a world of so much undue pain and injustice. Some days the light we attempt to add to the world seems worthless and utterly inconsequential. Some nights, she's laid next to me in the dark wondering how I am able to still see hope. Most nights my answers don't make her sleep any better.

But I think what I cling to is this: when we dance with the darkness with all of our collective might, something happens. Light is born. God is made evident, and is within and among us.

And sometimes that's easy to forget...sometimes it's difficult to believe that light is stronger than the darkness. But it is. I believe that with everything I have. All the same, sometimes we need to be reminded...often again and again.

In five days (four in New Zealand - I can promise you the sun will come out tomorrow!), Danielle turns twenty-five. She has a few thoughts and a birthday request to share below - if you would, I'd be incredibly grateful if you would share a bit of light and then flood her inbox with what you have experienced.

And now, without further ado, my better half... 

 

Danielle: I think it is customary to reflect on the years of your life as another passes. Perhaps it is especially common as “landmark” years approach. 

I have spent most of my adult years working for a bit, quitting said job, traveling, repeat. Somewhere in that mix, I was married young and have since seen many beautiful places with the man that I love. My life has been very full of doing things that I love with people that I love. It is all very privileged and some days a bit overwhelming. While I have worked hard, most of what I have has been given to me. Thus, I fully recognize this lifestyle I live is much in part due to the kindness of strangers and friends, as well as the color of my skin.

In these last few years, I have become especially burdened with this privilege…often driving me to cynicism and struggling to understand how to live with so much while so many live with little. These thoughts fill my head with anger. Why me? What have I done to deserve this life? My blood boils at the injustices of this world, while I sip my $4 coffee, in the new beautiful town in which I am traveling. It all feels a bit backwards and my heart yearns for balance. To appreciate my privilege, this life it allows me, but also to give back ten fold. 

I have allowed cynicism to tell me this world is full of more dark than light. That even if I recycle every day of my life, the environment will still go to shit…so whats the point? That adopting one child, means there are still millions more. I don’t know where the light is as I watch my mother’s health struggle. I don’t know where the light is in inequality. Or war. Or poverty. Sometimes it’s so damn hard to see.

I have spent a fair amount of our time in New Zealand walking in the woods. It has given me much time to reflect and to ask for a new perspective. One of light and not of darkness. My heart cries for a new mantra, and my heart yearns to give more. I have not yet mastered this new perspective, and I am not sure that I ever will. I hope that the more I walk, the more I will see.

Back to the “it’s my birthday” part. I’ve thought a lot about what I can do to give back as well as what I would like for my birthday. So as twenty five quickly approaches, I have a birthday request:

I’d love for you all to do something to add a little more light to this broken world, and then I’d like you to tell me about it. Perhaps cook a nice meal and gather around a table with people you love (one of my favorite things). Or maybe you want to research an organization that you can give to and then give. Maybe you pick up some trash on the road. Or maybe you write someone a good old fashioned letter. Plant a seed. LAUGH. It can be the tiniest or biggest of acts. Then, If you feel so inclined…DM me on Instagram, Facebook, or email me (daniellealyssak@gmail.com). Send me photos or stories or even a simple sentence about the bit of light you shared. It would bring me a great deal of joy. Heck, even if we have never met and for some reason you have read this far…I’d love to hear your stories. 

On my twenty-fifth birthday I will be walking the Tongariro Circuit with my husband and dearest friend, Em. We will eat camp food and walk a lot. It might rain and it will probably be a little hard sometimes. I vow to do my best to walk with thanks (even going uphill in the pouring rain). I vow to choose hope and light. I vow to never stop trying to use this privilege honorably. Along with walking on my actual birthday, my goal is to find an organization in the coming weeks that I believe in to give. So if there are any out there you love…please pass them along. 

To all you incredible humans who have opened your homes to us and graciously fed us over this past year, Thank you:

 

i often think of home. 
i think of its steady mess of laughter.
with a side of bickering -- shoes scattered on the floor.
i think of the people who fill it. 
the stories we share, gathered around a table -- tumultuous glory.

i think of open doors, open spaces, and a place to lie my head. 
sleep looks like air mattresses in your living room, a guest room for two.
it’s snuggles with your pups. hugs from your littles. it’s warm and we are welcome.

two nights here, one night there.
another familiar place, too many kind strangers. 
folded clothes with a trifle of crumpled mess atop. 
my suitcase is your closet.
less and i still have so much more.  

wings soon fly me onward
new nations, more strangers, even more hugs. 
sweet reunions with old friends.
high tea stories beckon. 
it’s time to be one with the dirt.

may i return better. 
may i return your loving acts.

i think of a home. where you are welcome.
where my table is full and you are the guest in our guest room. the garden out front is ripe.

the wood stove billows. 

i think you have humbled me. 
with your open doors, you shine light. 
with your warm beds, safety. 
you leave me fed and you remind me that there is beauty beyond the dark.

IMG_3258.JPG

The Pursuit of Bravery: Family X // Jesus Was a Black Man

Author: John Lucas Kovasckitz

 

Several months ago, I found The Autobiography of Malcolm X on a shelf in my parents' house. It once belonged to my Aunt Alison - one of my favorite people, and a true lover of books - who passed away a few years ago. It was an autographed copy (signed by Alex Haley, who pieced together Malcolm's thoughts to create the book), and a typed sheet found inside told the story of how she had been the first to bound onto the stage for the autograph after hearing Haley speak at an event...despite her previous embarrassment of gushing her love for his work, mistakingly, to the man introducing Haley instead of Haley himself. This encounter was mentioned during the introduction for the evening, and got a big laugh from the audience...but my aunt was never one to let her embarrassment stand in the way. She loved life, and lived fully to the end.

Because of my love for my aunt, and the fact that the book was briefly held by the man who sat for years with Malcolm to create it, I read the book as carefully as I could. However, it was an aged paperback, and the spine separated from the cover and fell apart in chunks as I read it. 

The piece that struck me the most, recounted by Malcolm speaking as he would at the time as a rigid member of The Nation of Islam: "The blond-haired, blue-eyed white man has taught you and me to worship a white Jesus, and to shout and sing and pray to this God that's his God, the white man's God. The white man has taught us to shout and sing and pray until we die, to wait until death, for some dreamy heaven-in-the-hereafter, when we're dead, while this white man has his milk and honey in the streets paved with golden dollars right here on this earth!" 

Over the past several years, my theology and my relationship with Christianity as a religion has separated from the spine and fallen apart in chunks in my hands. Some pieces I have kept and hold dearly, some pieces I have burned, others I hold loosely with questions. Many within the Christian faith would call this a sacrilege - to sift through, to choose truth from "the ultimate and unchanging Truth"...if indeed this exists.

But I think that within any faith or religion this is what we must do to follow the Spirit: to sift, to weigh, to hold and to let go, to be open to new understandings. Jesus often began: "You have heard this, but I tell you this..."

Throughout history, religion (certainly the Christian religion) has been used to justify the unjustifiable. The Bible and Christianity has historically been manipulated and twisted by the powerful to provide moral foundation for genocide, colonialism, slavery, theft of land and resources...essentially the gamut of all injustices - from deeply personal to the scope of all humanity. And simultaneously, in the name of Christ, the world has received an outpouring of love and deeds that have changed the very foundations of the earth. As my friend Dominic Laing writes, "A hammer can build a home or crack a skull. It’s all in how you use it." 

And I believe where the misuse and the dark manipulation of religion begins is at the point when we believe to have arrived at ultimate truth...when we have tasted the apple and begin to form God in our own image. This is perhaps quite easy for the powerful: to believe that they were given their status through the desires of the Divine, and to act and speak with that authority. It's easy to create a White Jesus preoccupied with punishing and enslaving those without power, a White Jesus preoccupied with the afterlife to avoid the injustices taking place here and now. 

Jesus was lynched on a tree.

I invite you to let that sink in a bit. 

A crucifixion is ancient, barbaric, and holds little meaning in the present day. A lynching is a fresh wound in the span of our history. Jesus was lynched on a tree. That wording changes something inside of me. It changes my view of Jesus. It changes my view of Christianity. 

Jesus was lynched on a tree for being a threat to the religious leaders (following rigidly the first books of the modern Bible) and the powerful, for claiming to be the Son of God...when at the time this was believed of Caesar - the ruler of men.

If Jesus was lynched on a tree a hundred years ago in America, who would have comprised the threatened religious establishment? Who would his followers be? Who would have done the lynching? Who would have shouted for his death, and who would have watched?

What about today?

I pose the question because I believe that the great majority of the Religious Institution of the current White American Church, and those holding power, would be as hell-bent on the destruction of the life and message of Jesus as the political and religious leaders were at the time of his crucifixion...his lynching. 

For the past couple of months, I've been recording "Family X": a collection of songs that are the overflow of my wrestlings with injustice - historic and current - as a white, American, male. Historically speaking, I have been given a great amount of power simply by being born. 

My heart breaks for the injustices taking place both in America and around the world, but I often feel like injustices such as racism and the plight of those in crippling poverty and slavery are not my story to tell...that I am not welcome in the march for freedom. It almost feels a perversion, for I know that (at the very least indirectly) my place of power and comfort requires the back of the "other" in poverty, the slave, the alien. 

And yet, deep in my soul - and even logically - as a white, privileged, American male, my silence is the greater perversion. I don't wish to give scraps from my table to ease my conscience or to soothe White guilt, but to be a part of the growing revolution for true justice and brotherhood. 

Malcolm Little changed his surname to X, the X representing the unknown name of his African ancestors and their culture that had been lost during slavery. The title "Family X" pays homage to this loss, but also eludes to the oneness of all life outside of our constructed borders of what 'family' denotes. Through our borders and exclusion is where injustice begins.

The cover art for the album is a photograph taken by my grandfather of his children - Aunt Alison is front and center, my mother in the right corner holding the doll. This photograph is a mirror of myself, the womb from which I was born.

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I cannot, and would not, change my heritage or family. I cannot, and would not, change the color of my skin or my upbringing. I personally hold little besides love and gratitude. 

But acknowledging the perceptions and expectations that are knowingly and unknowingly placed on my shoulders for what I cannot control, how can I live in a way that gives life instead of robbing it? How have I consciously or unconsciously "othered" a people group to consciously or unconsciously elevate myself? How have my personal choices prolonged the narrative of oppression for people of color, people of different sexual orientation, the immigrant, the planet itself?

I invite you to personally pose these same questions. For those within the American church, I invite you to critically question where your faith is producing life and fruit, and where it is contributing to oppression for the outsider. 

The bridge of the title track, "Family X", from the view of the Creator, the good Father, the Spirit-Mother to all of humanity, ends:

I'm in the borders of the refugee
I'm in chains with those in slavery
But I'm not caged in your theology
You cannot rob my grace from me

For you have waged wars in my name
And crippled my children with shame
Divided with fire and flame
But hallelujah
The son of man rises again

You cannot rob my grace from me
You cannot take away my family

Malcolm X was gunned down during a speech by members of The Nation of Islam, the organization for which Malcolm gave much of his life, until he disbanded and made public the falsities and abuses of power found within. It was clear that at the end of his life Malcolm knew that he would be killed, either by assassination through the FBI or The Nation of Islam. He continued speaking out, and died for what he believed. 

"Family X" is set to release on February 21, the anniversary of Malcolm's death. My hope is that these songs continue his fight for truth and justice...but foremost my hope is that these songs point to the teachings of the true Christ, who first died for us as the human embodiment of the character and heart of the Creator. We are all the sons and daughters of the Creator, and I believe family to be the revolution. Where there is true family there is no "other", no outsider. 

When attempting to write this post, it first came out in poetic form...before my longwinded fingers caught up with the rest. I'd like to share it below. Thanks for being on this journey with me, and for listening. I hope that I can step on your toes, and that you can step on mine, but at the end of the day we can break out the bread and wine together.

Cheers,
Lucas

 

Jesus Was a Black Man

Jesus did not stand
When the flag of the empire
Was unfurled
He was a threat
To the kingdoms of earth
To the masters of slaves

Jesus was a revolutionary
Who was lynched on a tree

And I looked on
And I didn't say a word

I didn't say a goddamned word. 

I didn't drive the nails into his hands
Or press the thorns in his brow
Or kick
Or whip
Or mock
Or curse
I just looked on
And I didn't say a word

But I can't shake the dream
That I'm shouting
Crucify him
That my white hands
Are stained red with his blood

I'm shouting
Back of the bus
Nigger
God hates fags
Build the wall
Make the empire
Great
Again

And I wake
And I don't know what is real
Or a dream
Anymore

Is my silence
An absolution
Or is my silence
An abomination
A whip
A stone
A curse

Jesus, rise from the dead
In me
Roll away the stone
Of my own whitewashed tomb

Wash me not white as snow
Make me black as fertile soil

Open my ears
To the song of the oppressed
Teach me to sing
And I will open my mouth

Guide me to the tree
And I, too, will lay down my life
For my brother
For my Mother