As a brutal and bloodied year comes to a close, I have found myself numb and struggling for words. If I were to borrow a few from Greg Wolfe (of Image Journal) they would be that I "remain shaken by the coarsening of public discourse and the lingering fear and anger that threaten to divide us into warring tribes."
2016 closes with a cacophony of loss. For me, the losses come in the form of a Canadian songwriter, a friend in New Mexico, and the loss of identity in a country I thought I knew.
Yet, in all this chaos one thing keeps reoccurring in my mind. It's a parable of Jesus that I studied in school, one that stirs me beyond the rhetoric of warring tribes. Jesus regularly taught that the summary of all the law and prophets was "to love God with all your heart, soul and mind and to love your neighbor as yourself" (Mathew 22, Mark12, Luke 10). But on one occasion he was asked to further expand on what he meant by "neighbor." He responded with a parable about a foreigner, of a different race and of a different religious tradition (a Samaritan), who provided medical care and housing for a wounded man along the side of the road. And in citing the cultural enemy of his own people as the exemplary hero of the story, this seemingly simple tale became both complex and convicting.
I will let you draw your own conclusions to the meaning, if any, behind this teaching but it seems set in stark contrast to a nation now poised to remove the foreigner from its midst — to force registries of families who worship differently or to dismantle health care for the vulnerable.
For me, the passage has become the primary lens in which I view my own Christian faith — a faith I tend to be quiet about, but mention now in response to the deep sadness I feel in witnessing a national movement that has sought to forge a misplaced alignment of religious belief with nationalism. A movement that has legitimized racism and sexism, validated conspiracy theory over science, and has laid the groundwork for fascism.
I don't mean to grind an ax, but I do feel the need to weigh in. While many in my country and faith family hurl themselves like lemmings over a populist cliff, I want to express how deeply grateful I am for all of you and to be amongst such a beautifully diverse community. I feel fortunate to have experienced meaningful relationships among friends who come from various persuasions, of belief and unbelief. I am grieved for the direction our country has taken. I love you; you are my neighbor by which I am honored.
Regardless of what my country does next, I want to explore how to better love thy neighbor (despite my own failures at it). These next four years could be very difficult for the vulnerable in our communities, and I want to find ways to share that load together. I hope, regardless of whatever political, theological, or philosophical persuasions you hold, that this thought might inspire you as well.
Leonard Cohen's incredible gift of lyrical imagery bridged that delicate gap between lyricist and poet. His ability to hold the tension between humanity and spirituality was rare. His gift to the world will be missed.
And as if sorrow had not already descended hard enough, I lost another friend in my artistic life. Dana Marie Dawkins was a writer and artist in New Mexico. Over the years she had become a part time editor to me, lovingly proofreading blogs, newsletters, and lyric books. I had a lot of fun with Dana desperately trying to find an excuse to use a semi colon correctly and never did;
Knowing she loved Leonard as much as I did, I recorded this cover of Bird on a Wire for her memorial. Photographer Nyree Watts
provided a beautiful cover image and we gift it to you as a stream/download
. A mutual friend of ours combined this same recording to video
she caught of birds in murmuration and it is beautiful.
A new album will emerge next year. My goal is to have it released on Fathers Day. I should have details on it by February and hopefully make it available for pre-release.
Until then, thanks for listening...
Merchandise and Music
AVAILABLE AT: Seattle, WA: Every Day Music. Silver Platters. Long Beach, CA: Fingerprints, Minneapolis, MN: Hymie's Vintage Vinyl, Roadrunner, Down in the Valley, Electric Fetus. (Distributed by Super D Distribution).
BAD TIME FOR LOVE and BOOTS OF SPANISH LEATHER.