A Poem : Hope for the Weary Old World

Weary oldWhile driving along the Colorado freeway, I looked up at my mountains and was struck with a thought: no matter how the world crumbles, these mountains keep on being beautiful… how brave! Though the world is bent with sadness sometimes, there seems to be a deep down joy that will not be stifled. And so I penned this poem.

Joy Clarkson

May 29, 2016

Weary Old World, lift your head.

The sun still shines, and I am in love with you!

Grace has not yet abandoned your bent frame;

Freeways and gas lines have not yet seen you tamed.

You still run wild in the quiet dawn’s bursting,

Before men rush to their weeping and worsting.

 

Weeping Old World, wash your face.

Babies still laugh and you are my beloved home.

Hope still surges with the returning Spring.

Though causeless noise abounds, birds still sing.

Your iron will spits upon despair with blooming flowers.

Over sleepless, tattered cities, you cast the spell of golden hours.

 

Tattered Old World, Change your clothes.

The Bridegroom comes, and I’m invited!

Soon ends your timeless headlock with man’s vexing moods,

For over the bent world the Holy Ghost still broods.

Evil is not forever and  redemption comes not in halves,

So shake your verdant head, Old World, and dance for Joy and laugh.

 

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Millennials are people too

Millennial

“Must be something in the water; you’re all diseased.”

I’ve been around the internet long enough to know never to read the comment section of Youtube, but I am still sometimes aghast at the vitriol or just plain grumpiness people display on the internet. This comment was from a middle aged man directed at the general “you” of the millennial generation on a very innocent (if hipster) post on a Facebook page I help manage. After overcoming my initial annoyance, I realized: this attitude is pretty common.

People love to criticize Millennials.

They’re entitled.

They’re hipsters.

They live with their parents.

They are wimps.

They are waaaaayyy too snobby about their coffee.

They don’t vote.

They’re too sensitive.

They just need to work harder.

What on earth is wrong with Millennials?

I find this attitude to be unhelpful.

As a Millennial, I do sometimes stand in consternation of my own generation. I am the first to bury my flushing, embarrassed face in my hands when I watch one of those videos where college students don’t know who won the Civil war. I’ve lived with my parents after graduating college. I’ve wasted as much time on Buzzfeed as the next girl.

But…

I am a part of this generation. The burden of bearing the economy, society, religion and culture in to the next generation is heavy on my shoulders. I, and many good men and women to my left and right, are staring into an uncertain future with grim determination that we will make something of this world. There are things that deeply exasperate me about my generation. There are things I don’t like about myself that stem from my millennial-ness. But, I believe that my generation can be faithful stewards of the world we’ve been given.

This post is for anyone in an older generation who is concerned, annoyed, or confused by Millennials. The attitude of grumpy pessimism I detect towards millennials neither encourages nor convicts. I hope I do not sound patronizing; that is not my intention. I hope only to give a little insight to my wonderful, ridiculous, sincere, mustache growing generation. So, here it is.

Four things to do instead of hating on Millennials.

  1. Don’t Generalize… Speak forward:

“How might you change the world?Make it more beautiful? Make people know they’re loved?”

These were the questions I grew up hearing my parents ask me and my siblings. There was an underlying assumption that we had something to add to the world. We were privileged with love, education, and freedom. What would we do with it?

This is not the way I see many people talking to and about millennials.

I shy away from calling my friends’ parents “those hippy, sexual revolution nuts.” Firstly, because it would be rude and disrespectful. But perhaps more importantly because it would probably be false. Most of my friend’s parents did not attend Woodstock, and are hardworking, respectable, pious people, who love God, their family, and their country. To equate individuals with the presumed common facts about their generation creates a skewed vision of them based on generalizations.

It is generally a good idea not to relate to people by generalizations. I hope (I wish, nay I pray) this is something most people know. It is inappropriate and usually ineffective to relate to someone based purely on generalizations about their race, gender, or nationality. Why would this be different generationally?

People rise to the expectations they are given. When you speak to a hardworking, faithful Millennial as though they are lazy, wimpy, and profligate, it is disheartening. When you speak to Millennials who may actually need a kind kick in the right direction, you do nothing more than lose their attention. Generalizations make conversation between generations impossible; if you have already made up your mind that my generation is headed for destruction, trying to convince you otherwise seems pointless to me.

Instead of making hasty, damning generalizations, speak forward what you believe Millennials could accomplish… even if they are not currently living up to it. When you speak forward instead of generalizing, you create a positive vision for what the future could hold.

Proverbs says “death and life are in the power of the tongue” (18:21). Let us all bring life, not death.

2. Study Us:

Millennials are not a collective enigma born of chance, fair trade coffee and Facebook. Millennials are a link in the chain of generational history. I often perceive a genuine concern and furrow on the brow of older generations; why on earth are Millennials the way they are?

Let me offer this: I do not believe Millennials simply decided one day to gallantly gallop around crushing every social institution known to man… family… church… politics.

There are good, historical reasons for the ways Millennials relate to the world. Let me hazard a few guesses at some of the elements that have birthed the kaleidoscope of social views and behaviors of Millennials.

Why are they so suspicious of church? Because, in their formative years, they saw the scandals of the Catholic church and the rather fantastic falls of many evangelical leaders; they didn’t know who to trust anymore.

What on earth is it with their political views? Because in their short lives they’ve seen Bill Clinton’s affair, multiple government shut downs, 9/11, email scandals, multiple recessions, sticky foreign policy swamps, terrorist attacks, demagoguery, and aggressive, polarized infighting like no other time in US history. Forgive us if we’re a bit under-enthusiastic.

Why do they live at home? Because we have lived through two recessions, the job market is more difficult to get into than it was, and housing is more expensive than ever! In short: because it was the wisest thing to do, and some of us are lucky enough to have gracious parents.

Sometimes I think the people who criticize Millennials forget that they were the ones who raised us.

I do not mean to let Millennials off the hook. I carry my privilege as a heavy mantle. Many of us have been given a great deal. My point is this: my generation is the way it is because we are bargaining with the past to create a new future.

Our world is insecure and we don’t know what to do about it. Saying Millennials just need to work harder or get a backbone just doesn’t quite cut it. There are real issues that require real consideration. Calling our generation to a high standard involves knowing the history that has made us who we are. I think many Millennials feel out of control and like they can’t do anything to make the world better.

If you want to influence and help millennials in their efforts to live good lives, study us before you speak. What are the issues pulsing at the heart of our existence? What are the fears and pains giving us anxiety?What are the books we’re reading? The music we’re listening to? The youtube videos we’re laughing at?

Before you try to fix millennials, understand them.

3. Mentor us:

When my mama (a writer) entered her fifties, she decided she wanted to mentor and work with younger bloggers. I watched as she entered into the world of women twenty and thirty years younger than her, seeking to understand what made them tick, what made them sad, and what issues they most needed to deal with. I admire her so much and am amazed at the positive, lifegiving influence and wisdom she has poured into me and countless others through humbly entering into our worlds.

Every generation needs the knowledge of the previous generation to move forward wisely. It does sadden me how resistant many of my peers are to input. But, on the opposite end, I see so many people my age starving for guidance they can trust. Many Millennials have been ripped out of the old, countable on-able institutions of church or even neighborhood community, and find themselves very isolated. For whatever reason the older generations have given up on mentoring. Perhaps they feel under-qualified, unwanted, or unsure of where to begin.

Oh, how deeply I crave the insight, care, love, and wisdom of those older than me. I have been deeply blessed by the mentors in my life who have helped me become who I am. I would have floundered (more than I already did) without the love and belief of my parents, professors, and mentors.

Who might flounder because you weren’t there?

If a Millennial reaches out to you, take the chance. Be bold. Help us write a resume. Give us dating advice. Give us a book. Tell us about Jesus. If nothing else, tell us everything you wish you hadn’t done.

Go out to coffee with us. We love that.

4. Love us:

You can’t change something you don’t love. Without love, one will not have the motivation and endurance to wait and work in the hard times. Without love we won’t do any real good. As the Apostle said, “Without Love I am noisy gong and a clanging symbol” (1 Corinthians 13). I struggle with my generation. We frustrate, exasperate, and discourage me. Sometimes I want the world to be different than it is; to be lovely, secure, kind. Sometimes I wish I could be a part of a different time, when the lines between good and evil seemed clearer. But I love my generation. I have to. 

As is so often the case, Tolkien gives me the words to understand my experience.

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us”
(J.R.R. Tolkien, Fellowship of the Ring).

This is the generation I was supposed to be born into. By God’s grace, I will do my best to create beauty, preserve truth, cherish humanity, and honor the great cloud of witnesses who have run the race before me. What I ask of you, oh Older Generation Reader, is this: Love us. Pray for us. Don’t regard us with contempt. We have quite a world ahead of us to change.

Millennials are not “diseased” as my internet friend asserted. We are a complex, flawed, passionate, sincere generation faced with wild world full of perils and possibilities, but we can’t do it alone. Will you help?

Redemptive Creativity

Creating

I think creativity is an essentially redemptive act.

The Mythic opening of our scriptures begin thus: In the beginning, God created. The very first thing we know about God is that He is creative. Into the darkness and void, He brings beauty, order, and meaning. And we humans, most miraculously and foundationally, are made in His image, which means a profound part of our identity the ability to create.

In her book Walking on Water, Madeleine L’Engle describes acts of creation as “bringing cosmos from chaos.” This is what we see in Genesis, God singing into being a cosmos out of the chaos of the void. Under this definition, creativity can wear many faces. Bringing cosmos into chaos can be seen when a composer brings the dancing notes on a score into soaring unity and harmony. Bringing cosmos into chaos happens in a well ordered house with pictures on the wall, a candle glowing, and soup on the stove. Cosmos can be brought into the chaos through a well tended garden.

I hope I bring some cosmos to chaos when I set words down on paper.

The redemptive creativity sewn deep in our beings is directly opposed to the chaos we so often encounter in the world.

Evil un-creates.

So often, the trials that rock our souls most are ones which seem to chip away at who we are as a person; the trials that unmake us. The sadness that strikes and makes you wonder if the joy so natural to your personality is gone forever. The relational difficulties that make you wonder if you really are able to have close and loyal relationships. The rejection that makes you wonder if you’ll ever be able to pursue the dreams of your heart.

Beyond the personal realm, evil erodes the beauty and order of culture. Perhaps we could even consider the more drastic evil of terrorism; an evil that seeks only to destroy the sense of safety, order, and trust. We perceive chaos in our political spheres.

So often, our true trial is not only in bad circumstances but in the feeling that who or what we love is being destroyed, mangled, un-created.

When we are creative in any capacity, we battle against the unmaking of pain and evil.

When we create we declare that there is order and loveliness in the world. This does not mean that all art must be orderly and lovely; a great role of art is to tell the truth, and the truth is not always beautiful. But good art always seeks to mean something, and therefore to declare the world meaningful.

While in Dublin last year, I had the great delight of seeing the Book of Kells, a collection of ancient illuminated gospel manuscripts created in the monasteries of Ireland and Scotland in the 8th century. They are truly awe inspiring; one of the most moving pieces of history I have ever encountered. Each book is covered in illuminated painted scenes inspired by the gospels. They are so intricate you can hardly perceive the patterns woven into every scene. Though they are ancient, the colors are still vivid and diverse. When you look at page, the woven patterns and colors almost seem to dance and spin. But as amazing as the manuscripts themselves is their story; they were created during tumultuous years of the Viking raids in Ireland. I can’t remember the exact number, but the monasteries in which they were kept were raided and burned from 30-37 times in 15 years… and yet the manuscripts were carefully preserved, surviving even when most of the monks perished in the attacks.

In response to the great un-making evil of the Viking raids, humble monks and scribes created and brought beauty. A beauty which spoke to my soul and strengthened my faith 1,200 years later. Could there be anything more brave?

A poem in the margins of one of the scribes’ work reads:

I get wisdom day and night

Turning darkness into light.

This is the redemptive power of creativity; bringing cosmos from chaos, light from dark. And I believe this is the mission to which we are called. To turn darkness into light. To stare into the chaos of our broken world, and to bring cosmos. To paint, cook, love, sing, write, dance, teach, heal. To act in the image of the One who sustains our being. To look at the crumbling bricks of our world and say, “I think I can make something of this.”

So, what will you create today?

Why do I write?

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Meet my 10 year old self, humbly self titled the traveling poet.

I found this page yesterday when, in a rare and unplanned fit of tidiness, I cleaned and organized my book shelves and the underbelly of my reading chair. There’s no cue for nostalgia like finding the play program from your senior year, a mixtape from your teenage crush, and 31 journals. No. You didn’t read that wrong. And yes. I’ve written in all of them.

I’m the only person in my immediate family who hasn’t published a book. Sometimes people have asked me: is writing just a Clarkson thing? And in one sense I would have to say yes. We are word people. My parents raised us on books and dinner time discussions on light subjects like moral reasoning, theology, current events, and Lord of the Rings. We are, as a clan, compulsive communicators. So perhaps I was born to it.

I think it is more than that. I have always felt writing to be a part of me, something I couldn’t get rid of, and didn’t want to. For 15 years now I have scrawled away in loopy handwriting things that no one will probably ever see, and yet I feel compelled to write. I think other people feel this way, or perhaps they feel the same with creating, or computing, or caretaking. We all have a something. This need has sparked the question: Why do I write?

Here are my brief and limited answers.

Because I am a writer. 

I’ve noticed that in many of my young journals, as in the entry above, I identified myself as a writer or a poet. One brave entry even says “Dear diary, as I have said before: I am a writer and a poet.” Look back as an adult, I find it interesting that I didn’t say “I love writing” or “writing is my favorite activity” I said “I am a writer.” It wasn’t and never has been an activity, but an identity. It’s woven into the fabric of being Joy. It’s that habit I return to no matter what stage of life I’m in. This is not to say I’m always a very good writer, but a writer I always am. 

Because people.

My sister says that when I was in my elementary yeas, she would pick me up from class and I would fill the entire homeward drive with descriptions of my classmates. I have this abiding fascination, amusement, and reverence for humans. Part of the reason I write is simply because I want to capture people, their passions and afflictions, their sultry eyes and bulging noses, their sins and glories, so they can be seen and dwelt upon. I feel I can add some dignity and provide some clarity through preserving people on pages with carefully chosen words.

Because it’s how I make sense of my world.

Many chapters of my life have been closed with a journal entry. Writing has always allowed me perceive and record the string of meaning woven between the disparate events of my life; it allows me a sense of resolve. When I can put down my anger in an unapologetic 12 point Times New Roman font, it loses some of its power over me. When I scrawl the loveliness of the 9th of May on the left side of my journal, it can remain with me upon re-reading. When I release the numbness of a real pain in the safe structure of a poem, I can cry. When I write an entry of the time God provided when I thought there was no way out, I have it always as a memorial of God’s goodness. Writing allows me to bring order to my world through interpretation.

Because I love language.

Lovely. Bombastic. Ooze. Flippant. Ferocious. Tender. Unflappable. There are so many wonderful words in the world. I love to write because of the sheer delight of turning a good phrase. I love the way words dance to the rhythm you set. I love the way words can paint pictures with feelings. I love that words can have two meanings all at the same time. Language is the most human of nouns. I love language as an end in itself.

Because the world is meaningful.

At the heart of it, I write because I believe there is something worth writing about. I remember in my freshman Communication Theories class discussing the nature of meaning: does it lie in the communicator? or the words? or in the interplay between the two? I remember strolling back to my dorm, and having the sudden realization: there is such a thing as meaning. Pulsing, streaming, throbbing at the heart of all things, there is something we all wish to get at. So we speak, we compose music, we paint pictures, we tell stories, we bake pies, with a thrilling ache… do you know what I mean? Do I? We humans have a hard time saying something is what it is. We want it to mean something. It isn’t just a rose. It is romantic, lovely, passionate, sad. For all time, we as a race have danced around in a frantic frenzy to get our hands on meaning. And this is why I write. When I write, I feel not that I have made a nice story or essay up, but that I have chiseled some waiting figure out of marble. It was there all along, but I participated in the great delight of helping it come out in the open; the delight of finding the meaning that beats at the heart of the universe.

So these are some of the reasons I write. How about you?

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31 Journals.

In Praise of Being Judgemental

Mary Berry thinks you've gone a bit crackers

Mary Berry thinks you’ve gone a bit crackers.

My mother has often told the story of an ill-fated trip to the YMCA with me and my three siblings. After a hearty attempt to exhaust us in the swimming pool, my mother allowed us to sit with her in the community spa tub. While we were soaking, a woman with rather generous proportions joined us. One of my brothers, six at the time, with his only his raisin toes dipped in the water, gazed in consternation. Finally, he leaned in and said in a lispy stage whisper,

“Mom. That lady is fat.”

That day, my brother learned the many nuances of the word “rude.”

This habit of children telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth is one that is rightly curbed by parents if for no other good reason that it will not go well with you in the land if you are constantly apprising people of their faults. But, there is something wholesome and necessary in practice of saying what is obvious, even if it is only to ourselves. Of coming to conclusions. Making judgements.

Judgement is a big ugly word in our culture. And for good reason! So much of our public (and personal!) discourse is shaped by name calling, intention blaming, and convenient other-ization. But, there are other reasons. In our individualistic culture we reserve the right not only to do everything we want, but to do it without the judgement of others. There is almost no individual more universally despised than the judgemental jerk. It doesn’t matter if you’re judgement is correct; mind your own business. In short: #DontJudge.

But what do we mean by “judging”?

My little dictionary app defines the word this way:

judgment |ˈjəjmənt|(also judgement )

noun

1 the ability to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions.

This doesn’t sound so bad. One might even go so far as to say it is something we ought to do. Under this definition, judgement isn’t always just about people; it’s about decision making.

Children make judgements all the time.

Carrots are gross.

Strawberries are yummy.

Dad’s hair looks weird.

This book is boring.

Suzy is mean.

Or, as I was recently told by a disgruntled 4 year old, You never stop singing.

In Boundaries (Cloud and Townsend, 1992), the authors, both clinical psychologists, discuss the courageous (and sometimes obnoxious) stage of truth telling in young children. They stated that it was an important part of a child’s developmental process for two reasons: 1. It helped children develop a sense of separateness and self. 2. It develops the ability to say “no” and to protect themselves from danger, and to say “yes” and choose to engage in things that can give them delight and wholeness.

In short, this developmental stage teaches them to make judgements: considered decisions based on sensible conclusions.

Having the honesty to say “Joe is mean and scary” or “Martha is weird” may be the discretion that protects them from a deep and abiding harm.

I wonder sometimes if, as adults we have neglected this important safeguard.  Are we making considered decisions based on sensible conclusions? Or are we trying to avoid being rude?

Too many times I have allowed myself to get caught in sticky and harmful situations and relationships by not listening to my inner judgmental-jerk.

But there is the rub: we too often speak of judgement in entirely negative terms. I think this is because we conflate two kinds of judgement. In my mind I call them righteous judgement and self-righteous judgement.

Righteous judgement is the judgement of the book of Proverbs: it tells us what is wise, safe, and reasonable, and what is not. It is founded in the impartial workings of the universe; it speaks a language of choices and consequences. It tells us the ways things are. It protects us. Righteous judgement is based on discretion which is the trained— not inherent!— ability to parse out truth from falsehood and act accordingly. This sort of judgement looks at an ingrown relationship and says “this is not good or lifegiving. Something must be done.”

Self-righteous judgement is the judgement of the gossip. Like all vices, it is a virtue turned inward. Where righteous judgement seeks to tell the truth for the sake of health and holiness, self-righteous judgement tells a small truth to tear down others and build up the one who tells it. It is built on a presumption of innocence of the judger. It looks at an ingrown relationship and blames till its blue in the face, never wanting for a moment to look inward or admit culpability.

I think the essential difference is this: righteous judgement judges actions, self-righteous judgement judges characters. And ultimately, judging characters is up to God, not us (thank goodness).

I will readily admit, I all too often fall prey to self-righteous judgement. Humans are possessed of an infinite ability to justify their actions, and I am not immune. In fact, by personality I’m fabulous at blustering around with an agenda and a profound sense of my own correctness. However, as I’ve grown older and been through a few of my own tussles, I’ve come to learn deeply the need for a childlike veracity. I want to see as much of the truth as my cloudy eyes can muster so that I can make the best decisions I can. I want to let Wisdom teach me. I want to be open to the discernment and honest of others. I want to be kind and gentle and ever aware of my limitations, but I also want to make considered decisions based on sensible conclusions.

My brother had no malice in his heart on that fateful YMCA day. He didn’t condemn her character or her person. He was only exhibiting his God-given ability to notice things and come to conclusions. But the really remarkable thing is that he said it in perfect humility; he did not feel in any way better by making his observation. And perhaps this is something we can learn from children: to be honest, to be judgmental, and all along to be humble about it. Because we can be rather silly too.

These are my meandering and unfinished thoughts on the matter. What do you think?

Readings to consider:

Proverbs 8-9

Boundaries (Cloud and Townsend, 1992)

Matthew 10:16