Dark Boots: A Slam Poem 

This is a poem I wrote for an Eikon event at DTS yesterday evening, which I read to a wonderful audience. Here is the text of what I wrote! It comes in part from a statement in a book I cannot now remember, though I’ve tried, where the author basically asserts that everyone in the world wants everyone else to love the same things in the same way, or to “worship the same God(s).” If you enjoy something, you want others to enjoy it to (that’s CS Lewis). And their enjoying it makes it all the better, but their rejection makes you uncertain of yourself. That insecurity can lead to a lot of personal and relational problems. 

In Christ, we find a secure identity based on a love that is permanent and unchanging, unconditional. Only a unity based on Christ, then, is truly lasting, healthy, and holy. But frequently, in our efforts to obtain the praise of others and thus validate our own loves and selves, we compromise Christ for other things less than good. Everyone wants a type of unity and validation of self-worth, but each goes about this process in incredibly unhealthy ways, which lead to much of the damage we see in the world at large and also in the Christian Church. 

This poem explores the ways we humans seek identity and unity (a New Testament command for those who follow Christ) in ways healthy and unhealthy. It points out the ways we get mired in a perspective which does not lend us a full and clear view of what these patterns of behavior are doing to ourselves and others. 

This poem is entitled: dark boots

dark boots march, clud and shump through marsh, mud and thump out of the

blazing sun itself.

Sharp silhouettes lunge at the edge of sight, encroaching,

approaching in rhythm, 

Unity herself marching with them

…faster…

A singeing sprint where there will be no abating,

evil gathering and concentrating into the glinting point of a spear

to strike fear until we are rent hair to heel

by the enemy,

the adversaries of humility, 

defriending and defrauding the destitute, the prostitute,

the weak, needy, left hanged and bleeding 

upon the cross of Rome, Progress or ISIS,

in the name of power, purity and stability in crisis; 

out of the faces of the master races, denominations, and trickle-down vices:

What is it to be like this?

Like what?

Like one who respects not change and differences,

who feeds not the homeless and feels such distances 

between himself 

and his dependent hindrances? 

Like what?

Like one who refrains from engaging the other, another creation of God,

drawn down into darkness of self, left limp in the sod,

and suffocated with clods of dirt, self-accumulated money and things

and the pride of life self-begotten, self-wrought, my praises to sing? 

Like this? 

Unity calls and marches in dark boots;

Will it be through Christ?

Or compromise to platitudes of

“Just believe in yourself”

“It’ll be okay”

“You’ve got a career, don’t let that baby get in the way” 

We’re captured by others,

captivated by one and another,

by the other within and without,

yet fear one another and shun the other culture;

Maybe we are scared of the other in our sisters and brothers

because the other we fear the most

and understand least

is ourselves. 

Instead of being arrested by each other for the creations we are,

we arrest each other with:

impossible expectations, those scars with which we mar,

Hollywood affectations, till our lives are ripped apart,

Hollow adulations for plastic surgery of the heart 

Bourgeois protestations that loving the poor is just so hard!

So I wait for the rapture to take my problems so far, 

Separate me and them–so I can be perfectly set apart;

Suburban heaven and hell now ferments, 

where oneness comes through sameness

and not accepting the lame lest

we be adulterated adulterers, adult vultures raising the poor to the pyre

to set fire to differences; instances of blessed responsibility 

I push away; assert my innocency, washing stained hands below the picture of Jesus, 

white and wealthy who blesses and then leaves us

alone. 

I’m grieved for us.

The hermeneutic of power 

withers as a flower in the summer under the heat of the Word,

dead petals of false truth peddled commercially—top hits mean profit’s incurred. 

Unity calls and marches in dark boots;

Will it be through Christ?

Or compromise to sexual and verbal abuse,

And a polluted, dying world? Hand your children the noose. 

Under the headship of Christ

neither you nor me

but the beginnings of we

I see in the church…

…until he stopped to lurch toward the vain,

and she stopped to complain of the church

as a stained, boring dirge

that should just die

because it doesn’t look like her idea perfect.

Jusqu’ici, tout va bien,

just you and me on the lawn 

on the hill

and the city burns, and we take in the smell,

vicarious vicars content with the picture of

Discontent breeding; when they burn the bridges and boats

How deep will we dig our moat? 

The unity of the world threatens at the gate each day 

to make of people the United Slaves, deluded into digging our own graves

by means of greed, that pervasive lack of a love which bears beyond need

In the name of Christ.

And so,

Unity calls and marches in dark boots;

Will it be through Christ?

Or dehumanizing troops with trucks of women and children grouped

And sold to be slaves? Did you go to the auction in Houston today? 

The dark boots march, promising an increased salary,

infesting our truth through the cracks we leave open to the world

and closed to Calvary,

barely ajar, so that we can find

“A little happiness for myself”,

and not stuck inside with ourselves and repetition;

Instead stuck with the tension of who to trust:

When Christians can’t be reconciled we dig deeper into us

against the world alone, church apart from church, 

we begin to rust, 

forsaking responsibility for 

the us versus 

the “just me and Jesus,”

Seeking an individualized sanctity 

that will leave us blanketing the sins of forsaken unity 

because, well, I’m not being persecuted physically.

Unity calls and marches in dark boots;

Will it be through Christ?

Or will we soothe the youth with the abdication 

Of honest evaluation and parental care, giving way to

Teenage tribulation and regret too great to bear?

Is loving you a matter of Christ or compromise? 

What do I give up? Where do I give in? 

A humble servant, but rejecting all sin and perversion,

not to the point of aversion of the new and distinct

because God, who tore down walls, would have us stop and think about our differences

before we put up white-picket fences, and see through new lenses

at the same thing we’ve looked at for a lifetime,

before our holy message is hidden because couldn’t get along.

When do I crack? Where do I flex?

What do I hold to? And what comes next?

What is this new life? What is the new body?

What is it to be one? How do I react to all of these

questions and differences of opinion: 

To the sign of the cross at the end of a prayer?

To a prayer to Mary and the saints all layered? 

To the icons at the altar, to the breaking of leavened bread,

When Christians are dying on crosses and from shots to the head?

When I see the children there, and see where they bled:

The muslim boy who became a bomb in a demonic stampede;

The atheist child who commits suicide after he asks and pleads

his parents for answers, his friends for some comfort

while the world says that hopelessness is just that one port

we all get stuck at? 

Grow up son, get good grades, be a man self-made

and ignoring others, using people for fodder 

for business or bombs, either way, lambs to slaughter

for the sake of power, the god of the hour;

Unity calls and marches in dark boots;

Will it be through Christ? Or compromise to business suits

and terrorists? 

When I refuse to love you, to speak to you,

I become the unclean

The man who uses people for his own means

and ends

Instead of persevering for the sake of the God who Sends

his people to the world, till this age comes to end

And Christ returns, and ask about our investments.

Will we be left to fail the assessment

instead of being iridescent and incessant with our faith

that the God who Lives calls all for His own Sake

and their salvation?

Unity calls and marches in dark boots;

Will it be through Christ? Or compromise to a ruse

and issues more important

than the God who sent his Son

to give new life to the orphan?

Unity calls and marches in dark boots;

Will it be through Christ?

Or something better and new? 

With every second we choose:

Unity calls and marches in dark boots;

Will it be through Christ? 

Collapse: A poem on the war of life, depression, dreams and hope.

Hi friends! A poem I recently wrote entitled “Collapse.” is published exclusively on DTS Eikon’s Tumblr page at http://dtseikon.tumblr.com/

Go over there and check out everything on it! There is poetry, spoken word, and videos of songs performed at a special night put on by Eikon by and for the students of Dallas Theological Seminary. Eikon is a great group trying to promote all mediums of arts in Christian settings and far beyond.  

Come back and let me know what you thought! 

GFlatt

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We (Don’t) Know How

We know how to feel every blow, and roll

With the punches now, glance off the ice and snow

Roll down the knoll to the cold soil, stand and feel the wind blow

.

We learned how to love as we go, and know

That sometimes you gotta fight, until it turns out alright

Not in spite of the world but in sight of the end, when it’s all light.

.

I held myself together so long, but then pieces sloughed right off;

But you were there to sweep me up and then I knew a greater love.

When it hurts the most you begin to see for the first time.

.

This song doesn’t flow like it should, it rocks and rolls–

Skips too fast like a frightened doe; oh but how you love me so,

Even though I might do better but I don’t.

Let’s get in this boat and we will row.

.

Let’s go find the world and make it beautiful:

Heal the wounds and then in the lull

We will sing God is merciful, who brought us is this far

.

Take off the mask and lay it down.

What is love but you and me? What is love but unity 

In the face of adversity and the overwhelming hoards of destiny?  

Shedding shackles and we shall be free to seek the refuge of the stormy seas!

.

I’ve learned hard how to let go, but it’s not that time

Now it’s time to burn so bright; leave the shadows for the morning light

In perfect semblance of Jesus Christ,

So I know that we have arrived

When I’m alive and no longer blind,

When I’m alive and no longer mind.

.

.

.

Thanks for reading! These are the lyrics to a song I wrote last week. Like/Share/Comment at will! 

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Is Depression Evil? On the Dark Side of the Coin

God goes, belonging to every riven thing he’s made
sing his being simply by being
the thing it is:
stone and tree and sky,
man who sees and sings and wonders why

God goes. Belonging, to every riving thing he’s made,
means a storm of peace.
Think of the atoms inside the stone.
Think of the man who sits alone
trying to will himself into a stillness where

God goes belonging. To every riven thing he’s made
there is given one shade
shaped exactly to the thing itself:
under the tree a darker tree;
under a man the only man to see

God goes belonging to every riven thing. He’s made
the things that bring him near,
made the mind that makes him go.
A part of what man knows,
apart from what man knows,

God goes belonging to every riven thing he’s made.

––Christian Wiman, “Every Riven Thing”, in Every Riven Thing, 2010.

Joy’s trick is to supply
Dry lips with what can cool and slake,
Leaving them dumbstruck also with an ache
Nothing can satisfy.

––From Richard Wilbur, “Hamlen Brook”, 1987, in Collected Poems: 1943-2003, 2004.

Try to remember this: what you project
Is what you perceive; what you perceive
With any passion, be it love or terror,
May take on whims and powers of its own.

––From Richard Wilbur, “Walking to Sleep” 1969, ibid.

I Love My Depression

I love my depression. That is a lie; but I am past wholly loathing its existence, or at least I have been for some months now. God knows human moods are always a pendulum swing away from extreme—as inescapable and inevitable as they are temporary. Depression comes and it goes, sometimes like a slow, bone-dry summer in Texas, unending and unendurable, except that it is (or must be), and sometimes like the mild fortnight of Fall in the same state of my childhood onward.

Read those poems again. They are meant to be weighty, so let their burdens sink down upon you. You are unsure whether God belonging “to every riven thing he’s made” is comforting or altogether unsettling. Or whether Joy is something to long for or to dread. Or whether we should live lives full of emotion or be always a little guarded.

It’s both. It’s both. It’s both.

It’s both?

There is a sense of frustration that inevitably arises within us when someone answers a question with, “Yes and no,” but also a sense that such an answer is probably the truth. Truth, when we dig down into it, will resist to the end our attempts to place it on one side or the other, to assign it a label, a box, a denomination, a division; indeed, it even resists and transcends our attempts to claim that there are in fact two sides at all, instead of a million, or none. Yes, there are definite characteristics of truth; to deny that is to deny the possibility of any reasonableness or meaning whatsoever and is thus self-defeating. The truth is absolute. And yet that absolute is seen shining at the bottom of a deep pool full of swirling, iridescent life and shadows of action that both assure and obscure its existence.

But I am waxing poetical.

In his documentary on Bipolar Disorder, Stephen Fry, who himself suffers from the disorder, asks others he interviews something along the lines of, “If you had a big red button, and if you pushed that button you could get rid of your illness, would you push that button?” Surprisingly, many people, though not all, answer No.

No?

I will let you discover their personal reasons for yourself (see link at the end). Anyone who has struggled with mental illness has asked themselves this question, or at least has been asked. For me, a young man who struggles both with depression and with that equally distressing calling called Art (not to mention my Seminary calling), there is a growing sense in which I would not be so quick to seek a depression-ectomy.

Two Sides of a Coin

Why would I not want to get rid of it? Because depression is not a self-contained thing. Much like any other way in which we express and understand ourselves, whether in joyful rapture and endless chatter or through tears and silence, or a mix of both, depression is a mode in which we can live. And like these other modes, much of what creates our moods or comportments toward the world and life is external, and sometimes uncontrollably random. On some days, we may just as soon sneeze from allergies as suddenly be happy because of circumstance. Other days, these ways of acting (joy, fear, alertness) can arise from what we know, what we believe, our faith or lack of it, our sense of hope or dearth of meaning.

This ability to change moods comes not from some sort of evil capriciousness, but from a sensitivity, sometimes an over-sensitivity, to our lives: our inward life (spiritual life, emotional life, intellectual life, etc), our interactions with others, our interactions with important events and with the mundane and ritual, our interactions with God. Along with our natural sensitivities, we have ready-worn paths which were trod in our brains before our birth, which channel our energies in specific directions and which may both make sense to us and altogether surprise us, or (you know it’s coming) both.

These paths in large part define who we are, either through our acceptance of or resistance to them. I know that the more sensitive I am to myself and what is around me, the more apt I am to become depressed. It is as if in order to experience life most fully, I must be willing to risk more.

But there is another sense in which my depression is one side of a coin and hope is the other; sensitivity is what turns the coin from perspective to perspective and the coin itself is creativity, in the most general sense of the term. Everyone is creative: making something new out of what existed before. And here I abide, perched upon the thin edge of this coin, feeling it sway and twist under my feet as I open myself to what’s around me, feeling at times the threatening wind of fear come up to tempt me to shut down; but to shut down is the same thing as to fall headlong into the dark side of this coin, into depression. To live I must, well, live. Keep going. Keep risking. Keep believing.

We abide in this strange time flux, the crucifixion of Christ on the one hand and the resurrection on the other. At the crucifixion we hold our breath with the onlookers, unsure whether our suffering, as His suffering, is total defeat or if there is some greater victory to be achieved through it. We look for assurance; there is none. We can neither give into doubt nor give into hope and are torn asunder by the friction and tension that vibrates our bones and yet are simultaneously excited by it, as that same deep pool of truth is shaken and we catch another glimpse of meaning and understanding, or at least of empathy for the sufferer, that is, the human. Other times we find ourselves buried and enclosed, wholly numb to everything and helpless to loose the bindings which constrict us. I lived for years here. And then we come unexpectedly and all of a sudden to the resurrection, where we, with Christ, have overcome and we find our faith and hope embodied, fleshed out, moving around––our ideas, once so vague, now live and breathe and astound us as we feel their realness. It is human life to feel all of these, to a greater and lesser extent, as we move through life, living one season to another, Spring to Summer to Fall to Winter to Spring again just when we had almost given up.

To say hope and depression are two sides of my coin is to say this: I am acutely and constantly aware of the struggle between despair and hope, between faith in God and doubt in everything, between feeling and apathy, between powerfulness and powerlessness, and all of the other truths which appear to us at times as two distinct things, but which are all, in reality, instrumental to the human life. Each side, the hope and the terror, fill out the vague and embody the truth; indeed, shadow is necessary in any painting to give a sense of depth and reality, of truth. A painting may just as well be too light as too dark and thereby lose its realness.

I would not give up my depression because by it I have been brought and am being brought to a fuller understanding of the human, of the contingent, as Wiman would say. It teaches me that all humans are right now in this state of contingency and that through accepting our contingency we are more apt to see each other for what we are, both powerful and creative and in total desperation and need––all simultaneously. It is in realization of our need where we come to experience the joy of others, and of God; it is in the creative pursuit where we learn to lean on God and others as we risk much in order to live much. It is in the acceptance of human contingency, the acceptance as perfect guide that moment Christ himself hung in contingency at the mercy of God the Father, that we have a uniting hope of moving from crucifixion to resurrection; all that is left for the transition is to give up all false hope of total power over ourselves and over our ability to change us and everything around us. The neural pathways of our minds were trod before we were born, leaving us in contingency, leaving us human.

But human is not so bad a place to be.

God used depression to teach me humanity, and it is in this understanding of humanity I find the material to create, to explore, to risk.

And I would not trade that for the world.

Comment below and let me know if you agree and if you too struggle with mental illness!

G.Flatt

For More Information:
1. Stephen Fry, The Secret Life of Manic Depression, on Youtube: http://youtu.be/rGDl6-lyfMY
2. An Interview with Christian Wiman, https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/interview-christian-wiman ; also read his book on poetry, faith and doubt: My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer.
3. My past blogs, “When Catching A Cold Becomes Your Fault” and “Mental Health Awareness and Art: From a Depression Addict.”

Mental Health Awareness and Art: From a Depression Addict

“shipwreck”

and gasping as one nearly drowned I come
      again
      to myself in mundane places,
having traveled to universal, starlit spaces beyond spaces where
silence is a tense exultation and not
the mute, forgotten, ordinary
      quiet of one’s often emptiness from which comes no
      art, no
      song, no
      sight, nothing but a
      longing for electric potentialities which will not rid the life of the
clutter but,
at least,
      organize meaningful minutes with mandolin;
      chords ascend and break through emotion
      transcend the splendor of the ocean and crash
and clang in roiling waves into steel hull of a now toppled ship at sea,
      all salty soldiers and sailors shouting and skidding sidelong into
foamy freedom
even as they come to be through my words.
Should I apologize?

Clouds part as red sky pushes forth taking first crying breath and lights the evening
      afire.
All of my wreckage strewn about I quickly
      clean with another typing,
      swiping motion
as the sea captain stands up now on sandy beach and dusts himself off cheerfully
after having a more exciting moment,
hearing mandolin cooing cooly behind
dense green ferns of wide, spiny leaves and dripping dew,
calling him to other worlds
where dreams, like sirens,
dine surreptitiously on desires.

.
.
.
Silence is very important for me, not only as a time to reflect and to pray, but also as a sort of meter of my mood. Having now been over a year out of a serious depression which took much more than that of my life, I have learned to be especially sensitive to how I am doing. When I am really doing well, even the small and seemingly insignificant silences find meaning and purpose as God meets me in a whisper and I am able to write and to hold fast to a sure hope. When I am doing poorly, silence is terrible and poses to me the choice of either staying in the silence and falling into the depression which is truly just a drug or bandage for pain and is a lie no matter how good it may feel at the time; or I can move away from the silence, find close friends and/or music (I actually play guitar, not mandolin) or sports (I love rock climbing with my girlfriend, even though I’m pitiful) or something else.

What is difficult is knowing that, for me, it is in the silence where I am most able to write and to think clearly. But that means I have to be in a good place, not in depression. Artists, especially those who struggle with mental illness, must be extraordinarily careful not to sacrifice their own well being for the sake of being able to write, to paint, to create music, et cetera. We think, “I have to have the intense experience of what I went through to write well, to keep people interested, to be authentic. That’s the only time I can really create good art.” This is utterly false, even though it is invoked so often in our culture.

Drawing inspiration constantly from pain and anger is self-destructive; art should use the pain to create beauty and health from that, otherwise it’s not really creation as much as it is an overwhelming expression of those issues. While it is vital for us to work through issues in different ways, even and especially for some artistic ways, that can’t be where we stay forever. There will come a time when we need to move on to better things and it is important to recognize when it is time for us to move on. To move on from the “shipwreck” moments that we think give us the best art we will ever make, give us the connections which are the most intense. In truth, this is the illness (like sirens) preying upon our desires for love and connection, for hope and clarity. We begin to sacrifice relationships (even fake salty sailors) for the sake of what we want to do.

Instead, it is in the well moments when we are able to see the simple and the ordinary as absolutely beautiful and inspirational. Every person is him or herself a wellspring of beauty obscured by a cloud of dust and smut which they have accumulated throughout life, from the actions of others and from their own actions as well. It is wonderful to be able to see through that and help him or her see through that as well. Artists need to be perceptive, not just emotive. And good perspective comes from standing in the light, not standing in the darkness.

There are so many people who blog and by so doing begin to work through their pain. I did this for a time, in my own way. But I fear for the people blogging when this working out goes on for years and years without any signs of light breaking in. I’m not saying those of us who struggle with mental illness are ever “cured”. Like I said, I still struggle all of the time. But there is more hope than depression these days.

Recently I have been able to begin writing again after two years of not producing much. I had to focus on getting to where I needed to be emotionally and spiritually before I was really able to create again.

This is my simple prayer for the others who blog through their struggles: do not let your art, popularity, desire to extreme emotions, or unhealthy methods of finding inspiration keep you from getting better, from seeking the help you honestly need to seek. If we are not honest with ourselves, how can we ever hope to create art (or anything, I use art in an extraordinarily general sense) for others which is authentic or honest?

“Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” -Jesus Christ

Marana Tha

.
I will
      wait
as a thousand rivers
      run dry
as our lonesome star
      sends out its final
      flame
as this idea of love
      lingers on and grows
      gradually, becoming
      concrete
as you and I are shaped by its
      intensity and shining
      silence and kindness
as a seed falls
      forgotten from towering
      tree onto bed of river
      run dry a thousand years
      yet in the future
as I wait still
      soaking up your bounty,
      becoming
      beautiful and mature
as heaven meets earth
      early in the dawning
      daybreak before cockerel
      crows but breathes in fragrant,
      fresh air
as I joyfully suffer
      sweetly violent purges,
      pointing towards hope renewed,
      resurrection of all souls
as You come in cool breezes
      breathing life abundant,
      absent no more