Category Archives: excerpts

Sources of Inspiration


If you’re curious at all what are sources of inspiration for me, here is a list of different people and works that have impacted my thinking. I find that I identify strongly with the writings or perspectives that these people bring, and I find their understanding of how the world works very applicable or challenging in the context I’ve lived.

Of course, these are publicly known figures that have impacted my thinking. They’ve written and produced a lot of good stuff that I consider to be the most interesting and inspiring ideas I’ve ever run into. I can’t claim expertise on any of them, except to say that what I have read from them has been very impacting to me and helpful in framing how things are. I’d say they are on the right track and have some really important commentary that speaks into how we live. This list doesn’t include people who have personally impacted how I live; I would need a separate list for that.

I’ll list off and clump together some of the principal influences, and include a short explanation of the aspects of their work that impact me most strongly. Continue reading

The Celebration of Discipline

I wake up this morning having just finished The Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. This is my second time reading through this amazing book, and although this time I didn’t have the thrill of encountering something new and unexpectedly moving, I had the feeling of revisiting an old friend, of catching up and taking tabs on how I’ve been doing.

And now, having finished the book, I wake up and I feel a sense of loss. I want to pick it up again and read more, but the book has said what it was written to say, and left it at that. Now it’s up to me to follow the advice and actually put into practice some of the disciplines it recommends.

In a sense, though, it is so tempting to me to just want to read about them, think about them, and praise their effectiveness. That would be far easier.

It is amazing to me how refreshing and liberating Foster writes about these disciplines. It is toward that spirit of freedom that I am so strongly attracted. I understand why he describes these practices as “disciplines,” which seems a stronger word than necessary but is a crucial reality check in today’s world. Does the fact that contemporary society seems so hostile to these disciplines make them even more attractive to me? In a sense, perhaps they are attractive partly because they feel revolutionary, subversive, and a mockery of what modern society suggests is so important. Incidentally, because Christianity is so closely tied with Western culture, many of these disciplines run contrary to popular Christianity as well. That is, you may find Christians being the most discouraging in your attempts to put them into practice, often offering polite corrections to what they see as threateningly zealous, yet misguided and antiquated practices. In any case, I’d like to think they are attractive because they are a refreshing alternative to the exhausting demands and expectations that our modern lifestyles demand of us. Once put into practice, these disciplines become familiar and they are missed!

Amazing Grace – The Lives of Children and the Conscience of a Nation

This book (along with the sequel by the same author) was our required reading for an on-line class in Race, Gender, and Class in Education. Quite impacting, to say the least. Here are a few quotes from the book that stuck with me. Some are from the author; most are from people he interviews in the South Bronx or Mott Haven, New York.

On my list of most impacting writers, including Brueggemann, Richard Foster, Dostoyevsky, etc…, now goes Jonathan Kozol. The past four months I’ve been taking classes on multiracial education, which have been largely quite stale except for some alarming statistics and interesting perspectives. The chapter on class was certainly the most moving.

However, the two books we read by Jonathan Kozol were the most impacting. I was totally engrossed in each one, compelled to read from cover to cover. His writing is good, his interviewing technique is of the highest quality, and the themes he explicates throughout his books are deeply impacting. And deeply religious, incidentally. He states his ambivalence to formalized religion repeatedly, however, his two books have undoubtedly been the most intensely religious writings I’ve read in a long, long time. He communicates a sort of subtle spirituality without being preachy.

The themes he deals with probably explain why I am so obsessed with his writing… the way he describes the insights of the children he interviews is eloquent and fascinating. He combines this with social commentary on poverty and racism, and mixes these with a sacred reverence for the teachers and priests working in the South Bronx. The religious theme running through the book about communion, holy water, heaven, etc… is right on, something I’ve striven to describe in my journals in relation to some of the places I’ve worked. So basically, he mixes religion, education, poverty, racism, and the insight of children in a self-reflective way that is poetic, piercing, and as Brueggemann described it, “summoning.”

These two books and his writing have helped me in articulating the complexity, contradiction, hope, and mystery that these themes hold for me. Here are some quotes:

“What is it like for children to grow up here? What do they think the world has done to them? Do they believe that they are being shunned or hidden by society? If so, do they think that they deserve this? What is it that enables some of them to pray? When they pray, what do they say to God?” (5)

“Why do you want to put so many people with small children in a place with so much sickness? this is the last place in New York that they should put poor children. Clumping so many people, all with the same symptoms and same problems, in one crowded place with nothin’ they can grow on?” (11)

“Evil exists…. I believe that what the rich have done to the poor people in this city is something that a preacher could call evil. Somebody has power. Pretending that they don’t so they don’t need to use it to help people – that is my idea of evil.” (23)

“We came here in chains and now we buy our own chains and we put them on ourselves. Every little store sells chains. They even have them at check-cashing…” (24)

Maybe once a year they [think of us]. Some of them have parties around Christmas to raise something for the poor…. What’s goin’ to happen on December 26? Who is this charity for? In a way, it’s for themselves so they won’t feel ashamed goin’ to church to pray on Christmas Eve.” (44)

Often during times like these I have to fight off the feeling that I am about to cry. I do fight it off because i do not want to be embarrassed…. When I leave, I sometimes give in to these feelings, which I never can explain because they do not seem connected to the things we talk about. It’s something cumulative that just builds up during a quite time. (46)

If the police are scared to come there, why does the city put small children in the building? (53)

The notion of the ghetto as a ‘sin’ committed by society is not confronted. You will never see this word in the newspapers. (72)

Many here are a great deal more devout than people you would meet in wealthy neighborhoods. Those who have everything they want or need have often the least feeling for religion. (78)

“There’s something wrong. There’s something sticky dripping from the elevator.”

“My mother said, ‘It’s only grease.’ But the woman said, ‘It looks like blood.’ So my mother was afraid and went downstairs to check, and it was blood, and it was coming through the ceiling of the elevator, which was on the second floor. So then my mother came upstairs to make sure that the children were all right. We found the other children but we could not find Bernardo.” (104)

[Fourth grade rapid drill where the children respond in unison]:

“What are these holes in our window?”

“Bullet shots!”

“How do the police patrol our neighborhood?”

“By helicopter!”

“What do we do when we hear shooting?”

“Lie down on the floor!” (122)

“In heaven you don’t pay for things with money. You pay for things you need with smiles.” (Anabelle, 129)

Being treated as a friend this way by children in the neighborhood feels like a special privilege. It seems like something you just wouldn’t have the right to hope for. Why should these children trust a stranger who can come into their world at will and leave it any time he likes? (130)

There is a golden moment here that our society has chosen not to seize. We have not nourished this part of the hearts of children, not in New York, not really anywhere.” (131)

Prisons, schools, and churches, many religious leaders have observed, are probably the three most segregated institutions in our nation, although the schools in New York City are quite frequently more segregated even than the prisons. (147)

I worry about speaking too much of the triumphs that such people and communities achieve without positioning these stories in realistic context. (161)

“Mr. Mongo sells drugs. I don’t feel sorry for him any more. He tried to get my brother.”

“What did he do?”

“There’s an old trick they have,” he says. “It goes like this.” He holds out both hands wrapped into fists. “Choose one.” I pick one hand. He opens it up and looks in his palm and smiles. “It’s your lucky day, my friend!”

“What’s in his hand?”

“White powder. Whichever hand you pick, there’s powder in it.”

“You’ve seen him do it?”

“I was there. He did it twice. I saw it.”

“What did you say?”

“I said, ‘Please, God, don’t let him do it to my brother.'” (219)

Every day do something that won’t compute

The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

by Wendell Berry

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Ballad in Plain Red

Ballad in Plain Red

Derek Webb
I See Things Upside Down

I’m robbing Peter, I’m paying Paul
I’m changing my name back to Saul
I got to them and you know I’ll get to you

I’m turning shepherds into sheep
and leaders into celebrities
It’s holy sabotage, just look around you

‘Cause everything’s for sale in the 21st century
and the check is in the mail from the 21st century

Don’t want the song I want a jingle
I love you Lord but don’t hear a single
and the truth is nearly impossible to rhyme

But i know the songs with all the hooks
and i know some lies that will sell some books
so grab ‘em fast, I’m running outta time

Just keep selling truth in candy bars
on billboards and backs of cars
truth without context, my favorite of all my crimes

what works verses what’s right
Hey what’s the difference tonight?

Take out the sign, forget the meal
we’ve got a gym and a farris wheel
I swear it’s just like the country club down the block

‘Cause you can make your life look good
You can do what Jesus would
but you’d be surprised what you can do with a hard heart

I think you’ve got trouble in the 21st century
So welcome to the struggle, it’s the 21st century
I never thought I’d make it to the 21st century
Lord, I love the 21st century

I write these words from the grave
‘Cause it’s the only place that I’m safe
and only the dead are permitted to speak the truth

This Too Shall Be Made Right

This Too Shall Be Made Right

Derek Webb
The Ringing Bell

people love you the most for the things you hate
and hate you for loving the things that you cannot keep straight
people judge you on a curve
and tell you you’re getting what you deserve
this too shall be made right

children cannot learn when children cannot eat
stack them like lumber when children cannot sleep
children dream of wishing wells
whose waters quench all the fires of Hell
this too shall be made right

the earth and the sky and the sea are all holding their breath
wars and abuses have nature groaning with death
we say we’re just trying to stay alive
but it looks so much more like a way to die
this too shall be made right

there’s a time for peace and there is a time for war
a time to forgive and a time to settle the score
a time for babies to lose their lives
a time for hunger and genocide
this too shall be made right

I don’t know the suffering of people outside my front door
I join the oppressors of those who i choose to ignore
I’m trading comfort for human life
and that’s not just murder it’s suicide
this too shall be made right