Thursday, March 22, 2012

Trayvon Martin

I don't have the words today--they're still blocked behind the tears that are choked in my throat when I look upon the sweet brown face of a little boy in my city and wonder if he will live to be a man. I'm tired of watching young men in my country get killed--by each other, by the police, or by alleged "do-gooders." 

I'm tired of the line in the mind of white America that sees the death of a Young Black Male as disconnected from us. I'm tired of the sound barrier that prevents white America from hearing the cries of mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, grandparents and friends mourning the loss of a life from theirs. I'm tired of the line in the heart of white America that sees Young Black Males as "someone else's" children and their untimely deaths as "somebody else's" problem.

They are OUR children and their deaths and the injustice that pulls the trigger is OUR problem. 

The fact that being a Young Black Male IS what it is to be "suspicious" is OUR problem. I say it because it is a sad truth--my "protection" from not getting shot in my city is that I'm not a black male between 16 and 24, but that's not okay. None of this is okay, and whatever it is that insulates you from understanding that, from feeling it down in the marrow of your bones is a sickness from which you must free yourself. It is not protecting you, it is smothering you and stunting our nation. Wake up! A little boy got shot by a grown man to whom he posed no threat for buying Skittles and an ice tea, and you can turn your eyes away? Trayvon Martin was not someone else's baby--he is my child, your child, our children, our future...

No, I don't have the words today. 

Just this sad, sad sorrow pressing my rib cage into my spine. I am not a believer, but Jefferson's words (oh, irony) ring true: "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that His justice cannot sleep forever." 

May justice roll down from the mountaintops and wash our country clean.

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Why is this place called Rough Branch?

Rough Branch is a reference to Wendell Berry's "mad farmer" poems. Berry is an agrarian populist poet, and advocate for sustainable agricultural practices. I don't agree with every position he takes, but his reverence for the beauty and balance of the natural world, for the preciousness of the life that runs through it (including our own), and of the community that sustains both the land and each other, speaks to my heart.

Over the past few years, I have sunk myself into the soil in my back yard, and into the community of neighbors that surrounds it, and it has begun to restore me. My garden is not just a plot of dirt providing vegetables for the salad bowl, it is an act of love, a place of profundity and awe. If you knew about the ecosystem that lives in but one gram of good earth, you would be humbled, literally, to the ground.

Berry's poems are passionate calls to live--deeply, profoundly, fearlessly. To step out of narrow-minded egotism, to secede "[f]rom the union of self-gratification and self-annihilation, [to] secede into care for one another, and for the good gifts of Heaven and Earth."

And so I have made my own nation small enough to walk across. I have named the small corner of the earth I steward Rough Branch. I have declared myself free of ignorant love, and I secede...

From the union of power and money,
from the union of power and secrecy,
from the union of government and art,
from the union of science and money,
from the union of ambition and ignorance,
from the union of genius and war,
from the union of outer space and inner vacuity,
the Mad Farmer walks quietly away.

There is only one of him, but he goes.
He returns to the small country he calls home,
his own nation small enough to walk across.
(From "The Mad Farmer, Flying the Flag of Rough Branch, Secedes from the Union")
The Mad Farmer challenges us to reconnect, to resurrect our land, our communities, and our souls.
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 millennium. 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.
(From "Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front")
All quotes from Wendell Berry.