I Truly, Madly, Deeply Hate ‘Deeply’

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Photo by Kyle Ryan on Unsplash

I don’t use Heartlands to rant much, right? O yeah, there was that time. But, listen, there’s a new rhetorical bugaboo I need to brood about. I’m deeply concerned about ‘deeply.’

It’s not so much the adverb’s connection to words like ‘grateful’ and phrases like ‘I love you.’  It’s particularly problematic when it worms its way next to ‘problematic,’ as in: “I found the Kavanaugh hearings deeply problematic.” Defenders and opponents alike were throwing the ‘deeply’s around like Shriners throwing candy in a small-town parade. And for what?

Deeply is a feeling word. It’s useful, perhaps, when trying to describe an opera or a spiritual retreat. I suspect, however, that we’re reaching for it when we feel like ‘very’ just isn’t good enough. 

If I find something ‘very problematic,’ you still are going to want to know more specifics from me to understand why, but you don’t have to deal with my emotions.  You’re also probably not going to worry that something is going on at the core of my being. ‘Deeply problematic’ things ratchet up the stakes and force you to come to terms with something more essential in me that you may never be able to understand.  

Can’t we have some discussions that don’t require ‘deeply’s?  Or, for that matter, even some problems that are just that and not ‘problematic,’ a word that is only one step better than ‘problematize’ in the rankings of Words That Do Not Need to Exist? Why do all of our public disputes have to move to DEFCOM 1?

Don’t answer that. I’ve seen enough presidential tweets to know why.

But when we use such emotional constructions to substitute for really grappling with what makes us feel that way, we tend toward more polarization and less clarity.  We hold onto a kind of knowing that begins in the inner twinge but never explore it enough to allow the twinge to emerge into thought. I just assume, because you’re in my tribe, that you feel it deeply, too, and therefore no more explanation is necessary. I also don’t allow those outside the tribe to understand the source of my twinges, which is the vital, intuitive self that would really like to see more light and find more connection.

Mark Twain was no fan of ‘deeply,’ or any other adverb to tell the truth.  His standard advice was, “When you see an adverb, kill it.” Stephen King says “the road to hell is paved with adverbs.”

So, let’s make a start, call a spade a spade, and return ‘deeply’ to its proper place in purple prose. We could eliminate it altogether but that would be…well…wrong.

What You Can Learn from 3 Hilltops: West Bank Edition

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Flagpole in Sebastia

Sebastia

On the highest point in Sebastia, where a Roman Temple, the Northern Kingdom’s palace, and innumerable pagan holy sites once stood, there is a ramshackle wooden flagpole sporting a small Palestinian flag.  Or at least there was last week when I visited.  Locals report that the flagpole is the frequent target of attacks in which Israeli soldiers or others come to knock it down, its presence being an offense to the Israeli settlement on the next hilltop over.  Invariably a new group of youth will sneak up to the top of the hill in the dark of the night with a makeshift replacement, risking detention in the process.

So it goes on the hilltops of the West Bank.  Where once the kings of Judah and Samaria slipped off to engage in illicit worship, (like old King Ahaz, who “sacrificed and made offerings on the high places, on the hills, and under every green tree” [2 Chronicles 28:4]), now statements are being made. Israelis and Palestinians know the high ground is the landscape of power and they are staking a claim.

Beit Jala

IMG_8173Southwest of Bethlehem, Daoud Nassar is the Director of Operations for his family farm, which is scattered over 100 acres on a hill with an enviable view.  Standing in Daher’s Vineyard, as the farm is known, you can see terraced landscapes, olive trees, and three Israeli settlements ringing the property his grandfather bought in 1916.  Nassar’s family has the papers to prove their long-standing claim to the property, a claim they have asserted from the time of the Ottoman Empire through the British Mandate and Jordanian control up until the present.  Even so, they have been fighting with Israeli authorities to keep their land, which has no access to water or electricity and which can only reached by car via a circuitous route around the settlements.

Nassar has made a demonstration camp out of the property.  On the day we visited, a group of New Zealanders were working projects, some of the 7,000 or so international visitors who come to the site each year.  Forbidden to build new permanent structures, Nassar’s family has created a Tent of Nations out of caves and cisterns.  It’s part environmental education, part non-violent resistance, and part 1960s-era Christian commune.  

At the entrance to the farm a carved rock declares, “We refuse to be enemies.”  It’s a statement of the philosophy of the Tent of Nations.  Despite daily indignities, such as being harassed by people in the settlements for the behavior of the farm’s bees, the site persists as a witness. They’re still there on the hilltop and they will remain and keep fighting for their heights through legal means.

Rawabi

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Rawabi

West of Ramallah, the bustling, de facto capital of the Palestinian Territories, a city has risen on another mountain.  Rawabi is the dream of Bashar Masri, a Palestinian developer who has pulled together $1.4 billion in investments to build a new city.  It’s a place that would seem at home in the Western world.  Shops like Mango and American Eagle sell up-to-the minute fashions in an outdoor mall.  Apartments hug the hillside, housing the first 4,000 of the hoped-for 40,000 residents.  A 12,000 seat Roman-style amphitheater welcomes big name musical acts for concerts. Families come in for the day to picnic and rent four-wheelers.

For all this, Masri has had to deal with a myriad of obstacles.  Despite being in Area A, the Palestinian-controlled zone of the West Bank, water and road access had to be negotiated with Israel, which controls the zones surrounding Rawabi. An inadequate two-lane road connects the city with the road to Ramallah. Site workers have had to deal with harassment from nearby settlements.

On the other hand, some Palestinian leaders have decried the use of Israeli products in construction.  Activists in the BDS [Boycott, Divestment, & Sanction] movement claim that such cooperation “normalizes” the occupation of the West Bank by Israel and weakens the resistance that Palestine needs to show in its struggle for true self-determination.  Others believe that the very unremarkable nature of life in Rawabi is an affront to the suffering of other Palestinians whose daily lives are marked by repression and constriction.

But why shouldn’t there be a place where Palestinians can draw a long breath in a city of their own?  Thousands of jobs have been created in the construction of Rawabi and Masri’s priority is to bring in thousands more.  Women have unprecedented roles in the city, including a cadre of female engineers that have led construction efforts.  And the city is providing schools that are among the best in Palestine.

What You Can Do With A Hilltop

When Israel moved into the Palestinian Territories following the 1967 War, the hilltops became the most visible sign of the occupation.  Israel took over old Jordanian military bases and created new ones of their own. Settlers, now numbering over 500,000, moved onto others.

IMG_8220But Palestinians have some hills as well. And though Israel worries about the security risk they would pose if the peace process ever results in an autonomous Palestinian state, the three hills I visited show some of the potential for what Palestine could be.  Those with connections to capital and a vision can build Rawabis.  A Tent of Nations can offer environmental education, pioneer new conservation concepts, and foster peacemaking and justice.  And in Sebastia, the biblical city of Samaria, an historical park could bring visitors and preserve the cultural heritage of the land.

All of this, of course, depends on a political solution to the ongoing struggle between Israelis and Palestinians, a solution that seems like a far-away dream given the leadership on both sides at the moment.  But in the meantime, while large car-dealership-sized Israeli flags fly on many a West Bank hilltop, others sport a Palestinian flag—either on makeshift timbers, or, as at Rawabi, on a large, metal pole at the summit surrounded by a statue of diverse people holding hands.  

It’s true.  You can seek to kill peace from a hilltop.  But you can also build it.

Other posts about Israel and Palestine:

Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor: Yossi Klein Halevi’s Call Across the Wall

Fake Candles at the Tomb: A Holy Land Reflection

Also check out my book on the conflict: A Space for Peace in the Holy Land: Listening to Modern Israel and Palestine [Englewood Review of Books, 2014]

The Longoria’s BBQ: The Long-Awaited Heartlands Review

IMG_8073I was just getting ready to test out the brisket sausage when David Longoria sat down across the table from me as if we had known each other forever.  It was a slow Saturday in Everman on the southern fringes of Fort Worth.  The temperature hovered around 100 outside.  Inside the small restaurant with the red booths and scattered tables, it was comfortable but largely empty.  Too hot for BBQ, perhaps.

Myra, who had been so welcoming when I arrived, stood behind the register where I had placed my order, waiting for some more customers.  David’s father, Fred, walked in and looked the place over before sitting down with his newspaper.  David introduced me.

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Myra, David, & Elizabeth

We had already been talking about Fred, the founder of The Longoria’s BBQ.  David had taken over the pitmaster role from him some decades back.  Fred was the one who moved the business up from around Granbury in the hopes that the planned I-35W project would bring a whole lot of customers right by the new location.  As it happened, the interstate went in a mile or so west, but the BBQ became famous anyway.IMG_8070

I don’t do BBQ reviews often on Heartlands.  In fact, I’ve only done one other—for the Skylight Inn BBQ in Ayden, North Carolina—and we all know the East Carolina version of BBQ is another animal altogether.  Texas BBQ means brisket, sausages, and ribs served up with raw onions, pickles, and jalapeños.  I grew up with the former, but, man, I do love the latter.

Longoria’s does not disappoint.  The sausages, all beef, are not as spicy as some, but they are sumptuous and worth the trip by themselves.  The brisket had a great blackened char which I adorned with just a little bit of their tasty sauce.  Pintos and corn on the side that did not detract from the main event.

I lingered over lunch with David since I never have had the opportunity to sit with a pitmaster before.  He explained the process and after lunch gave me a tour of the back forty where three blackened smokers sat for a well-earned rest after their culinary magic had been worked.  I tried a little of the brisket jerky and got a bag for my trip up to Archer City.  I also got a hat and a picture with Myra, David, and Elizabeth.

The Longoria’s BBQ has been listed in the Texas Monthly Top 50 BBQ joints in Texas and will be featured at the upcoming Smoked event in Fort Worth this October.  But don’t wait til this BBQ is all duded up in the Stockyards to come try it.  Make the trip out to see it in its natural habitat—a plain, honest family place in a town called Everman.  Tell them Alex from Virginia sent you.

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Alex pointing towards home–from The Longoria’s Facebook page

And that’s your 2018 BBQ Review from Heartlands.  Until 2019…

The Soul of Place–Carson McCullers

“In the quiet, secret night she was by herself again.  It was not late–yellow squares of light showed in the windows of the houses along the streets.  She walked slow, with her hands in her pockets and her head to one side.  For a long time she walked without noticing the direction.

“Then the houses were far apart from each other and there were yards with big trees in them and black shrubbery. She looked around and saw she was near this house where she had gone so many times in the summer.  Her feet had just taken her here without knowing…

“The radio was on as usual.  For a second she stood by the window and watched the people inside. The bald-headed man and the gray-haired lady were playing cards at a table. Mick sat on the ground. This was a very fine and secret place. Close around were thick cedars so that she was completely hidden by herself.”

Carson McCullers, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

What’s your fine and secret place?  Come write about it at the Porches.  Just a few spaces left.

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Revisiting a Letter to My Haitian Neighbor (plus Ry Cooder!)

Maybe I was a little premature.  When I saw my Haitian neighbor leaving town awhile back, I wrote a letter assuming that his departure meant we were going to see a more general exodus from town.  I wrote the letter in frustration over the wretched condition of our immigration policies.  The Haitian community on the Eastern Shore of Virginia is one of my main points of contact with migration questions, but I realized in writing the letter how few people I have talked to in that community.

Since the letter, I began having more conversations.  It’s true that the Temporary Protected Status for Haitians is scheduled to come to an end next yearFGCOIGC3YBDT7AGKY4XLK6DYNY, but the pace of folks leaving has slowed, in part because employers here have recognized that their work force is imperiled and have begun to speak out.

So, perhaps I will get to know my Haitian neighbors better.  Perhaps we will start to have real conversations about a rational, humane, immigration policy. Perhaps.

In the meantime, I’m listening to Ry Cooder’s great new cover of Blind Willie Johnson’s 1930 gospel blues song, “Everybody Ought to Treat a Stranger Right.”  It’s right out of Matthew 25.

One of the verses goes:

All of us down here are strangers

None of us have no home

Don’t ever hurt your brother

And cause him to feel alone

 

Everybody ought to treat a stranger right

Long ways from home

Everybody ought to treat a stranger right

A long ways from home

Letter to My Haitian Neighbor As You Leave Town

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I saw you yesterday pulling on a frayed nylon cord to tie down the mattresses on the roof of your car.  You’re leaving town and we never got to say ‘hello.’

I’ve seen you in the Food Lion and the Wal-mart and I’ve been tempted to try to speak.  But my high school French, which I would use to approximate your Creole, always comes out as rusty Spanish—the language I’m used to breaking out in talking to my immigrant neighbors.  I know.  Haiti is a long way from Mexico in so many ways, but I’m sometimes laughably limited.  I also order in Spanish at the Chinese restaurant.  

So, no, we haven’t said ‘hello.’

And now you’re leaving.

I imagine that it has been a strange sojourn for you here in this small town.  Traveling to this rural peninsula in Virginia to work on farms and in chicken processing plants must have seemed a hopeful opportunity after the earthquake in 2010.  Our government gave you Temporary Protected Status to allow Haiti to recover and now it has revoked that authorization, giving you until next summer to go home.

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photo by Kaique Rocha via Pexels

Our town changed when the Haitian community came.  Oh, not in the ways some politicians say.  You didn’t run down the town.  You occupied buildings that would have remained vacant.  You didn’t ruin the economy.  You kept Dollar General and our legendary five-and-dime humming.  You opened a Caribbean market on the square.  You began a church.  You filled jobs when the poultry farms expanded.  Crime didn’t spike.  The town police say we have one of the lowest crime rates in the state.  

So, even though we never got to know one another, I felt like our town was better with you here.  I wish we’d gotten to share stories.  It is not good for people sharing the same land to be ignorant of each other’s deepest hopes and needs.  We need to see each other’s humanity.

The Bible I preach from tells us to love the sojourner because we were once sojourners [Deuteronomy 10:19].  A wandering Aramean was our ancestor. [Deut. 26:5]  We will always share something with the immigrant.

These are hard times for immigrants in my country.  Most of us found our way here from someplace else, but we have begun to believe that ‘foreign’ means ‘threatening.’  We talk about immigrants as criminal, predatory, and dangerous.  We use verbs like “infest” to describe your actions.  Our fear leads us to closing our eyes to the gifts you bring and the people you are.  Our fear leads us to cruelty.  Unfathomable cruelty.

This week we couldn’t close our eyes because we couldn’t close our ears.  The sounds of children being torn from their parents to be caged in old Wal-marts converted into warehouses couldn’t be ignored. Something is broken, not only in our immigration system, but in our spirits as well. And the most vulnerable, as always, suffer the consequences.

Your story is not so loud.  You came quietly and you are leaving just as quietly.  If I had not passed you yesterday, I would not have known.  I would just notice slowly that the town was changing again.  The malanga and plantains would disappear from the shelves.  I would notice fewer people walking around town and wonder where they’d gone.  There won’t be crying children on the news when you leave.  Just more silence.

Like much of rural America, our silence is growing as our population is declining.  Each year in our county there are more deaths than births.  The most common narrative for our young people is that they leave for college or job opportunities elsewhere and they don’t come back.  The result is a spiritual crisis of confidence.  You interrupted our stories of decline. You helped us understand that we are not dead.  But we live by being connected.

abandoned-america-american-221327Yes, we need border control.  We need an immigration reform that makes sense—that keeps people and businesses from having to live in a furtive secret economy.  And if you have the opportunity to return to your home after it has recovered from a devastating disaster (something that I don’t believe has really happened in Haiti), of course, that is a good thing. 

But I will miss you.  You reminded me that our stereotypes of what we are can be challenged.  That we could be something different.  Something more.

I watched your car as it bumped out of the dirt driveway and onto the road, the edges of the mattresses flopping over the rooftop.  The back right wheel lacked a hubcap and there was a worrying squeal coming from the engine.  I wondered where you were headed.  I wondered if you would make it safely.

I wondered where we were headed, too.

Thanks to Yossi Klein Halevi and his Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor for the inspiration for this letter.

Rebelling Against King Jesus

Enjoyed this conversation with Taylor Mertins, pastor and podcaster extraordinaire.

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This week on the Strangely Warmed podcast I speak with Alex Joyner about the readings for the Day of Pentecost – Year B (Acts 2.1-21, Psalm 104.24-35b, Romans 8.22-27, John 15.26-17, 16.4b-15). Alex is the District Superintendent for the Eastern Shore in the Virginia Conference, and he regularly blogs on his website Heartlands. Our conversation covers a range of topics including bad puns, living off the map (literally), church birthdays, faithful diversity, the connections between Babel and Pentecost, the impermanence of land, giving voice to the voiceless, and the community in the Trinity. If you would like to listen to the episode or subscribe to the podcast you can do so here: Rebelling Against King Jesus

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Absence Makes the Heart: A Jerusalem Reflection

IMG_1708On Easter Sunday…some thoughts from my first visit to Jerusalem in 2011…

I would say that the world is a hopeless place…except it’s not.  Somewhere around here – at the Garden Tomb, under a church – there’s an empty tomb to prove it.  It’s what we have to offer this place – emptiness.

Absence.

If we take on what this place is full of – despair, hatred, violence – then we place the body of Jesus right back where it was at the end – dead, lifeless, abandoned, abused, scorned, and hopeless.  But if we yield to the absence…If we retain nothing…If we get rid of the pretension that we know what God would have them do…we would at last be true to the truth that is uniquely ours to tell.

And what does that empty space proclaim?  The presence of God who once met us face to face and we survived.  The emptiness says God has gone on before us.  The absence of anything pure reason and feeling would lead us to pushes us back to the way we always reject – Jesus’ way.

Remember how he told you this would be necessary.  Remember how he told you that he came to bring a sword.  Remember how he told you to love your enemy, your neighbor, your projimo.  When you are empty…when you have nothing to give…when you know what it means to lay down your life…you will find it.