How To Turn A Clique Inside Out

Cliques. They’re awful, aren’t they? We love to hate them (probably because we feel like they hate us). They’re easy targets for our criticism, all selfish and exclusive and proud, and who do they think they are treating other people like they don’t matter and barely exist at all? Cliques are bad. 

That is, until we’re in them. But the cliques we’re in aren’t cliques at all, because cliques are one of those odd realities that can only be seen and recognised from the outside. From the inside, they look completely different. From the inside, all we can see is camaraderie, companionship, support, and fun jokes that no one else understands. Who calls their closest friend group a “clique”? Maybe it happens, but I’ve never heard anyone use that name for themselves and their own friends. As far as I can tell, the name is always applied to other people in other groups—especially the groups we happen to feel a particular sense of exclusion from. 

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“Well, THAT was magic!”

When my second son was three, he didn’t walk—he marched. Everywhere. His stride may have been short, but it was full of confidence. I vividly remember the day he marched ahead of us into the grocery store, but had to pause as the automatic doors slid open. He watched them closely, then announced as a matter of fact: “Well, THAT was magic!” Then he marched through.

Was it magic? Not really. I know, and you know, and he knows now that he’s older, that automatic doors don’t operate on fairy dust. There is a mechanical, electrical explanation, and it all adds up and it all makes sense. Yes. But isn’t it amazing? The doors open themselves! It may not be magic in a technical sense, but isn’t there something magical about it?

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My Head And The Headlines

Reading the news these days is like watching a train wreck in slow motion—except it’s not a train, it’s the whole world. And like a train wreck, as horrifying as it is to watch, it’s also hard to look away. Every day I want an update on the war in Ukraine and the responses and effects on the rest of the world, and every day I know that the updates are going to make me sad when I see all the needless suffering of so many people who are made in the image of God. Of course, it’s hard to know exactly which updates are the truth and which are exaggerated for effect, or what is being left out, or what is going to happen next, but the general outlines of an unfolding tragedy are clear enough. 

The stakes are high. Once again, the world is being shaken. We never even had a chance to catch our breath. The bad news just keeps rolling in every time I refresh the news feed, demanding my attention, shouting about fear and disaster, death and destruction and economic collapse. It’s shocking, worrying, tiring, and anger-inducing, all at the same time, and I don’t want to look away. 

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We Cry Out

We’ve been working our way through Romans in our local Bible study group, and last week we talked about the part in chapter 8 where Paul writes this:

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.”

As I’ve read the news this week, I have thought about these verses often. I feel it in my own heart: I am groaning inwardly. The whole world is groaning in pain. But the beauty of this passage is not in its realism, although the realism is important. We dare not downplay the pain. It is too real, too horrible, too heavy. In a global moment like this, we simply cannot ignore the brokenness of our world, or pretend that everything is fine. It’s not fine. At all. And yet, we see in these verses that although reality includes pain and groaning right now, reality is more than those things—there is a hope that is just as real—even more so. That’s what I tried to capture in this poem:

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Music And Lyrics

The world has a rhythm: a steady beat of seasons and sunrises, of tides and migrations and flowers and fruit.

The world has a melody: the beauty that stands out and demands our attention—the dawn chorus, the painted skies, the autumn colours and majestic peaks.

The world has a harmony: the subtle details that we hardly even notice, but they add richness and depth to the world, like the veins in a leaf, the scent in the grass, and the warmth in sunshine and fire.

The world is a symphony: exquisite and detailed and beautiful. But for all of its music, there is one thing that the world cannot supply on its own. The world has music—but it doesn’t have lyrics. That’s where we come in.

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Every Corner Is Crowded

Last week, I stood in front of a barn in the woods in Alabama that no animals have ever lived in, but I lived in it. I was a child then, and my family lived there while our house was being built on the same property and that worked out pretty well for us. I hadn’t seen it for several years, but it still looks like a barn. At least, that’s all you would see. When I look at it, I see more. I see so much that my mind can hardly keep up. I could stand there all day and look around at the barn and the house and the trees and I could watch the river of scenes pass by for hours and hours because this is my place, this is where my life took root and grew up with the pecan trees that my father and grandfather planted. When I go back there now, I feel like I have to walk slowly because the place is so crowded with memories. The sweet and bitter and happy and sad and embarrassing are all jumbled up together—every step, every sight, every sound and smell is full of them.

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The Success Of Others

The internet has the power to connect people in ways no one could have anticipated. Now I can keep track of where my old acquaintances go on their holidays, see pictures of lovely dinners eaten by people I haven’t spoken to in years, and find out what my childhood playmates think about government policies. Amazing, isn’t it? Through their pictures and posts, I get a glimpse into their lives—their homes, families, travels, and their stunning accomplishments and successes. 

I’m glad for them, really. But sometimes I also wonder—how does my own life measure up to theirs? Is my life still important if it doesn’t include the same kinds of successes that I see other people achieving and enjoying? If they reach higher and go further than I do, am I just one more loser bringing up the rear in some kind of cosmic reality show competition?

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Don’t Measure Fashions By Their Age

I’m not quite over the hill yet, but in a lot of ways I’m already old-fashioned. I like old music and old manners and old standards for grammar, and I still don’t get the new trend of using emoji skulls in the place of laughing faces. More seriously, I don’t think that the modern trend of commitment-free relationships has been good for children. Or relationships.

On the other hand, there are some old fashions that I don’t like. I don’t like wearing neckties—who decided that tying a rope around your own neck was a good idea? I also don’t like old systems of religious rules that measure love for God by obedience to commands he never gave. And I don’t like being measured by my social connections or income level instead of the content of my character—an age-old fashion that is still circulating today. So I guess I’m not completely old-fashioned.

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Capturing A Moment

The warm sunlight is filtering through the trees, there’s music in the air, and amid the bustle of the servers and the clink of the cutlery there’s a constant hum of lively conversation. I’m not there. I don’t even know where it is, but when I look at the painting of this scene that hangs over our mantle, I can hear it all. I can feel it all, and I love it. I love how the painting reminds me of moments like this one in real life, when I’ve been in seats like these with friends and family around me. I’m glad the artist captured this moment (wherever it was) and held on to it for me with his brush. I’m glad I found the print to hang in my house, to remind me of my own moments like these.

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You Can’t Explain The World Without Poetry

Science has limitations. It can tell us what things are made of, but it has trouble telling us what they are made for. Sometimes, if you want to explain the world fully, what you really need is a poem. Most of my poems come to me while I’m walking home after dropping the children to school, looking around at the world and trying to see the familiar things that surround me for what they really are. That’s where these three came from:

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