"Christeene Fraser is a vibrant new voice on the poetry scene. Starkly confessional, yet warmly human, her writing strikes a nerve in the audience...a poet to watch."

Bruce Haring, Director, New York Book Festival

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Great Expectations

A view from the Marta train this morning:

Every morning on the way to work, I take the Marta train (cause Marta is "Smarta," and greener, people! But I digress...), and I couldn't help but be disenheartened by what I saw when I looked out onto the neighborhood that the train was passing through. I've been through that part of Atlanta dozens of times, but today it really struck me just HOW desolate it really is. Homes boarded up. Stores closed. Graffiti proliferates on every surface. There is the possibility of something menacing at every turn, and an overall sense of melancholia in the deadness of the place. This is not a new scene for me; I've lived and traveled to several places like Southwest Atlanta, some far worse. But what frustrated me so much were the billboards that popped up like gaudy weeds all over this little concrete plain: "Seeking Abortion alternatives?" and "Pledge to Have No Unwanted Pregnancies!"

Make no mistake: I am NOT pro-choice. I do NOT support abortion. But what troubles me, is the lack of sensitivity and love that these "practical" ads suggest to the people who have to look at them everyday. I am somewhat offended by them all. They seem less about love and more about patronizing; why afterall do we only see these ads in the "ghetto?" As if to say, we expect you to make this mistake?

I wonder if some real positive self-image would do MORE to uplift than some impersonal attempt to teach about alternatives? Rather than assuming that the poor girl from the ghetto will automatically get knocked up, can we deter her from that outcome by showing her how to love herself by being proactive, not reactive? Certainly the pragmatist will disagree, crying afoul saying, "surely unplanned pregnancies will happen, and we are doing them a disservice by NOT educating them!" and "statistically it happens the most in neighborhoods just like this one!" Perhaps they are right. But I can't help but wonder how much more effective those same organizations would be if they redirected their money, advertising, effort, and exhortations on building centers, encouraging businesses, and reaching out in person rather than through removed didacticism that does more to demoralize the impoverished rather than to liberate them.

We internalize, and ultimately become, what we see and are told about ourselves over and over again. My mother told me I was a smart girl virtually everyday of my life, and I have always had confidence in my intellect (warranted or not). If you tell girls that we expect you to get pregnant, many of them will. That problem is compounded when you place that message somewhere like Southwest Atlanta; it takes on elements of class and race, and does more to keep people down rather than lift them up. Last time I checked, there were no billboards like that in Buckhead, or in the McDonough Square? And certainly there are teens there who will make the same error. I'm asking people to stop preaching, and start offering hope. Stop talking about change, and start expecting it.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Catch for Us the Little Foxes

"Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin our vineyards.
Our vineyards that are in bloom."
Song of Songs 2:15

I was rereading Song of Songs (also known as Song of Solomon) a few days ago when I came across this passage. It struck me over the head, haunted me all day as I repeated it in my mind: "the little foxes that ruin our vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom..."

Amidst a beautifully sappy depiction of Godly love and sex in marriage, we get this thinly veiled admonition. Be warned. Be cautious. Be watchful. Love is a delicate thing that is destroyed by the small things that eat away at us: money, children, work, stress, boredom, sin. These little foxes creep in and devour the delicious fruit of love one vine at a time. My marriage has not been immune from the little foxes, our vineyards not without the devastation of neglect or willful sabotage.

Our marriage class at church is currently completing a small group study of "Fireproof," and I am hopeful that this will help us to identify and strangle those "little foxes." It is time to reclaim the passion and fulfillment that God intended for us within the great mystery of marriage. It is time to stop hoping the vineyards will flourish, and start doing the work of tilling the soil, watering the vines, mending the holes in the fences. How would the world change if marriage was reclaimed for the sake of Christ? How many families saved from the fire if we would take the time to trap the foxes in our midst? What are your "foxes" today?