Tuesday, December 22, 2009

"Holy is His Name" - Note (and News) from Clive, IA

The following was originally written as a faith reflection and update for my Norfolk Catholic high school classmates. I edited it to post here as a spiritual reflection; I share this with all of you as friends and family invited to witness Francois and my marriage. Happy holidays!
Hey Friends!

I am holed up here in Clive, Iowa, where my car broke down yesterday, and I wake to read emails, eat my oatmeal, and try to enjoy the delay (and expense) in returning home to Minnesota....*chuckles* sigh*smile*

Part of my morning routine is perusing scripture and wondering about how God is talking to me each day.....Today's Gospel* features "the Magnificat," or "Song of Mary"-- a text that inspires a canticle I adore: "Holy is His Name."

Mary is speaking and rocking my world with her words about God, about child, about being blessed, about the power of Love. Spending time with the text this morning, I keep hearing Ann Shallbetter and Julie Strahan singing this at my wedding. I am standing, holed up in the Children's room at St. Philips, leaning into the speakers to hear my friends sing this song as prelude to walking down the aisle. Or: I am standing alongside my dad last Sunday, at St. Margaret Mary's in Omaha, where my brother in law, Chris Johnson sings this song with his church choir. And my heart is happy. It's such a beautiful tune, inspired by such a powerful text....

I wonder what words each of us might be inspired to utter in the face of faith, this season's experiences? I wonder what I might be inspired to say, given the miracles and blessings of God's love?

For all of you who may not know yet, I share this piece of news that has me feeling blessed this Christmas season:

Francois Kiemde and I are expecting a baby! It's so exciting, it's so fast, it feels like such an overwhelming miracle and mystery...ALL OF IT! Meeting him, connecting in our faith, and finding the blessed capacity to commit to communicating and loving each other the rest of our days, and then conceiving this baby....It's all so much larger than me. I feel a bit like Mary,

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; the Almighty has done great things for me, He has filled the hungry (me!) with good things --(a baker and baby!)

I invite each of you to celebrate with us at this good news, and to keep us and this growing child in your prayers. (We will be having an ultrasound in two short weeks, and simply ask for a healthy child to be born....Can you imagine Mary asking for a healthy ultrasound? It makes me laugh as I write this... ) By the way , we are due in late May.

I also invite each of you to celebrate in the spaces where you are "holed up" this season, and to see how any miracles are manifesting your midst.....God is good. I am grateful for all of you in my life.

Peace, Advent blessings,

Melissa, on behalf of Francois and child



Lk 1:46-5

Mary said:

"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
for he has looked upon his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
and has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children for ever."

Mary remained with Elizabeth about three months

and then returned to her home.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Inctivus, Advent, Incarnation...

I wonder who among you has seen the recent film entitled, "Invictus"? Starring Morgan Freeman, as the newly-released-from-prison/ newly-elected-to-office President Nelson Mandela, alongside Matt Damon, playing South African Springbok Rugby captain, Francois Pienaar, the film places us squarely inside South Africa's transition from Apartheid rule to a free, Democratic nation. The time and period in our world's recent history is not without incredible charge, strife, and division among people. It's a time and period that calls us all to deeper reflection and contemplation of what it means to be united in the face of incredible adversity, diversity, conviction.

Enter Mandela. Enter a leader who exemplifies a radically new kind of authority and governance: one that is deeply acquainted with the victim, with the experience of the oppressed and marginalized, and yet is one who leads from a transcended space of love, compassion, and forgiveness. Enter Pienaar, another leader of sorts, who is called into this space to inspire his peers beyond their comfort and convictions into a place of equally transcended and transported action. Mandela and Pienaar are two starkly contrasted men who this film centers around in the name of delivering a narrative of hope and promise, of victory over fear and ignorance; it's a tale about the unity of people in spirit, mind, body.

On one hand, Invictus is an American film examining the post-Apartheid times and circumstances of our South African brothers and sisters. As a Clint Eastwood Production, it comes to the American public in this package and presentation that, for me as viewer, invites me to receive it within this lens. The Dirty-Harry-Unforgiven-Gran-Torino Eastwood delivers this story in a way that I must embrace as gift, as he - and the film's creators - present us with these larger questions around leadership and unity in the midst of deep divide. (How are the film's themes applicable to the American public? The larger world? It's rich!)

On another hand, Invictus is a David and Goliath sports flick, giving us an underdog team in the Springboks that strives to defeat the giant opponent in New Zealand's All Blacks. It is Hollywood flexing its American muscles inside a biblical metaphor. It's a film that culminates in sweet victory, a virtual miracle of sorts unfolding before our eyes when we all consider the human odds of Black and White camps and convictions, experience and athleticism, going into battle.

And now, a week after seeing the film, still reviewing a number of its moving scenes in my mind, I hold the fullness of the film's lessons about transcendent leadership and possibilities, inside of this Advent season. Invictus comes to me this day in a much larger light, one where its characters are considered inside of a faith perspective; that where a divine presence enters our midst and is seen in the most obscure places. Mandela as a President emerging from South Africa's apartheid prison. Pienaar as post-Apartheid athlete unifier. The uncanny, unfathomable, seemingly impossible, becomes possible, tanglible, quite real in this tale. There is an incarnation witnessed in this film as the should-be-conquered and conquerable reveal themselves to be as the movie title states: Invictus, Unconquerable.

I can see a Christ-figure born in each of these men: Mandela as compassionate intellectual posing questions of unity and leadership, inviting the black majority of South Africa to reconsider its battles with the former white majority rule. ("Why overturn the Springbok green and gold?) Pienaar, as athletic leader who wrestles with his privilege, his comfort, and ventures to see inspiration and possibility through the "other's" perspective. The rugby captain actually traveling to the new president's former prison cell at Robben Island, and contemplating what captivity has taught him about the human spirit, about compassion, about the invincibility of an unjustly accused and condemned man.

Whatever lens you choose to view this film through, I invite you to simply view it! Consider how its characters and circumstances speak to your heart. Consider these questions:
What does it mean to lead? What is at the center of your beliefs and actions? What inspires nations and its citizens? What creates hope and optimism in your own home? What is possible in the face of great odds? What is trying to get born in you today, in your work, on your field, in your lab, in your mind, within your family or community? How are you called to respond? Do you see yourself as unconquerable? Do you know that beauty and the divine dwell within and all around? Do you recognize your own capacity to forgive, to transcend those who have caused you the greatest grief or injury?

This season, I invite you all to see this film and meditate on its themes and many questions.

In peace and contemplation,

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Transcending Cynicism: A Bit on Rumi before Marriage

I spent the better part of yesterday on a date with Rumi. You all know the Sufi Mystic, yes? Poet. Scholar. Teacher. Big souled, larger-than-any-one-faith gent who lived in the 13 century. The Beloved of Sham's. ---Shoot! I claim him as My beloved, after all of our dancing and screaming and giggling together! If you read his poetry, then you know what I'm speaking of. This fellow, Mr. Jelaluddin Rumi, has a capacity to engage. To nail a point on the head, to expand your breathing with a question, and invite your imagination into the realm of the truly inconceivable, impossible. Rumi's voice and words, (in my apartment: translated by Coleman Barks) make me think anything is possible. And when I fight what Rumi is saying, the way his words resonate deeply within me, still: he fights back. He sort of kicks back, in the gentlest of ways -- with each line of poetry or prose simply saying, "surrender."

I went looking for a simple poem to include in my wedding program. I ended up with fifteen. I of course whittled it down, but goodness, what a process!

The one I'm choosing to post here, and share with you all today, wasn't really a finalist for the wedding program, but rather: one I put a bookmark on as I thought of you. As I imagined the "other" in my own body, the visitor who shows up to read my thoughts, the contemplative friend who holds similar queries about the world and faith and poetry with me: I thought of you. I thought this poem fitting to extend to you.

In this poem, Rumi draws on Old Testament figures, while combining them with the mundane and contemporary. He speaks to the smallest being within each of us, and holds our fears and insecurities up before our critical, fleeing minds, and then asks us to hold still. He invites us to see our brokenness, but accept it humbly, and then courageously step forward. He identifies our darkest, cynical selves, and seemingly slaps us silly with a simple consideration: to have faith -- or to at least fake it. He invites us to consider our fullest sense of being, living, loving, honoring. Whew. I love him.

Read on! Enjoy! Let me know what you think!

The wilderness way Moses took
was pure need and desolation.

Remember how you cried when you were a child?

Joseph's path to the throne room of Egypt
where he distributed grain to his brothers
led through the pit his brothers left him in.

Don't look for new ways
to flee across the chessboard.
Listen to hear the checkmate
spoken directly to you.

Mice nibble. That's what they need
to be doing. What do you need?
How will you impress the one
who gave you life?

If all you can do is crawl,
start crawling.

You have a hundred cynical fantasies
about God. Make them ninety-nine!

If you can't pray a real prayer, pray
hypocritically, full of doubt
and dry-mouthed.

God accepts
as though
it were real!

- Rumi
Translated by Coleman Barks in "The Illuminated Rumi"

Happy Contemplating!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Poetry on Palestine and Israel: Check out Sunday, 10/25 in D.C.

"We need authentic, honest discourse in the American Jewish community. It must start today and it must be about Palestine and Israel.

" - Kevin Coval, excerpted from the Huffington Post, 10/24.

I'm posting the following as an act of support for the poet activists speaking out on behalf of dialogue on a complex issue of our time. How to address Israel? How to understand the US's role? How to unpack the many narratives told by Palestinians, Israelis, World Leaders, Military and Peace figures? I received a letter earlier in the week describing a truly sad and unfortunate censoring of these poet activists, Kevin Coval and Josh Healey, who were originally invited to come and speak at JStreet. I know Josh through his work at Madison's First Wave Spoken Word program, as well as meeting him at Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam. I encourage any and all who are able to tune in to this important dialogue, and participate on Sunday.


with Kevin Coval and Josh Healey

Sunday, October 25
Busboys and Poets, Langston Room
2021 14th St, NW (near U Street Metro station)
Washington, DC

This past week, Kevin Coval and Josh Healey were censored and un-invited from this weekend's J Street conference in D.C. as a result of attacks in various right-wing blogs and online magazines. In defiance of these McCarthyist attacks, and J Street's subsequent accommodation, Coval and Healey have decided to proceed with the original event.

They will share their poems and dialogue about Israel/Palestine, identity and justice, and (especially now) free speech. No longer part of the J Street gathering, this event is open to the whole community: conference attendees, artists, activists, youth, elders, Jews, Palestinians, gentiles, and anyone down to build.

Free event. All-ages, all are welcome.

For background on the situation, see:

For more info, contact jewsthatareleft@gmail.com

* * * * *

Friday, October 16, 2009

"Ancestors:" A Meditation

It's my grandmother Borgmann's 95th birthday next week. Our family is gathering from all over the Midwest - and beyond - to celebrate this matriarch of our clan who resides in Osmond, Nebraska. Ninety five years. What has someone seen in 95 years? Whew. What have they lived through? Makes my head spin trying to imagine.

Grandma Adeline's youngest child, my aunt Marian, has been compiling memories of Grandma B. As the last in the brood of 11, Marian is sort of the family historian. She began a book project for her mother - that includes a chapter devoted to each of her eleven children. These pages swirl in my mind this morning. I can see the pictures and bios of all my aunts and uncles, each of my cousins making an attempt to document their lives. It's an act of deep regard, reverence, I think. The book is a way to honor Julia Adeline Schilling Borgmann's time on the planet. It's a way for each and everyone of us to take stock of where we come from. In the same vein, I think it is also an equal invitation to consider where we are going.

Where will we be at age 95? How many of us will be around? What will we have witnessed? What will we have created? What will we have let go? What will our homes and hearts, families, careers look like? Where will we reside?

Enter: Today's poem. Harvey Ellis' work, "ancestors," shared this day on "The Writer's Almanac," thrusts me smack dab into the middle of all these questions. I am surrounded by contemplations of not only Julia Adeline, but of her spouse, Johnny. I can see the sapia-hued photographs and skin tones of Edna Bell Arduser, Great Grandpa Liewer, the scads of boxed images of my mixed-German-ancestry. I wonder if a picture of Clara or Matthias is contained anywhere - as the original owners of my engagement diamond? I know Great Grandpa Henry is there -- the boxer who rode the train from Cincinnati. I return to Grandma B, and recall her own train ride tales over the US landscape. I can hear her deep, baritone voice, tell me about traveling from Reno and back, with a divorcee, (whose name was Rose?). I recall my own awe-struck silence listening to her first hand account of meeting Amelia Earhart at a Chicago Luncheon while visiting a cousin. I see her sewing and making sandwiches for a Jewish family she nannied for on the east coast, prior to her own married and mothering days. I try to fathom my own life, with her alongside me. Her blood and marrow in my own bones. Her parents - and all of my other Borgmann/ Schilling/ Liewer/ Arduser ancestors - filling out the sinews of my body. Their lives informing mine. Their steps, tracks, train rides, boat-rides, guiding mine.

It's something to consider, you know?

I invite you to read Ellis' poem copied below. Drink it in. Meditate on your own ancestry. Who is beside you? Who is breathing within? How are you moving and stretching and making things happen today? What parent, aunt, uncle, great-great, do you want to draw on in your journey at this moment? You know they are close by.

Happy Contemplating!


by Harvey Ellis

my ancestors surround me
like walls of a canyon
stone hard
their ideas drift over me
like breezes at sunset

we gather sticks
and make settlements
what we do is only partly
our own
and partly continuation
down through the chromosomes

my son
my baby sleeps behind me
stirring in the night
for the touch
that lets him continue

he is arranging
in his small form the furniture
and windows of his home

it will be a lot like mine
it will be a lot like theirs

"ancestors" by Harvey Ellis from Sleep Not Sleep. © Wolf Ridge Press, 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

"ONE:" The Fight Against Global Poverty

This website inspires me. I got turned onto this work when my friend Ibe Kaba posted a link to the "ONE" organization during the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh, on his facebook page. The idea of this summit being hosted somewhere on the continent of Africa is being proposed. This notion excites me. Check out the mural. Check out the website. Sit with these basic questions:

What is the fight against global poverty?
What does this mean for me?
What does it require of you?
What must each of us get conscious of?
How is each and everyone of us an agent of change?

Peace, Love, Contemplation, ACTION!

Friday, September 18, 2009

On "An Invitation to be Heard": Tuning into the Truth of Poetry. Story. Experience.

What does it mean to share stories? To read them aloud to one another? To record them, write them down in the first place? What does it mean to speak a personal narrative into the air? Why do people share tales? What experiences inspire reflection and acts of private and public disclosure? Love, heartache, loss, betrayal, birth, death, faith, miracles, desire? What happens when we share our tales, and really hear ourselves and one another speak?

In the coming weeks, I will have the privilege of helping facilitate "Listening Sessions" at the Church of St. Philip in North Minneapolis. As part of our Social Justice committee work, we have discerned a call to hold two evening sessions inviting people who have left the church to return and share their stories. We are creating space for former parishioners to gather and reflect. We are asking those who choose to come to respond to three simple questions:
  • What called you to the St. Philip Community initially?
  • Where are you now and what do you like about it?
  • What would you like to share with us about the circumstances that have caused you to change churches or stay away?
As I prepare for these evenings, I'm tuning my heart, mind, spirit to these questions. I'm meditating on this action of being deeply attentive, validating, and acknowledging of all that I hear. I'm listening to my own inner voice, and how I react to circumstances and people throughout the day. I'm practicing the hard work it is to defer judgment, and simply receive information. I'm reading poetry.

Our goal in having these sessions is to do the work of story-telling: of truth-telling, sharing, hearing, acknowledging, and reconciling. Our goal is to tune in, not unlike the poet, to the heart of matters, to details, to the Divine at work and in our midst. As I ready myself, I'm re-reading poems. I'm struck time and again by Mary Oliver, Rainer Maria Rilke, William Stafford. Today, I tune to an old favorite by William Stafford, and realize that his poem holds lessons around why I am called to do any of this work of listening, sharing stories, responding. I invite each and everyone of you into this poem - into reading it as an act of prayer and meditation. And I ask that you please keep these "Listening Sessions" in your heart.

Thank you.
Happy Contemplating!


A Ritual to Read to Each Other
by William Stafford (1960)

If you don't know the kind of person I am
and I don't know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant's tail,
but if one wanders the circus won't find the park.
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider--
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give --yes or no, or maybe--
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

On "Particle Physics" - Posting a Poem for Quantum Love?

From Today's Writer's Almanac, a poem that perplexes and pleases me. A Quantum physics poem, to be sure. Or is it a baseball poem? Or lost love poem? Hmmmm.....
Critical response questions follow. Read on.

Particle Physics
by Julie Kane

They say two photons fired through a slit
stay paired together to the end of time;
if one is polarized to change its spin,
the other does a U-turn on a dime,
although they fly apart at speeds of light
and never cross each other's paths again,
like us, a couple in the seventies,
divorced for almost thirty years since then.
Tonight a Red Sox batter homered twice
to beat the Yankees in their playoff match,
and, sure as I was born in Boston, when
that second ball deflected off the bat,
I knew your thoughts were flying back to me,
though your location was a mystery.

"Particle Physics" by Julie Kane from Jazzy Funeral. © Story Line Press, 2009. Reprinted with permission. Information about the WCU Poetry Center.
(buy now)

What would it mean to be fired through a slit together?
You and me?

Have you ever wondered what makes one polarized?
What gives you a charge?

Know anyone to turn on a dime?

Can you fathom the speed of light?
How would it feel to never lay eyes on her again? Or him?
Would you ache?

How are baseball and physics and love all connected?

(Have you seen "Bull Durham"? I wonder if Susan Sarandon reads such poems or blogs?)
What is your location?
Who do you love?
What have you lost?
How can we win home runs in love?
What do particles do when they divorce?

What do particles do when they love?
What are you and I made up of?
What does our matter say to these queries?
To this poem?

Can we ever put our finger on mystery?

Happy Questions and Contemplation!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

On the Murder of Chris Dozier: Reflecting on the Lives of Former Students

Marcus White. Toua Xiong. Quincy DeShawn Smith. And now Christopher Dozier. All former North High Students I had the privilege of knowing and teaching. All killed in North Minneapolis.

I woke up Friday morning to an email from the Peace Foundation. A "Peace e-lert" is what the message was entitled, sent to inform those on the list-serve of recent news, events in and around North Minneapolis. In this case, the email contained information about an upcoming Vigil, sponsored by MADDADS and the Peace Foundation organizations, to honor the life of Christopher Dozier, who was murdered Monday, August 31st in North Minneapolis. The message states that Chris "was found shot to death in a car." It includes a photo of him holding a small child. It relays information about his life. It reads:
Chris, the father of two sons, Christopher Jr. (3) and Sincere (1), was an active member of St. Nebo Missionary Baptist Church and a graduate of North High School (2004). He also attended Dicker College in Louisville, Kentucky & Barber College (2006-2007). His family says that he was a loving son and brother—a true family man—who will be remembered for his big smile and his creative designs.

It offers details about the vigil itself, which is held in the location the violence occurred:
The PEACE Vigil will be held on Sunday, September 6th at 2:00 p.m. next to 1416 11th Ave North.

I read. I take a deep breathe. I sigh. I look closer at the picture. I scan my memory. I know this young man. I knew him as a teenager. I re-read the bio and process information: Class of 2004. I do the math. I place Mr. Dozier in my sophomore English Class at North High in 2001/ 2002. I see his broad smile, his lanky frame at 16. I scan my class list, and look for his attendance records. I imagine my clip chart with student data, and try to see his grades. I ask myself, "Was he a good student?"

And then I stop. And I take note of what I've just done, subconsciously. WAS HE A GOOD STUDENT?
I ask myself, "What does it matter if he was a good student or not?" As I pause, I wonder what else is really trying to get constructed in my brain.

If Chris was a good student, then he was a good kid.
If he was a good kid, then he was a good human being.
If he was a good human being, then he would not have died.
He would not have deserved to die.

This is what happens in my brain -- in a split second! I am sick as I do this simple interrogation of my own psyche, begging to know what is behind my question, "Was he a good student?" What if he was a rotten student? What if I kicked him out of class for being disruptive? What if he skipped sophomore English on a daily basis? What if he bombed out on assignments? What if I gleaned gang graffiti on his notebook? Who cares? Would that have one little bit of bearing on whether or not his death was tragic, and whether or not mourning him was an important action? Would it change the fact that he was a human being who was loved by and loved others?

Whew. It makes me sort of ill writing this. Who deserves to die? Who deserves to be shot to death in their car? Who deserves to live? Who gets to decide any of this? Who gets to judge?


I see Chris. I recall his jovial demeanor, and replay scenes of him poking his head into my room between class periods. He smiles. He goofs. He comes into the classroom corner where the props for drama activities are held. He grabs a sword. I see him pretending to be Bottom, in Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and prancing around with this plastic prop that makes silly sound effects with each wielding gesture. I remember being annoyed with that sword and the ongoing pranking of Chris and his peers. I see this former student performing his assigned scene from the Shakespeare comedy before his classmates. We laugh. We are entertained. In the scene, Chris' character fakes his own death. I am stopped again replaying this scene in my mind's eye.


In Julie Landsman's book, "Growing Up White: A Veteran Teacher Reflects on Racism" she addresses her own inherently held racist tendencies. In the book, she takes an inventory of moments when she's realized her white privilege is at work, and how her own responses to students of color as "victims" has played a possible part in perpetuating the disparities in education. She describes a moment in class at Sheridan Middle School in Northeast Minneapolis when she's doing a residency and asks the students to write a letter. When one little girl with brown skin submits what she has written to her mother in jail, Julie is aghast. She records her deep sorrow and dismay over the situation of the little girl. She holds the circumstances of the child's incarcerated parent as the largest factor determining her success. Julie reflects on how her notions of the little girl are shaped by this single fact, and notes how later, she realizes she overlooked the child's present and loving grandmother, the girl's vocabulary and well-constructed prose. Julie recognizes she has reduced this child to a single detail and that this is part of the problem we all have as humans who seem to focus on reductionary facts that perpetuate inequity and victimhood. As the author of the book, she models the work we are all called to do: getting conscious of how our thoughts and attitudes shape our interactions and subsequent relational outcomes.


I think about Chris. I see Marcus White. I recall the last time Toua Xiong and I had an interaction. And I hold Quincy DeShawn Smith's death in my mind. Each of these young men were once my students. Each of them had families and home lives and work lives that shaped who they were, and spoke volumes about their characters. Each of them were loved by someone - many - and in turn loved beyond themselves. Each of them were North Side residents at one point, whose lives also came to a brief halt in North Minneapolis.

What is the sum of each of their lives? How do we hold and measure the hearts and minds and spirits of young men murdered in North MInneapolis? How do we hold and measure our own hearts and minds and spirits? What value do we place on life? Those of our children here, and those of our children there? How do I reflect honestly about the violence in North Minneapolis? How does it relate to violence anywhere in the world? How do I celebrate fully the life and love and potential there, as well as in my own St. Paul home? What is my job as a former teacher from North High, who still prays and volunteers and works in and around the homes and streets, businesses and schools of North Minneapolis? What am I called to pay attention to? What are you called to stop and take note of?

As I mark this fourth tragic death, I consciously work, like my friend Julie Landsman, to mark the fullness of these young men's four lives. I invite you to do the same.

In peace,

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

From Henri Nouwen: Speaking Words of Love

This was in my inbox. I post it as a way to remind myself of this simple truth uttered below by Dutch Priest and Psychologist, Fr. Henri Nouwen: "words have the power to create life."

This makes me ask, "What do I want to create? What do you? What do you want to speak into existence? What do you want to let go of? What role do our words play in the creation of love, life, peace? What role do they play in forgiving another?"

Questions that inform my prayer today. Here's Nouwen's pithy reflection. I hope it finds you well.
Speaking Words of Love

Often we remain silent when we need to speak. Without words, it is hard to love well. When we say to our parents, children, lovers, or friends: "I love you very much" or "I care for you" or "I think of you often" or "You are my greatest gift," we choose to give life. It is not always easy to express our love directly in words. But whenever we do, we discover we have offered a blessing that will be long remembered. When a son can say to his father, "Dad, I love you," and when a mother can say to her daughter, "Child, I love you," a whole new blessed place can be opened up, a space where it is good to dwell. Indeed, words have the power to create life.

-Fr. Henri Nouwen

Monday, September 07, 2009

Love to Sun Prairie, Wisconsin!

Hey Sun Prairie!

Do I know you? Near Madison, Wisconsin? A fan, friend, some-day acquaintance of Melissa Borgmann? Blessed be! It'd be lovely to get a note from you, as a curious, returning visitor to
QueenMab Contemplates. Maybe you don't have my direct email address? I just keep getting reports that you are returning, and it inspires a desire to know you. Drop me a line at queenmab31@yahoo.com.
View Larger Map

The last time this happened, my cousin Jennie reappeared in my life. Are you another cousin? Maybe a classmate? A former collaborator? A friend of a friend? Certainly: a human curious about me.

I hope this finds you well!
Happy Labor Day!


Quincy DeShawn Smith's Death: Prayers

The following was written as a prayer request and sent via email on December 13, 2008, while I was traveling in East Africa. I post it here now as I pay tribute to the lives of former students who have been killed in North Minneapolis. The information and picture copied below my words were sent via the Peace Foundation's "Peace e-lert" list-serve.


I am here in Uganda, reading emails, and have learned of this news about a former student of mine dying from the use of a police taser.

Please pray for Quincy. For his family. For the police. For all his friends. For the teachers and students he worked with. For the community of North Minneapolis - and beyond, that mourns this tragedy.

Quincy DeShawn Smith, 24, was killed this Tuesday after a struggle with the police in which he was tased. Quincy, once a North High School star football player, was also known as 'Q the Blacksmith,' a beloved DJ on KMOJ radio for almost two years. Although he had thousands of caring fans, none loved him more than the children he worked to nurture throughout the community.

As a teacher's assistant at Harvest Prep in North Minneapolis, students and teachers remember him as a tremendous role model with a caring heart and loving smile. Quincy will be greatly missed by his family and friends, as well as the entire community. He touched everyone.

(Vigil: 3:00pm @ 1000 block of Knox Ave. N)

Sunday, September 06, 2009

On the Death of Toua Xiong

Originally written as an email to my friends and family, the following was published in Insight News and picked up by other bloggers. I post it here now as I honor former North High students who have been murdered.

On the Death of Toua Xiong

August 8, 2006

I don't watch the news. I listen to MPR. I don't watch television news though, unless it's focused on global or national events. These local reports depress me.

So tonight, I am clicking the channel to find something as I wind down, and happen to hear the words "Arrest of a 20 year old in the murder of a North Minneapolis Pizza Delivery boy."

Next thing I know: a photo of Toua Xiong, the most sweet, innocent boy I may have ever taught at Minneapolis North Community High School, is being flashed up on the screen. He was the Pizza Hut delivery person killed on Sunday night.

And my god! This is the second former student of mine murdered --in what? A month? That I knew!! That is dead. Innocent young person. Marcus White. Now Toua Xiong.

And breathing is hard, you know.....?

This kid was so quiet. So sweet. Mid-height. Thin. So thin. So squeaky, squirmy, sitting next to this pack of Hmong boys in the back of my classroom with all their notebooks filled with car drawings; he was always drawing pictures and asking questions....Quiet questions. Needing to be near my elbow when he whispered them.

....When we were doing that Midsummer Night's Dream Unit, he played Mustardseed, or some such precious, few-lined character...And to ensure he got a good grade, submitted all of these drawings of the characters as he had envisioned them....

And then when I lead the Teen Group at St. Phillips - he delivered our pizza one random Monday night. I remember this whole awkward struggle I had leaving him a tip....(I didn't add right, and he returned to the church basement to have me recalculate the amount I'd written in...I was so embarrassed...)

And now he's dead.

I just ask for your thoughts. Prayers...We need peace. We need to be in relationship...

I suppose I need to ask some question...But I'm tired..And so angry.....And so sad...

So: please pose them out there....and have kind thoughts.....And hold this......It's not okay to have this happen.


On the Murder of Marcus White

The following was originally composed as an email and sent to friends and family upon learning about the murder of former student, Marcus White. I post it here now, paying tribute to the four young men I taught at North High who have been killed in North Minneapolis.

Sunday, June 16, 2006

Friends, I am devastated. And writing as a way through this...as prayer...request for prayer and community...

I have logged onto my email from my friend Suzann's home in Pleasant View, Utah. (After a morning of watching CNN, learning more of the sitaution in Lebanon and the war being waged there with Israel, the Hezbollah, Hamas, and calling for the world's response... That news, followed by the "Secret State"report depicting the assissinations of three people who worked to cross the border of North Korea in the name of freedom, democracy, education...)

And now this. The Peace Foundation e-lert informing me of the latest Vigil: for Marcus White, 19 year old young man who was shot and killed Friday.

Marcus White, former student of mine at North High, with this beautiful smile and desire to always have the "right answers" when it came to class work...I amseeing him ask about his mid-term, Spring Semester, when he had to memorize and perform a scene from Mid-Summer Night's Dream. He was either Lysander or Demetrius, one of the young lovers.....One of the
Young LOVERS!!?!

.....The last time I saw him, I was walking into the Visitation Sisters' house on Girard, and he shouted a "Hey Ms. Borgmann" from across the street, just kitty-corner from the North High football field...When was that?.....

And I have photos of him on my hard drive at home - wearing a Peace Games T-shirt and a funny crown on his head...We were in the Sculpture Garden at the Walker...there for the Peace Games...Teens Rock the Mic poets were performing.. and our friends from South Africa....

My God!

I'm in shock. Sad. Devastated.....

I didn't know if this was one and same "Marcus-White-my-student" - until I found this Star
Tribune Article, and looked up his age....

I just wrote Michelle and Sondra at the Peace Foundation to confirm this, but now I know this is

What's going on in our world? Where are we pointing our eyes, our hearts, our minds? What are we focusing on? How are we called into this? How do I sit here, north of Ogden, and do anything?

Sas, (my dear girlfriend from Sacred Heart and Norfolk Catholic, whose home with Brook, her husband, and son Ben - that I'm at now) ---She and I were up late last night, discussing so many of the issues present on the planet...(You know, those delicious deep,
philopophical, spiritual conversations I relish..) And we are asking ourselves what we are up to...

What are our gifts?
What does God, Creator, Love call us to do?
We are ear deep in stories, reflecting on the
tragedies and celebrations of our lives, and we both know how lucky we are really...how privileged we are...and considering what that means...
What are we called to do or be?

You know me, I just want to love...get married and have some kids and love them the best I can....Do my part to be an agent of change, a radical force of Love on the planet, working to impact evolution, helping create a space of healing and peace...in my own home...

But wow...

I tried for years in my classroom at North to do these things.....through my work with these beautiful poets and emerging teaching artists...

And Sas, here, with her beautiful son Benjamin, who she and Brook conceived and carried through 9-11....

What am I saying? What am I writing? I don't know...But....there is a little blond boy downstairs who giggles and kisses and plays with trains and who came onto the earth (with perhaps the
miraculous help of St. Therese: "She's the one who held me when I was trying to be a baby" --said the almost 3-year old Ben, pointing at a statue of the saint, who his mom prayed to during the time they were working to conceive him.....)

IS this too much information? Too much processing? I don't know, but I must cling to these stories, this little boy's voice and smile and image (he's now saying: "Ms. Melissa, do want to see me crabwalk?" aha!)

And I hold this moment, this child - as that representing Love...of the greater goodness, the more powerful Life and Spirit orce that permeates our hearts...casts out the darkness and sorrow....

Hopefully...yes...Ben doesn't replace Marcus White. But he gives me hope....

As does the Peace Foundation. As does Prayer. As does knowing each and every one of you. As does this act of processing via email...

With love and blessings to each of you...
From Pleasant View, Utah,
Melissa B.



Minneapolis' latest victim of violence had worked on peace games
Terry Collins and David Chanen, Star Tribune

Around this time a year ago, Marcus White persuaded
PEACE Games organizers not to end a semifinal game on
a north Minneapolis basketball court after police
found a gun.

"I've worked hard to make this happen," White pleaded
during the anti-crime event. "Please let us finish
what we started. We need something positive."

On Thursday, the 19-year-old from Minneapolis was shot
and killed near a busy intersection in broad daylight,
becoming the city's 34th homicide victim this year.

Nobody had been arrested Friday. Police believe the
shooting was gang-related, and Capt. Rich Stanek said
that White had a "gang association."

But White's relatives who gathered at a vigil Friday
night! rejected that idea, and his cousin Steven
Smith said White had a college scholarship for the

A crowd of about 100 people converged at the corner of
W. Broadway and Dupont Avenue N., near the shooting
scene, singing gospel songs that reached into the
neighborhood over a loud speaker.

Another vigil is planned for 4 p.m. Sunday at the
site. As soon as Monday, Council Member Don Samuels
said, he intends to conduct his Fifth Ward business
from a tent in a parking lot on Broadway -- directly
across from where White was shot in the busy business
district that city leaders have vowed to revitalize.

Police were already working to address the crime
problem in the area with plans to open a safety center
there next week. Staff will include a Minneapolis
police crime prevention specialist and a West Broadway
Business Association representative, said mayoral
spokesman Jeremy Hanson.

"This will be a hub for the Police Department," he
said. "Once! it opens, the city will work with
community and neighborhood ! groups to figure how the
center can best fulfill everybody's needs."

Interim Police Chief Tim Dolan said Friday that
although there are beat officers assigned to the area,
additional officers will be on patrol in the wake of
the homicide.

He joined family and friends of White who gathered
earlier Friday around a makeshift memorial at W.
Broadway and Dupont.

Dolan also said there were gang members who were
"making a show" at the scene Friday.

The scene was a far cry from the one where White
worked a year ago as a youth worker for the inaugural
youth-oriented PEACE Games.

"He said, 'All we want to do is show you that we can
do this without anybody getting shot. Please,' " said
former coordinator Jimmy Stanback, who hired White.

Stanback said he'd known White since he was a kid and
last spoke to him Wednesday on W. Broadway. White
asked him about this year's PEACE Games, which begin
July 28.

"All I'm thinking about now i! s how he was trying to
prevent violence," Stanback said. "And now he's a
victim to violence."

An argument apparently led to Thursday's shooting,
Stanek said.

Moments before, White and two other people were in a
car. White and the woman were shot outside the car, he
said. Her injuries aren't life threatening.

The shooter fled on foot, Stanek said, adding that
police received several tips from those at the scene
who are "sick and tired" of the violence. In March,
Stanek stood over the body of Melvin Paul, 28, who
also was killed in broad daylight in his car about 20
feet from where White lay.

"We still need the community to come forward with
information to keep this a safe place and curtail the
violence," Stanek said.

The Rev. Jerry McAfee organized Friday night's vigil
and called on the community to trust in God and be
more spiritually focused as the way to prevent further

White's mother showed up briefly and! came forward
when McAfee identified her, but then she passed ! out.
A relative took her away in a car.

The minister called on the community to stand behind
White's family.

"If you're not going to be with this family for the
long haul, I'd rather you leave now," he said. People

Staff writer Myron P. Medcalf contributed to this

tcollins@startribune.com • 612-673-1790
dchanen@startribune.com • 612-673-4465

Friday, September 04, 2009

NYC 2009: Celebrating Francois' 40th!

A year ago right now I had the awesome privilege of going to NYC with my mom and little sister to celebrate two significant birthdays: my 40th, Molly's 21st. This year, I have the awesome privilege of accompanying one dear love in my life, Francois Kiemde, for his 40th birthday. It's a joy. It's a wonder. It's a gift to make the journey this season alongside my fiance, and to simultaneously experience the city through his eyes, and alongside his best friends. What follows are photos from our three night, four day adventure. Big love and gratitude go out to Mr. Kiemde and his beautiful network that embraced me, and helped us celebrate love and birth on so many levels.


Hey Baby!

Sleepy but excited at the Baggage Claim.
(Can you tell we rose at 5am for this flight?)

The Algonquin!

The Historic Hotel in Mid-town Manhattan, known for Dorothy Parker and her crew of literary, artistic, political peeps...AND THE ROUND TABLE!

NYC Hallway complete with clever cartoon wallpaper from the New Yorker.


What would a trip be to New York without a stop at a Street Vendor?

En route to Times Square: Health Care Protesters!


Message with Humor!

Self-portrait in the subway...On our way to Freddie and Carmela's in Queens...

Where we are warmly received.
(From Left to Right: Francois, Eduard, Fred, Carmela all raising a glass.
There's so much to toast this weekend!)

More ensemble shots, including baby boy Cedric.

This meal will be my favorite all weekend. Love to Carmela's multicultural cooking skills, this menu honoring her Italian heritage.

And then there's my guy, who just loves his chicken!

Times Square, baby!

Time to get Tickets from TKTS

Happy Man back in his NYC home

Who knew this would be the first Broadway Musical Francois would ever see?
An LA love story set to 1980's Rock and Love ballads? The Humor of it all!

Walking down Broadway through the Street Fair

Psychic Reading on Francois' 40th Year:
Yes, I'm your soul mate, and you will be wildly successful in your next bakery business!

Jazz in Central Park

St. Raphael spotting..

Checking out the French Bread...


Onto a BBQ back in Queens with Little Cedric and family...

Fred's on prep...

Beautiful father and son.

And two beautiful parents!

Lots of photos taken today..

Carmela and Frederique

Another gorgeous father and son;
Ed and his guy are goofs!

It's a theme. Happy Dads with their boys....

Celebratory Birthday Cake and Champagne!

I love this guy!

A toast to Carmela's birthday!
Leos and Virgos in the house!

What a crew! Stay tuned to more from these men in my life!

The city at night...