the sum of small things — book release

It’s finally here and I couldn’t be more pleased!

the sum of small things

The booklet featuring photography and poetry on a wide variety of topics: creative, challenging, introspective, uplifting–much like you’ve read on my feed for some time! Order yours today for $US 19.95 + s/h e-mail me at poetryjpz@gmail.com for information on how to receive your copy!

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Photo credit (background to book): Olesya Grichina via http://www.unspash.com

I Have No Problems—NOW

Right now I have no problems—

not in this moment of Now.

🍂

Right now I breathe in cool air

which has made itself available for my survival.

I thank my lungs for continuing to function

whether I think about them or not.

…to function when others 

gasp for air…

…to breathe in and then out 

without assistance.

🍂

I thank my hands for their ability 

to feel, to sense, 

to recognize textures:

soft and prickly

temperatures:

hot and cold—

nerve endings

trained to distinguish 

water from sand

mammal from reptile

pain from pleasure.

🍂

I thank my eyes for seeing 

visions and landscapes

and children’s smiles

and hope-filled eyes—

enough to fill 

gallery walls and 

expansive archive files. 

these intricate organs have 

read endless tales

transforming missives

resolutely moving calls to action. 

🍂

I breathe gratitude for 

the original Designer

who has considered every detail

far beyond what I can grasp.

🍂

Right now I have no problems—

not in this moment of Now.

© Julia Penner-Zook 2021

Photo Credit: Julia Penner-Zook 2021

🍂

*Inspired by words of Eckhart Tolle: “Your life situation may be full of problems—most life situations are—but find out if you have any problem at this moment. Not tomorrow or in ten minutes, but now. Do you have a problem now?”

If you prefer this in video format, click below:

weeping for our mother

torn from one another,
separated from
setting suns and
rising moons,
daybreaks and
nightfalls,
from winter rains and
desert heat—
removed forever from
their ancestral homes
where once they roamed
unencumbered and
unrivaled in beauty;
untamed and free.

rugged terrain
forever scarred,
its folded mountains,
carved valleys formed by
unending seasons of rains
and wind and wildlife
migrations
marred.
shattered.
ruined.

what means this grotesque barrier,
cold steel pillars lifting angry limbs
towards the heavens—
a twisted prayer—
taunting beings of richer hues,
softer voices, diminutive frames,
daring those whose land it has
always been to defend themselves
against this looming
imposter?

uninvited predator,
uninhibited plunderer—
slicing asunder,
impeding all that moves
over impervious invisible
lines created by those who
strut visible might, only
to reveal impotent interior—
why are you bent on
destroying what nature itself
has birthed over millennia?
and to what end do you
rape, demolish,
demand subservience?

a monument to vanity and
pomp, bloated with pride,
ripping aside all that has been
for that which will soon crumble—
perishing to become
debris on a holy hill
while the land gasps,
offering its diminishing strength to
embrace its feathered, scaled,
fur-clothed children.

she weeps. our mother weeps,
and we with her
in this lonely place of tears.
deep wells unleashing
a bitter lament for all
wide-eyed innocents
called by another name
with a language
foreign to those
who strip and ravage.

tears meld with fountains
now clogged with the rubble
of a thousand excavations that
have stopped up subterranean
waterways.

oh mother, our mother,
everlasting nurturer of your
dwindling families of children,
we shed endless tears.
may they soften lands
and open hearts so we can
find the will to fashion
our collective future
upon your soil
once more.

dedicated to our mother Earth and her wildlife children devastated by the brutal imposition of an arbitrary obstruction. read the story here:

©Julia Penner-Zook 2021
IG: @julia_penner_zook
Twitter: @j_pennz
photo credit: LA Times (Saguaro Cacti destroyed at Organ Pipe Cactus
National Monument)

Meet You At The Bar

racism
pandemic
outrage
empathy
science
sedition
vaccine
eviction
listlessness
competence
lockdown
grace
fear

If you’re occasionally glancing at news sources or daring to watch the evening news, you will have your own list of words that buzz in your head like the drone of a pesky fly at an outdoor bar on a late summer evening. The only thing is: you can’t leave that buzzing behind as you get up to leave; this drone will accompany you to bed and haunt you as you try to get some sleep. 

There is no exhaustive list of words; everyone has their own. Each word evokes its own emotion and leaves its distinctive taste behind. Both the positives and negatives impact our sense of wellbeing. 

What we frequently overlook is that we can hold many equally valid realities simultaneously. It’s encouraging to realize that the Christ’s Advent gifts of peace, hope, joy, and love don’t require that the recipients have all aspects of life in order. Quite the opposite: think of peace, hope, joy, and love pulling up a barstool next to outrage, or listlessness, for example. Imagine the conversation—or the surprising transformation. 

When we’re confronted with the debilitating aspects of life in our communities, families, and nation, let’s remember to repeatedly invite joy, peace, love, and hope to pull up a stool. Just extending the invitation is a cracked doorway for the unexpected. 

Originally posted in @communityuccfresno ‘s newsletter
©Julia Penner-Zook 2020
IG: @julia_penner_zook
Twitter: @j_pennz
Photo Credit: Pavel Danilyuk via pexels.com (open source)

What Could Yet Have Been

A dear friend passed last week—suddenly; unexpectedly; in a season of her life that was bountiful and light-filled.  

The news came impersonally on social media—the blessing and curse of those cold places. 

Tears flowing, chest convulsing, I tried to find a space within myself to comprehend what I wanted to erase. Undo. Correct with a restart of a machine that would eliminate this harsh error message. 

I can see her smile; find exhilaration in vicariously hiking over miles of desert paths; revel in the hidden beauties of nature which she captured by way of photography; feel the depth of love for the two who held her heart—her grandchildren. 

Hours were spent grasping for information of what? How? Why?

My deep regret—my loss—comes in the form of never having the opportunity to experience what could yet have been. The joys that could have been shared were cut short. No further opportunities to appreciate each another’s gifts; never to be warmed by the light of her grace just one more time (or two, or three); being denied the opportunity to set a date for coffee and a pastry, or to share a glass of wine on a warm summer evening. There will be no catching up; no talking about the gaps of when our paths had led us apart; no following the threads of commonalities or comparing stories of when we were classmates. 

Some things will never be. There is deep pain in that. It speaks of the finiteness of our humanity. Yet the gifts remain and the beauty can never be extinguished. Despite being shrouded in shadows and unknowns, she lives on. 

Rest In Peace, dear one, and may those who remain regain strength to radiate the warmth and light loaned to us.  

Originally posted in @communityuccfresno ‘s eNews
©Julia Penner-Zook 2020
IG: @julia_penner_zook
Twitter: @j_pennz
Photo Credit: Martino Pietropoli via unsplash.com (open source)

star light, star bright

I’m fine—
glass is shattering
all is dark
no one home. 

I don’t know—
revelation too profound
to acknowledge;
utterly bereft.

Maybe tomorrow—
or tomorrow, or
next week, next month,
not at all. 

Hidden cacophony
spatters the wall
of the soul
as spray paint— 
graffiti’d wall
.

Hollow words
clang idly,
endlessly, as
irony dangles
from crimson
lips. 

From crumpled ball of humanity
comes the cry:
is there a God? 
Is there one 
who cares
in the rubble when
all alone,
hope only a puff
of smoke far
overhead?

Moon hangs his head low,
sun hides her face behind clouds,
branches drop leaves,
refusing cold’s blast,
gray fog drapes long
tendrils over barren landscapes.

Winter cannot endure forever;
clouds part after dropping their torrents;
new life forces through warming soil;
night will pass—it always does. 
Seek the smallest seed, 
the outstretched hand,
one bird’s trill,
faintest of smiles,
one more breath—
small signs that God 
remembers:
the steadfast one
holding the stars.

Originally posted in @communityuccfresno ‘s eNews
©Julia Penner-Zook 2020
IG: @julia_penner_zook
Twitter: @j_pennz
Photo credit: Patrick Tomasso via unsplash.com (open source)

Who We Are

Honoring the legacy of an icon, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Who would we be if…

we weren’t bogged down with agendas, statistics,
meetings, budgets, lesson plans, data, grocery lists,
problems to solve, disputes to adjudicate,
fallout to manage, needing to comply,

adjust, regroup?

What could we accomplish, were it not for…

circumstances, clashes of character,
economic fluctuation, deadlines, demands,

shortages, failing systems,
manipulated results, inadequate materials,
outdated equipment, unending Zoom meetings,
growing anxiety?

What does it mean to be alive in 2020…

with a pandemic inhibiting every
fiber of who we are,

acrid smoke obscuring our sun,
fires consuming forests, structures,
blackening thousands of acres of
rolling countryside, wildlife fleeing—

without hope of escape,
and all of our hopes for calm dashed,
patience wearing and tempers flaring,
angry voices and violent rage escalating,
hunger for power mirroring
flames leaping from tree to tree?

To be sure, this is our experience; this does not define who we are. We are human, we are connected with the Divine, and we are strong! We choose relationship and embrace, rejecting malice, cynicism, dehumanization. We allow pain to touch our souls, yet not to take up residence. We invite joy, intentionally practice patient and persistent hope, declare that our very breath connects us with God and with each other. Our words and thoughts reflect a higher purpose—one of restoration, reconnection, redemption. 

With voices raised, eyes clear, hearts open, fists clenched—not in hatred but in resistance to the forces that battle for twisted allegiance—we join the ranks of those who throughout history have stood strong. We are those who continue to sing, to dance, to pray, to eat, laugh, and create because we, too, shall overcome. We shall overcome again and again and again. We, too, belong to this abundant, beleaguered yet resilient planet, and we will fight for our human siblings, sojourning creatures in nature, and our Earth. 

This is who we are.

Originally posted in @communityuccfresno ‘s eNews
©Julia Penner-Zook 2020
IG: @julia_penner_zook
Twitter: @j_pennz
Photo credit: Jon Tyson via unsplash.com (open source)

Our Repetitious Prayer

 

It seems we are being presented with more simultaneously occurring challenges all the time; one at a time would be plenty. In addition to staying vigilant in the midst of pandemic fatigue, we are doing all we can to ensure an equitable, humane direction for this country; we work to support our black and brown siblings, demanding justice and peace; we look for ways to respond to the fallout from a quaking economy; we do our best in the responsibilities of work, relationships, and community; and now we are also weighed down by devastating destruction in the wake of an ever-encroaching fire. 

We cry out, “It’s too much!”

As followers of Christ we know we will always be carried—by one another and by God. When words fail us, simple outbursts become our daily mantra—our prayers. 

Be near to those from whom we are separated, oh God.
Be our anchor when we flounder at sea.

Protect your beloved children when they are targeted.
Empower our bodies; give us health in this precarious time.
Watch over us as we pray sleep will not continually elude us.
We need stability; our minds are overloaded.

We need you with us; we are so alone.
Be attentive to us when we pray; we don’t understand.
Remind us of our inherent value even in our frailty.
Thank you that you do not judge us in our distress and fear.
May we be people who care, and give us helpers in our need.
Give us discernment beyond our natural ability.
We need strength to face unrelenting challenges.
We need your comfort in our great loss.
Meet us in these times of devastation.

Thank you that because of resurrection anything is possible.

Amen.

Originally posted in @communityuccfresno ‘s eNews
©Julia Penner-Zook 2020
IG: @julia_penner_zook
Twitter: @j_pennz
Photo Credit: Simon Berger via unsplash.com (open source)

Movement of Mystery

Whatever happened to movement?
. . . that exhilaration of energy, speed,
progress toward a goal,

the invigorating feeling
of reaching a destination,
exchanging one place—
physical or metaphorical—
for another.
we crave what’s

different.
new.
hope-filled. 

Movement seems a distant memory
in our present state of existence,
which seems more characterized
by static, sedentary drudgery,
stuck in every day’s mire.

And yet, who can deny
the movement of the
firmly rooted tree—

unshakable
immovable—
yet undeniably
bending,

swaying,
reaching toward
the heavens, responding
to strong force of

autumn’s breeze? 

Each time we breathe
in and out, in and out,
we feel the expansion
and contraction,

receiving and eliminating—
delicate balance that
sustains life.
is this not movement? 

How can we forget magnificent
ocean’s waves, the
soothing sound of crashing,

receding, rolling back upon
the shore, only to repeat

without hesitation?
does this not embody the
epitome of movement?

yet it remains. 

Unhurried, unsolicited,
uninterrupted movement
heals body, soul, spirit.
the rhythms of light and dark,
heat and cold,

rest and toil,
laughter and weeping
refill life’s reservoir of
grace over and over
and over again. 

This is the movement of God, for
in God we live, and move,

and have our being. 

©Julia Penner-Zook 2020
IG: @julia_penner_zook
Twitter: @j_pennz
Photo Credit: Khamkéo Vilaysing via unsplash.com (open source)

 

Laser Focus

Our energy is not limitless, nor is our time replaceable. We have to constantly choose where to place our focus. 

When you have a cancer diagnosis, revealing a malignancy that has already invaded vital organs, this is not the time to argue the benefits of regular dental checkups or research the most effective exercise routines to help alleviate seasonal depression. This is the time to fight cancer.

When you’re a swimmer and see a toddler floundering in a pool, this is not the time to scan the partiers around that pool, shrug your shoulders, and assume someone will help; you immediately dive in!

When you’re an EMT called to a crash on a highway beyond a string of wildfires between you and your destination, this is not the time to argue which road is the most scenic or lament that you can’t grab a cup of coffee in a quaint nearby town; you instinctively opt for the only access road open, wasting no time in carrying out your responsibilities. 

When you’re a firefighter you don’t contact the architect of the burning building to learn about the intricacies of that structure before assessing the situation; you choose the best equipment to extinguish the blaze without delay. 

When you’re in anguish because of a ruptured appendix, you don’t ask for a list of surgeons within a 50-mile radius so you can sift through each professional’s profile, then criticize the physician on call for not measuring up to your ideals, demanding someone who is not available. You place your trust in the ER professional who has scrubbed in and is waiting in a prepped OR. 

Friends, this is where we find ourselves right now! 

Our country is battling an advanced malignancy which has been systematically and aggressively injected into every facet of our lives. The time to fight this cancer with utmost precision is now. 

We are drowning in a vortex of blatant deception, tangles of corruption, confusion infused by conspiracy theories, and governmental complicity in hundreds of thousands of deaths. The time to expend whatever energy it takes to help our imperiled nation is now. 

No longer do we have multiple avenues equally suited to save us from national, environmental, economic, medical, and moral demise; it’s on us to choose the only access available at this time. 

Personal preference has a place, but a team with stellar qualifications, ready to take on a formidable task is non-negotiable. 

In this time of crisis we have one job—we must be laser focused on our collective survival, the resuscitation of our democracy, and the protection of every inhabitant on our planet.

©Julia Penner-Zook 2020
IG: @julia_penner_zook
Twitter: @j_pennz
Photo Credit: Paul Skorupskas via unsplash.com (open source)

Delusion and Dystopia

I’ve read a wide variety of things over the years and know it is always important to consider the source!

When I read social media, I consider the source. If it’s truly the discourse of people, not merely the sharing and re-sharing of previously created content, I find this discourse inherently valuable. 

I write from a very specific place in history today; I am not a fact checker or scientist or environmentalist or activist. I continue to value the work these people do, as it helps to inform our understanding.

Today I’m standing up as a woman of faith. I have chosen this course personally, but choose equally not to stigmatize those who have not. Additionally, I have responded to a call to lead a body of faith—which I do out of conviction, carrying the weight of the question: what does it mean to be a follower of the Christ of the Gospel—the brown, nomadic, radical protector of those most hated and most vulnerable, whose challenge to the regime predictably led to his execution?

When (in the discourse of people) I read words such as “the name of Jesus was lifted up” (at the Republican National Convention for example), or “we are upholding our god-given right to choose what is best for our children” (while defying safety ordinances put in place to benefit all people), or people rally to demand that churches be allowed to open (with evidence abounding that these tight, indoor spaces infect us all) I feel a profound dissonance.

The current boisterous, attention-seeking, visible display of “faith” reminds me of Jesus’ words when he quotes the ancient prophet, Isaiah: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far away from me. Their worship of me is empty since they teach instructions that are human rules.”

We live at a time where 181,000+ are dead in this nation following an outbreak of a pandemic so deadly it defies comprehension. Yet it was labeled a hoax.

We live at a time where people of color are gunned down in the streets (or in their beds, or in stores, or while jogging)—many times by members of the police force, yet the coded language of “law and order” is applauded as godly.

We live at a time when hate crimes are at a 16 year high.

We live at a time when places of worship are targeted for assault, defacing, and brutal killings.

We live at a time when over 16% of children in the US live in poverty, yet the wealth of America’s billionaires has increased by 20% since the beginning of the pandemic. 

We repeatedly hear that catastrophic events (eg. hurricane Laura’s unprecedented devastation on the southern coast of the United States and the number and intensity of California wildfires) are the highest in recorded history, evidence that the changing temperatures on our globe impact not only our beloved planet but real people’s lives. This too has been labeled a hoax.

The list continues and includes an inconceivable depth of corruption, systematic isolation from forward-looking, responsible international allies, an obsession with the power, optics, and rhetoric of dictatorships. During this time we the people are exposed to an exhausting number of assaults on our personal, community, spiritual, and political lives, and I’m even a white woman. However, it is the constant conflation of what is on full display from this administration with the Gospel of Christ that I speak against today. These two could not be further apart; one does not in the least reflect the other. 

It is these realities that haunt me as a concerned global citizen and as a woman of faith. If we do not consider this the jurisdiction of followers of Christ we have completely missed the mark.

If we believe that things will miraculously change—either by divine intervention or neatly fit into end-time rapture theology—we are victims of projection, gaslighting, deflection, abject lies, blame, and narcissism. These were words once confined to clinician’s offices, but have taken center stage in our culture and in too many churches. These words describe people as well as ideologies; these are words that are used to describe cults. 

If you are equally concerned and are not a person of faith or adhere to a faith different from mine, I stand in solidarity.

If these atrocities do not keep us up at night it may be that we truly are among the few who are privileged and insulated, or we belong to those who have been intentionally misled and used as pawns.

©Julia Penner-Zook
IG: @julia_penner_zook
Twitter: @j_pennz
Photo credit: Julia Penner-Zook