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viewing death through a banister rail

Juxtaposed.

That’s how it felt.
Feels.
Viewing death through a banister rail,
hovering around it like an invisible presence.

Enclosed,
cold,
yet hot
anticipation like
standing on the verge
of beginnings yet untold.

An intersection of reality where
breath ceases
time stops
and it’s we who live whose hearts
are flat lined
as, unbidden,
the windows of heaven
are opened.

And then, with movement forced,
the walking dead step out
into sunlight
into bracing, frigid air,
into the great swooshing world
and the ceaseless second hand.

How surreal, how utterly odd thus to stand
like Aaron,
between the living and the dead
only this plague won’t stop.
Like Phinehas I look for something to stab
to halt the spread.

But the dead keep dying
and the living keep
moving.

As I gaze upon the moving I wonder
“how many truly live?”
as in remembered gaze
I look upon the motionless
and know how much he did.

And does.
deep_shadows_by_xetobyte-d5guh0e

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2014 in Poetry

 

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what do you say to someone who is dying?

Not more than you should;
Not less than is needed.

And the wisdom to know the difference.

Sometimes there’s nothing to be said at all.
Tears will do nicely.
A quiet sitting by can be the best medicine of all.
Especially for those who doubt their own grasp of wisdom
in knowing the difference.

Sometimes black humor will do wonders.
Laughter – to tears, through tears – can provide precisely
the hand-hold needed
to climb the sheer face of terror
and assault dark uncertainties.

Sometimes it’s the foothold
of a poem,
a song,
a reading.

Sometimes it’s a prayer.
Not performed,
but felt
groaned
oozed.

Midwives for the dying, we are,
for what is death but
birth?

To avert our eyes
to fidget
to nervously shift one foot to the other
to pretend that we’re not staring at death
is like pretending a woman is not really in labor as she screams.

Midwives for the dying, we are.
Helping them breathe through the contractions,
freeing them to find the most comfortable position
to find their own way
rather than shackling them with ours.

But we are midwives inside the womb;
we don’t see the head crowned;
new life isn’t released into our hands;
it is a birth away from us
not towards us,
a birth into other waiting Hands
to receive
to swaddle
to name
to nurse
to bring home
to release into a new world bursting with unimaginable possibilities.

No tears on that side
that side we cannot see
at least no tears like these.

Only here
on this side
this dark womb-y side
as we are left holding a bloody severed cord
cut by other Hands
we judge cruel
as we wail at these dark, confining
walls.

Waiting.
Wailing.
Waiting

for our own birth.

War Drums_Marten

or, as suggested by my friend Lisa’s work, sometimes war drums will do nicely too…and paint

 
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Posted by on December 11, 2014 in haverings, Poetry

 

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speechless God

One of my favorite Robert E. Lee stories. After the war…from Lee: The Last Years by Charles Bracelen Flood:

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 12.09.40 PM

What self-styled orators we all can be when it comes to God.
When we come to God.

Such flourishes.
So many words as we gain the porch,
or perhaps hoping through our eloquence
to gain access to the porch?

How often, I wonder, do we leave Abba speechless
as we seek to impress him as we ascend;
God speechless,
we continuing;
how often the Spirit waits for us to pause,
to take a breath,
so she can invite us to have a seat
and enjoy some lemonade in the cool of the evening…
 

Unknown

 

how-to-write-a-book-report

 

 
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Posted by on November 24, 2014 in Books, Quotations

 

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the fourth word

I ran out of time.

I had a story and four words.
But I only got to the first three.

So here it is.
Word number four.

A three-letter picture for a thirteen-letter mouthful of a word. First, the word:

RIGHTEOUSNESS

Yes, it is a mouthful.
We spend page after page defining and quantifying this word. “The state of being righteous.” That helps. The state of moral perfection required to enter heaven. That really helps. Often our definitions revolve around a legal standing in court before a judicial bar where there is guilt and debt – much of that scenario dating back to the story framing of St. Anselm in the 12th Century in his context of lords and serfs.

Okay. I get that.

But then I look at the picture of these three letters.

IMG_0542

Tsade-Dalet-Qoph

Tsade = a trail or path
Dalet = a door
Qoph = sunrise on the horizon (or a sunset)

Put them together and we have a path leading to a door through which lies an endless horizon under a swift sunrise.

Okay, just a little poetic license there in “endless” and “swift.”
But I can do that.
I have a license.

But chew on that as a basic construct of what “righteousness” is. Not an abstract static state of perfection or a legal standing in some heavenly courtroom as God gavels us “innocent.” But a journey with limitless, dynamic possibilities along a path leading through a door that only opens up to a vast horizon of many explorations. I suppose I would consider this “Righteousness” with a Big “R” as opposed to “righteousness” with a little “r” that amounts to little more than moralistic, pious performance.

“Righteousness” is finally entering the Path, finally tracking, and hence, sorted.

In the context of my talk, this where friends go. It’s where they take each other.
Friendship is a journey.
A mutually shared journey God knows where.

And that’s so much more than just behaving ourselves…

street sunrise

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2014 in haverings, word studies

 

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shut up. wash feet.

chasing-francis-cover

wild goose chase…

This stop turned out to be the community’s home for men dying of AIDS. When I discovered where we were, I was surprised by how apprehensive I felt. I’d spent a lot of time around dying people, so that wasn’t it. Maybe I was self-conscious about being around gay men and needle addicts.

“Most of the men who live here have no one to take care of them,” Angelina said. “Their families have disowned them, and their friends have stopped visiting. We help them die with dignity, and hopefully they see Jesus in us.”

The house was quiet except for a cat meowing in some faraway room. The three of us walked up the stairs to the second floor. Through open doors, we could see men in different stages of illness. Some were propped up in bed reading; others slept. At the top of the third-floor landing, a petite young woman with close-cropped hair and a beaming smile was waiting for us.

“This is Eva. She’s a volunteer in training from one of our houses in Germany,” Angelina said.

Eva shook my hand. “You’ve come just in time. We need to give the men baths,” she said.

“Maggie, why don’t you go downstairs and look in on some of the men? They love visitors,” Angelina said. I knew we’d soon hear laughter coming from the floor below.

“Can I go with her?” I asked.

Angelina placed her hand on my arm. “We could use you up here,” she said.”

My heart was beating like a drum against my rib cage, just at the idea of giving a man a bath. I scrambled for a reason why I couldn’t possibly help, but I wasn’t fast enough. Angelina took my hand, and we went into a room where a young man lay on a bed, staring blankly at the ceiling.

“Buongiorno, Amadeo,” Angelina said. “I’ve brought a friend today.” Angelina removed the blanket that covered Amadeo’s body. He was a naked stick, mute, his almond-shaped eyes filled with that pitiable mixture of panic and confusion. His pallid skin hung flaccidly — he must have been six feet tall once, but now he surely weighed less than a hundred pounds. I felt a rush of both shock and sadness. I looked at Angelina for help, and she smiled at me reassuringly.”

“Let’s put Amadeo in the tub,” she said, as she repeated in Italian so that he and I would both know what we were doing next.

Eva dipped her hands into the water to make sure it was the right temperature, while Angelina and I lifted Amadeo. I tenderly placed my hands under his shoulder blades. They felt like sharp-edged clamshells cruelly implanted in his upper back. I was afraid his skin would tear like tissue in my grip. The bones of his pelvis stuck out through his skin like six-shooters in flesh holsters.

We lowered him slowly into the bath; the steam that moved across the water parted as his body passed through it. Amadeo winced as the open sores on his body made contact with the tepid water. Angelina spoke to him soothingly while sponging off his brittle frame.

She handed me a rag. “Would you mind washing his genitals,” she asked evenly.

I was speechless. The stick-man looked at me as if to say, “What will you choose to do now?”

There is a tensile surface on water that’s always fascinated me. I’ve ruminated before about that infinitesimally thin layer of resistance when preparing for baptisms. Is the water giving the candidate one last chance to go back, a last-minute opportunity to pull away and say no to the intense yet life-giving drowning that lies ahead? Or is it a reminder that there really is a separation between this fallen world and the next?”

“As I pushed against my revulsion and plunged the sponge beneath the water, I thought of it again but refused its invitation to hold back. I’d passed through a border into the depths and found I could still breathe there. My terror and embarrassment was replaced by peace, edging toward sublime joy.

“Did you know that Francis had a phobic aversion to lepers?” Angelina asked, continuing to wash Amadeo.

I wrung the water out of my rag. “I’ve read about it,” I said quietly.

“He was so disgusted by them that whenever he saw one, he’d cover his mouth and nose and run away. One day, he was riding his horse on the outskirts of Assisi and saw a leper. He was tempted to take off in the other direction, but then he heard Jesus telling him to get off his horse and kiss the leper. He did, and it was a breakthrough moment in his conversion.”

Angelina and I lifted Amadeo out of the tub and placed him on the bed, where Eva had placed fresh towels. We patted him dry and gingerly dabbed ointment on his sores. Amadeo closed his eyes, and his expression softened into something resembling peace. I wasn’t sure which was the more soothing to him — the cleansing, the salve, or the sensation of people touching him.

When we were finished, Eva put a warm fleece blanket over him. Angelina put her face close to his. “Good-bye, my friend. I will look in on you tomorrow.” Amadeo opened his eyes and stared at her. His lips moved, but no words came — only the sound of air passing over his vocal chords. Angelina kissed him on the forehead.

While we were walking down the stairs, Maggie came out of one of the rooms and met us in the hall. I must have looked dazed because she looked sideways at me. “What happened up there?” she asked

“I think I became a Christian,” I said.

__________________________________________________________________

An excerpt from Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron – one of my more meaningful reads over the past few years. It’s fiction. It desperately needs to become non-fiction in evangelical circles.

Read the story.
Read the book.

Just how might this world be transformed if we all chased Francis just a bit?
What would happen if today we became Christians?
We are so good at defining our positions, venting our holiness, taking our moral stands…
When it is a basin and a towel that he puts into our hands rather than theology laden tomes;
a basin filled with water to wash the feet of our enemies culturally, politically, religiously, morally.
We will bury an offending mayor with Bibles and sermons in protest of our religious freedoms,
but who will wash her feet?
Who will feed her?
Who will give her something to drink?foot washing email

Our words would have weight if we washed more feet.

5 to 1. That’s the ratio. Every one word of instruction, correction, teaching should be preceded by five acts of hands-on, no-strings attached kindness. The ratio is arbitrary, I admit it. But it would be a start. In fact, theologians who are really into numbers say “five” is the number of grace, so five would be a good start.

Shut up. Wash feet. Five sets of feet. Then you can speak a word –
if you still want to.
If you still need to.

“Speak the truth in love,” say we.
But love is more than how you hold your mouth as you make your points and type your post. Saying “I love you” – and especially “I love you, but…” is not love. At least not biblically. The words are good and warm and affirming, but Love is only known in the Doing. Truth can only be spoken, if it need be spoken at all, in a context of demonstrated love. Anything less is mere harangue aka static. And this goes for whichever side you might take on whatever issue. Cowardice shouts from divers platforms, but it avoids dirty feet like the plague.

We much prefer the abrasive washing of words with our lips than the washing of dirty feet with our hands.

Our culture has a word for this:
Epic.
Fail.

Ah, but God has another word for it,
doesn’t he?

22foot-wash22-by-jay-peeples

 
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Posted by on October 28, 2014 in Books, haverings

 

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faces of fear

I’ve been playing with ancient Hebrew letters.9946b2a51db9157fdf7e364295f499bc

Scientists will frown – this is so not scientific.
Lexicographers might throw up a bit in their mouths.

I wish I could say I was sorry.
But wordhavering with Hebrew letters is much too fun.

Hebrew is so concrete. We are so abstract.
The letters of the ancient Hebrew alphabet not only double for numerals they are also concrete pictures. Which means that every Hebrew word is not only a sum of its letters, it’s also a composite picture. So, just for kicks, because I can, I’ve been looking at the pictures, using the alphabet chart on an Ancient Hebrew website as my key and palette.

And so, when a friend shared this marvelous proverb and its timely presence in her life:

Screen Shot 2014-10-24 at 5.50.26 PM

I had to look at the picture of fear.

The three-letter root is chet/resh/dalet (pronounced something like cha-raid). And yes I can, and did, look it up: “fear, anxiety, quaking, trembling.” The quaking and trembling is pretty concrete, but look at the picture the letters paint (okay, it’s just a sketch on a chalkboard – and ancient Hebrew letters will probably never be the cultural hit that Chinese characters are, but just look at the picture!):

photo 1

Chet = wall
Resh = head
Dalet = door

I sat with the picture for several minutes, looking at it as if it were one of those Magic Eye pictures, waiting for a 3D image to emerge.

And then it did.

Fear = encountering a wall in my head, rather than a door.

Isn’t this what fear is? What it does?

Fear builds walls within our minds, inside our souls, and those walls go viral as inner walls ultimately create their exterior counterparts. Walls of paralysis and intimidation. Walls of aggressive self-defense. Walls from which we snipe at threats, pouring boiling rhetoric unto the heads of the foes we fear.

Oh yes. Fear is having a wall in our head, instead of a door.

Of course, sometimes we should be afraid and need to encounter a wall in our head that stops us in our destructive tracks. The point of the Proverb, however, is the inner debilitating power of bad fear – a fear that stifles our voice when it needs to be heard, that wilts our presence when we need to shine.

But fear can also be a superpower, yes?.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
It can be so problematic, the contradiction. “Perfect love drives out fear,” and “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

Perhaps it all just depends on which syllable we’re emphasizing.
Put the emphasis on the first syllable, and we have a paralyzing wall instead of a door. Rush past the wall and put the emphasis on the second syllable, and we have a door that opens up all kinds of new possibilities and potential we would never have seen were we not stirred from our complacency to see and embrace the challenge grabbing our foot from under the bed of present reality that puts the fear of God in us.

That kind of fear we don’t need to fear.
In fact, we could all stand a jolt of that from time to time.

So is fear a wall of paralysis or is it a door of possibilities?

Yes. Yes it is.

FearKnob

 

Screen Shot 2014-10-25 at 5.01.29 PM

Clara’s speech from “Listen” – series 8 of Doctor Who. EPIC.

 
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Posted by on October 25, 2014 in haverings

 

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who am i?

“I don’t know who you are.”
A repeated question in the current series of Doctor Who.
Put to me today by one of my favoritest people.

Of course, I responded through stumbling verse
the medium being the message too…

“Who are you?”

Half the time I don’t even know…
Awkward, clumsy man
Silently backing out of noisy rooms
Or hoping to move unnoticed through them

And yet flitting about the room
distributing hugs and cradling faces
and dancing publicly in bars
…and sanctuaries.

Uncomfortable with men
Terrified of women
and yet married, with four daughters
and surrounded by sisters.

Confident yet second guessing
Recognized and called out everywhere
yet rejected by family
and in the long term quite alone

Tender hearted and yet
so excessively acerbic.
In love with life
and yet the pastor of death.
Unquenchingly optimistic
and yet encompassed with pain.

Who am I?

What a fine question…

deep_shadows_by_xetobyte-d5guh0e

 
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Posted by on October 20, 2014 in Poetry

 

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