Monthly Archives: September 2016

Stories (unfinished)

My imagination is held captive
By the old stories I grew up with.
Stories of Abraham, Moses, and Joshua;
Of Ruth, Naomi, and the judges;
Of Samuel, the kings and the prophets;
Of John the Baptist, Jesus, and the apostles.
Those stories are more real to my mind
Than my own memories,
The people more absolute
Than my own family.

It was not always thus. They once appeared
Merely as friendly flannel shapes, smiling
Surreally as they floated against their
Sky-blue backcloth.
Perhaps there is nothing wrong with this,
That it is simply the way of things for a child,
Whose perceptive matrix is as unfilled and blank
As that powder-blue board,
To experience the stories as such abstraction,
Fairy tales unmoored from reality, floating like
Unmanned boats without anchors or ties
In a sea of innocence.

Yet, life has populated that empty flannel
Graph with all of its pains and joys,
With many accomplishments and failures.
It has filled it with experiences
Of love and hate, encounters with
Those who do evil and injustice
Mixed with momentary glimpses
Or people doing such good as would make
You cry to think of it. Tiny mustard
Seeds of generosity and God-like
Kindness planted in a weedy garden of gloom.
Little lanterns on a hill piercing
The dark despair with
The light of hope.

And as I have been so often forced
To imagine why the people I have known
Have done to me and my own
The evils they have done, and
As I have found those evils dwarfed
By the Holocausts, the Slaveries,
The great Oppressions that happen
When Greed and Fear and Lust
For Power are put in charge of people…

Well, it is then that the people
And places in those old stories
Have gradually turned from immaterial ideas
To concrete actualities.

There is real life in those stories;
Real moments and insights which speak their
Echoing witness through the ages like haunting
Shouts of warning and hope
In a chasm of time and eternity.
The same deeds and measures,
Moments of righteousness and of evil
That I see every day.
And through it all the promise
That something bigger is at work,
Creating something new,
Making what is wrong right again.

Those old stories
Of Israel and Egypt,
Of Moses and Pharaoh
The people and the places…
They are as real to my mind
As my own memories.
They give me hope.
They make this place
Bearable.

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A day of peace?

I read an article today
Incredulous about
The notion of
A day of peace—
And why not?
If, as he said,
“‘Peace’ is defined
As the absence of war,”
What is a “Day of Peace?”
War is real. It is here.
Peace is a fairy-tale.
A day of peace is
A day of pretending
To a people who find war
A moral necessity.
To call war “real”
And peace the absence
Of that reality
Is to imagine war as something,
And peace as nothing at all.
What would fill the void
In war’s absence?
“If we put down our swords,
What will become of us?
Will we not be destroyed?
What will we pick up?
What is there for our hands to do
If not to fight, to take, and to kill?
Must we not ‘defend ourselves?’”

The story begins in a garden,
Not on a battlefield.
It begins with God’s gift.
It was a battle for control,
Which stole that gift,
And murder which followed.
Many centuries later,
Millennia of conflict,
Exploitation, and strife—
Near the story’s apogee,
Is found God’s newest gift.
Late night prayer,
Sweating blood,
Sleeping friends,
Swordless preparing
To pick up a cross,
To die for his murderers,
To show us how to make peace.

Brother Stanley has said
It is war which is not real,
And peace which is.
It is war which is the void,
Greed, hate, and destruction.
It is peace the reality,
Generosity, love, and life.

What is there for our hands to do?
What will we pick up
If we put down our swords?
There is the plough.
There is the pen.
There is the hand of a child.
There are books to read.
There are hungry to feed,
Naked to clothe,
Prisoners to visit,
Sick to comfort, and
Homeless to shelter.
There are enemies to befriend.
There is peace to make.
There are ploughshares to forge.
What will we pick up
If we put down our swords?
There is the cross of Christ.

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Bricks without straw

When Moses tells of Pharaoh
Punishing the Israelite slaves
By telling them to make bricks
Without straw,
We are meant to understand this
As a profound injustice,
A profuse indifference,
An intense cruelty,
An abuse of power
To tighten an iron grip—
To maintain control.
We are meant to see it as a terrible evil.

And we are meant to see
The Exodus to Canaan,
The manna, quail, and water from stones
As God’s alternative to Pharaoh,
Replacing wicked exploitation
With loving care for his obstinate people.
God as loving shepherd caring for his flock
As he leads them through a dry world.

And yet,
Every “Christian organization” I’ve worked,
Every “Christian college” or large church structure,
Every place where Christians mimic the world’s power structures
Has been led by people clearly
More impressed with Pharaoh than Yahweh,
People whose leadership is tyrannical and brutal
Who treat the people they lead with disdain
Instead of love. Who lie and cheat and manipulate
And chase power and control
With all the indifference, cruelty, and injustice
Pharaoh could ever muster.

And, though they may claim to be Christian,
You can hear them say, “Make me bricks without straw”
Knowing that they are completely ignorant
That they themselves have sided with evil despots
Against God’s holy people in pursuit
Of their vain ambitions.

And, so, I say with John the Revelator,
“Amen, come Lord Jesus,” when I imagine what it will be
When all of the powers of this world are undone.
I imagine there will be many world leaders, on that day,
Who are unsurprised to find that their works
Are among the reversed.
But worse, I imagine there will be many saying,
“But, Lord, didn’t we do great things for you?”
And I imagine he will say, “Depart from me,
Evil-doers. I do not know you.”

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Jesus for the 21st century

Not everyone who calls himself a “Christian” (calling me “Lord”) will be a part of my kingdom of heaven. It’s only the people who do what my Father who is in heaven wants! A lot of people are going to say to me, “But, Lord, didn’t we attract lots of people to huge buildings we built with your name on the sign? Didn’t we build colleges and turn out preachers who said your name all the time? Didn’t we teach classes and say your name when we taught them? Didn’t we vote and say your name when we voted?” And I’m going to say to them, “We’re not together. You’ve done evil. Take your evil away from here.”

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On my feet

Been telling myself
For 25 years
That things will get better
“When I’m on my feet.”
I’ve spent that time
Like a newborn foal
Struggling to straighten my legs,
To gather my strength and stand.
I’m not up yet.

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Be yourself

“Just be yourself”
She said to me
As I walked out the door
In my only suit—
The one reserved
For weddings
and funerals.
Interviewing for a job
Can’t help but make me feel
Like I’m set
Against myself,
Trying to convince someone
I can do what I can do
By looking as much like them
As I can.

“Being ‘myself’
Hasn’t ever gotten me
Very far.” I said.

“Me either.”
Was her reply.
And then she added
“But, if we don’t go
Very far,
At least we won’t get there
Together.”

I loved her then
More than ever.

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