Letter 62: Poems for the Triduum: III. Easter Morning

It rained last night,
Soaking the flowery banners,
Moistening the bunny
Decorations and the eggs.

The wreckage of the trees are still about
Testimony to last week’s snowstorm.
Dead lights are still up on some houses
As are stray desiccated bits of evergreen boughs,
Relics of Christmas that we can’t be bothered
To put away.

It should come as a cannon shot,
A startling reveille announcing
Night is over.

Instead, we get hide and seek
Wonder, terror, questions
Misplaced gardeners, and sleeping soldiers.
We had hoped he would be the one
To redeem Israel.

We are left with a tomb without a body
A world that lopes along,
More or less as before,
Tired, weary. Groaning with expectation.

You do not do things as we would do them.
Where we would shout,
You whisper and giggle like a child
Hiding to be found.

All that energy relentlessly running,
Seeking the cracks where it may burst forth
Past fractured trees, dead lights, and sodden, wilted decorations,
Exploding at once in the sound of our name.



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Filed under Easter, holidays, Resurrection

Letter 61: Poems for the Triduum: II. Holy Saturday

Today is Shabbat,

As any good Jew knows,

When God rested from creating.

So you rested as a faithful Jew should

Following the example of your Father.


Did Satan leer? Did he gloat?

Or did he watch and wait,

Eying your sleeping for from on high like a hawk?


Like this was some terrible misunderstanding,

A demiurge in masquerade—an illusion,

And now you’re ready for your next trick….


But you are a good Jew, and so you rest,

Dead to the world.

The disciples run and hide. The Sanhedrin

Satisfied that God had been defended.


You are a good Jew, and so, on Shabbat, you rest.

For tomorrow, you create anew.


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Letter 60: Poems for the Triduum: I. Good Friday

Death is no stranger to me.

I’ve seen it up close across half the world,

Young boys, who’ll never make men screaming for their mommas,

Or the cries and roars of unknown tongues calling out to

What gods I know not.

Cowards and would be heroes both,

If not victim to Caesar’s legions, then to Caesar’s cross.


You get used to the smell of blood

And puke and piss and sh—

For it’s the law of the sword that rules the world,

And none o’ that law and justice,

Tho’ there are those who’ll tell you otherwise.

Caesar’s justice is all I know, and it comes at the end of my sword.


There’s an art to killing

How you hang the body,

Where you put the nails.

And how you raise the cross

To give the maximal jolt.


They call the flaying cruel,

But it’s really a mercy

That will help speed the end—

Of course, they don’t know that.


Now, I’ve seen countless Kings of the Jews,

And we give them our special attention,

To remind the world,

“Caesar is Lord!”


They can scream defiance,

Or whimper like children,

Which is the point we wish to make.


But this one was different.


This one was turned over by the leaders of his people

And they joined in shouting like animals,

Hungry for blood.


Pilate was clever,

Getting them to declare publicly,

That Caesar is Lord—

Something they’ll never live down.


The man himself was silent,

As we struck him and nailed him.

He even forgave us—Would you believe!


Forgive us? That’s a rum one!


But there he hung.


And when it was his time, he let go,

Like had accomplished something.

Eschewing all comfort and all relief.

Like he was satisfied.


There was an almighty crack when he went.

And the sky turned back and the earth shook,

Like he had stormed death’s gates.

Like he meant it.


Gets you to thinking.

Do you think he could’ve been who he said he was?


In which case,

What have we done?


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Filed under darkness, Good Friday, Poetry, Worship

Letter 59: Founder

The English language may well be unique in assigning very different meanings and usage to the same word. As a noun, “Founder” means one who begins or establishing something, as in, “Sam Walton was the founder of Wal-Mart,” or “Henry VI, the founder of the Tudor dynasty.” It can also mean provider, as in Bob Cratchit’s toast at Christmas dinner to his employer, “the founder of our feast.” But when used as a verb, it implies something very different, “to fail,” “to come to grief,” “to lose way,” or worse, “to sink.”

Of late, I have been foundering. Last year, I received a promotion at work that essentially added another job on top of the one I was already performing. I have had a tough time managing this. I have found that I do well when there are clear structures in place and a model of how to do things. There isn’t here, and to meet the demands I have been working much longer hours, and bringing work home twice a week. I am told that I can ask for help, but I have to know what it is I need help with. Most of the time, I discover this when the task is past due.

Shortly after my promotion, we started seriously looking at houses, and putting our current home up for sale. This meant boxing many things up, sending some to my in-laws for safe keeping, others to Goodwill, and still others to the dump. The move proved to be more complicated and drawn out than expected, such that for the past six months or so, nothing has been where I expected it to be.

The net result is dislocation and discomfiture.   I’m running scared.

I would like to report that I dug in deep to Jesus, that my faith deepened, and that God hath borne me through this time. I may yet say this, but right now, the struggles seem more real than God.   Indeed, He seems fairly far removed from the pressures of every day. The fear is that if I stop running, I will simply be run over.

A counsellor once challenged me to find Jesus in my immediate circumstances. I obviously struggle with this. To do this, I think, involves slowing down, and making an intentional effort to still myself long enough to hear Him. This takes time and effort, and reducing the demands I face to secondary status, and there is risk in that. But then, in whom is my trust?

I have found it easy to trust God when there is nothing for me to do. But require me to act, and my faith shrivels like a dying balloon. I can say that it is because I know me, and my faith in myself is slight, with reason. But in truth, it’s my disbelief in God’s power to work with me, and through me, and despite me. Is it time to stretch these feeble muscles of faith?

As I said at the beginning, founder has two very different uses and meanings. That I am foundering is obvious. That this foundering may found something new in my life remains to be seen. What was it the desperate father told Jesus in his moment of crisis, “I believe, Lord, help thou my unbelief.”

May it be so.

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Letter 58: Missing Christmas

I suspect every child’s worst nightmare is missing Christmas, of going to bed Christmas Eve and waking up to find out it’s now December 26th, and you’ve missed all the festivities.  Something to that effect struck me last week re-reading Matthew’s account of the coming of Christ.  I’m pretty sure you’ve read this passage, too, without ever once tumbling on to the really odd part about it.

The Magi have arrived in Jerusalem, and caused a tumult with their question, “Where is he who is born King of the Jews?”  Herod knows nothing of this, and is greatly upset that his network of informants have not noticed the birth of a new king.  Herod then calls in the religious leaders and asks them, and this is what surprises me.

They answer very matter-of-factly, “Bethlehem,” and offer Micah’s prophecy by way of proof.

Do you mean to tell me that they knew all along where the Christ Child was to be born, and didn’t bother having someone keep an eye out for strange births in Bethlehem?

If they had wanted a Messiah as badly as we’ve been told they wanted one, I would have expected them to keep watch, not unlike most children on Christmas Eve.  Clearly they didn’t.  Which begs the question, what are we missing?

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Filed under Advent, bible, christmas, Prophecy, understanding

Letter 57: O Come O Come Emmanuel

Today is the first Sunday in Advent, which marks the beginning of the Church’s celebration of Christmas. Of course, outside of church, the Christmas season started over a month ago, before Halloween. So this seems to me to be a good time to ponder how one might celebrate the coming of the Christ Child.
If you feel a certain disconnect between the usual festivities and a sense of religious observance or devotion, you’re not alone. This is a very old problem. Every year since 1965, Charlie Brown has bemoaned the empty feeling the flurry of festivities brings on. In 1953, singer Red Foley was urging listeners to “Keep Christ in Christmas.” My Puritan ancestors believed that the Christmas festivities were nothing more than popish superstitions, and dispensed with the holiday completely.
The problem stems, I think from Christmas’s origins. I do not mean the actual Incarnation and Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem. Today, it’s not very clear what the earliest Christians thought about commemorating this event. Christmas as we know it today starts with the Emperor Constantine. Attributing his successful pretensions to the throne of Rome to God’s favor, Constantine became a Christian, and decided that everyone else should to, by naming Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire.
This obviously caused some significant dislocation for many people, who may not have given much thought to paganism, but dutifully went through with the established patterns of religious observance. If nothing else some of the old celebrations were fun, often involving feasting and drink and sex.
One of the largest celebrations was the Saturnalia, six days of eating, drinking and partying, in celebration of freedom. It was timed around the winter solstice, which would be the darkest time of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, and thanks to the comparatively colder temperatures, a time when fresh food too longer to spoil. Since there was little agricultural work to be done this time of year, it was a good time for a real celebration. By government order all schools and businesses were shut during the six days of the festival.
This was heady stuff, much loved by people of all stations. And now they would be asked to give this up.
It was thought best to “Christianize” Saturnalia, by drawing out some of its more universal aspects, and now tying them to Christ. Nearly all peoples had a celebration at the winter’s solstice, celebrating the return of light to the world. Jesus declared Himself “The Light of the World,” and so it became a straightforward matter to name this time the celebration of His coming to earth. The gift-giving now echoed the Magi, and the sense of equality and fun was now grounded in our identity and freedom in Christ.
And so the party continued, but now with a tension.
We like giving gifts, mostly because we like getting gifts. As a child, I timed my desires around the twin poles of Christmas and my birthday. Thankfully, they were sufficiently spaced out to make this possible. I loved the food of Christmas, too, the candy and cookies, the departure from the usual fare.
But when I think about what it is we are supposed to be celebrating, I find a disconnect, particularly when I read many of the familiar Bible passages. Indeed, if I were to summarize what the Bible has to say about Advent and Christmas, it would be this: “The King is coming, Get ready!”
“For just as the days of Noah were, so the coming of the Son of Man will be. For as in the days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered into the ark. And they did not know anything until the deluge came and swept them all away. So also the coming of the Son of Man will be. Then there will be two men in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore be on the alert, because you do not know what day your Lord is coming!” Matthew 24:37-42 (LEB)
So I think it is helpful to separate what we might term “secular” Christmas celebrations from “religious” or devotional observances. Gift-giving, decorations, cookies, and parties are all fine, but they do nothing to prepare us for the coming of the King. It is also helpful to realize that not everyone is going to agree with that secular-religious distinction. We have gotten far too bothered about how other people celebrate, or do not celebrate, Christmas. If we are serious about following Jesus, we would do better, by far, to ask how he wants us to prepare for His coming.
So, over the next few weeks, I want to spend some time thinking about this. How do we get ready?

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Filed under Advent, christmas, Holdiays, prayer, Prophecy, treatment of others, Worship

5 Better Ways to “Argue” About Social Justice : . . . Or Anything Else Online

I’m not convinced this thing can be settled online at all. But it’s effecting real life relationships and it’s effecting local churches, so the least we can do is start thinking and rethinking in terms of our online discourse.

Source: 5 Better Ways to “Argue” About Social Justice : . . . Or Anything Else Online

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