Thursday, May 19, 2022

Pacifist Poet

William Stafford, sweet poet,
said that one in every ten poems
he wrote was good enough for publication.
That encourages me
‘cause I write a lot of bad poems.
But, like Stafford, I’m a pacifist.
I don’t kill any of my poems.
For the nine poor poems
I find a comfortable spot,
lay them down, and let them sleep.
You get to read the tenth poem.
Lucky you.

                                Eddie Lobanovsky



Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Poems from the book of Colossians

 Last year I adopted the spiritual discipline of meditating, praying, and writing poetry through the books of the Bible. I'm building up quite a collection. I'm not sure how good the poetry is, but the practice is causing me to read Scripture in a new way.

I begin each early morning time with the prayer from Proverbs 119:18: "Open my eyes that I might see wonderful things from your word." After reading and spending time listening in silence, I converse with God about the portion I read. That's the poetry part. Simply conversing with God.

Recently I spend several weeks in the book of Colossians, Paul's treatise on the doctrine of Christ. Here are a few of the poems (likely to be edited and polished in the future).


Hold Fast

Colossians 1:17, "...in him all things hold together."

Jesus is the gravity
that keeps our feet on the ground.
He's the centripetal force,
the reason we don't fly
off into space, lost forever.
He's the magnet
that binds us to faith, hope, and love.
He's the compass
that heads us down
the true path.
He's our superglue;
we need never come apart.
Someday all things
will join in him,
a vast and holy reconciliation.
In the meantime,
Jesus is what keeps
you and me
together.


Unselfish
Colossians 1:24, "...I fill up my flesh what is lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions...."

Christ suffered
for our sakes,
but he didn't keep
it all for himself.
The bucket of miseries
is not yet full.
We get to add to it.
We get to fill it
because Jesus knew
we'd want to suffer
for his sake.
So as we carry the good news
to all people, we weep,
we laugh, we bleed,
we bind our wounds.
We serve with joy.


Well Dressed
Colossians 3:12, ..clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience."

They many not be the latest fashion,
but your new clothes fit perfectly.
You've never looked better.


"Masters...
Colossians 4:1

"... Provide your slaves
with what is right and just."
Free them.


Remember My Chains
Colossians 4:18

When you pray
include those in prison
paying for the harm
they've done to others
and to themselves.
Include those
unjustly imprisoned
for faith, race, or human error.
Imprisonment has a way
of dismembering people,
ripping them from family,
values, and life's normalities.
Re-member them
in vision and petition.
Re-member all the broken ones--
refugees, victims of war or rape,
neighbors beaten down
by domestic violence,
loved ones battling cancer or addiction,
those suffering rejection and divorce.
The lonely.
People have so many ways
of being enchained and broken,
of being torn and dismembered.
Your task is to remember them.
Remember them everyday.


 

Monday, April 25, 2022

I'm good with languages




This morning on the path to the beach
the wind whistled through the scrub brush
and I answered back in the vernacular.
The ocean, unusually talkative,
threw waves and words on the shore.
I understood her perfectly.
Two sea gulls bandied a joke back and forth
in their dialect. I got it. Laughed out loud.
And while the rising sun chose to be silent,
I knew what he meant to say.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Poems of Passion Week, Saturday

 Questions for the Father

Jesus called you Father
even more than he called you Lord God Almighty.
Daddy, he whispered in those early morning conversations,
surrounded by silence, waiting for the dawn.

He told us stories about you—
a sorrowful father missing his lost son, waiting, waiting,
a woman losing her money,
a shepherd losing a lamb.
He told us how you searched for the lost
and how you turned happy, so happy,
at the return of what you held dear.

Even with these stories, it seems presumptuous
to attribute human emotions
to the Creator of the universe,
the Lord of Hosts, the Name above all names.
Sad? Angry? Happy? Aren’t you above all that?
So I approach you tentatively, on tip-toe
with my wonderings.

Were you with him in the garden that night?
When your son begged for mercy,
for release from the coming horror,
did it cost you to tell him No?
Even knowing the end of that dark story
(a story you wrote), did his tears move you?
Did you feel the dread with him?

Did a shudder run through the universe
when your son was betrayed, denied justice,
degraded, abused, and crucified?

Did you actually abandon him?
What did that cost you?

I’m a clumsy, bumbling pseudo-therapist
asking you, And how did that make you feel?
Forgive my presumption.
But I really do wonder,
my Father.

Friday, April 15, 2022

Poems of Passion Week, Good Friday

Cowards
Luke 23

Like beach volleyball
played with a live coal,
Pilate and Herod
toss him back and forth.
His innocence scorches.
As the crowd grows
angry and restless,
they drop the coal.
The crowd wins.
Jesus loses.
(The whole world wins.)

The Politician’s Question
John 18:28-40

What is truth?
the politician asks,
not sticking
around for an answer.
The question hangs
in the air while
the man born
to be king awaits
his coronation
in silence.


Why?
Mark 15

Along with T.S. Eliot,
I also wonder
why we call
that Friday
Good.



Last Breath
Luke 23:46

With a loud voice
Jesus committed his spirit
to God and breathed his last,
we’re told. Last breath
from the One who was there
when God breathed life
into the human race.
Blew revival on a pile of bones,
embodied the Spirit wind
that enlivened a people for God.
But this breath was not really
his last. It would only lead
to a new and living way
for people to breathe.
The last breath would become
the first in God’s strange
biology.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Poems of Passion Week, Thursday

No Way
Luke 22

Lord, there is no way I can make good poetry from this story.
No way I can journey with Judas, you as my merchandise.
I can’t sit at the table with your disciples, drink your blood, eat your body, even in metaphor.
I also love to pray in gardens, but this bloody sweat makes no sense.
I’m angry at the kiss of death and the rough seizure with you refusing resistance, at the mockery and the insults.
And I’m dumbfounded when you look at me, just as you looked at Peter.
Forgive me.

 

I Am He
John 18:1-27

I am he
is the seismic center.
It spreads in expanding rings.
The bodies fall outward,
circle a setting sun.
Torches, lanterns, weapons,
a bloody face, arrest
and betrayals spin,
but the center holds.
Even so, night deepens.
Even so, this unbearable cold.

 

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Poems of Passion Week, day 3--a preview

 


The Anointing
John 12:1-19

Judas seems to be
the only sane human
in this scene.
The wastefulness
of Mary’s impulsive gesture
—in the midst of third world
poverty, political unrest,
and untold suffering—
demands an angry response,
whatever the ulterior motives.
The only act more
extravagant than Mary’s
anointing is Jesus’
acceptance
of its appropriateness.
Surely this time
love has gone too far.

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Poems of Passion Week, day 2--a preview

Small Things
Luke 21:1-4

He sees
the smallest movement—
a cup of coffee,
a single coin,
washing dishes
and sweeping floors,
a word in the silence
offered in love
by an undivided heart.
Unnoticed by humans,
angels sing.
He sees.

The Time Will Come
Luke 21:5-37

--when my degrees, publications, and progress reports will dissolve into air
--when the nose of the apostle will grow long
--when pandemics, tsunamis, tribal migrations, and the extinction of the bald eagle will crash the media networks
--when we will be brought before the House judicial committee and accused of crimes against humanity.

Don’t be afraid, he tells us illogically.
Get ready.
Redemption is coming.

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Suck it up...

is an ugly little phrase,
but not without merit.
I water my African violets
three times a week.
I pour the water into the dish
the pot sits in, never directly
into the soil.
Then, three times a week,
they suck it up.
It's what makes them bloom.




Tuesday, February 1, 2022

A Quaker considers war

 

No Survivors
Joshua 10:40

In terrible obedience
Joshua subdued the land—
      hill country
      the Negev
      western foothills
      mountain slopes—
together with their kings.
The target, by holy command—
any being that breathed.
No beast, no baby escaped
the brutal blitz.
A challenge, yes, but
not too hard for a band
of soldiers seasoned to kill,
not nearly as hard
as God’s latter command
to warriors of a new regime—
love your enemies.


This time, Lord,
you go too far.  

Old Testament War Revised

As a sophomore
our daughter made the coveted
cheerleading squad.
Some of the chants underscored
the brutality of high school sports.
One afternoon, I watched
as the girls waved their pom-poms,
danced, leaped, and led
the crowd in
      Kill kill
      Hate hate
      Murder murder
      Mutilate
      Go, Team!
I was glad when the school
year ended.

A Reasonable Approach to War

If some worthy person in a far off country
is willing to die for his/her country and/or faith,
then the least I can do
is be willing to kill him/her
for the sake of my country and/or faith.


Monday, January 10, 2022

Favorite Books Read in 2021

 This is coming a bit late, but the books are definitely not out-of-date. As usual, these include books from any year, not just 2021. Reading is one of my delights, in a pandemic or in normal life. As I write this, I realize there is no such beast as “normal life.” Reading reminds me of this.

These are listed in the order in which I read them.

FICTION:

Kristin Hannah, The Four Winds (2021): Compelling story set in the dust bowl of the 1920s-30s and the migration of people to California to work in the fields. Centers around Elsa, a woman rejected by her parents and undervalued by her husband, but courageous and resourceful, on a difficult path learning to value herself.

Barbara Kingsolver, Flight Behavior (2012): Story around the issue of climate change, centered on monarch butterflies mis-migrating to the hills of Tennessee and a country woman learning to be a scientist.

Bo Caldwell, City of Tranquil Light (2010): Moving story about missionaries to China, a fictional account but based on the lives of the author’s grandparents.

Ruth Hogan, The Keeper of Lost Things (2017): Novel of a strange man who collects little things people have lost, intending someday, after his death, to have them all returned. He also collects and redeems lost people. It’s about being lost…and then found.

Ruta Sepetys, Out of the Easy (2015): Novel of a young neglected girl’s finally successful attempts to escape from her life in New Orleans and make a future for herself.

Louise Penny, The Madness of Crowds (2021): The latest Penny murder mystery does not disappoint. Detective Gamache’s task is to follow a popular speaker whose message is persuasive and dangerous. Of course, someone is murdered, and solving it gets complicated. Issues are euthanasia, delusion vs. reality, and the nature of crowds.


Jeanine Cummins, American Dirt (2020):
Possibly the best novel I read this year. Hard to read in places because of violence and human suffering, but based on research and the experiences of thousands of migrants. Deals with drug cartels in Mexico and the attempts of so many to escape and make the journey to the US. Shows the hardships of the journey and arouses compassion as well as a fierce desire for justice and humane immigration policy.

Marjan Kamali, The Stationery Shop (2019): Set in Tehran in the revolutionary times of the 1950s. The protagonist, a young woman, finds refuge among the books in a stationery shop and there meets Bahman. Socially mismatched, they fall in love anyway. Culture as well as the revolution separate them and she escapes to America. Good insights about culture, enduring love, decency, and the power of poetry.

Fredrik Backman, Anxious People (2020): Hilarious story about a failed bank robber who finds herself inadvertently holding a group of people hostage. Full of surprises. The author seems to be saying that human beings are idiots. But loveable idiots.

 

NON-FICTION:


Grevel Lindop, Charles Willians: The Third Inkling (2015):
Well researched and fascinating biography of a complicated man, whose life resembles his novels. Yet I am indebted to Williams for his concept of burden-bearing (or substituted love, as he calls it).

Neil Shubin, Some Assembly Required: Decoding Four Billion Years of Life, from Ancient Fossils to DNA (2020): Fascinating account of a difficult subject for a non-scientific thinker like me. But Shubin brings it to down to a popular level while keeping his integrity as a scientist. Can’t say I understood it all, but I learned a lot.

Natasha Trethewey, Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir (2020): Do all famous writers have difficult childhoods?

Dana Greene, Denise Levertov: A Poet’s Life (2012): I loved reading the biography of one of my favorite poets, including the account of her conversion to Christianity.

Bessel Van Der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma (2014): One of the best books read this year. Scientific explanation of what happens to a person during trauma and why the effects are so long lasting. Holistic in its approach, including strategies for treatment and healing.

Jim Defede, The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland (2002): True story of a small Canadian town that found itself host to 38 diverted airliners and 6,595 stranded passengers and crew. The town (population 10,000) found the resources and the generosity to care for them for three days. Inspiring and informative.

Kathryn Aalto, Writing Wild: Women Poets, Ramblers, and Mavericks Who Shape How We See the Natural World (2020). Short biographies of women writers passionate about the environment, going back to people like Dorothy Wordsworth and including such modern writers as Rachael Carson, Annie Dillard, and Mary Oliver. Interesting, inspiring, and encouraging.


Tom Michell, Penguin Lessons: What I Learned from a Remarkable Bird (2015):
Totally fun to read. A true account of the author’s adventure as a young man teaching in Argentina. While on vacation in Paraguay he rescues a penguin from an oil spill and, when the cleaned-up penguin refuses to leave his side, he finds himself forced to adopt and raise it. About ecology, the intelligence of animals, and the relationships between people and beasts.

Blaine Harden, Murder at the Mission: A Frontier Killing, Its Legacy of Lies, and the Taking of the American West (2021): Deals with the murder of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman in 1847 at the hands of the Cayuse tribe they had come west to convert and the myth (lies) that grew up around that incident. It paints a dark picture of the mission endeavor, the quarreling relations among the missionaries, and the injustice done to native peoples. In terms of the missionary endeavor and its effects, the author’s prejudices come through. Nevertheless, the history is troubling and deserves reflection and, perhaps, repentance.

Susan Orleans, The Library Book (2018): Another favorite, a history of libraries, focusing on the Los Angeles Public Library and the fire that gutted it in 1986. Between the chapters that carry forth this complicated story are delightful detours into the history of libraries in general, the history of book burning, the inner running of large libraries, the extent of a library’s services, and even the relation of large libraries to the homeless. Written in an engaging manner, I couldn’t put it down.

Phillip Yancey, Where the Light Fell (2021): A memoir of Yancey’s difficult years and the fundamentalism and racism from which he emerged. Remarkable.

Sarah Ruden, Paul Among the People: The Apostle Reinterpreted and Reimaged in His Own Time (2010): Important and well-researched study of the theology of Paul, showing how his context influenced his thinking and needs to affect our interpretation. She deals with subjects like Paul and pleasure, homosexuality, women, the state, and slavery. She says that she started her research hating Paul, but ended up loving him. Very helpful.

 

POETRY


Jorge Luis Peña, El país de los miedos (2014):
It was a privilege to discover and translate the work of this Cuban Quaker poet, who is well known in his own context. Among other things, he writes fantastical poems for children on adult themes.

Jarod K. Anderson, Field Guide to the Haunted Forest (2020): Excellent poetry by a young poet, blogger, and You-Tuber.

Ted Loder, Guerrillas of Grace (2004): For me, this was a return to an old favorite. Loder writes prayers in poetic form on all sorts of contemporary issues. I find this book both pleasing aesthetically and profound in its insights.