Category Archives: Poetry

When Sidewalks Scream

The binary tendency innate in my children is being blown to bits this week. Children have a tendency to draw hard lines: the good guys and the bad guys, the right thing and the wrong thing. A nuanced approach that matches the complexity of life in a broken world with broken systems is hard even for adults, let alone developing bodies and brains.

And yet, in the past week, we have been inviting our boys more deeply into the complexity of racism. Some of our dearest friends and mentors have made their homes and their lives in the city of Minneapolis. We have prayed and texted, texted and prayed, with and for them. We have also been processing the riots happening there with our boys, trying to help them understand what we can barely wrap our minds around: the complex history of racism in our nation, the image of God in humanity, the hope of the gospel and the way Christians have to wrestle with how to speak for justice while trusting ultimate justice to the perfect judge.

And then the ripple effects came closer to home. About a mile away to be exact.

Within 24 hours, our little city of La Mesa has seen so much. Peaceful protestors, holding signs and chanting for justice during the daylight hours. Rioting and looting while police officers attempted to protect city center well into the night. Burned buildings in the neighborhood we have grown to love and to which we have felt called by God.

When Sidewalks Scream

The sidewalks saw so much.
They cried, shook, and sighed.
If only they could’ve screamed,
All the complexities outside.

The wave of peaceful protests,
Bringing racism to light,
The marching feet of allies,
Trying to put injustice to flight. 

The gathering crowds at dusk,
Police protecting the ground.
Rioting and alloyed anger,
Fires blazing all around. 

Ashes and tear gas gathered,
Remnants of the riotous hours.
But at dawn, the helpers came
With all their needed powers.  

They gathered, wept, and swept.
Repairing the ruined walkways,
But racism is far more complex,
It’s repair takes more than days.

Oh, that these sidewalks would see
The leveling of a prejudiced past;
That God’s children would resemble
The One to whom they hold fast. 

For if sidewalks could scream,
They would cry out for His aid. 
They seem to know better than we,
The price He has already paid. 

Profanity sprayed on buildings is not the biggest issue. After all, our town came out in droves and had it all covered up by 9 am. We sleep still in our eyes, we joined them with our garbage bags and broom. My boys swept shattered glass and learned about tear gas by accidentally sweeping it up. But African American children have been experiencing both of those things for centuries. 

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We don’t have a neat, tidy response to this as a family. And that is hard and uncomfortable, both for us as parents and for them as children. We know that Christ knew the depth of the human condition, the height of our hatred, and the width of the countless chasms our sins have created when He carefully carried the cross.

What we are wrestling to figure out is what it looks like to take up our own crosses and follow Him, living as He lived, blessing as He blessed, redressing as He redressed. Pray for us. Pray for our city. Pray for your city. Pray for wisdom to live in these broken, bleeding, but beautiful cities until the day when we are with Christ in the city whose builder and architect is God, where justice flows from the very person of Jesus.

 

Spiritual Angioplasty

I came into this week thinking it would be a normal one (as normal as a week during Covid in California can be). But as I sit here on my couch this morning, I feel like the Lord has begun to perform the equivalent of an angioplasty in my soul.

When arteries are clogged due to the slow build up of cholesterol (whether inherited, induced by habit, or the common combination of both), doctors often perform an angioplasty.  A small catheter is placed into the artery and then a ballooning technique is used to stretch and reopen the artery so that more blood can flow through it.

If you asked me even on Monday if I was aware of racism in the world and its roots in my own heart, I would have said yes and been honest in saying so; however, after a week of hard conversations and convicting moments with the Lord, I feel like I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with multiple clogged arteries of the soul.

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I didn’t realize how little I have listened to my friends who are people of color or even asked about their experiences with racism. I have been open to conversations, but I have not initiated them; rather, I have expected them to come to me and open up about hard things. Even that exposes a position of power in my heart that I did not realize I have had.  This spiritual artery needs some unclogging.

I have failed to address the significant shaping power of culture in spiritual development and discipleship. As one who loves to address family of origin with those I disciple, I have largely missed the culture of origin level in discipleship. As such, I have unintentionally shown my disciples that I am interested in most of their lives, but not all of it. This spiritual artery needs some ballooning.

I have been tempted to be defensive, to point out all the ways that I have loved and engaged in the lives of my friends of color.  I felt misread and wrongly judged and overly generalized into a lump stereotype. Until I realized that those exact feelings are only a tiny sliver of what my friends of color have been experiencing daily for most of their lives. Another clogged artery.

If am honest, I sat down to meet with the Lord this morning defeated and exhausted, exposed and sore. Until I remembered that it His great love for and commitment to me and His bride that He would appoint for me a spiritual angioplasty (or a series of them).

He won’t leave well enough alone (Philippians 1:6). He will not settle for anything less than Christ-likeness in His children (Galatians 4:19). He will not leave our soul’s arteries clogged with even unintentional narrow-mindedness and partially working flow of the Spirit. He will look right through us with His gently exposing gaze and will flag every place where the flow of His Spirit through us is clogged or limited.

He will painfully insert His Word into us and will stretch us in ways that feel uncomfortable (Hebrews 4:12-13). He will make space in us to contain love for His entire body. And all of this is for our good, the good of the body, and the good of the world and His glory.

I want a heart that fully functions. I want a heart that is unclogged and wide open, not constricted and strained. I want to look like my Father whose heart is expansive; I want to be shaped to be like the Son whose blood was literally poured out for the world. This will only happen by the surgical expertise of the Holy Spirit within me. While He is always ready to do His healing work, He does not force or coerce. He allows circumstances that reveal just how clogged our hearts have become. He waits for consent and readiness in His patients.

Please be tender with the hearts of those around you. Surgeries, both minor and major, are happening all around you.

“The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer’s art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart.
Our only health is the disease
If we obey the dying nurse
Whose constant care is not to please
But remind of our, and Adam’s curse,
And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse.
The whole earth is our hospital
Endowed by the ruined millionaire”

T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets

 

The Maker of Melanin

kelly-sikkema-E8H76nY1v6Q-unsplashTo my friends who are people of color,

I hate that it takes cell phone footage for me to begin to see and weep. I wish I would have seen it through the fear in your eyes or felt it through the heaviness in your hearts before evidence was presented.

Thank you for your patience with me. It reflects the long-suffering and gracious nature of the God in whose image you were made (see Psalm 103:8-14).

The stamp of the image of God
Permeates from soul to skin.
Marks of being fearfully made-
features, frames, and further in. 

We ought kneel before this image-
To acknowledge, to affirm in awe-
Instead, we stand and watch
As His image is rubbed raw. 

The Maker of Melanin was
Horribly marred on the tree.
In His love, He suffered
To set all humanity free. 

If our mouths speak of his graces,
But we divert eyes from their faces,
We are complicit in hate that effaces
His image by dividing the races. 

Let us no longer be timid, 
But overturn tables in our hearts.
Let us look for blindness within us
For that is where redemption starts. 

You have seen the depths of hatred,
You drank the cup of wrath on the cross.
Now, may we apply your salvation,
As you refine and remove the dross.

 

 

 

The Year the World was Weaned

The world is being weaned right now. Weaned off of consumerism, weaned off of unprecedented liberties and freedoms, weaned off of the addictive illusion of control, weaned off of busyness. That’s an awful lot of weaning, and the weaning process is not always easy.

I remember when we were making our first poor attempts at weaning our firstborn son.  We were on a summer project with college students living in a musty hotel room as a family of three, yet we decided it was the right time to wean our breastfed son. He went on what we infamously call “the milk crawl,” much like Gandhi’s nonviolent salt march. He refused to take formula. We tried to put the formula power into applesauce, yogurt, and even ice cream to get him to get the nutrients he needed.  After a few days of the hunger strike, we landed on a compromise: whole milk. And thus the weaning fiasco concluded.

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Weaned From
We would do well to remember that we are not the first society that needed to be weaned off of worldliness. In fact, hundreds of years ago, William Wordsworth identified such a need in the English society in which he was raised in his poem, “The World is Too Much With Us.”

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

Busyness, hurried living, consumerism and greed, dissipated passions and lack of wonder. The same insufficient sources of sustenance they sought to feed themselves then, we have been seeking to sustain us in our era.

COVID, with the new order (some might say disorder) it has recently ushered in, has begun a worldwide weaning. To be certain, many of us are refusing to graduate into more mature levels of sustenance, shifting our consumerism from physical shopping carts to online shopping carts and diverting our illusions of control into smaller projects like our homes or hall closets. To be honest, I have done all  of these things in different moments of the past seven weeks; however, I am learning to repent when I find myself craving the milk of the ways of the world. I want to be weaned well so that I might find myself like the Psalmist described himself in Psalm 131.

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I  do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul,  like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time and forevermore! Psalm 131:1-3. 

Weaned To
Weaning implies a shift from what has been one’s steady source of sustenance and a shift toward a new source of sustenance. While we may not have had a say in the weaning process initiated by an invisible virus, we do have a say in our shift towards a new source.

For the believer in Christ, to be weaned off the world and old habits opens up the invitation to feed on fear and worry or to feed more deeply on the Word of God. In his providence, our good father will use this time of upheaval to mature his children. He can wield a pandemic in his hands as a tool by which to wean us from dependence on earthly and visible things that he might train us into mature, settled dependence upon himself.

This process might be bumpy and we may even revert back to old habits.  No one promised weaning would be wonderful or enjoyable. But the believer has meat to eat that the world does not understand or see. We are invited to feast on the bread of life. We have offered to us the better manna from heaven to which the white, flakey stuff from the wilderness provision pointed (see Exodus 16 & John 6:35-40).

Jesus said to them,  “I  am the bread of life;  whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). 

The Greek verb come in v. 35 is present progressive which implies continuing ongoing action. The one comes and keep coming to me will be fed, will be satisfied, will be sustained.

Oh, that we might be weaned well from the world and to the abundant sustenance of Christ.

*Photo by Mehrshad Rajabi on Unsplash

Truth to a Twig

“It is not enough to remember. We must hear it again. Prayer is the act in which we hear it again. It is not enough to carry memory verses around with us; we need daily encounters with the resonant voice of God. Prayer is that encounter…We pray, we listen. God speaks his word again and we are restored and renewed in our commitment.”

Eugene Peterson, To Run With Horses

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I know John 15. I have some of it memorized. I have studied it countless times. I could tell you all about the Greek word meno, which means to abide.

That being said, I need to hear it again and again, not from my own voice or even an excellent book, but from the gentle whisper of God himself. I need His Spirit to knead the same truth into my same heart that keeps forgetting. Poetry helps me to hear the same thing more deeply, forces my heart to lean into old truths in new ways.

This week the Lord brought my soul back to John 15, the vine and the branches, in a personal way that revived my quickly shriveling, straining heart. I am so thankful the vine is patient with His branches, gently telling His truth again to twigs.

My little, fretting branch,
What is bothering you?
As others look so green,
Worry taints you blue.

My nervous little twig,
To you the xylem flows.
From my roots it climbs,
Enriching as it goes.

 Tired from your straining,
You are bristled and bent;
Remember to rest again
In grace that won’t relent.

Beautiful bough, you are fed,
Life sap floods these veins.
I promise it will reach you.
My living hope remains.

There, there, little branch,
Your color has returned.
I in thou and thou in me,
As abiding is relearned.

 

The Happiest Handkerchief

Strangely enough, our kids were most excited to find toilet paper among their few Easter prizes at the end of our egg hunt this morning. If you would have told me last year or even two months ago that our kids would genuinely be excited to receive a 4-pack of soft Cottonelle toilet paper to replace the scratchy cheap kind we found the day the quarantine began, I would have laughed aloud.  Yet here we are!

The month of COVID-19’s reign created quite a strangely appropriate setting for us to better comprehend the meaning of Jesus’s Resurrection.

This Easter weekend, it did not take as much imagination for us to join the 11 disciples and the throngs of faithful women in their heaviness, powerlessness, confusion, and fear at the death of Christ.

As we read John’s account of the Resurrection this morning, the grave clothes stood out to me. The joy of Jesus unfurling the linens that had been wrapped about his mangled body by the hands of weeping loved ones captured my imagination. He knew they would never weep the same kind of hopeless tears again. While they would weep and grieve, as he had promised they would, they would do so under the light of the living hope that rose with him.

Because His body which was literally crushed on the cross for our sin took conquering steps out of the tomb, death cannot crush us, not even in a pandemic. We dry our tears in  the linens he left in the tomb!

Now we can say in our grief and confusion with the Apostle Paul, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).

We are not destroyed by death because Jesus destroyed death in His rising, infusing grief with a surpassing glory.

This morning I discovered a short poem by George Herbert which I have somehow missed in my reading before. What a timely gift from God to me! A special little Easter surprise that lifted my soul, as I hope it does yours.

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From The Dawning, by George Herbert

Awake sad heart, whom sorrow ever drowns;
    Take up thine eyes, which feed on earth; 
Unfold thy forehead gather’d into frowns;
    Thy Savior comes, and with him mirth:
                  Awake, awake;….

                 Arise, arise; 
And with his burial linen dry thine eyes:
     Christ left his graveclothes, that we might, when grief
     Draws tears, or blood, not want an handkerchief.

That we can now dry our tears with God’s loosed grave clothes is such good news. It is the news that every human heart hungers to hear always, but especially in a season when death is dealing heavy blows globally.

In the Resurrection of Christ we have been given gospel hope and the happiest handkerchief. He is risen, indeed! Dry your eyes with his linens this morning! Death has not won; life in God has the last word!

 

Borrowed

“Here comes Peter Cottontail, hopping down the bunny trail, hippity, hoppity, Easter’s on its way.”

I remember singing that as child, eagerly awaiting the smell of vinegar for egg-dying, the taste of entirely too many Peeps, and the nauseating smell of egg-salad sandwiches.

Now I am an adult who just looked up “How to boil eggs” because I promptly forget every year. It is a strange night before Easter this year, but what we get to reflect even more deeply this year on the original meaning of Resurrection Life!

G.K. Chesterton says that familiarity breeds contempt, that hearing the same things year after after tends to make the extraordinary appear mundane. Recognizing this in my own heart, every year I ask the Lord to give me a fresh view of Easter. Here it is.

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Borrowed

Knit in the beginning in a borrowed womb,
Left in the end in a borrowed tomb.

Laid in His early days in a borrowed manger,
Hung in his later days for a borrowed danger.

The only priceless One, broken, borrowed, used;
Many wayward sons with borrowed grace infused.

Bound by love on Friday, He died a borrowed death,
Fraught with life on Sunday, We breath His borrowed breath.

By His Borrowing We Were Bought.