God Won

it is salty

it tickles the fleshy underside of his foot a little

it is pooling in the hollows above his collarbone

warms him up

 

blood like a woman caressing the tendons in his back

blood behind his ears and in his eyes

and he can’t rub it out

blood won’t leave him alone

 

he has never noticed tiredness in his fingernails before

or in his skin

there is pain in his hair

that is new

 

someone in his skull is banging hard on the door

let me out

these gates are shut from the outside

you’re trapped in there for good

 

he wanted God

God wanted him

and God won

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Death Died (Holy Week)

Easter 2015

I. Monday.

Most deaths quake the earth of at least one little person.

Death shakes humans up and we’re never ready for him.

If your mother dies, then a part of you dies with her.

Cruel, unnatural is her cold, immobile body.

Don’t get used to it. It’s wrong and awful. Shocking.

 

II. Friday.

One death quaked the earth, and the sun switched off for hours.

Time stopped, nothing was; just a young man and his father.

If your child dies, then a part of you dies with him.

“This is all there is”; so it’s merely weak, pathetic.

But I have to ask, why aren’t we more OK with it?

 

III. Sunday.

Death died, so did I. On that day, I gave up fighting.

At dawn, later on, something broke to let the light in.

Life lived once again and it changed this world we die in.

Sunday, on its way, though it’s nighttime watch for us now;

Stay up, wait with me, while we stand on this quaking ground.

a season of dying

I’ve been thinking a lot about death. That will happen, sometimes, in the midst of total normalcy and the endless forward march of time. Neither crisis nor an imminent sense of my own mortality brought about this reflection. It’s just part of being human, I guess.

Once the concept began moving to the forefront of my thought-life, it started arising in lots of contexts. Such as: driving on the freeway on a road trip, my only passenger asleep, and how utterly striking it suddenly became that one effortless flick of my wrist could end both our lives in an instant. And no one would ever know what happened. Or: if [that’s a significant “if”] we each get only one opportunity to exist, and for as short a time as the human lifespan, major decisions such as career choices and marriage partners are mindbogglingly weighty. If you pick a job or spouse that you end up hating, then you have to spend your life hating it–and then you never get to exist again. If you suffer from chronic pain or long-term depression and if this is your only shot at existence, then this is your only shot at existence. And: what if [x person in my life] died today? The world I inhabit would be fundamentally altered, and I’d have to keep living in it. But it would be a whole new world, forever. Etc.

Lent, the Christian season of fasting and repentance before Easter, is in some sense a season of dying. Fasting is the practice of “mortifying” one desire in order to enhance other ones (like when your sight is taken away so your hearing becomes acute). Repentance is a process whereby “you” die, and God remakes a new “you” in your place. This season of dying culminates in Good Friday, the remembrance of divine death itself.

And then Easter comes along. The resurrection of Jesus says a lot of things, if you’re willing to listen. Among them is the idea that there may in fact be more than one shot at existence. There is the idea that death may not be the end, but rather the entrance into a truer Truth, a truer Life. It is the shape of the Christian narrative and thus the Christian life: fasting and feasting, repentance and regeneration, humility and exaltation, death and resurrection.

I’ve banked my life on that narrative, not to escape the terror of life decisions and the fragility of existence–although one must wonder why it’s so universally disconcerting, if it really is the only option–but because a God who would die for me is not a God I can walk away from.

So, consider death. Consider how it ought to make us live. Consider the God who creates out of nothingness, resurrects from the tomb, and regenerates human persons so that we become, finally, alive.

It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart. Ecclesiastes 7:2

I Remember You And Suddenly

Sometimes late at night my roommate goes to bed.
Still awake above her, I’m warm, safe, and well-fed;
But fears shimmy up me from my belly to my head.

They pause there long enough to make my eyes wet,
Pressing repeat on bad ideas I’d rather forget.
In the quiet dark my balancing act is quietly upset.

But I remember you and suddenly I’m less likely to cry.

Sometimes in a room full of voices I cannot be heard.
Even with my organized thoughts, no one hears a word.
Everything I’m fearing, I guess, must be absurd.

Defeat shimmies down me from my chest to my pit.
In the middle of my body I can’t shake the weight of it,
But if it shoots out of my mouth, then I’m the hypocrite.

So I remember you and suddenly I’m less likely to yell.

At times I’ve lost my cool and given up the ghost.
Grief like television keeps my mind engrossed
And blank to the world outside, to what I owe the most.

A whirlpool of introspection drags me down into
Vague trepidation towards what comes out of the blue.
Cowardly doubt rains on me and starts to soak me through.

Yet I remember you and suddenly I’m less likely to drown.

The world outside threatens to kill, infect, or maim.
The world inside me is prone to more of the same.
My silent killers are tyrant gods like money, sex, fame.

Nothing cures what ails me like the memory of you.
“In remembrance of me” does what other gods don’t do:
Takes these dying insides and gives them life anew.

So I remember you and suddenly I’m less likely to die.
I remember you and suddenly I’m more alive.

Imprints

In honor of the victims at UCSB and those we lost at UCSD last week.

Three dead here, seven dead there:

Imprints left behind, and they will flatten out again with time.

A little bit of aching in our chests,

A little bit of staleness in our jokes,

A little bit of silence in our pauses,

A little sense of deadness in the day;

A whiff of death is in the air for us who only see the imprints.

The stench of loss is in it all for those who already had indents

From those lives.

 

Three dead here, seven dead there:

Invisible-ized and silenced by rushing metal made by robots,

Made by hands, made by minds:

Some bullets and some automobiles.

We think in circles so we live in circles so we fashion circles

Just to die by circles.

I want just one straight line, just one clear thought

Not distorted by my violence, unreduced to senselessness.

The heaviness wants to turn me inward on myself until I’m a circle too.

 

Three dead here, seven dead there:

If it happened to them it will happen to us.

We will leave some imprints behind that will flatten out behind us

And a gentle breeze of death in our wake as we depart.

Jesus, Jesus, how’d you do it?

How’d you leave such a sweet fragrance?

Jesus, Jesus, supreme victim of our violence

And our gaping self-entitlement,

Raise our imprints from out of the ground,

Holding us by both your hands and dancing us around.

5 things the world needs to hear from the church

“The world” means not only institutions and cultures, but every person. “The church” means not only preachers and organizations, but every Christian. The world is full of prejudices and misunderstandings, and the church is full of bad examples and average people without all the answers.

We all could use some clarity.

1. We [Christians] are not interested in collecting converts like trophies on a shelf. If we are talking at you to prove anything to ourselves, our Christian friends, or God, we are completely in the wrong. Christians are under scriptural mandate to respect all people (1 Peter 3:15). We adhere to a biblical, dual anthropology which teaches that, on the one hand, every human being is an image-bearer of God and therefore valuable and honorable, and that, on the other hand, humanity is, comprehensively, morally broken and spiritual bankrupt, Christians included. In other words, we are no better or smarter than anyone else. In fact, we may appear weaker and more foolish (1 Corinthians 1:27), because God wants us to be amazed at him, not ourselves.

The reason we want to talk to you about our faith is that we earnestly believe Jesus is who he said he is and that he really is able to give the joy, peace, answers, and fellowship with God that he offered. We want the world – especially our friends and family, the people we care about most – to hear him out.

2. We care deeply about personal morality, but not for its own sakeThe aim of a Christian’s life is this: to worship God and express love for him by thinking, feeling, speaking, and acting like Jesus Christ. This means much more than behaving like a better person or giving up bad habits for good ones. It is more spiritual and more profound, and more impossibly difficult. Some of us with the right genes could pull off being “good people”; i.e. people with enough morality and likability to please the culture. None of us accomplish Christ-likeness in its fullness before we die. The idea of grace is so important to us for this reason. We want to be like Christ, but we fail miserably, and still, God chooses to love us as if we had succeeded, for Christ’s sake.

This is the tension behind our views on personal morality. The personal conduct of you and me is extremely important because it has to do with the aim and orientation of our lives, and yet is almost trivial when considered in the light of our failure and God’s grace.

3. We actually believe what the Bible says about Judgment Day, the wrath of God, and life after deathWe believe that God, who is exactingly holy, is angry with the world. We do not believe that he is only angry – Jesus taught that God loved the world to the point of sending his Son, Jesus, into it, to save it (John 3:16-17). Yet our scripture teaches that God will not overlook our outrageous disregard and mockery of him, which is the disease of sin that infects both our societies and our personal lives, forever. Soon, God will demand from every human being an exhaustive account of how they lived their lives. On those souls not shielded by the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God will rain down his justice in hell. It will be terrible, and fair.

In a culture of Self and non-accountability, we take this seriously. We want to do whatever we can to help people save themselves from themselves by entrusting their lives and their fates to Christ.

4. We struggle (with depression, anxiety, stress, unhappiness, loneliness, unmet expectations, sexual temptation, doubt, and on and on) as much as everybody, but we believe that Jesus is more real than all of itWe do not fool ourselves into thinking we have it all together or can refute every argument. We understand that Christian belief is hard – the  apostles understood that (Matthew 28:16-17). Our inner turmoil is often intense and our lives are often a mess, like everyone else.

We are also aware that we are not doing everything as we should be doing it, and that very often our words must speak louder than our actions. The difference for the Christian is not his or her own ability to rise above. The difference is faith in a God who transcends us and a Messiah who knows what it is like to be us.

5. What we are staking our lives on is Jesus, especially his death and resurrectionThe death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth are even more fundamental to Christian faith than the existence of God or the inerrancy of the Bible. That is, we believe in God and the Bible because Jesus did, and we believe in Jesus because he rose from the dead. At the center, our belief stands or falls with him. Understanding the Bible and dealing with questions about Christianity’s rationality become possible in the context of faith in Jesus.

We believe that intellectually satisfying answers to questions about God and the Bible exist and are accessible. It is true to say, however, that everything we are and believe hangs on one person, and the historical reality of two events. Jesus is the central thing, and we believe that every person must ultimately deal with him.

It Would Be Nice, It Would Be Nothing

Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body. Hebrews 13:3 (KJV)
It would be nice to live as if you don’t exist.
My brain dislikes your constant presence
– watching, waiting, staring with your big eyes –
I have never been alone since the first time I met you
and you stared at me, unembarrassed, while I
shifted my weight and flitted my gaze
between you and the wall behind you.

It would be nice to live as if pain could not be felt.
All human creatures could sleep the night
without waking up, short-breathed, palms imprinted
from fingernails pressing harder, harder.
My palms dislike your presence in my dreams.
I could dream of weddings and beaches all night
without your eyes arriving to spoil my fun.

It would be nice to live as if death is a joke.
“Grandpa played a trick on you! He’s only gone to
France. Silly, did you think it all was real?”
I could forget the dead-line of my life
and yours and his and hers and just unwind
and say, “We’ve got all kinds of time.”
But I’m a Friday and my Monday’s coming soon.

It would be nice to live without this Spirit in me.
Just me, myself, and I: we could be happy
with nothing but our status quo. Yet,
I’m told I’ve died with violence to the world
– to it I am a corpse that’s five years gone.
I am alive to Someone I have yet to meet
named “Suffering Slave” and “Lamb That’s Been Slain.”

It would be nice to live as if this were not so,
as if these were not His names.
Perhaps then I could forget your big eyes, too.
I could be alone for once, for once,
without Him at my shoulder and you at my feet:
all alone, with nothing but niceness to think of.
It would be nice. It would be nothing.

it’s only words, and words are all I have

You think that I don’t even mean a single word I say.
It’s only words, and words are all I have, to take your heart away.

Words by the Bee Gees

Among God’s earthly creatures, language is uniquely human; and as any lover of poetry, or songwriting, or drama, or philosophy knows, it is one of our most glorious attributes.

Why do we talk? To survive. To be human. To express ourselves. To prove ourselves. To engage with others. To hurt others. To question. To teach.

Language is the primary – although not exclusive – means by which God communes with us, through the Bible from him and prayer from us. It is also the primary – not exclusive – way we create and sustain relationships with each other. I have heard songs written about relationships where neither person speaks the other’s language, and perhaps that happens, but I can hardly imagine a lonelier love.

God’s words are powerful. Genesis says God spoke the universe into existence. When God changed Jeremiah the priest into Jeremiah the prophet, he gave him an idea of the weight and power of his words, which Jeremiah would speak:

Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the LORD said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” Jeremiah 1:9-10
John’s Gospel calls Jesus the “Word.” The book of Hebrews says Jesus, the person, is the last and best way God has spoken to us. And in the words of Jesus are life, newness, and salvation:
Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” John 6:68
Our words cannot overthrow societies or raise the dead. Nevertheless, in our words there is great power.
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. Proverbs 18:21

Death and life. There is death in complaining, blame-shifting, name-calling, self-defending, criticizing, distancing, gossiping, misrepresenting. In these we bring death to others and host death in ourselves. We kill relationships and malign the reputation of the Lord.

In praising, thanking, blessing, consoling, advising, supporting, confessing, rebuking, forgiving, there is life. The simplest words can change everything. “I love you;” “I’m sorry;” “We can work this out;” “There is hope.” Life-giving words are the food of authentic relationships.

No one will deny the power of words, for good or evil. At the same time, no one will deny, I think, that our language is limited. I have felt this at many times in my life, and I think it is a universal experience. There are things for which words simply fail. In this life, there will always be some distance left, some of our selves left unshared. The book of Proverbs says, “Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy” (14:10). There are longings in us, “groanings,” so sharp and so deep, that we cannot even pray them, but must simply, wordlessly, entrust them to the Spirit.

For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies… Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. Romans 8:22-23, 26
The truth is, we talk too much. Too many of our words are empty and pointless and death-giving. Wise people, people who can really reach others, are people of few words. Most of their energy is spent loving with actions, not mere words (1 John 3:18). When they speak, their words have meaning. Their words echo of a higher way, a royal law, a rare sweetness – even when they are simply asking me for a favor, or telling me a story, or praying for dinner.