When You Left

When you left, I could hear you from across town.

Sure, she was a stinging drink that smacked you awake —

some girls are like that —

but slurring, stumbling is no good for steering.

When that door closed, it was you who closed it;

you, or God.

Not us.

 

Ten months later and I watch you at the coffee shop.

How are you, fine, I miss you, dear —

some words are like that —

but halting, hesitant is no good for hearing.

When that door opens, it’s you who’ll open it;

you, or God.

We’re waiting.

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.

Plans

My plans are wilting, petal by petal.

I never should have planted them in you.

Perhaps you were a seasonal soil

not meant to host a plunging root.

I thought your garden was eternal,

and that my plans were bearing fruit;

but we were becoming autumnal.

Winter was but coming soon.

 

Now wilting, withering, shrinking some,

less flowered and with duller shading,

my plans need help from the green thumb;

if something’s growing, something’s fading.

There’s strong temptation to succumb

to frost; these winter winds are blazing.

Yet I’ve been told of kingdom come

and gardens made for re-creating.

 

I’m all uprooted, dangling, vulnerable,

still waiting for that other garden;

meanwhile, blooming, flourishing, comfortable,

your plans grow up, your roots dig in.

It’s good. In fact, I know it’s beautiful,

this fertile ground that you’ve been given.

My plans are wilting, slow, unnoticeable,

but from their death, new life is rising.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. John 12:24

the stuff life is made of

The Old Testament is an amazing document, written by dozens of authors over a period of more than a thousand years, containing literature as diverse as civil codes and love songs. Its cast of personalities is equally diverse, from the humble and devoted Ruth, to the power-hungry and pathetic Saul, to the emotional and pleading Jeremiah, on and on; all of them deeply flawed and intensely human. Its style is minimalist and understated, earnest and intentional, poetic and beautiful.

Many people think that the Bible, especially the Old Testament, is mostly about rules that stuffy old men, and a stuffy old God, made up to ruin everyone’s good time. To the church’s detriment, too many Christians think and act in a way that supports this impression. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you read the Old Testament, you will find it is full to the brim of life, the stuff human life is made of, the good and the bad together. It is full of the God who is passionate about human beings and intensely involved in the life of his creation, loving good and hating all that is evil, all the sin that rots and destroys the good world he has made.

The Old Testament celebrates and endorses the raw stuff of human life when it is not tainted by sin’s perversion and instead expresses “shalom,” the fullness of peace God wants between himself, people, and all of creation.
Gideon built an altar to the LORD there and named it Yahweh-Shalom, which means “the LORD is peace.” Judges 6:34 (NLT)
“The webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight is what the Hebrew prophets call shalom. We call it peace but it means far more than mere peace of mind or a cease-fire between enemies. In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness and delight – a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be.” – Cornelius Plantinga

God created the physical world. He created sex and wants his people to enjoy intimacy with their spouses instead of ruining themselves with sexual sin (Proverbs 5:18-23). He uses sex as a picture of the love-relationship between Jesus and his people, calling the church the “Bride of Christ” (Ephesians 5:31-32). He created food and drink and wants his people to enjoy them without indulging in excess, which deadens their joy (Nehemiah 8:10). Jesus instituted bread and wine as the constant symbol of his selfless love and describes the coming world as a wedding feast (Revelation 19:9).

Some pervert these good things with carnal indulgence, which the church is well-known for rejecting. Others pervert them in another way, however: by forbidding the gifts of God with artificial regulations and rules. Paul said,

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. Colossians 2:20-23

Elsewhere he wrote,

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. 1 Timothy 4:4

One of the many reasons I love all the stories and poetry of the Old Testament is that they include all the elements of human life, “everything created by God,” giving our lives real dignity and validating our diverse experiences. They are spiritual, but – rather, therefore – concerned with this life. This list serves as just a small example:

  • Love and sex in marriage – Song of Songs
  • Family life and children – Genesis, Proverbs
  • Artistic creativity – Psalms
  • Intense sorrow and depression – Lamentations, Jeremiah, Psalms
  • Searching for meaning in life – Ecclesiastes
  • Friendship – Ruth
  • Work and leadership – Ezra, Nehemiah
  • Facing obstacles and opposition – 1 Samuel, Esther, Daniel
  • Suffering and oppression – Exodus, Micah, Amos
  • Questioning God – Job, Habakkuk, Psalms

The church ought not deny or belittle authentic human experience, ever. Christianity does not stifle; Jesus said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). A biblical view of the world gives life to, is inspired by, illuminates, and celebrates all the stuff life is made of. God gives redemption and raises our eyes to heaven so that we can be truly human in the very fullest sense of the word, for his glory, for our joy.