That Was a Lovely Sermon, Pastor

That Was a Lovely Sermon, Pastor

I’ve never minded the mowing of lawns on Sunday
afternoons in a well worn pair of pants,
line after line – this week vertical and the next opposite –
a summer checkered board of wandering
thoughts going in circles and yellow dandelion
smudges on boots, beer in hand to admire the green

lawn like the altar of Ordinary Time bathed in swaths of green
felt banners at the baptismal font this Sunday
as the pastor read the story of Daniel in the lion’s
den and I dozed off dreaming of their hungry pants
and dripping teeth waiting to tear into the boy’s lack of wandering
curiosity and fleshy figure at the opposite

end of the cave. I have a sideways, opposite,
uneasy sort of feeling when my wife elbows me and my green
eyes search the sanctuary, wandering
from face to face to face of faithful Sunday
people in their dresses, jackets, pressed pants,
toothy smiles and my laces yellowed by dandelions.

I’ve always thought that dandelions
were the loveliest of weeds like the opposite
of those nasty sticker weeds that pierce my pants
when I sit in the green
lawn to enjoy the afternoon sun. Days
like this were meant so your mind could wander

to whatever your mind will wander
to as you twist off the heads of dandelions
and try and remember what the pastor said Sunday
but only ever able to remember the opposite
of whatever he said, scratching at the green
stains on your pants.

“As the deer panteth
for the water” I sing as I wander
forward to the altar arrayed in greenery –
tulips, daisies, a thorny crown, but no dandelions –
I take the bread and juice and walk back to the opposite
end of the room where I sit every Sunday.

And pants worn well with life and my dandelion
soles wander in horizontal patterns opposite
of the green tracks from last Sunday.

 

Pine Trees and Dandelions in the Garden of Saint-Paul Hospital. April-May 1890. Vincent van Gogh.

 

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That Was a Lovely Sermon, Pastor

Donald Trump and the Chamber of Secrets, All Things Considered, National Poetry Month, and Other Miscellany

1) There’s zero content about Donald Trump in this post. But, every time I put his name in the title of a blog post people read it. This post is full of poetry because it’s National Poetry Month and I want everybody to read lots of poems. Poetry trumps Trump. You’ve been baited and switched. I’m bad but you’re reading my diary so who’s worse? The person who just wants to share some poems? Or, the person who saw their friend’s diary lying there open on the coffee table of social media and decided to read it. Tread lightly, that’s how Ginny opened the Chamber of Secrets.

Also, Donald Trump is a low-rent Voldermort but ask me how I really feel about him.

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2)
 Did you do your taxes yet? Today is the half way point for National Poetry Month, though you’re more than welcome to keep reading and writing poems the rest of the year.

Poetry Magazine (the oldest English monthly poetry magazine and my favorite) is offering this month’s AMAZING issue for free!

GET IT HERE: April 2016 Poetry Magazine, digital issue

3) From that issue is this heartwrenching poem:

When I Think of Tamir Rice While Driving

BY REGINALD DWAYNE BETTS

in the backseat of my car are my own sons,
still not yet Tamir’s age, already having heard
me warn them against playing with toy pistols,
though my rhetoric is always about what I don’t
like, not what I fear, because sometimes
I think of Tamir Rice & shed tears, the weeping

Source: Poetry, April 2016

You can read the rest of the poem here, and please do: When I think of Tamir Rice While Driving

4)  For National Poetry Month NPR’s All Things Considered is featuring Twitter poems from the #NPRpoetry thread. I had a short poem I liked but wasn’t going to do anything with (too short for the blog, too short to submit to a magazine, and, ironically enough, sharing full poems on Twitter without warrant feels pretentious) but here was this poem I’d written about the Alyssa and Atticus. I thought I’d be pretentious for a moment and share it with the hashtag. I had hoped for maybe a Like or a Retweet, what I expect was nothing to happen. Instead a PA reached out to me a few days later and asked me to record it and I read a poem on NPR’s All Things Considered last Saturday. You can listen to my “interview” and reading here: Love is a Rube Goldberg Machine.

Here’s the poem for your reading pleasure:

Love is a Rube Goldberg Machine

bits & pieces knock together
push down a chute
pins pop & strike
matches & ignite small flames

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5) From McSweeney’s Internet Tendency: SIXTEEN CLASSIC POEMS THAT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE!

“This Man Stops By Woods On a Snowy Eve… You Won’t BELIEVE What Happens Next!”
by Robert Frost

“We Should All Go Gentle Into That Good Night, Right? Here’s 10 Reasons Why You’re Dead Wrong”
by Dylan Thomas

“What Happens to a Dream Deferred? The Answer Will SHOCK YOU!”
by Langston Hughes

6) How E.E. Cummings Writes a Poem

7) If you too, like myself, are wondering how to be a poet:

How To Be a Poet
BY WENDELL BERRY
(to remind myself)

i

Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill—more of each
than you have—inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your poems,
doubt their judgment.

Source: Poetry, January 2011

Read the rest of this here: How To Be a Poet

8) Christianity Today just launched another branch of their platform called The Local Church. I follow the editor of the project on Twitter and like him plenty, he’s got a son about the same age as mine named Atticus, but I’m not really sure what The Local Church is about yet. Maybe satire? A poet I love, Aaron Belz, wrote a poem for the inaugural issue:

The Temple Market
BY AARON BELZ

III.
SALE. This week only,
buy one male lamb,
get one FREE sheaf
of harvest grain!

Best way to prepare
for the Feast of Firstfruits

SUPPLIES LIMITED

Visit Abe’s Small Ruminants

Read the rest of the poem at The Local Church: The Temple Market

9) Like bacon, Bono is perfectly fine, if not a little overrated. But! Eugene Peterson is a personal hero, a poet and a pastor. His memoir The Pastor and his book The Contemplative Pastor greatly inform the kind of pastor I hope to be one day. Also, The Contemplative Pastor ends with a large section of his poetry. The two of them are prolific artists, both in their own right, and I could not be more excited to watch them discuss the Psalms together.

10) Final lie. This version of Robert Frost’s “Stopping By A Wood on a Snowy Eve” from Rottingpost vis a vis Donald Trump is pretty dang great:

I have a pretty good idea whose woods these are, believe me.
And let me tell you something, my people say he’s a complete nobody.
This guy lives in the village.   So what if he sees me stopping here?
I dare him to sue me!   I dare him!

And by the way, this snow is pathetic.
These are by far, the least downy flakes ever!
I hear they had to import them from Canada.
I don’t know.  Maybe they did.  Maybe they didn’t.  We’re looking into it.

Read the rest of it here: “Stopping By a Wood on a Snowy Eve by Donald Trump

Donald Trump and the Chamber of Secrets, All Things Considered, National Poetry Month, and Other Miscellany

Where I’ve Been Hiding, Is God Dead? (No, 2! And Seven Stanzas!), Punching Hitler, and Other Miscellany

With gearing up for the move, Holy Week, and more preaching dates than usual for a worship pastor I’ve not had as much time to write here as I would’ve liked. Maybe April will be more fruitful. Here’s a picture of a scary Easter Bunny.

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1) Today is the first day of National Poetry Month. If you’re like, “Naw thanks. Poetry ain’t my bag, broooooo” you’re wrong. Or, maybe not. Who can say? Poetry isn’t for everybody but I say if there’s ever a time to give it a shot why not National Poetry Month?

If you need help getting started with reading poetry The Atlantic is here to help: Reading a Poem: 20 Strategies

And here’s 30 Ways to Celebrate National Poetry Month.

2) On Palm Sunday, Mach 20th, I preached on how God owns everything and made mention of what I call “Put A Bird On It Theology!” Though I wasn’t exactly kind in my take down of Christian Sub-Culture I did try and pull my punches. I get it, we Evangelicals like kitsch (even if we don’t realize it as such). Since that sermon, which you can listen to here, two articles have been published about Christian Movies (maybe the worst offender currently of “Put A Bird On It Theology!”) from two different sources.

Over at the A.V. Club, critic Randall Colburn, posed the question: Can the new wave of faith-based filmmaking transcend propaganda? He asks from a “secular” point of view and I think it is prudent to listen as an Evangelical because so often we just assume we already know everything there is to know about those we want to share the gospel with. Which is the stated point of these movies, yeah? But our assumptions are more often than not straw men we’re waiting to burn in effigy. I’ve had atheist professors at my liberal arts college who wouldn’t be persuaded with the cheap deus ex machina prostelyzation tracts from God’s Not Dead and who are among the smartest and kindest people I know. But, golly gee, Kevin Sorbo (Hercules?!) sure did suck – good thing he died.

Film-wise, it feels like it’s the evangelical community that’s distancing itself from secular audiences. God’s Not Dead had a taunting quality to it—one of its secular characters dies, the other is diagnosed with cancer—and the forthcoming God’s Not Dead 2 exudes the same kind of know-it-all hysteria that Cameron’s Saving Christmas did a couple years ago. Attitudes like that will only draw derision from the other side, and it most certainly has.

…more than a good story, evangelical audiences want to see their values reflected and reinforced on screen. They want their films to tell them they’re right. They want what is, for all intents and purposes, propaganda.

Colburn more fully addresses what he assumes (and I tend to agree with him) the motivations of the Christian filmmakers are and the merits these movies have as art. It is well worth a read, especially if you’re a Christian who enjoys these types of film but have not considered what may be going on below the surface.

From a Christian perspective, the lead film critic at Christianity Today and King’s College professor Alissa Wilkinson, wrote at Thrillist this week: I’m a Christian and I hate Christian movies. I more than enjoy her film criticism in general, especially as an Evangelical who wants something different from a movie than a “secular” audience. Her treatment here is just as critical but maybe more sympathetic. Several choice quotes:

A lot of these are basically well-intentioned kitsch, innocuous in the manner of a lousy conventional rom-com or inept indie drama. But they can be worse than that. I can excuse (or ignore) a poorly made movie. But some of the most popular faith-based movies today aren’t just sub-par entertainment — they’re anti-Christian.

As onlookers laugh these movies off, I stand in the Internet’s corner, wincing and trying not to rail. I can’t just brush it off like others. Christian theology is rich and creative and full of imagination, that’s broad enough to take up residence among all kinds of human cultures. It contains within itself the idea that art exists as a good unto itself, not just a utilitarian vehicle for messages. (In the Greek, the Bible calls humans “poems” — I love that.) There is no reason Christian movies can’t take the time to become good art. Each one that fails leaves me furious.

I once was commended for making music in the church because what point does art have other than being propaganda for the Church? No joke. A respected friend once told me that art has no point other than to be a preaching tool. Ouch. Wilkinson writes,

The part that leaves me angry, and why I’m more frustrated with any bad Christian movie than the commercial manipulation of sour blockbusters like Batman v Superman or Jurassic World, is that Christians live within a system of belief and practice that is meant primarily to be a blessing to people outside the church walls. It is a basic article of Christian belief that all people bear God’s image. We are to exercise the same boundless imagination and creativity that he does. Christians, of all people, ought to push hard against people who try to sell a fear-mongering, illogical, politically driven version of Christianity, where the goal is for your team to win, to prove you’re right.

And Christians ought to especially value exploration and truth-seeking, wherever it’s found. We ought to be making fabulous movies that raise religious questions: who are we? Why are we? Where did we come from? Where are we going? What should we do while we’re here? And since Christians believe in God’s very aliveness — since our theology suggests that people don’t save others’ souls, God does — and since we don’t have anything to lose, we shouldn’t think we have to swoop in and answer the question before the credits roll.

3) Speaking of film criticism, I tried that hat on to middling results this week with some thoughts regarding Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice over at my good friend Sam Jeet’s blog and it got me thinking about the nature of superhero stories. These are not new thoughts, or particularly deep, these are just scattered thoughts I’d like to explore in more detail later but for the past week I’ve been struck by how the American Superhero is an icon of a generation’s social mores.

In his miracle of a novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay Michael Chabon chronicles a fictionalized version of the Golden Age of Comic Books through the lens of two cousins and their superhero, The Escapist. There’s an affecting scene where the cousin who draws and paints the comic, Joe Kavalier, explains his motivation:

The shaping of a golem, to [Joe] was a gesture of hope, offered against hope, in a time of desperation. It was the expression of a yearning that a few magic words and an artful hand might produce something– one poor, dumb, powerful thing– exempt from the crushing strictures, from the ills, cruelties, and inevitable failures of the greater Creation. It was the voicing of a vain wish, when you got down to it, to escape. To slip, like the Escapist, free of the entangling chain of reality and the straitjacket of physical laws.

cap-punching-hitler-630x387.jpgSo when comic books and superhero stories took off during World War Two you’d not have to look far for some colorful strongman punching Hitler in the face or at least a pastiche of Hitler.

580d6ac441fd37d2b0bcd7f2b7f406dd.jpgAfter the war and as comics progressed the culture was perceived to be better and at peace with itself and thus comics became child’s fare. Consider Batman and Robin’s adventures from the 50’s and 60’s.

As the dream of the Baby Boomers gave way to Generation X in the late 70’s and 80’s comic books took a turn to the dark and gritty. All of a sudden the very silly Green Arrow sidekick character Speedy was a drug addict and Alan Moore was writing epic takedowns of the superhero trope with graphic novels like Watchmen.Green_lantern_85.jpg

Skipping over the x-treme 90’s with its pouches and mullets and the 00’s “Hollywoodization” of comics and we’ve come to the ubiquitous Comic Book Movie/TV Show.

You can watch classic DC and Marvel characters on primetime every weeknight on the CW, CBS, Fox, and Netflix. And it seems that every weekend there’s another movie coming out with a flying guy in spandex. 2016 is unique in the amount of infighting the heroes seem to be doing. I’ve seen The Flash and Green Arrow punch Hawkman over on the CW, Daredevil avoid being shot and killed by The Punisher on Netflix. In the cinema, Superman and Batman throw each other through walls and still to come is Captain America attacking Iron Man as Tony Stark says pitifully, “I thought we were friends.”watchmen-2.jpg

I’ve been wondering what our superheroes are trying to tell us with all these grimdark stories of heroes fighting heroes. In a contentious political season, economic collapse seemingly always on the horizon, the threat of ISIS, FaceBook meme wars, YouTube comments one has to wonder if our comic books are illustrating (pun intended) the collapse of our civility. Maybe our superheroes are asking, “Why can’t we all get along? Isn’t that better?” Or, maybe I’m reading too much into it and it’s mostly just cool watching Batman punch Superman.

Batman-vs-Superman-Delayed-to-2016.jpgEverybody knows that Superman would win in that fight even if the movie doesn’t get around to it.

4) Happy National Poetry Month and  belated Easter! I read the following poem by John Updike (“Seven Stanzas at Easter”) to the worship team before service on Easter.

Seven Stanzas at Easter
John Updike

Make no mistake: if he rose at all
It was as His body;
If the cell’s dissolution did not reverse, the molecule reknit,
The amino acids rekindle,
The Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
Each soft spring recurrent;
It was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the
Eleven apostles;
It was as His flesh; ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes
The same valved heart
That—pierced—died, withered, paused, and then regathered
Out of enduring Might
New strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
Analogy, sidestepping, transcendence,
Making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded
Credulity of earlier ages:
Let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
Not a stone in a story,
But the vast rock of materiality that in the slow grinding of
Time will eclipse for each of us
The wide light of day.

And if we have an angel at the tomb,
Make it a real angel,
Weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair, opaque in
The dawn light, robed in real linen
Spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
For our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
Lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are embarrassed
By the miracle,
And crushed by remonstrance.

The hope of resurrection is not simply that (metaphorically) sad stories will have (metaophorically) happy endings but that (physically) dead and rotting people will be (physically) alive again.

And another scary Easter Bunny.

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Where I’ve Been Hiding, Is God Dead? (No, 2! And Seven Stanzas!), Punching Hitler, and Other Miscellany

Ten Ways To Never Ever Be Lost Again

1) If you’re interested in growing in prayer I would make a few suggestions.

I’m lying. First sentence of this post and I’m a liar. I would suggest only one thing.

Still lying, I would suggest 2.5 things.

I would first suggest that you begin by reading scripture, then I would ammend that (.5) by saying you should start with reading the Psalms, they were good enough for Jesus to pray through. Then I would tell you to practice by praying. If you were encouraged by the sermon you could use the scriptures I preached from to help you get started:

  • Luke 11.1-12 and Matthew 6.5-18; these are the two instances where Jesus teaches what we refer to as The Lord’s Prayer or the Our Father. The links are in further context.
  • Psalm 24
  • 1 Chronicles 29.10-20; this is the full prayer of David that I believe the common Doxology attached to The Lord’s Prayer is taken from. It’s a lovely prayer, we’d all be blessed to pray it.

2) The playlist I made for this sermon is a little more casual with the theme than I normally curate but it still is a great playlist. The tune “Every Star is a Burning Flame” by Andrew Peterson really influenced where I was going with some of the ideas. I may have even stolen a phrase from it. Other standout songs include:

  • Who Is This by John Mark McMillian; it’s pretty faithful paraphrase of Psalm 24 and has a kicking guitar solo.
  • Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters by Elton John; captures the “more than meets the eye” sentiment I was aiming for.
  • The Ocean by Matt Papa; this song was inspired by the Jonathan Edwards quote. I quoted Edwards so I would sound smarter than I am. I’m familiar with the quote because I’m familiar with the song.

3) The poem I read was “Every Riven Thing” by Christian Wiman from the book of the same name. You can buy the book here if you enjoy poetry I could not recommend it more – it’s a miracle of a book. Listen to the poet from his On Being interview read the poem and discuss writing it.

God goes, belonging to every riven thing he’s made
sing his being simply by being
the thing it is:
stone and tree and sky,
man who sees and sings and wonders why

4) Here are some good books on prayer:

5) Would it be a sermon review if I didn’t quote CS Lewis? This is the scene after all the Kings and Queens of Narnia walk through the stable doors in The Last Battle into the New Narnia and New Earth and there eat fruit from a tree they find. His description captures exactly what I was hoping to communicate when I was comparing the riches of God’s kingdom to the world as we perceive it:

What was the fruit like? Unfortunately no one can describe a taste. All I can say is that, compared with those fruits, the freshest grapefruit you’ve ever eaten was dull, and the juiciest orange was dry, and the most melting pear was hard and woody, and the sweetest wild strawberry was sour. And there were no seeds or stones, and no wasps. If you have once eaten that fruit, all the nicest things in this world would taste like medicines after it. But I can’t describe it. You can’t find out what it is like unless you can get to that Country and taste it for yourself.

6) Speaking of Narnia. When I was a kid I totally studied the maps in the front covers of each book and made up my own adventures in Narnia. Don’t judge me but I’m still disappointed I never actually walked through the wardobe. But, maybe it has something to do with my impulse to write. Pulitzer Prize winning author Michael Chabon in his excellent collection of essays Maps & Legends: Reading and Writing on the Borderlands writes about how maps influenced his becoming a writer in the titular essay:

…just because you have stopped believing in something you once were promised does not mean that the promise itself was a lie. Childhood, at its best, is a perpetual adventure, in the truest sense of that overtaxed word: a setting-forth into trackless lands that might have come into existence the instant before you first laid eyes on them. How fortunate I was to be handed, at such an early age, a map to steer by, however provisional, a map furthermore ornamented with a complex nomenclature of allusions drawn from the poems, novels, and stopies of mysterious men named Faulkner, Hemingway, Frost, Hawthorne, and Fitzgerald! Those names, that adventure, are still with me every time I sit down at the keyboard to sail off, clutching some dubious map or other, into terra incognita.

The whole book is worth reading if you’re a serious fan of genre-fiction. He’s makes great arguments for why comic books, detective novels, sci-fi, fantasy should be treated with respect. The titular essay, “Maps and Legends”, was a launching pad for this sermon.

7) I alluded to a second poem that is really quite great. You should read the whole thing aloud or listen to the recording at the following link. It’s a great poem, “God’s Grandeurby Gerard Manley Hopkins

It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
    It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
    And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
    And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
    Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
    World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

8) From my favorite! The Jesus Storybook Bible, a paraphrase of The Lord’s Prayer:

9) If you were still undecided on whether or not I’m a narcissisct, I quoted my own blog in the sermon:

Have you ever heard of Testa-mints? They’re Christian breath mints for when you’re suffering from a real bad case of halitosis or unbridled rage, and, anyways, Altoids will fork your tongue real quick. Also they come in assorted flavors! Next time you’re at the local Christian bookstore purchasing a Christian book with a Christian bookmark and, for good measure, a Christian CD these Christian mints should be available at the Christian register.

And now I’m linking back to that post hoping you’ll read it: Testa-Mint Theology at Duke University.

10) One more poem for the road because I’m a pretentious narcissist and this past Sunday was Palm Sunday and we didn’t give the day its due, “The Donkey” by GK Chesterton:

When fishes flew and forests walked
   And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
   Then surely I was born.
With monstrous head and sickening cry
   And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
   On all four-footed things.
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
   Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
   I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour;
   One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
   And palms before my feet.
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Donkeys. November 2, 2010. Swathi Sridharan. Some Rights Reserved.
Ten Ways To Never Ever Be Lost Again

Three Poems Walking Around Town

At The Park

The ice cream truck circles the block singing
The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round
and round as Atticus slides down and down and
a ball crashes against the fence, Hey Vato!
a boy shouts while a mom whistles
The Impossible Dream, two six-year-olds play Starbucks:
iced grande white mocha with a perfection few master
a childless busker in a White Sox hat
sings Carlos Santana’s Smooth and Atticus
moves blue from red tiles on a playground abacus
two by two by three by three

PlaygroundAbacus.jpg
may07 006. April 28, 2007. Mike Wright. Some Rights Reserved.

Tortilla Breeze

I am the King of the crack that broke
your mother’s back and this the third time
I’ve walked this track:
…..Once, carrying the boy
who didn’t sleep last night
though my thumb
on his lower left rib
shhh-ed him deep
his dark eyes spied me
tip-toe, tip-toeing to
bed, or, at least I tried
until he threw his juice
to the floor, wailed, and woke
the neighbors downstairs.
…..Once, to work to work to work
it’s off to work I go
digging diamonds of a sort –
calls, reports, filing
paperwork, paperwork, paperwork.
Like Bloody Mary or Beetlejuice,
“Work. Work. Work.”
and in the mirror
a ghost steals you.
…..Once, back home
the tortilla breeze all
I could breathe wandering
lost in the thought
of this poem.

Mission San Jose 1720.jpg
Mission San Jose 1720. March 30, 2009. Texasbubba. Some Rights Reserved.

A Poem

walking the hill
to a nursery where
ancient mission doors set
back behind violet bushes burning
and never burning, existing
but not consumed
by means of being overheard
words of peace: Rest,
and catch your breath

Three Poems Walking Around Town

Donald Trump and the Prince of Peace (With Apologies to Jesus Christ, a poem)

Disclaimer: The following poem does not represent the political views of New Song Community Church.


 Donald Trump and the Prince of Peace (With Apologies to Jesus Christ, a poem)

Because of your little faith. I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed,
And he referred to my hands, if they are small, something else must be small –
say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there.’ Nothing will be impossible for you.
I guarantee you there is no problem. I guarantee.

And he referred to my hands, if they are small, something else must be small.
Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.
I guarantee you there is no problem. I guarantee.
‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.

Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.
I built a company that’s worth more than $10 billion.
‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.
And I say it not in a bragging way, but that’s the kind of thinking we need.

I built a company that’s worth more than $10 billion.
Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.
And I say it not in a bragging way, but that’s the kind of thinking we need.
But many who are first will be last, and the last first.

Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.
I was a million votes higher than Marco, one million votes.
But many who are first will be last, and the last first.
That’s a lot of votes. And was by far in first place.

I was a million votes higher than Marco, one million votes.
For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,
That’s a lot of votes. And was by far in first place.
and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,
So I keep hearing that he is the only one that can beat me
and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
but he is getting beaten very, very badly.

So I keep hearing that he is the only one that can beat me
Nation will rise against nation,
but he is getting beaten very, very badly.
and kingdom against kingdom.

Nation will rise against nation,
And by the way, Mexico is going to pay for the wall.
and kingdom against kingdom.
I can tell you that. Mexico is going to pay for the wall.

And by the way, Mexico is going to pay for the wall.
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
I can tell you that. Mexico is going to pay for the wall.
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
They’re chopping off the heads of Christians.
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
We should go for waterboarding and we should go tougher than waterboarding.

They’re chopping off the heads of Christians.
Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it,
We should go for waterboarding and we should go tougher than waterboarding.
but whoever loses his life will keep it.

Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it,
And, frankly, when I say they’ll do as I tell them, they’ll do as I tell them.
but whoever loses his life will keep it.
And that’s very — it’s very simple. It’s very simple.

And, frankly, when I say they’ll do as I tell them, they’ll do as I tell them.
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.
And that’s very — it’s very simple. It’s very simple.
As you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.
As you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you?

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Donald Trump shows off the size of his hands at the US Republican presidential candidates debate in Detroit, Michigan, March 3, 2016. – Reuters pic
All Donald Trump quotes from the March 3rd Fox New US Republican presidential debate in Detroit, Michigan. From the Washington Post transcript of said debate.

Matthew 17:20 John 2:16, Matthew 21:13Matthew 20:8, Matthew 19:30, Luke 14:11, Luke 21:10, Matthew 5:43, Luke 17:33, Luke 6:27-28, Luke 6:31-32. The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

 

Donald Trump and the Prince of Peace (With Apologies to Jesus Christ, a poem)

10 Steps to having a Perfect Marriage (or, Whatever)

Per usual, any time after I preach I like to share ten things that helped to inspire, inform, or encourage further discussion on that morning’s topic/scripture. So look no further:

TEN STEPS TO HAVING A PERFECT MARRIAGE
(or, whatever)

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1. As I was preparing this sermon I listened to the following playlist. It’s full of some of my favorite love songs (“Your Song” by Elton John, “What is Life?” by George Harrison, “I’m In Love With a Girl” by Big Star), songs that are not technically love songs but have a lot of sentimental value, and every song from our wedding ceremony.

A few short anecdotes on some of the songs:

“Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol – Alyssa is a big fan of the TV show “Grey’s Anatomy” and now I am too. If you’ve ever seen the show you’re familiar with the song. While we were dating I told Alyssa I was going to make her a mix-tape with only “Chasing Cars” on it. It’s a running joke in our house.

“When I Fall In Love” by Sam Cooke – Before we told each other we loved one another but we both knew it privately we would drive around and listen to music. I’ve always enjoyed jazz aplenty so I used that as a cover to play just about every version of this tune I could find. Because I’m subtle.

“These Days” by Mates of State – After getting lunch one Sunday before we were dating Alyssa and I were driving to meet some friends at the beach. This song came on my playlist and it got us to talking about the films of Wes Anderson (the original version of this song was featured in The Royal Tenebaums) which led to her finding times to his most recent film and to me asking her out on first date.

The following songs are from our wedding:

  • “Messiah/You’re Beautiful” by Phil Wickham for when the bridesmaids entered
  • “Holy (Wedding Day)” by the City Harmonic for the processional
  • “He’s Always Been Faithful” by Sara Groves for communion
  • “We Are One” by Wilder Adkins for the recessional
  • “The Nearness of You” by Ella Fitzgerald/Louis Armstrong was our first dance

Anyways! I really love – pun absolutely, 100% intended – this playlist. Enjoy!

2. The Meaning of Marriage, Tim and Kathy Keller

I’ve mentioned this book several times. It’s the book that convinced me to buy a ring and propose. Everybody, married or otherwise, must read this book. It is incredible. Tim and Kathy Keller are beyond wise. Some choice quotes:

That gospel message should both humble and lift the believer up at the same time. It teaches us that we are indeed self-centered sinners. It perforates our illusions about our goodness and superiority. But the gospel also fills us with more love and affirmation than we could ever imagine. It means we don’t need to earn our self-worth through incessant service and work. It means also that we don’t mind so much when we are deprived of some comfort, compliment, or reward. We don’t have to keep records and accounts anymore. We can feely give and freely receive.

“Fear” in the Bible means to be overwhelmed, to be controlled by something. To fear the Lord is to be overwhelmed with wonder before the greatness of God and his love. It means that, because of his bright holiness and magnificent love, you find him “fearfully beautiful.” That is why the more we experience God’s grace and forgiveness, the more we experience a trembling awe and wonder before the greatness of all that he is and has done for us. Fearing him means bowing before him out of amazement at this glory and beauty.

… when the Bible speaks of love, it measures it primarily not by how much you want to receive but by how much you are willing to give of yoursef to someone. How much are you willing to lose for the sake of this person? How much freedom are you willing to forsake? How much of your precious time, emotion, and resources are you willing to invest in this person? And for that, the marriage vow is not just helpful but it is even a test.

…the Bible sees God as the supreme good – not the individual or the family – and that gives us a view of marriage that intimately unites feeling and duty, passion and promise.

3. In the sermon I said that: “Christ is the foundation on which God, the Father, is building His home and the Spirit is calling to us, ‘Come in! Come in! Come home!'” After saying this I toyed with the idea of reading the following poem. I had read this to Atticus before bed this past Saturday. Alyssa, in her great wisdom, advised against it because it disrupted the flow of the sermon and I agreed with her. But! It is a great poem. Perhaps the Spirit is nudging you now as I share it here:

Invitation
Shel Silverstein

If you are a dreamer, come in,
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer…
If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire
For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.
Come in!
Come in!

4. What Romance Really Means After 10 Years of MarriageNew York Magazine, Heather Havrilesky

There’s strong language if that kind of thing bothers you but I found this article just absolutely fantastic. Some more choice quotes:

But once you’ve been married for a long time (my tenth anniversary is in a few months!), a whole new kind of romance takes over. It’s not the romance of rom-coms, which are predicated on the question of “Will he/she really love me (which seems impossible), or does he/she actually hate me (which seems far more likely and even a little more sporting)?” Long-married romance is not the romance of watching someone’s every move like a stalker, and wanting to lick his face but trying to restrain yourself. It’s not even the romance of “Whoa, you bought me flowers, you must REALLY love me!” or “Wow, look at us here, as the sun sets, your lips on mine, we REALLY ARE DOING THIS LOVE THING, RIGHT HERE.” That’s dating romance, newlywed romance. You’re still pinching yourself. You’re still fixated on whether it’s really happening. You’re still kind of sort of looking for proof. The little bits of proof bring the romance. The question of whether you’ll get the proof you require brings the romance. (The looking for proof also brings lots of fights, but that’s a subject for another day.)

After a decade of marriage, if things go well, you don’t need any more proof. What you have instead — and what I would argue is the most deeply romantic thing of all — is this palpable, reassuring sense that it’s okay to be a human being.

Now let’s tackle something even darker and more unpleasant, the seeming antithesis of our modern notion of romance: Someone is dying in their own bed, and someone’s spouse is sitting at the bedside, holding the dying person’s hand, and also handling all kinds of unspeakable things that people who aren’t drowning in gigantic piles of cash sometimes have to handle all by themselves. To me, that’s romance. Romance is surviving and then not surviving anymore, without being ashamed of any of it.

Because survival is ugly. Survival means sometimes smelling and sounding the wrong way. It’s one thing for a person to buy you flowers, to purchase a nice dinner, to PROVE that they truly, deeply want to have some good sweet-talky time and some touching time alone with you, and maybe they’d like to do that whole routine forever and ever and ever.

True romance, though, is … Two deluded, lazy people face a bewildering sea of filth and blood and gore together, but they make it through somehow, some way, without losing their minds completely.

You are not better than you are, though, and neither is your partner. That’s romance. Laughing at how beaten-down you sometimes are, in your tireless quest to survive, is romance. It’s sexy to feel less than totally sexy and still feel like you’re sexy to one person, no matter what.

5. When Almena was sharing how she and OJ met she had mentioned that he had been reading poetry in their school’s courtyard. Then she said it was the 70’s as if poetry stopped being hip post-’79 but I think poetry is still great. Here’s a famous love sonnet from a long time ago:

How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways.
Elizabeth Barret Browning

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

6. Every CS Lewis book is my favorite CS Lewis book. But for the sake of this post The Four Loves is my favorite CS Lewis book. Two more choice quotes:

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable

God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and perfect them. He creates the universe, already foreseeing – or should we say “seeing”? there are no tenses in God – the buzzing cloud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves, the repeated incipient suffocation as the body droops, the repeated torture of back and arms as it is time after time, for breath’s sake, hitched up. If I may dare the biological image, God is a “host” who deliberately creates His own parasites; causes us to be that we may exploit and “take advantage of” Him. Herein is love. This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves.

7.I’ve suggested it before, I’ll suggest it again: Go watch Parenthood. Netflix has every season now. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry. Etc. Etc. Etc.

At one point when one of her daughter’s marriage is on the rocks something fierce the family matriarch, Camille Braverman, explains the essence of marriage: “You know what marriage is sweetie? You know what it’s about? Forgiveness.”

Yep. Go watch the show and cry your tears.

8. St. Paul says marriage is “…a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church.” Throughout the scriptures God’s relationship to his people is often described amorously. You see it in Ephesians, Hosea, Revelation… But one book is especially rich (and uncomfortable): Song of Songs

I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.

9. Twenty YearsThe Rabbit Room, Russ Ramesy 

There is only one human relationship we come know in this life that is meant by God to be intimate in affection, proximity, and purpose until death itself separates us—the marriage relationship. In marriage God gives a gift of incalculable worth—a sworn partner for life.

This is a short and lovely reflections on twenty years of marriage. Loaded into this piece is the idea I brought up about never ceasing getting to know your spouse. Which OJ so wonderfully illustrated when he told us that after 38 years of marriage he just recently learned Almena enjoys buying and using power tools.

10. With This Ring, I Am Dead. Mockingbird, Stephanie Phillips.

This sacred covenant we’ve entered appears constantly threatened by the desecrating forces of my own sin and inadequacies. But it’s not. The union holds; the institution remains; the vows are intact–and none of it is made less beautiful in the end, only more real. This is a battleground where the distinction between my efforts to obtain approval through the law (armed with a toothbrush and expectations) and the “it is finished already” truth of the Gospel are writ large and daily. There are failures; oh so many. There are wounds. At the end of every day, there are two people lying in a home that often doubles as a battlefield, casualties of our own characters.

But there’s also this: the waking to each other, still here. Nobody disappeared in the night. (Yet.) And, to be mildly spoilery, the awareness of the gift we give each other, echoed in that TV narrative:

You stayed?!

Which echoes the gift given to us on the cross, at Christmas, and throughout the history of grace: He stays.

 

10 Steps to having a Perfect Marriage (or, Whatever)