We Are Not Pools

Commentary (Thoughts Running Amok)

Ever since I began writing poetry on a regular basis, I have also pondered what this activity indicates about me: what are the weaknesses a poet needs to acknowledge, and what are the strengths he can celebrate?

A Sample Weakness
[EDIT: I oringinally wrote and published this late at night, but woke up before dawn with the realization that I had to UNpublish the post and come back with some edits. I had revealed more than I ought to reveal, which is the very tendency I lament in a paragraph below. Someday, the world will suit a poet like me. But not today]

Today, I had a conversation with the senior pastor of a local church. Before I headed over to his church, Susan cautioned me: “Don’t reveal more than you should.” She knows me well. I said, “Pray that I’ll control my mouth, and that I’ll be a blessing to him.”

So, I met the senior pastor at the back door of his church. We walked in, and I immediately began pelting him with questions about his church: how they interact with the neighborhood, how well that is working, etc. After looking at his sanctuary, and talking about how it has served during the pandemic, we went to a more private setting downstairs. I began….

“These last few years, I have been developing as a poet. While some think that poets conceal, their actual drive is to reveal. That’s my natural inclination. But today, I need to control that. I’ll be talking about [something private], and there are things I should not say. Forgive me.” The pastor was understanding, and we talked for another 40 minutes. I believe that by God’s grace I did not tell him more about [the private matter] than I should. Reflecting on what I shared, the pastor gave me hope that I 1) am not alone and 2) serve a God who is changing lives.

The Poet as a Lithe Cat Who Loves Counselors
The little story above is about how I deal with the downside of being a poet: I have to be extra careful about not revealing what’s in my heart. But I usually am not so guarded. Think about it…. A poet is always digging into his own heart to surface emotions and thoughts that would rather stay hidden. He drags them up and exposes them to the light of day where they can be dealt with, sometimes by the poet himself, but more often by the reader, by wiser souls, by counselors. That’s why the poet is a friend of counselors. Like a domestic cat, he brings his daily offering of lizards and rats, and lays them at their door. “Here’s a rat that was running through my heart. What’s its name, and how do we deal with it?”

“Wine That Fills Our Cup”
In the poem I refer to “wine that fills our cup.” Believe me, I like wine, and wine’s not a dead rat. Forget about rats and death. A poet at least this poet celebrates life in his expression of emotion. It is not despair that drives me, but hope. Even when speaking of negative, deadly emotions, there is an essential optimism: “This emotion is not my master. I discovered it, am revealing it, and by God’s grace I will see its cure. He will make me whole.”

Even the Wine of Lament
I have been seeking lately to replace anger and bitterness with sadness and sorrow. In essence, to learn lament. Here’s what’s great about lament (at least as I understand it): it is sorrow felt and expressed in the presence of One who can change things, who will change things. When I move to lament, I move closer to hope. Wine is that which dulls, but also cheers.

The Elder’s Garden

Commentary

I covered what used to be the walkway leading up to the glass door and windows of my office with moss. It’s a far more pleasant vista when I’m working than the concrete walkway ever used to be. Along with the moss that I “liberated” from stream banks, there’s a mass of wild violets, also “liberated” from vacant fields. Finally, there’s an area where wheat grass will soon be sprouting for our cat.

Invariably, my transplants bring in some weeds and even fungus. Last year, I watched what would happen if I left a big puffball mushroom to “do its thing.” Its “thing” turned out to be killing a section of the moss. So this year, I’m being diligent about removing fungus as soon as I notice it growing in amongst the moss.

WITCHES’ BUTTER
One annoying invader is a small black, gelatinous fungus that really seems to enjoy the moist environment. If you look real close in the background image for the poem, you may be able to see some that remains after I spent 20 minutes picking it out this morning. If I’m not confusing it with another fungus, it goes by the names “Black Jelly Roll Fungus” and “Witches’ Butter.” Yuck! I like my butter yellow, not black.

PRAYER
So, while picking out that fungus, my mind turned to invaders that have destroyed the lives of family and friends. Initially, what came to mind was cancers: brain cancer, bone cancer, etc. I prayed for friends who are still fighting this battle. But then, my mind turned to other invaders, like hatred and bitterness. Other acquaintances came to mind, and I prayed for them.

Prayer is an increasingly important part of my life. Soon after I became an elder in my church, it began to dawn on me that I will somehow be held accountable for the spiritual health of people in my care. In that day, I want to be able at least to say, “Lord, I asked for your intervention. There was far more than I could handle.”

Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.

Hebrews 13:17

P.S. The dime was there in the photo initially because I was trying to identify the fungus, and I needed it for scale. Then, when I wrote the poem, I realized that the dime could be left in the photo… it reinforces the smallness of the plot. If I think long enough, I may realize there was some other, subconscious reason for leaving it in there. I hate to admit it, but I don’t always KNOW what I’m saying or why!

To a Misguided Cedar

Commentary

I saw this cedar growing in the crotch of a liveoak in front of Lakepointe Church. The poem is not about that church. But it does issue from thinking about churches. Every time a new church is planted, there are certain goals that the church planters are trying to achieve. While they may state a fine-sounding church “mission,” there is sometimes what Robert Schnase refers to as a “shadow mission,” the REAL mission of the church. If that shadow mission is some piece of idolatry like “having a form of worship that is comfortable to us,” the church may initially attract a lot of like-minded idolaters. Thus, it may grow rapidly. But such a mission can only carry the church so far; it contains the seed of its own eventual failure. A dedication to comfort rules out the willingness to change when change becomes necessary. There are probably as many “shadow missions” as there are sinners. I have just described one I see in myself.

As I was thinking about that, I remembered the photo above. Then I knew that the baby cedar may seem attractive in its current location, but it’s doomed to failure. The “shadow mission” of having “altitude” is no use to a cedar. As any cedar-burning Texas rancher will tell you, what cedars do exceptionally well is not to grow tall, but to send roots deep down into hard ground and draw up water for themselves, water that the ranchers need for other purposes! And so, they chop them down, and burn them.

MORE BROADLY, BECAUSE GOD IS MERCIFUL
It isn’t sad when cedars miss their purpose in life. But how about us? What if we are wasting our strength on things that won’t last? Who will save us from such a bad investment? The poem concludes by pointing to the mercy of humbling, of being brought low. This seems to be what James had in mind in his powerful letter:

9Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, 10and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away.

James 1:9-10 (ESV)

Matters More and Less

Commentary

BACKGROUND
Recently, I have been trying to imagine what it might look like to be in a church that welcomes people from all kinds of backgrounds. Would I be willing to give up my comfort for their sake? What if they’re REALLY different? What if their politics are different than mine, different than the politics of most others in the church? Would we be able to keep things in perspective, or would we chase them off because their politics make them feel like pariahs?

Which is more valuable: a soul, or my opinion?

I was once part of a church plant where my chief motivation was comfort: I wanted to be comfortable with the style of worship, and the kind of people I’d be worshipping with. Now, I recognize comfort as an idol. Doubtless, I retain — and am even now creating — other idols, things that are more important than God’s glory. May He have mercy on me.

SEE THE DARK IRONY?
I’m not smart enough to have intended the searing irony in the next-to-last line. “Like hell” was drawn lightly from recent events. But there is a reality darker than current darkness, infinitely more consequential than current comfort.

THE PHOTOGRAPH
The background photo is of St. John’s Episcopal Church, which I pass by on my walks from home to Flag Pole Hill. One evening, the clouds were threatening. I confess: “HDR Scape” in Snapseed accentuated the drama. Do I feel bad about editing a photo? Not in the least…. It’s part of artistic expression. I’m not a mimeograph!

To The Church, 2021

I wrote this little poem partly as a sermon to myself. Here’s how I prefaced it on Facebook:

SINCE WE’RE SCROLLING…
I don’t want to waste this short lifetime, do you? And yet, I devote hours to things that won’t matter in eternity. Meanwhile, there are incredible riches — within reach — that I leave untouched, unexplored.

THE RESULT? My very speech is impoverished.

you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 2:5 NIV
https://1peter.bible/1-peter-2-5

If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Peter 4:11 NIV
https://1peter.bible/1-peter-4-11

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.
Colossians 3:16 NIV
https://colossians.bible/colossians-3-16

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Colossians 3:17 NIV
https://colossians.bible/colossians-3-17

Far From Done

My comment on Facebook:

I just wrote about a musician who got better over the years. It felt odd to say of him that with age, he was “increasingly full of promise.” Does language banish Eternity in our hearts?#eternityintheirhearts #ecclesiastes311 #wetmorevalley #westcliffecolorado #poetography

My friend Scott Thibaut posted an insightful comment:

It’s nice to read a poem that recaps the song of Simeon in six lines.

The background image

The background image is part of a photo I took of the Wetmore Valley July 21, 2004. I was staying with my family at Horn Creek Family Camp. In the late afternoon, after suppers, I’d go out driving with the family, as that was the magical time when light was especially interesting and animals were venturing out from the woods.

Poet’s Daydream

Here’s What I Wrote About This

DON’T HATE ME FOR THIS
Almost every day, I take an afternoon nap while listening to music. I try hard then to let my imagination wander free. Often, I think of other artists, and the grasp they have of beauty. I, too, have known beauty. Someday, all of us who know the Author of beauty will have unbridled joy in His creation. Nap time is a good time to savor that hope. In Him, we rest.

Socks Like Poetry

All day, I asked myself if I should refine a poem I tossed off earlier that morning. This struggle reminds me of when I was a teenage perfectionist, and the head cook told me to stop mixing the pancake batter already.

Well, it turns out that I did NOT refine the poem in question, partly because the poem was one of my most popular ever: “Let The Dishes Soak.” I ran it by another poet, and we both saw its weaknesses, but part of its strength was surely the immediacy — words that someone might speak on the spur of a loving moment.

The Most Important War

Commentary

Depressed tonight, I recognize a silent battle — THE silent battle — that rages in me and friends. We occupy ourselves with any conflict at hand rather than the conflict at heart. We are intended by God’s merciful will to be fully won over in the battle to be reconciled, to be transformed into children worthy of fellowship with our Elder brother, Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the Victor. He won over sin that enslaves, weakens, and demoralizes us. He knows how we began; He also knows how we’ll end. Getting us there is His kind purpose (the Victor’s end).

So, why am I depressed? Largely because I see a problem in truly dear friends, a problem that probably afflicts me as well. They are — perhaps I am as well — occupied with silly, worthless conflicts. They are living in echo chambers that reinforce their perception that what they occupy themselves with is important. I sometimes despair of getting through to them. I don’t want to argue with them. They sometimes “like” what I write, apparently not realizing that it is completely antithetical to the trivial pursuits, the phony wars that call them forth. Some undoubtedly see me in the same sad light.

I wrote on Facebook that we need to pray for one another. God alone is able to rescue us from meaningless, hollow lives. He alone can replace depression with love, hope, and commitment.

How to Pray for Poets

(photo by Susan Hepp, edited with Snapseed)

Commentary

I think the essence of poetry (at least my poetry) is compression with the goal of transformation.

In all my thinking, I try to get at the nub of things, to analyze and then articulate what I find as simply, honestly, and artfully as I can.

Diamonds and Lemonade
When the thinking is introspective, my hope is that what I find will be something I am willing and able to submit to God for transformation. He’s in that process; I want to cooperate with Him… to the very end. Think of a sinful man being transformed to be like Jesus where this poem refers to the lump of coal. An old myth says that diamonds come from highly compressed coal.

Stepping back one thought…. One of the my character qualities seriously in need of transformation is kindness. Think of that where I refer to “sugar cane” in this poem. I regularly pray that God will sweeten my other attributes with kindness.

NOTE: I had Susan take this picture of me as I sat in the conservatory of the Blue Fern Inn where we were staying in Tahlequah when we were up there to bury Susan’s Mom.

Please All-Powerful God

Miscellaneous Thoughts

I wrote this partly in response to Mary’s wise and beautiful poem in Luke 1:46-55.

The subject of POWER has been much on my mind, in part because I have been reading Robert Greene’s entertaining but amoral “The 48 Laws of Power.”

I have been thinking about how God-fearers should relate to power. Of all God’s attributes that we can and should reflect, since He made us in His image, this seems to be one of the most dangerous.

[NOTE: I was very intentional with my punctuation, even in introducing ambiguity to the title]

In Time Out of Mind

Commentary

A friend asked me if there should be a comma after time. Here’s what I told him:

The absence of a comma opens this up to at least three interpretations. I know this style’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Are you familiar with ee cummings’ “my father moved through dooms of love“? That poem brings me to tears whenever I read it.

The slight effort of getting past the absence of punctuation in cummings may add to its emotional impact. Speaking of tea…. Coffee is better than tea precisely for its body, that it slides down not so easily.

So, here are some pointers to meaning:

  • “In time” can mean “eventually”
  • “Time out of mind” is unimaginably long, think Eternity.
  • In a polarized world, it is always “us” versus “they” (deeper in grammar, “us” receives the malevolence that “they” inflict — objective vs subjective). I like to think of a time when there is such peace between a broad diversity of people, that all of us are “WE,” and we never even think of “THEM.”
  • Currently, things are not as they should be. Even at home, we know we are not where we wish to be. A time is coming when we’ll be where we long to be. Then and there, we’ll be at ease. Then and there we’ll be content with here and now.
  • Where will we be? In the presence of the One who is making all things new, the One who will satisfy our hopes and dreams. Now, He often seems distant. We refer to Him in second person, as “He.” Then we’ll address Him face-to-face as “You.”

AN ENCHANTING CHILDHOOD

I grew up back when screens were something that kept the bugs out, but never kept the boys in. Out there, in the little yard of the house my parents chose to buy, were plenty of my one request: a climbing tree. On our one-third acre plot, there stood no less than seven giant sycamores. One of them was my favorite, for in its welcome lower branches my older brother built an elevated platform… just for me.

About That Fruitless Tree

Last night, instead of sleeping, my mind was aswirl with thoughts of trees, vines, fruitfulness, and the relationship of these to imago dei. Too often, I have stopped at noting the object (e.g., the persistent tree) without noting its purpose: fruitfulness, provision, generosity like that of the Creator.

“Be fruitful.” “He is like a tree… that yields its fruit.” “Also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”

Forgetful I Wander

Thinking of Abraham, Moses, and others* who thankfully illumine even now.

(background image from Pixabay)

*Poem was my immediate response to a Facebook post by Sten-Erik Armitage, where he wrote

In my pride, I don’t need God. I know better, and I can do it on my own. In my despair, I don’t want God. He doesn’t care, and he couldn’t help me anyway. In cultivating thanksgiving, I recognize my total dependence upon him and grow in humility and peace.

Sten-Erik Armitage

Pinnacle of Creation

I was sitting outside our Air BnB while on vacation in Silverthorne, Colorado. It was a crisp mountain morning. The birds were singing, occasionally geese flew over in formation, and this beautiful mountain filled my view (Red Peak?). But next door, there was a workman happily whistling as he worked outside. He distracted from “nature.” But I knew my being annoyed was wrong. I had to write this rebuke to myself.