The Last Line

Most biographies end badly. It didn’t help that I was already unaccountably sad* yesterday as I listened to the final chapters of Alister McGrath’s biography “C.S. Lewis – A Life.” Lewis had beautiful things to say about the resurrection. But they were barely acknowledged or reflected in his final days, at least as recorded by McGrath.

To be fair, I was LISTENING to the Audible version of McGrath’s book. At the close of the audio version, there were two recordings of Lewis which somewhat brightened my perspective on his death.

About the image above: I stopped and took this photo while I was walking and listening to the biography. The flowers are Rain Lilies. When park maintenance comes and mows down all the wildflowers, these flowers spring up quickly, especially if there is any rain. They seem apropos the subject.

*I began a poem while walking and listening to the final chapters of Lewis’ biography:
The End of Biography
How can it be so humid
In this arid place?
The rain within me
Wants to fall,
And surely will
Before the day is done.

The story I have finished now
Is of a man who died.
Oh sure, he lived,
And still his fame endures…
But after all he died.
And so will you,
And so will I.

Death, for now,
Is the final chapter
Of all biography.

The Weirdo’s Might

Does your contribution in this world seem laughable or small? This one’s for you. Stand up to your mocking self!

I suspect almost ALL of us feel odd at times. Lately, I have felt odd on many an occasion as I work at this art of poetry. Other poets assure me that it isn’t always necessary for us to fully understand what we write in our own poems. Often we’re trying to access and express thoughts buried deep inside. The words may or may not perfectly match the thoughts. My expectation is that as I continue practicing, there will be an increasing correspondence in thoughts and words. In the meantime, I sometimes feel like a blathering fool… one of God’s unaffiliated odd fellows.

But I do believe my circumstances and desires are being orchestrated by God’s good will; working at poetry is something I’m supposed to do. To what avail? I don’t know. It doesn’t seem likely that I’ll ever be good enough to publish. Here’s a theory: I often ask God to increase my ability to teach important truths. Perhaps the writing of poetry is making me more sensitive to truth and beauty. Perhaps I’m learning to convey that truth and beauty in a way that breaks through to others’ hearts.

God forgive me if I’m simply delusional!

A Sonnet for Cecile

(This poem USED to follow the rules for a Shakespearean sonnet. But forty years later, I have forgotten a few words and four lines! They were important to the flow and form, but probably added nothing to the sentiment. I was a freshman in college when I wrote this for an English course. It recalled the powerful crush I had on a girl who worked with me at a summer camp. She was older than me, beautiful and charming beyond description. When the summer passed, she returned to her home in the city, and shy young Brad — still working at the camp — could only watch for the ghost of her memory.)

I read the claim that “seasons rule man’s heart”
And thought, “Absurd! I know that cannot be!
Such stuff is nothing but poetic art
For mine was ne’er affected one degree!”

“My heart in dead of winter, as in spring
Has always changeless been despite the time!
Such stuff is used for rhyme
By poets who in fact don’t mean a thing.”

And still I’d think the poets’ claim untrue,
Had I not spent this Fall apart from you.

— Brad Hepp, Fall of 1978

Young Friends

Listen:

Commentary

I won’t embarrass the young people I wrote this for by telling you their names. Suffice it to say that it is a young man and his girlfriend. They got to know each other at a time when both were dealing with anxiety. Their kindness to one another was soothing, leading in time to genuine love (affection coupled with determined efforts to seek the good of the loved one). Buoyed by countless long conversations, they have each grown stronger, assured of the love and support that overcomes anxiety.

But life continues to be hard. Pressures abound. Schoolwork is taxing. Other responsibilities pile on with each year of young life. What this poem advocates is that my young friends face those pressures, spend the time and mental/emotional energy that is demanded of them now without resorting to the comfort they have come to know in each other’s presence (physical and virtual, thanks to the Internet). In devoting time to their duties, they are not denying the affection they have for one another, but investing in themselves, investing in the valuable person they are, the valuable person loved by the other.

In a storm, darkness and curtains of rain may limit how far we see, but hearing our friend calling out encouragement is a powerful aid. I like to imagine some code phrase like, “Together through the storm!” Literally. I like to imagine a literal phrase that conveys love in other “mere” words… think of “As you wish” in The Princess Bride. With encouragement like that, the storm loses it’s power. It may separate for a time, but it cannot ultimately separate those whose love for one another was forged by its menace, those who learned there is something more powerful than a storm.

The Greatest Lump of Coal

Listen:

Commentary

[NOTE: The following is not yet edited; it’s a first go at wrangling my thoughts. Call it meditation.]
I am slowing working my way through Paul’s letter to the Galatians. As I do so, I’m trying to extract principles that apply in the context of my own life. I ask myself, “If Paul were writing to fellow Christians in the United States of America in 2019, how would he frame the argument? Would the motivations of people who are drawn to political poles be called into question by Paul’s arguments? Do we base our righteousness on identification with lesser things?”

This morning, I was in verse 10 of the first chapter: “or am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” I asked myself, “Do I take sides in a perishing system because I want to please man, to feel righteous based on the ideas I hold?”

I thought about Paul’s pre-salvation rise in the ranks of Pharisees. He surely was advancing because he was zealous. But how much of that zeal was motivated by a desire to impress other Pharisees? Today we might use the term “virtue signaling.”

That was the general setting. In the poem, I focused more tightly on the ambition to be someone “great.” This idol has been on my mind a lot lately. The poem pokes fun at me. The greatness I aspire to (even in last gasps) is not greatness. Relative to true brilliance, we are all 99.9% darkness.

Busyness

Listen:


Commentary

My son Joshua helped illustrate this poem. Let me first clarify that his artwork (and this style in general) is NOT the problem addressed by the poem. In fact, the process of drawing such a complex design can afford time and mental space to be contemplative, to “listen, feel, and face.”

Here’s how I tentatively explained the poem to Joshua (you may notice that I’m still struggling to understand this poem myself)….

“a tendency divine”
God designed us to relate to Himself, with creativity, a desire to work and build. But as with so many other things, we pervert those qualities. We abuse the qualities. Instead of finding a balance of work and rest, we work all the time. God offers a Sabbath, promising that He’ll supply what we would have produced in that period of rest. Instead, we work straight through. We also let the qualities draw attention to the creation instead of to the Creator. While we could stop to enjoy the complexity of His creations, we instead busy ourselves building and admiring our own creations. In a hundred other ways, we say to God, “Thanks, but no thanks. I’m kind of busy supplying for myself, expressing myself, making sure that others recognize how great I am. Catch you later, pal.”

“To fill each void”
Jesus wasn’t impressed with the elaborate prayers of religious would-be leaders. He taught his disciples to pray simple prayers of dependence. He wasn’t impressed with the self-satisfied, self-righteous, and judgmental religion of many grown ups, so He taught his discples they’d better come to Him with the simple dependance and delight that characterize children.

“We fear”
Why do we blow off the opportunity to breathe, to take it easy with our Heavenly Father? One reason may be that we don’t trust Him to prevent catastrophe. We think our security depends on us. Approaching the rim of a Grand Canyon, we doubt that He’ll hold our hand, and so we run back to the safety of the Visitor Center. There, surrounded by gee-gaws of plastic, we need not fear the hardness of rocks in the chasm below.

“In time, the power fails”
But God is a good Father. One way or another, He’ll take us to the rim. It may be when a storm damages the electrical grid. It may be when age, disease, or exhaustion leave us dependant on Him.

Grand Canyon photo by “Pexels” on Pixabay. I personally have never been to the Grand Canyon. It seems like a vast depression to me. Perhaps someday….

Thus Far Half, Not Yet Whole

Listen:

This old sign tapped me on the shoulder as I walked by yesterday: “Remember me? Sure, you may see better now (slightly better than a newborn kitten), and judge less harshly. But you’re also prone to forget.” Thank you, Seven.

Oh yeah… There is milepost three. Still standing:

Think Again, Proud Leader

Listen:

Not about anyone you know. Just someone in the carousel of pride and humility set in motion before my eyes. Underlying image by Enrique Lopez Garre on Pixabay.

This poem refers to someone you almost certainly do not know. Don’t even TRY to guess who—you won’t get it right. He appears in the carousel of prideful men and humble men the Lord has lately set in motion before my eyes… pride and humility in the mirror and lessons of life. Underlying image by Enrique Lopez Garre on Pixabay.

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Terra Dominus


As mentioned in an earlier post, I have recently begun thinking about GREED, and how it relates to other sins. While close friends know that I’m a hopeful “glass one-fifth full” sort of guy, I do also acknowledge the four-fifths empty. I am a sinner saved by grace, and am never surprised to discover how utterly sinful I am (and so I’m pleased at any progress!).

This pondering of greed began as a reaction. Some who believe differently than I do accuse “my side” of hypocrisy. “We” dwell on certain sins but completely ignore others. I considered using discussion of greed as a thought experiment, frankly a trap: what if I were to promote greed, insist on equal treatment of greedy people, call for greedy pride parades? You can guess where that was going (and now it will not serve as a trap). But by God’s grace, the thought experiment got out of control.

I’d Better Work Hard So Later I Can Play

Some days, the thoughts I think
Line up like singers in a talent show.
Today is such a day.

If only I could walk and write!
But duty I put off too long
Now binds me to my desk.

I went to bed last night with a friend’s poem on my mind. Combine that with my having just wrapped up designing the cover of a Spanish book (more about that later) and I really did have the dream I describe below. I also woke up this morning with the dread of having to make up for months of procrastination: with taxes due in just a few days, I’ll be putting in a marathon of accounting and tax preparation. Such a situation seems to fire up my creative side, apparently desperate to justify yet another day of procrastination. I got up and jotted down the following lines with barely any thought:

The Dream I Had Last Night



The dream I had last night…
(So very strange!)
Was all about the title of a book
Spelled out like corn maze
On the spine of hillside’s gentle slope.
My friends and I descended
One by one, or sometimes all together
Through those living words.
But only as the day grew long
And air a bit more cool
Did we slow down enough
To fill that shape and take its form.

And then I woke, with this in mind:
That I — along with friends —
AM being formed
By process hard to get my head around.
AM being formed
By One who wrote the book
And knows its title well.

Don’t ask too many questions
For answers I don’t know:
“This ‘book,’ and ‘title’ —
What are they?”
I only know
I’m being formed
By One who wrote the book
And knows the answers well.

A Meditation



(on words at the dawn of time)

We speak of people, places, things
And designate them “nouns.”

But when at first they saw the light
We might as well have called them “verbs.”

“Flute,” He said, and flute, she sang.
“Tintinnabulation!”
Silver bells, they rang.

Without the word was nothing made
Of all we see them DO.

In that beginning, words became;
Verbish nouns devoid of shame,
Naked thought, running free!

“Flower!” He said
And just like that
Rose petals filled the land.

They knew that every word He spoke
Implied His kind command.

To be is to become, you see.
The nouns, they know this well.
A wave is not a wave
Unless its waters swell.

And humans are not really human
Unless they’re humans being.

“So what,” you’ll say,
“If nouns obey?
What’s implied for me?”

Nounish you may think yourself.
Verbose you’re meant to be.

In fullness of Imago Dei,
A mystery:

Don’t you see?
You speak,
And so, thereby,
Does HE.

And when thereby
He speaks,
So, thereby
DOES He.


NOTES: I imagine a time — when time began — when nouns were not mere nouns. That was long before anyone thought it necessary or even logical that “actions speak louder than words.” That divorce came later.

What’s implied by the phrase “God IS love?” Indirectly, this poem explores that concept.

March 11, 2019 rumination: On Sunday, I had to do the scripture reading: John 14:8-14. One verse was difficult to read: “10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.” See that odd juxtaposition? “words I say / Father… doing his work.” Reading this, I couldn’t help but think of the odd last two stanzas of my poem. God does/works through the Son’s speaking. In verse twelve Jesus says, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” Two verses later, Jesus promises, “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” The Father’s doing, Jesus’ doing, our doing all get jumbled up. And the doing is related to saying/asking in unusual ways. I HAVE NOT GOTTEN TO THE BOTTOM OF THIS.

The photograph used in the featured image (shown below, but mainly for social media) was taken by Dimitris Vetsikas, of Cyprus. He generously posted the photograph on Pixabay.

A Cautionary Tale

(of how we fill our lives)


He filled his pack with bubble wrap
And set off on the trail.
Thus equipped, the carefree sap
Was sure he could not fail.

So light his step,
Straight his back,
His shoulders fresh and strong…
Up steepest trail he fairly floated
Warbling his song:

“For times like these I was set free,
So tell me not that I must care
For all your drudgery.
La di da, twiddle dee!
Like all the birds that sing above
For this I was set free!”

Just as the sun
Behind the mountain
Took her cooling plunge,
Approaching alpine glade he sang,
“So high and far I’ve come;
Dee dum, dee dum, dee dum!”

Feasting eyes on matted grass
The clever lad observed,
“Here the elk bed down to sleep,
And therefore, so shall I.”

Lying there, in bubbles wrapped,
The lad soon fell asleep.
But wasn’t long into the night
That hunger pains began to gnaw,
Bitter cold to creep.

He reached into his empty pack
In search of something, any? thing?
Of all he did not bring
To serve as food and warmth.

Somewhere
In that frigid night
His soul above him floated,
Warbling her song:

“For times like these I was set free
So tell me not that I must care
For all your drudgery.
La di da, twiddle dee!
Like all the birds that sing above
For this I was set free!”

Then, looking down from whence she’d come,
“Die dumb, die dumb, die dumb!
On matted grass, eternal bed,
La he died — twiddle dead.”

– Brad Hepp (2019)

This silly poem was inspired by Psalm 16:2: “I say to the LORD, ‘You are my LORD; I have no good apart from you.'” How much of my day is spent pursuing “good” apart from the Lord, doing things that seem pleasant, but which He has not given me to do? Such folly invites the fate of a mountain climber who chooses to pack only what lightens his load.

As much as he’d probably prefer to deny it, Don Regier helped me with a few of the lines.

here’s the image I used for this poem

Earth to Sky: “Hello?”

This is a sad time for many I love. The pain is shared and felt deeply, but need not be without purpose.

The poem was a response to what I observed in myself as I contemplated the tragic drowning of a friend’s 4-year-old son. For over a week, I — along with thousands across the globe — was praying for this child to recover. When God did not grant our prayer, I didn’t know quite what to do with my own response. To act as if I didn’t have disappointment was surely not healthy. Elephants in the rooms I share with ever-present God are silly creatures. Some response — if merely a poem of lament — was necessary.

This is a sad time for many I love. The pain is shared and felt deeply, but need not be without purpose.

This Pleasant Plain

This evening, I leaned heavily on a friend for his perspective and advice. As with all wise men, he listened as much as he talked. Good questions are hard to formulate; good answers, harder still. The photo is of the Sangre de Cristos, taken on the return from one of my many mountain-climbing trips.

I read the poem to my friend. As a veteran of many climbs, he recognized the imagery. More importantly, as a veteran of the deepest valleys he recognized questions and opportunity that come when we reach inflection points in life.

This evening, I leaned heavily on a friend for his perspective and advice. As with all wise men, he listened as much as he talked. Good questions are hard to formulate; good answers, harder still. The photo is of the Sangre de Cristos, taken on one of our many mountain climbing trips.

Alone at the Lake

It was wet, cold, and windy at the lake today… almost as good as a hike in the mountains.

This is a poem that took its own shape as I wrote… NOT what I set out to write. In the small group materials that Dave Carr and Sten-Erik Armitage prepared for our church, they quoted Alvin Plantinga articulating this striking truth: “The chief difference between Christianity and the other theistic religions lies just here: the God of Christianity is willing to enter into and share the sufferings of his creatures, in order to redeem them and his world. Of course this doesn’t answer the question why does God permit evil? But it helps the Christian trust God as a loving father, no matter what ills befall him.” That’s a truth I need to reflect on more often and more deeply.

It was wet, cold, and windy at the lake today… almost as good as a hike in the mountains.