Drawbridge

I seem to see a bridge among the clouds,

gapping a gaping chasm in between

two thunderheads so solemn gray and mean.

Yet sheared by winds and smeared by vortices

it soon retracts and furls its welcome in,

perhaps that cloud committed mortal sin.
 

Autumn

It is autumn

and the slanting air and sunlight

tell me that the world is tipping back

towards winter.

It is autumn

and the rhythm and the rhyme of

classes taught and taken

drum along.

It is autumn

and the projects of the summer

and its dreams and aspirations lie

half-done.

It is autumn

and the changing of the leaves

in other places far away

pulls my heart.

It is autumn

and there is nothing so fine

as to share a morning and coffee and talk

with you.

The Weeds

The weeds in my garden rise up against me

as accusers of my sloth and indolence.

Their gauzy yellow heads bear fruit,

to my despair,

among my carrots

and beets

and the spinach I use for omlettes.

I cannot answer the God who raised them up,

these adversaries round about,

because I have failed in my calling

as a man,

as a gardener,

to keep them at bay by diligent care and scorn of slack.

But I look up to God on the Cross,

and fall at His pierced feet

and beg mercy, Lord,

for my little faith,

for my sins abundant as, and for,

the weeds in my garden.

Two Songs

I cannot sing the modern world -
the world unmade by man
and dragged through philosophy and deceit
behind the iron horse,
drawn and quarterly dividended,
bull and bears**t smeared across the face
of the made-up deep-throat media man
seeking ratings and euphoria at the
expense of truth and the legitimate uses of a
hypodermic needle.
Manself unmade is mute and none will mourn.

I can sing the only world made by my God,
and brother sun and sister moon, made rulers
with me therein, and friends, companions, all
unsuitable, the beats and fish and fowl, and
that one companion meet for me,
not any other than her whose belly is a heap of wheat
smoothed down with weight and love and child,
and Christ the elder brother and the Spirit,
that life that deepdown things believe
and all true poets sing back the only king.
That I can sing.

Two Years Ago

Two years and three quarters of  a day ago today
the world was seven-hundred and thirty revolutions unwound
and had seen four fewer transits each
of aphelion and perihelion.

Two years and one half of a day ago today
I was a young man
with a reasonably new
house, job, degree,
a very pregnant wife,
a nearly-two son,
a brother and family in Carolina,
and in Tucson,
a mother,
and a father,
sleeping soundly in bed.

Two years and one quarter of a day ago today
the September sky was beginning to wake,
almost to wingshooting light,
and the still morning was tangled
by phone calls and knocks on the door
and a hasty breakfast,
which made no dent in the
sick hollow of my stomach
(and my wife could not eat).

Two years ago today
we were gathered around
my mother, a widow,
fielding phone calls and questions
because somehow the news had not
been telegraphed around the world
that my father was dead, so we had to
explain,
and explain,
and (worst) explain carefully
to a nearly-two-year-old
that Grandpa was with Jesus.

Two years less a half a day ago today
we were going to bed
in the house I grew up in
(that my father built)
and were variously processing
the whiplash of a sudden death,
dropped down from heaven,
an unexpected anvil,
two years ago today.

The Spanking Verses

Not my turn of phrase, but a good one.  In question are:

Folly is bound up in the heart of a child,
but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.
Prov. 22:15


Do not withhold discipline from a child;
if you strike him with a rod, he will not die.
Prov. 23:13

The rod and reproof give wisdom,
but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother.
Prov. 29:15

and finally, 

Discipline your son, for there is hope;
do not set your heart on putting him to death.
Prov. 19:18

The overriding practical question is whether to use hitting as a means of discipline. I am deliberate in that word choice, because it is physically descriptive, and has fewer connotations than some of the other options (on either side of the question).

History seems firmly on the side of disciplinary hitting, and it is often risky to part ways with the ancients.  Couple this with the seemingly straightforward reading of the above verses, and the question seems open and shut.  The only remaining issue is a question of tactics and timing, right?

The conservative Christian camp is also fairly unanimous in the employment of hitting, and is spurred on by the resistance to the practice from a sick and secular world that is always pushing to weaken and usurp the rightful role of the family. And this is often true enough.

So what is the issue? What do I think the discussion has omitted?

"If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, and they shall say to the elders of his city, 'This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.' Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear." Deut. 21:18-21

I do not think that the foregoing discussion adequately considers the gravity of the laws of ancient Israel.  The death penalty was an available option for parents to employ against an intractable child.  We today like to read the spanking verses through the foggy glasses of metaphor, thinking about not condemning our children to lives of dissipation or something. This does no justice to the texts imploring against putting the child to death by stoning.

A related line of reasoning begs for a reconsideration of the notion of "the rod".  For those blissfully unaware of it, there exists a hitting tool so named, marketed to parents as a discreet, flexible, and effective whacking strop.  We are all very familiar with the twenty-third psalm, and I hope the incongruity of those images is not lost on you.  Does the shepherd carry a rod to whap the sheep when they get out of line?  David is very clear to Saul that his rod was turned against lion and bear and Philistine. Jesus is very clear about what the shepherd does with the stray sheep, carrying it back on his shoulder and rejoicing.

Are there circumstances that call for a physical intervention? Yes, plainly. Are there circumstances that call for hitting? I have not found any yet.  That is not to say that I have never used hitting for discipline, because I am an impatient sinner, but those times were not successful.  Sin lives in the heart, and hitting the body is not clearly addressing the issue. 

Ah, but it may be levied that I was inconsistent. Had I hit the same every time, there would be obedience.  This is true.  There is no argument - hitting is good coercion. But I assert that it is bad discipline. The consistency that would help is consistency in my voice, my disposition, my prayer for my children, and the consistency to point my children to Christ when they sin.

Compliance is a woefully inadequate and dangerous goal for our children. It may make us feel good, and it may get us praise for our well-ordered family and home, but compliance is skin-deep.  As soon as restraint falls away, so, often, do the children. I have witnessed this too frequently, typically correlated with the first year of college.  

If children know that they can think from an early age, they may let us help them explore the difficult parts of life.  They will know that we want their good. They will know that we point them to Jesus. If all we ever asked for was compliance, and all we ever pointed to was our "parental prerogative", we have no reason to expect our children to suddenly mature, love Jesus, and love us when they move out.

So let us act in love, if Christ has first loved us. And let us begin showing that love in our home, to our family.  That is our great parental prerogative. Let's use it.

Hagiography

We stood together,
or better, I stood by her stroller,
an incongruous American
beneath fourteen centuries of Bulgar brick,
slow-roasted by the candles
and gently eroded by the ever-rising prayers.

We listened together,
and I know she heard well,
for most anything wakes her,
to the peal and the rumble and the clear high tenor
singing to God and pleading mercy from the Lamb
same chant, same mercy, new every morning.

We looked together,
(but here I truly exaggerate,
for her hat slipped over her eyes - it was cold out),
at the gold and silver icons of the saints,
with round eyes and folded hands,
meeting death for their Lord in quiet submission and plain lines.

We left together,
past the historical plaques and gift shop,
where I bought a disc, "Penance, Lent, Resurrection",
and we stepped out into the cold city air,
a lanky American beside her round Roma eyes and folded caramel hands,
to face life for our Lord in quiet submission and plain lines.

Far Off, and Deep

After listening to Pauline Oliveros and the Deep Listening Band - The Ready Made Boomerang

Sit stock still and sense,
reaching back into the formless
and void un-world that never was,
before time
and sense
and light.
I catch you
eavesdropping on silence,
and peering through cracked curtains
into blindness,
walking in the well-worn way
of lonely individual art.
Would you look into this world?
Will you fall through the kaleidoscope,
shattered into shards,
but brilliantly colored?

Will you ever return?

That which has been is far off and deep,
very deep;
who can know it?

Merit and Jesus: From Slaves to Sons

Simeon's exclamation has intrigued me ever since I looked at the Greek - he addresses God as Lord, but using δέσποτα, despot.  He calls himself a servant, using δοῦλόν, slave.  Simeon's words always rang harsh in my ears - is it right to call God a despot?  Knowing that Simeon was a devout man, waiting for the consolation of Israel, would you call him a slave?

But last evening at church, I thought about Galatians.  Paul declares in 4:1:     I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father.
   
Paul speaks of the heir of the covenant (Israel) as no different than a slave - a δούλος - until the date set by his father.  Simeon seems to have realized this dynamic, knowing far better than the Pharisees ("we are Abraham's children and have never been slaves to anyone!") what the condition of Israel truly was.  They were slaves, held under the Mosaic law, slaves to sin, which seized opportunity through the righteous law to kill them. 

Paul does not address only the law-slavery in Galatians 4 - he goes on to discuss the pagan slavery to those which are not gods, under which slavery died all from Adam to Moses, and all those outside the reach of the Mosaic law.  You are a slave to whom you serve.  The nations were enslaved in serving sin, idols, pleasure, debauchery, power, etc. (I'm still reading Plutarch's Lives, if you want any examples).  The Jews, however, were enslaved under the law.  They served YHWH!  They were forbidden from serving other masters, but God constituted them as his own spoil when he led them out of Egypt with an upheld arm.  God was to be king over them, and they were to be his people, his prized possession.  This is a glorious thing - redemption always is - but it is a shadow of the glory that would be revealed in Christ.  

In Christ, we have received the adoption as sons.  We have received the inheritance, the promised Holy Spirit as earnest, and the promise of the New Jerusalem.  The slaves have departed in peace, and the Father now welcomes his children, made such by his Son, Jesus.  All this because of Christ's obedience to the tutor, the law, which he kept on behalf of his Israel.  If the Mosaic Law did not create a works-based system (subservient to the greater scheme of grace, promised to Adam, Abraham, etc.), what is Paul worried about in Galatians?  Why worry about fulfilling various cultural-now-if-formerly-cultic practices like circumcision?  Clearly, Paul was OK with that sort of thing, vis-a-vis his shaved head and vows in Jerusalem and elsewhere. 

But Paul did those things with no idea of associating them with righteousness. 

The Galatians were associating the practice of Jewish ceremony with legal righteousness.

Paul says they are going backwards

Therefore, they were rightly interpreting the law - but abandoning the gospel!

Now, I must immediately qualify my assertion that they were rightly interpreting the law by asking you to engage in an exercise.  Imagine yourself a Hebrew just after Sinai, having seen all the plagues (both on Egypt and on the rebellious Israelites).  Would you think that you had to keep the law given by Moses?  I hope so!  Would you think you could perfectly keep it?  I hope not!  That chasm is bridged by grace.  Maybe you would comfort yourself with thoughts of Abraham and the promise - God is going to make us a people, OK, that's good, but I suppose it will happen in spite of ourselves...

This personal consideration should resonate with us - must we be holy as our Father in heaven is holy?  Yes!  Can we?  No!  But Christ has redeemed us, so we can walk with God in Him, not of ourselves.  Only, the church has no Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerazim.  The church has no promised land in which she reigns, but from which she may be vomited out if she is found in violation of the terms of the covenant.  The church does not lack for sanctions, to be sure, she is called to be governed by Christ, through His under-shepherds.  Individuals may be cast out, churches may have their lamp removed from the stand, but: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
(1 Peter 1:3-5)


Israels' inheritance was the land.  So much of the OT revolves around keeping the inheritance in the family, keeping the line going to possess the inheritance, etc.  But this was a type of heaven.  It could be (and was/is) lost to them.  Can heaven be lost to the believer?  Praise God no!  So, we are not under law, but under grace.  The law, which promised life for obedience, proved to be death because of our failings.  But the grace of Christ, which has been paid for in His obedience, blood and death, delivers life, making us sons.  Praise Jesus!