He Was Just Glad*

So, weeks ago he sent an e-mail
to an aficionado of Islay Scotch,
the stuff distilled in heavy, heavy

peat bog country almost in the
middle of some nowhere island
off the coast of Scotland and he

heard nothing in return. Look
the guy is of Dutch descent and,
therefore, he is looking for a

bargain and this stuff was judged
best in the world and only costs
$24 a fifth. Still nothing. So he

sent another e-mail asking if the
Dutch-American got the first and
attaching the link to the inform-

ation. Again nothing. And so his
mind went to the worst places,
paranoia set in and he worried

that for some God forsaken reason
he had been ostracized from this
guy and the rest of the guy’s Dutch-

American social circle, perhaps be-
cause of his non-Dutch last name and
his left-leaning religious and pol-

itical views. He knew he should have
kept his mouth shut but after two
or three shots of the guy’s expensive

peat-boggy Scotch…Well. Then he thought
about that breed of Dutch-Americans
and how their ancestors came over

from the Netherlands in 1847 much
to the pleasure and relief of the
rest of the Dutch who stayed behind,

came to the docks to wave goodbye
and threw a party. It’s a quirky
bunch — stiff, religious literalists

and political hyper-conservatives
who hung around the same geography
and intermarried to the point of

raising eyebrows within the local
medical community and then, in his
time of resignation leading to despair

at the possibility of group rejection,
he got an e-mail from the guy thanking
him for the information and he realized

he got the whole thing about the Dutch
wrong, er…mostly, some? He was just
glad to get the e-mail.

*I read the following the day after writing
the poem. I am indebted to Henri Nouwen
for offering, in a meditation, an explanation
of what I was trying to get at in a narrative
poem:

When someone hurts us, offends us, ignores us, or rejects us,
a deep inner protest emerges. It can be rage or depression,
desire to take revenge or an impulse to harm ourselves. We
can feel a deep urge to wound those who have wounded us or
to withdraw in a suicidal mood of self-rejection. Although
these extreme reactions might seem exceptional, they are
never far away from our hearts. During the long nights we
often find ourselves brooding about words and actions we
might have used in response to what others have said or
done to us.

It is precisely here that we have to dig deep into our
spiritual resources and find the center within us, the
center that lies beyond our need to hurt others or
ourselves, where we are free to forgive and love.

Temporary Trip Through Eternity

He loves the Impressionists’
music as meditation,
with seeming simplicity
but deceptive complexity
of melody and harmony,
carrying one into tranquility —
immersion in nature,
rumblings of the sea,
pavanes of broken-hearted love
echoing sweet agony,
the rhythmic repetition
of erotic play.
He is taken away
from the routinized
chaos of the day —
idiotic blather meant to sway
opinions and keep
investigators at bay,
hoards of lemmings following
whatever third-grade talk will say.
Ah, but sweet serenity
is his temporary trip through eternity
until the station plays Tchaikovsky’s
1812 Overture and he is
abruptly brought back to
the harsh reality
of the day
and then he smiles
at the reality
that 1812 was a prelude to
Napoleon meeting his 1815 Waterloo
and he wonders if,  in this day,
as history repeats itself,
that might also be true
and a wannabe Napoleon
will soon meet his own Waterloo.

Speak Truth to Lies

Frederick Buechner wrote:

What makes lying an evil is not only that the world is deceived by it, but that we are dehumanized by it.*

Now think about the president and his sixty million supporters. Through his lying and their acceptance of it and endorsement of it are they dehumanizing the rest of us, dehumanizing to the point of being willing, in fact wanting, to eliminate the rest of us?

We are already seeing the dehumanizing of Blacks, Latinos and Muslims by the president’s lies. Are they being set up for elimination? That is what war does. We dehumanize the “other” in order to destroy that which we dehumanize. That is what happened in Germany in my lifetime. Jews were dehumanized so they could be “eliminated.”

Hitler lied
and the Nazis loved the lie
and millions died.

We can’t laugh off the president’s lies. Do not be deceived by them. The lies are evil and the logical consequence of evil is death.

We are given the gift of speech and with that gift we praise God and curse our neighbor.

Speak truth to lies before the devil stands at the door and knocks pretending to be Jesus.

*originally published in Beyond Words.

Together

Unike the unbiblical notion about Balaam tying his donkey, I tied my 
      ass to a tree and walked a mile and then my ass snapped back;
I would pull my limbs apart at the joints and
      watch and feel them jump back into place;
I would bend my legs forward at the knees doing what they
      weren’t meant to do and they would
spin round and round and flip this way and that
      right back the way they were intended to be; 
I would pull up my knee caps and twist them around each other
      clockwise and watch them fly fast counterclockwise and 
snap back into place; I would bend my fingers back till they 
      touched the top of my hand; I would let them sit there for 
awhile and then I would give them permission to go back to 
      the way they needed to be for me to type this;
Now, I don’t do any of those things (I actually never did); 
      I’m just glad most of me is still fitting pretty well together 
without tugging and pulling or pushing and shoving.

 

Struggling

I have read three meditations
this morning, ironically all

dovetailing in the topic of
compassion and the question,

“Who is my neighbor?”. Now,
I will turn to the headlines

of the day and read about
the movers and shakers and

their idle antics and struggle
to muster compassion for those

I have an incredibly hard
time seeing as my neighbor

and who surely wouldn’t
see me as one of theirs.

Bleep!

We’re going through the motions,
trying not to think about our emotions
but there are those nagging commotions
that are the kiss of death to romantic notions.

We aren’t getting enough sleep
for thoughts and fears do creep
into our hearts and minds so deep.
It doesn’t even help to count sheep.

It’s all the events of the damnable day,
to which we shout — bleep, bleep, bleeple-dee bleep!

Out of Nowhere

Out of nowhere the image that
popped into his mind was an
evening, English class on
Shakespeare when he was
in junior college. It was a year
after his dad died brutally
by his own hand. It wasn’t
exactly a time of security and
serenity in his life but, obviously,
that class and that professor
left a comforting image. That
tells him something about
the absence of security and
serenity and comfort now in
a, basically, leaderless country
that the comfort would come
from a time of such utter
vulnerability — that life for
a lonely, scared kid compared
well to now.

life floats by*

life floats by;
home movies by
the sea;
tragedy strikes;
a beautiful woman,
young mother of five,
suffers a debilitating
stroke;
her husband
remains faithful;
home movies in the nursing
home;
he dies prematurely —
exhausted? heartbroken?
woman’s parents help;
children are afraid
of the debilitated
woman;
where’s mother?
some leave;
years later,
a son returns —
tentatively;
he keeps visiting;
she drools;
they talk
through a machine;
she misses her
husband always;
they hug;
they laugh;
they kiss;
he’s home
by the sea.
life floats by.

*idea from the short film
Rewind Forward

Liking or Loving — What is a Christian To Do?*

Where did Jesus say that we are to like our neighbor?

Fortunately, I have neighbors I like and who, presumably, like me,
but in Christian terms, that’s all beside the point.

What really counts is loving the neighbors you don’t like and, yes,
I have some of those, too.

And who’s a neighbor? People in the neighborhood? Within geographical
proximity? How about two neighborhoods over? How about in the next county,
state, nation? Jesus broke down the dividing wall of hostility, so, in
that sense, the world is my neighborhood.

The caveat is that it is actually, pretty easy to get along with people
at a distance, because we don’t have to deal with their idiosyncrasies
often or at all. They are distant neighbors and I am naively free to
idealize how much I would get along with them and how much I would care
for them and how much I would be willing to help them if the need arose.

The real rub is the couple across the street, down the road, up the avenue who…
well, I won’t go into details.

So, what do I have to do in relation to them? Like them and their behavior? No.
Get along as far as it depends on me, I suppose, but actually love them, not
in some, schlocky, sentimental way, which, by the way, isn’t love. It’s schlocky
sentimentality.

I’m supposed to love them as in an action verb, do what I can for them,
help them, care for them in an agape way — a self-sacrificial way as
the need may present itself, put their concerns and needs ahead of mine.
Not imposing myself, of course. There is nothing worse than the imposition of
care. For instance, after my late wife died, there was one person who
needed desperately to reach out and express concern for me, not for me,
but for herself and her image of herself as a compassionate caregiver.
It was really irritating, but I just let it happen (in part because I
just didn’t have the energy to object) and eventually the communication
came to an end.

Perhaps, the best way to love the people we don’t like is simply to leave
them alone until a need arises that requires action on our part to help
them in their need whatever that need may be.

I’ll give you one example as a hypothetical: there are two people
in the neighborhood who don’t get along. One needed a bone marrow
transplant. The other offered his marrow. He was tested, there was a
match and the procedure, a less than pleasant one, and, in fact,
a potentially dangerous one for the donor, was performed. The procedure
was a success and the patient lived. Afterward, they still may
not like each other very much, although, I can’t believe there
wouldn’t be some kind of affection or at least appreciation developed,
but that, too, is beside the point.

The donor loved his neighbor and, in the end, that’s what counts.

Now, let’s take that beyond one to one to a systemic level —
political level, societal level, cultural level, economic level.
How do we treat all within our country? Do our laws defend all?
Do our economic policies aid all, lift all, prosper all?

As a country, how do we view other countries, societies, cultures?
How do we love others? How do we show compassion? Perhaps
living a philosophy of enlightened self-interest is the most
we can muster most of the time and that’s pretty good, but
what about when more than that is called for? Can we act
in ways that reveal to others that we genuinely care and are
willing to act in sacrificial ways for them. Does our foreign
aid go to the neediest countries, for instance?

What about care and compassion for the very creation, the
earth? Are we loving the environment? Are we restraining
ourselves and our wants and our lifestyle for the sake of
preserving nature? Do our policies exploit or enhance creation?

There are those who say that Christian compassion is limited
to personal, one-on-one relationships but is not applicable or
practical beyond that. I’m not advocating indoctrination,
rather, common humanitarian compassion evidencing itself in
international relations. Living out of genuine concern for the
welfare of others rather than out of fear of the other.

I’m not advocating naiveté regarding political realities,
but acting in ways toward others as we would like to be
treated, caring for those in need as we would want to be
cared for in our need.

Jimmy Carter, thirty-nine years ago, delivered a wake-up
call to the nation (https://www.salon.com/2018/07/15/jimmy-carter-reflects-on-a-lifetime-under-trump-the-government-is-worse-than-it-has-been-before/).
He spoke of how our values are being eroded in selfishness, greed
and consumption. Today, he says it is worse than it was when
he delivered that truthful assessment on our culture. Jimmy Carter
lives out his Christian compassion on a personal
level, but he advocates for systems which reflect
the values of compassion, selflessness and care.

We don’t have to like everybody, but, for those of
us who seek to follow Jesus, we do have to love
everyone.

*idea from a Frederick Buechner meditation on love

A Safe, Sacred Place

An older man once told him when he was
only twelve that a woman’s vagina was a

dirty place. He didn’t know what to make
of that except that it didn’t sound right

coming from that older man. When he was
a young man, he heard another man, a

famous actor whose name he can’t recall,
say, in an interview, that women’s vaginas

are like a shark’s mouth with teeth point-
ing backwards waiting to shred flesh. That

sounded just awful. He recoiled upon hearing
that. Recently, another man, a married man

with grown children, told him he thought
women’s vaginas were ugly. Upon hearing

that he wondered if that man were a closeted
gay. The only thing he has ever experienced

as a man is the warm, moist, beautiful love
of his love’s vagina, a safe, sacred place.