Monday, September 30, 2013

23 September

This life is loosely woven,
between the threads
we see eternity now and then,
and God shines through purely,
and this life suddenly becomes obvious,
even ostentatious.
How dare we to live?

Tomorrow is a hope,
not a guarantee,
and not,
a toy
to be held on to and clutched
in a greedy hand;
then it will smart
when it is torn away.
How dare we to presume?

Death crouches in the way,
looking for all the world
like it will spring,
and rend us in pieces with none to deliver.

Do you know why it crouches so?
The hand of Christ is on its neck,
twisting ever so slightly,
and Death grimaces in pain,
its days, too, are numbered,
counted off by the same Lord
who came to the end
of the tally
for my father.

The fear of the Lord is clean.   
How dare we to live otherwise?

"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
        be acceptable in your sight,
        O LORD, my rock and my redeemer."

Friday, September 20, 2013

To the Moon - Part 2

He was entirely disappointed to see the elevator open onto a reception area, complete with potted plants, a dish of candy, and a pleasantly-average-looking young lady seated behind a desk.  The sign on her counter identified her as Cheryl.  She looked up and smiled at him as he stepped out of the elevator, rather rumpled, and stuffing his papers back into his bag. 

"Can I help you, sir?" she asked sweetly.

"Maybe, yes.  What floor is this?"

"Floor, sir?  I'm not sure what you mean.  Do you have an appointment?"

"No, well, yes, but not here, I think.  What floor of the building are we on?"

"It's just one level, sir; do you have an appointment?  What's your name?  I can look you up on the schedule."   She blithely opened an appointment book and tapped her pencil in it.

"Crawford, thank you, but I don't think I have my appointment here.  It's on the fourth floor."

"Well, since we only have the one, you'll probably be late!" she giggled.  "I don't see you in here, but the director is available now, if you'd like to step in and see him."

He was entirely puzzled by this turn of events, but following the mantra of an old physics professor "confidence before competence, if you know what I mean", he simply smiled and said "That would be great, thank you, Cheryl."

She bustled out of her seat and over to a heavy mahogany door and knocked twice.  "Come in" boomed a deep, leonine voice.

"Oh good, he'll see you know, sir!  Have a great day!" She bustled back to her desk, and as Crawford walked to the door he saw her pick up a deck of  cards and resume a hand of solitaire.  He pushed the heavy door open, revealing a spacious office, paneled in dark wood, with large, arching windows on the far wall.  Behind a deep desk that had been shaped from a cut round belonging to some giant tree, complete with bark encased under the finish, sat a man in a well-pressed suit, writing furiously with a fountain pen.  He looked up, and his gray eyes clouded.

"I do not believe I have had the pleasure," boomed that deep, rich voice.  The man half rose and extended a meaty hand that engulfed Crawford's and shook it vigorously.

"Crawford, sir, Michael Crawford, of the Fundamental Research division.  I work out at the Palo Alto facility, mostly."

"Crawford, eh!  I've read you, sir, and I'm very glad you stopped by.  I am Delvins, John Delvins, head of the Lunar group.  I was expecting to see the digest of your report today, but you were good enough to come in person.  You've found us out, you have!" Delvins sat back in the brass-studded leather swivel chair and chuckled, interleaving his fingers and shaking his head.

"Found you out, sir?"  Crawford looked sideways at the man behind the desk, then looked straight at the windows behind the man, then stopped breathing.  Out the window, a gray-white plain stretched away into the distance, until a cliff edge shot up abruptly, only to give way to an immensity of blackness rising up above the horizon.  Crawford gulped air a few times, and forced his eyes back to meet the twinkling ones locked on him from behind the cut tree desk.

"Yes, you found us out, you scamp.  Your albedo measurements were too good, and they caught us fiddling with our window shades and radiators.  Of course you did not know that, and your work would have been deliberately dismissed as noisy data, and you would have been frustrated and gotten on with your life, but here you are and now you know!  Now, tell me how you got here."  Delvins pierced him with a glance that was as quizzical as it was accusative, and drummed a tattoo with his giant fingers on the giant tree.

Crawford blinked a few times, and could only fumble out "I took the elevator, sir."

Delvins furrowed his brow and pushed a white button in a perforated brass plate, "Cheryl, is the elevator running?"

A moment, a crackle, then "Yes, sir, it seems so.  The door just opened when I pushed the button."

"Hmm, well that's new.  They ought not to have started service without telling me.  Crawford, they gave you a key?"

"No, sir," stammered Crawford, "I just pushed the button labeled 'MOON', and it went."

"We have a button labeled 'MOON'? This is too much.  Truly?"

"Well, they had taped over the label, but I peeked."

Delvins began to laugh, shaking the chair, the room, the very moon itself.  "You rascal! And those lazy maintenance men!"  Delvins continued his tectonic mirth for some time, before settling down and wiping his eyes with a starched white handkerchief with a golden-stitched JD in the corner.  "Well, Crawford, you work for me now.  Congratulations."

Crawford found himself entirely without confidence or competence, and could only shake the proffered hand and mumble a thank-you.  He was entranced by the window, by the arid stark moonscape made so simple when framed by potted plants, by the star field that was just visible around the edges of the black and sunlight sky, and by the confounded familiarity which this man Delvins had with it all.  Crawford had studied the moon since boyhood, joining astronomy clubs, buying and upgrading his telescopes, taking a degree in astrophysics with honors, working for the CPI for six years, and this man Delvins officed on the moon.  It was almost too much.

"Crawford, go talk to Cheryl about your first-day packet and get an office set up.  I'll want you up to speed soon, but you have a good background, and I don't doubt that you will be a fine addition to my department.  And..."  Here his voice dropped and he leaned over the desk, wagging a menacing finger at Crawford's chest  "up here, do not push any buttons unless you know what they do!"  He chuckled as he sat back down and turned his attention back to his writing, scribbling away on cream-colored paper like a man possessed.  Crawford turned and slowly walked out of the office, casting a lingering glance out those tall windows and into space.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

To the Moon - Part 1

Cold concrete gave way to the bright steel of the elevator as he stepped over the threshold and into the box.  Thankfully, it played no music.  His appointment was on the fourth floor, at two o'clock.  His watch read quarter to two.  He had time, and he had never visited this facility before.  The panel of smooth, round buttons lay before him invitingly, there were many, many levels to the Center for Planetary Innovation; some were labeled ominously and had no button; "Disjunction Level" in particular intrigued him, but alas, no button.  Impatiently, the doors slid closed.

Towards the top of the panel he saw a button with a taped-over label.  The tape read "NO SERVICE", but he worked the edge loose with his thumbnail and, to his delight, saw graven in the simple sans-serif elevator font the word "MOON".  He pushed it.  The little circle around it lit up blue, and he smiled.

Nothing happened.

He rocked up on his toes to see if he could sense any appreciable acceleration, but he could not.  Gravity felt normal.  He sighed, looking again at his watch.  He had ten minutes now, so he ought to just report in on the fourth floor and make his presentation.  It was not a very good presentation, merely a summary of his research activities over the past month, wherein he had found little of note concerning time-dependent albedo variations in the Mare Tranquillitatis.  They were small, they were aperiodic, and the best he could say was that they might have to do with unexpected absorption and emission bands of particles entrained in the solar wind; this was as much as to say he had no idea.  He pressed the button for the fourth floor.

Curiously, it blinked red, then went out.  The button labeled "MOON" remained highlighted in blue.  He blinked, and rocked on his toes again.  Nothing much. He checked his watch, and tried the door-open button.  Still nothing.

He was caught quite off-guard, then, when he slammed into the ceiling of the elevator five minutes later.  He was less surprised, though still rattled, when he thudded back to the floor of the elevator, his bag splattering him with paper and pencils, and his lunch quite crushed by its brief stint as a shock absorber for his laptop.  With a cheerful ding, the floor indicator said MOON and the door slid open.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


Little wooly sheep,
straggle north by the thousand,
shadow hills below.

Ragged-edged, drifting,
shapes caressed by quiet wind,
troves of rain and cool.

Scattered blue-sky flock,
fading in the distant east,
who will lead you home?

Friday, September 6, 2013

Imago Dei

Burgers sizzled, potatoes were chopped into fries in one fell swoop, and the general din of In-n-Out Burger simmered all around us.  My son stood up on the bench next to me, flirting with an older lady through the glass half-panel; my wife and I chatted over our burgers and fries, pausing to share with Junior or take sips of icewater.  Seated across from my son's target and her husband were two young men, of college age, both wearing very nice watches and with well-groomed hair.  They had been there when we arrived, deep in conversation; they would be there when we left, deep in conversation; the nice older lady would cast a bittersweet, lingering glance at my son and pregnant wife as we walked out the door.  What can never be...

"Mom, Dad, I'm gay" is probably a sentence that keeps many Christian parents awake at night.  What do you do?  What do you say?  What did you do wrong?  How could you have missed the signs?  This isn't OK.  Is it OK?  What will this do to our relationship?  How do you separate sin and sinner in your affections and actions?

I am not much of a counselor, so I make no approach to the wrenching practical questions posed above.  I do, however, think a lot about these sorts of things, and Rosaria Butterfield's book got me thinking more.  The session of my church apparently thinks I am fit for youth ministry, and as we work to get a college group organized, I have no doubt that this topic will come up.  It is on the mind of our nation now as never before, and it is high time that the church began an honest, thorough, and Biblical discussion of homosexuality and related questions.

Long before Oscar Wilde blithely dubbed it "the love that dare not speak its name", homosexuality was taboo in the West (I simply lack knowledge of the East, so this omission is in no wise an inference).  The Greeks were pretty open about that sort of thing, the Romans less so, and so from the Christianization of Europe to the twentieth century, these things were buried deep and sealed.

The problem with sin, like a vampire, is that it will not stay buried (actually, an interesting literary excursus would be to analyze vampires as a mythical incarnation of sin itself, never-dying, slowly destroying, attractive, powerful, but hateful and vile - anyway - ).  And you never know where it will pop up.

How do you react to a homosexual?  Is it a Kafka-esque revulsion at the sight of someone you know now become an aesthetic abomination?  Is it a reactive denunciation of the evils of homosexuality?  Or do you stop, take a breath, acknowledge first that all are sinners falling short of the glory of God and second that this person in front of you is made in His glorious image?

What was the sin of Sodom?  Yes, they sought to violate Lot's guests (and Gibeah of Saul is guilty of the same crime), but in God's revelation to Ezekiel, in 16:49, Sodom and her sister cities are indicted for pride, excess of ease, and neglect of the poor - pride being the root of all these branches.

Consider now the scene, where a son sits before his father and says "I really struggle with pride, I - I think I'm proud". 

Seems almost trite, no?  Dad might slap him on the back and say "Well, son, we all struggle with that, and the important thing is just to keep on; I'm proud of you, boy".  Pride is so easy to confess, because it is so ubiquitous.  Nobody gasps or opens their eyes to stare if you ask God to help you with pride during group prayer. 

Pride is the root sin.  It is the meta-sin.  It is man (or devil) standing up to God's face and saying "I know better".  From "Has God really said...?" down to Sodom, to the Pharisees, to us today, the refrain of rebel mankind has been unanimous - and was penned well by Frank Sinatra - I did it my way

There's a kind of bamboo, called "runner bamboo", that I have read about.  Once it's deep down in the soil, it can't be eradicated.  It travels between yards, across streets, breaks pavement, and all because there's a root down there, growing in all manner of unexpected directions.  Such is pride to the pandemonium of man's external sins, and so it has been in all ages.  We happen to have a strong outbreak of one symptom in American culture right now, but it's just that - a symptom.  The disease is sin itself, above all, that pride which makes man exalt himself to the heavens.

So how to approach the challenge that homosexuality (or its variants across the LGBT rainbow - ironically, a symbol of God's patiently deferred judgment by fire...) poses? 

Start from the basics.  Are you God?  No.  You do not get to tell this person that they are going to hell.  You should tell them that God is holy, and they need forgiveness, but this is the happy flip side of Calvinism - you never know what sinner might be a future saint - only God does, so you get to show the love of Christ to everybody.  Next, are they made in God's image?  Yes.  Then, as James lambasts, you must not curse them or revile them, lest you be a hypocrite.  If they are made in the image of God, then they are dignified, thinking, responsible moral creatures.  They may be badly deluded by sin, but they remain Adam's seed, and are to be treated honorably as our kinfolk.  Finally, do you want their redemption?  I hope you do.  If so, present them with the full truth of the gospel as thought you really cared about their eternal souls - because you do! 

If you are using the Bible as a club, you are mishandling it.  If you give them law alone, you are withholding the gospel (which is not your right).  If you reason with them about sin and righteousness and judgment and Jesus, acting in patience and love, subordinating any personal aesthetic reactions you may have to the overriding demand of Jesus to preach the gospel to all tongues, tribes, and nations, then let God do the rest.  Either you have been an aroma of life unto life, we hope, or of death unto death, but let it be the gospel they react to, not you.

The caution comes from Ezekiel, too: Was not your sister Sodom a byword in your mouth in the day of your pride?  Let us never mock those who sin in ways that are particularly distasteful.  If we are pointing at another's sin, it is far too easy for other, craftier, sins to sneak up and nab us.  Let us be vigilant, loving, thoughtful, and above all, Christlike, as we seek to win all men to Christ.  He alone is powerful over all sin, having conquered it in his body on the cross.  He has made us, his people, salt and light.  Let us be savory, clear, and pure as we season and illuminate this world until our Savior comes again.


To touch the beautiful,
highlight the true,
strip naked the good,
that is what poems do.
Mendelssohn  knew.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Seamus Heaney is Dead

for Mrs. Beth Oder

Of all the eddies, rocks, and currents
which whirled my education
round and found or foundered
my desires, so much to thank
have I my English teachers for,
who stood athwart the door of
language, love, and laughing life
distilled into these tomes,
these homes of men and angels,
devils, too, which thrilled
my soul and put in motion
pendula of prose or poems
which trickle tick-tock out from time to time.

Among the throng of authors,
scribblers, playwrights, hacks,
and geniuses to whom the class
was ushered in their turn,
one man stood up,
feet wide and shoulders back,
collared us and hollered words of
ages past, of demons, heroes, deeds,
and fatal pride,
a wide embrace of
round sound,
rolling rumbles of the Saxon earth
beneath our feet,
so deep it might have been unnoticed,
but the fault lines of our language shift and shock,
a-tremble at the tread of Beowulf
and his awen,
Seamus Heaney,
who is dead.