Holding the Newborn

The first grandchild.
That noun is perfect,
the fingers flawless
and curiously strong, for one
who has known only floating.

And I perform the ancient ritual:
I let him wrap five fingers round my one.
Our communion is sacred.
We are alone. I laugh. I cry.
I have to kiss the forehead,
nuzzle the nearly invisible hair,
inhale the smell of baby skin.
I have to stroke the cheek,
so soft, and all of him so small,
and yet so human.

Who knows what this embrace contains?
Once, shepherds and stargazers
worshiped a baby.
Our hearts must ask,
And what will this child be?

Before such mystery
I have to pray.
Lord, keep him, shape him…
Though he now fits in the crook of my arm,
use him.
How great Thou art.
What words can bear this miracle?

I turn my thoughts around
to look at me,
this new species, this
grandfather, to whom
the thought of this young man
brings such a smile. Let it always.
But for now, I cannot stop
amazement welling up.

Here comes the tribal instinct:
Somehow it is okay
for “Be Thou My Vision”
to rub shoulders with “The Wheels on the Bus.”

I sing to my grandson.

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The Couch

The airport was no problem, really. None.
The bustling and the bags drew our time out:
Straightforward short-term goals, a course to run,
So the last glimpse of your face was all about
Overweight baggage, and— a father’s dream—
The thought that I might help (or so it seemed).

The evening was no problem, really. No.
Resettling in comfortable routines
You’d gloriously burst in on: ordered scenes,
The set-down book, the unwatched TV show.
But then I saw (at three a.m., or two)
The fold-out couch that had been full of you,

Where for two weeks you slept, where we all piled,
Afraid to stir lest you would be exiled.
Now empty, stowed and wiped all clean of clues,
It does its job, with nothing more to lose.

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For Eden

It means you have to cross.  You have to cross.
It means you pause your plans, and walk across,
Step through the dust, then cross the barricade,
Duck under barb-wire going to his aid,
And lift a battered man into your car,
Whose weeping wounds may leave a stain, a scar.
You bandage up those cuts with oil and wine,
And fill hot-water bottles all the time.

And it means making room for what is odd,
You dignify what does not seem like God,
Let God’s unseemly image bring you joy.
You make a safe house for the Stranger-Boy,
And yell out loud, “There is room in the inn!”
(“You welcomed me, that time you welcomed him.”)

And I am glad that God adopted me,
A little horror.  Now I clearly see:
Both feathery and leather, lovely, bent,
Our ugliness is why the Lord was sent.

The Needy One gave water at the well,
Made heaps of wedding-wine!  What does this tell?
The glorious Odd One welcomes last and least.
The Stranger is the founder of our feast.
And you say, “Welcome in!  Come odd, come frail.”`
To whom I once said, “Welcome out, wee snail.”

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Rising One Morning

Absent-minded, with my thumb
I strum my ribs. Somewhere deep
In this box, gases trade places.
And this blind gate,
This mark of dependence that even Nietzsche
Wore to his grave—
Surely the navel,
Too, will rise,
Rise at the end of the age?

It is true, my decaying darling,
That you have strewn your scabs,
Your moon-slivers of toenail
Across the earth,
That you churn
Omelets into dung, breed virus,
That you are
Sin’s port of entry into me.
But you are Christ’s purchase,
Christ’s property.

Temple of the Holy One!
Take arms, my heart. Quell lies
That mock at hope.
Take heart, my arms. You are
Christ’s members and will be
Lifted in his chorus.

This animal friend I somehow haunt,
This frail tent
So familiar I am appalled
At the thought of striking camp–
You who have sworn to reunite us,
Reunite us.

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In the Sinai, in the 17th century B.C.,
Semitic slaves mine turquoise and build
a temple to an Egyptian goddess.
Their Egyptian overlords hold the power
of a vast system of hieroglyphics.
The slaves have nothing.
These slaves may have invented
the handful of symbols
we call our alphabet.

“But God chose the foolish things of the world
to shame the wise.
God chose the weak things of the world
to shame the strong.”
1 Corinthians 1:27


Your crew shuffles out
Into hard desert light,
Gulps a long drink,
Collapses for a break.
You shamble over and scratch the rock.
The Egyptians chuckle:
The Asian dogs are scratching!
But this is more.
What can ooze through the scar
Of boredom
Is yearning.

Drinking down the dark,
The dirt, the fear of falling,
Losing, like an eye, the blue of sky
To claw the blue rock…
You’ve been unearthing something else.
Who knew?

Oh, they have all the signs,
A thicket of a thousand signs
To brag of wars, wild chariots,
Gleaming wealth—from your mines.
While your palms are empty.
You hang from ropes to hunt the fine blue stone.
They wear it
And you watch. You simply
Watch. The Lady’s stones, the mystic signs—
They are not yours to use.

Close by the temple, which is closed to you,
You float on a stream, a dream of wine and worship
With the goddess.
You, too, shuffle near the Lady
With your earthy, sweaty prayers
And dream the steaming feast:
Once-hollow slaves released,
You scratch a grand, graffiti afterlife
Where even you can taste
Spit-roasted oxen, honey-cakes and wine.

Sometimes you stare
At their carvings in the stone,
One thousand subtle signs, and all
Beyond you, like the gleaming stars at night.
But the desert can empty a man
And draw him to wells of new wisdom.
So, ringed by crags and tunnels,
Gods and glyphs,
You glide into another dream:

Close by the temple, closed (like an eye) to you,
You, too, carve signs,
Old signs turned loose and new,
Rogue signs the scribes would call unsound.
But sounding out the darkness
Is your daily dance.
Now, of the thousand crushing signs
You ruminate on thirty,
Plenty for the avalanche
You still cannot imagine. Less is more,
A door. And thirty crush a thousand.

In these few signs, you conquer.
You haul rock every day,
And so your signs are light.
Ill-equipped and illimitable,
You are unempowered,
You are unimpeded,
As lizards are unstoppable by locks.
Beside the scribes’ fine strokes
Yours are crude:
This is your sword. You simplify.
And that is why
Scratchers are overtaking scribes.

The feast you dream
Lets loose an unheard scream,
The whispered overthrow
That no one even knows,
A deep earthquake,
A sweeping sack,
Where not one jewel is taken,
But so much is given
That even a child is changed.
What is old cannot remain.
You cannot see beyond the fort you storm,
Yet a new world is born.
All this was so unscripted:
Those who had no script
Scripting the world.

Great wheels are turned by laziness:
The greatest leap,
A great escape,
Your lazy shortcut through the hieroscape
Blooms as new petals among stones,
Fresh fire for all,
Your inventing
Inverting the world,
Till millions write and write—
For the old guild with their gold: a blight.
For filthy miners: light.
Unstoppable as a whistling desert wind,
The mighty script,
The scratch heard round the world.

Heroes, I thank you.
With empty hands
You have changed everything,
Unloosing power,
Empowering every Adam
To name his world.

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What I Didn’t Know

I think back to that summer long ago,

And what I knew, and much I didn’t know…


I knew among the shorts and jeans you shined

In clothes that were both feminine and fine.

And in a world of slouchers you sat straight.

You walked like you meant business.  You weren’t late.

Amid the slosh, your mind was clear and clean—

Convictions, in the pluralist machine!

With your roommate you showed firm loyalty.

And you were smart.  You knew theology.


But our late-night discussions masked from me

Your citadel of practicality…


I didn’t know how I shocked you, poor child,

And all without a clue that I was wild.

How have you stood (while you’ve been kind to me)

My reckless dreams, as sailors dream the sea?

How have your prudent shoes stood my bare feet?

Your “That will do” borne my push to complete?

Your even temper borne my drive towards odd?

How to explain our oneness, but for God?


No-nonsense girl put on a bridal gown.

You said, “I do.”  I thought, “Send in the clown.”





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Boarding School

Not just for all the wrongs earth will not right,
Not just for all the hopes earth will not fill,
But for the rents earth cannot reunite,
There must be heaven.  For the mothers will
Cry when the children leave, but would not freeze
Their growing, although they might freeze the day.
Tears point to heaven.  Therefore even these,
These mother’s tears will all be wiped away.
There, growth will join us, root and branch, until
Each ripened self knows each… By heaven, it will.      

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Forty Years

                                                                               For the fortieth anniversary of our meeting

For forty years, you’re by my side.
There’s much to say, but what’s to show?
Have we born fruit for God’s delight?
There is so much we cannot know.
I’m wondering what the forty mean.
And what’s been won? What still looks green?

Now, after forty days of flood,
The rain is gone, the world is new,
The sun is bright and all is clean…
I’m ready to make hay with you.
We’re cleansed, far as the eye can see;
Enter a brand new world with me.

Now, after wandering forty years,
Folly behind, waste in the past,
The fruitless days are over and done.
It’s Canaan now, my friend—or bust.
For forty years we have been blessed.
It’s time to launch new work—and rest.

Now, after fasting forty days,
Three holy men of God begin.
At Sinai, Moses brings the law,
And there, Elijah starts again.
What new verse waits for me and you?
For what he rules he will renew.

Christ Jesus fasting forty days—
He has a mighty work to start.
For forty days, launching his friends,
The risen Savior shares his heart.
We have a word of life to tell,
God help us mentor people well.

Forty long years behind us now—
The stage set for the play at last.
Ready, set, go:  The Thumb Decade—
The fifth verse joins and forms the fist.
Prepare well first, then sing the song.
Lay strong foundations.  Finish strong.

June 29, 2017
Remembering June 29, 1977
In Norman, Oklahoma
Elen sila lumenn omentilmo.
‘The star shines on the hour of our meeting.’



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Truly In / Truly Not Of

As pilgrims on this earth (a sensation Grace and I are freshly reacquainted with), you and I feel how the loveliest things on this earth are always sinking, fading, melting.  We long for the unshakable city whose architect is God, the new earth whose beauty will never end.  And here is the punchline:  the living God calls us to love both:  both this world that he created and called good, whose goodness has not been utterly canceled by the fall, and the new heavens and the new earth to come.

The same author (John) uses the same Greek word in these two well-known verses:  “Don’t love the world…” (its fallen values, pitted against God’s rule) and “God so loved the world…” (its still-wonderful people, made in God’s image).  Ordinary people living in these realities will never cease to feel the tug-o’-war of being “in the world but not of it.”

Welcome to a journey that is not some kind of 50/50 blend, but rather a walk in faith and peace that embraces both ends of the paradox.  Michael Card wrote, “The power of paradox opens our eyes.”

For two thousand years, many in the church have been falling into one ditch or the other, as though we could resolve the tension by denying half the truth, as though God had to be either Creator or Savior, but not both.  The one extreme can become license, indulgence.  The other extreme, in its ultimate form, is Gnosticism:  the belief that the body is the problem, that only spirit is good.   And sadly, it creeps into the evangelical church in the form of certain kinds of legalism.

The apostle Paul sums up the controlling ideology of this sort of legalistic Christianity with the slogan, “Do not touch.”  And here is his evaluation:  “Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with theirself-imposed worship, their false humilityand their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.”   Col 2:23 (NIV, my italics)  Such legalism cannot even really deliver a healthy version of the one thing it majors in:  restraint.

How many of the pains and deceptions that I went through in my teenage years were inspired by a legalistic view of faith in Christ?

Half a Gospel

Once blinded by a bad idea
Of heaven—
It made us somewhat curious
For hell.
The mood was earth-denying,  
So many kids were spying.
Some were crying,
Some were dying
As they fell.

Now here is an attempt to express the other side, written by an old missionary who is still a tee-totaler.

Rich Host

Rich host, your wedding wine is sweet.
Sweet source of joy, we drink and eat.

Now we drink down the Song of Songs;    
The body gladly sings along.  

And though these things can be abused, 
Freedom in you is what we choose. 
For all our rules and all our lack— 
These cannot hold bent ego back.   

The background had become our fore;  
But now we fear Eros no more.   
In you we taste all things with praise
In ecstasy and wild amaze. 

Our “righteousness”—who was it for? 
Barbed-wire fences?  Was there more? 
What you want most is not a cell:
To love you and our neighbors well.  

How wonderful to be led by Christ out of the fortress that can become a prison.
“Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”
“For freedom Christ has made us free. Let us not submit to a yoke of slavery.”

Enjoy with us a song about how it all comes together in Christ our Lord:

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Like Genghis Khan, we’re riding out—

No horse.  One suitcase each.

No horse, but nomads nonetheless

(Who may drown near the beach…)


Like him, but armed with piercing words,

With conquest in our mind,

For in fierce love our Lord looks at

Each corner and says, “Mine.”


John Knox cried out for Scotland:  “Lord,

Give me this, or I’ll die.”

And we— what gift will we lay down

As our heart’s glad reply?




Reading about Genghis Khan recently, I was struck by the difference between

his wanting the world for himself and Knox’s wanting Scotland for Christ.





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