Archive for the month “October, 2012”

“Adam and Eve in Paradise Were Wed” : A Marriage Hymn

 

Adam and Eve in Paradise were wed;
Two people, yet one body and one head.
It was not good that man should be alone;
God joined them flesh to flesh and bone to bone.

Eve was the body, Adam was the head;
United, they shared food and drink and bed.
To Eve, his body, Adam gave his life;
Eve, to her head, was a submissive wife.

In Mary’s womb, Christ and His Church were wed;
United as one Body and one Head.
It was not good that Christ should be alone,
God joined them flesh to flesh and bone to bone.

The Church, the Body, Jesus is the Head;
His life to her flows in the blood He shed.
In nuptial joy, the holy two embrace,
In chalice, font, and absolution’s grace.

On this glad day when man and wife are wed,
God joins the two, one body and one head.
As Eve and Adam, Jesus and His Bride,
May you in peace and joy and love abide.

My Boyhood Journals: The Things Left Unwritten

I spent the morning snoring, laughing, and cringing my way through my boyhood journals. From the age of nine to eighteen, I jotted down a few words almost every day. Looking back, however, the things that interest me the most are not the goings-on that I recorded, but those I chose not to write about, though they are the very incidents I still recall most vividly–and, in some cases, painfully.

Of course, there are entries about girls. Since it would take me days, if not weeks, to muster the courage even to dial a girl’s number, it was such a momentous accomplishment when I did call her that I noted the mere fact of the conversation in my journal. There are entries about dates I had to school banquets and short-lived “relationships”. And there are those things I didn’t record. Like that moonlit night, when I held and kissed Denise on her front porch, and wanted it to go on forever and ever. That unbelievable new feeling surging through me materialized into sound as I said to a girl for the first time, “I love you,” and heard her echo the same. Twenty-six years after she broke up with me, I can still recall enough of the pain that I could easily compose a page of emotionally laden prose about my heartbrokenness. But on the day it happened, all this Stoic wrote was, “Denise broke up with me.” Perhaps we don’t always incarnate emotions into ink, for if we did, they would take on a life of their own, and be all the harder to kill, coffin, and bury.

There are entries about my hunting dogs. Early in my teenage years, I wrote down, with no attendant explanation before or after that day, that my dog, Hobo, had his front foot amputated. In fact, the lines for the three or four days prior to the surgery are blank. If you’ve been reading my other stories I’ve posted on FB, you might recall one in which I recounted how my friend accidentally shot Hobo in his front paw with my shotgun late one night while we were hunting possums. He was so overcome with fear of what his father would do to him when he found out, that I willingly lied to my parents. I knew and believed in their love and forgiveness, and so feared no severe punishment from them. I was okay, and my friend was off the hook—a win-win situation. Because I had not yet fully developed the predominately adult skill of lying to oneself, I didn’t know what to write about what had truly happened. I couldn’t reveal the truth, for what if my parents happened to look at my journal, and my friend was found out? Nor could I write a bald-faced lie, for I was still a virgin at self-deception.

And there is an entry which, still to this day, shames me. I was seventeen, working at a feed store in town, when my Granddaddy came to visit us. When I was younger, he and I had been birds of a feather, united by the common loves of hunting, fishing, and trapping. When he came to visit, we were inseparable. But I was growing up, and he was growing old. Because he wanted to spend time with me still, he would come to my workplace and, more or less, just hang out. My boss had no qualms about that. Granddaddy stayed out of the way. He just wanted to be with his grandson, whom he loved. But it embarrassed me, him being there. I can’t even tell you why. And I’m sure, by my actions, and perhaps my tone, he began to detect how I felt. I voiced a complaint under my breath to my coworker (who, just so happens, was the same friend who shot Hobo). My friend, whipped around, got in my face and told me that I was a damned fool for acting the way I was, for he’d give all he had to have a Grandfather who missed him so much he’d be there, hours on end, just to be close to him. He shamed me, and I deserved every bit of it. But it was too late. Granddaddy never came back to my workplace. This morning, as I read through my journal for that year, all I saw written was that Granddaddy had come to see me at the store. Shame, for someone else or for oneself, is always ugly. I wanted my journal to be free of that, especially when it revealed the ugliness that leaked from my own proud heart.

The last journal I kept was in 2006. That was the year every strand of my life came unraveled. Living was difficult enough; writing about it—so I thought—would have been hell. So I laid my journaling pen to rest. But now, thanks be to God, perhaps it is time to take it up again. And if I do, I will strive for one simple goal: candor. For if there’s one thing I’ve learned most about myself over the last few years, it is that without honesty—to myself and to others—joy will never be forthcoming, for the lie always brings with it the shadow of fear.

Dear Diary, keep me honest.

Animals Named Adam

The man of sloth is not as busy as a bee,
But he may wolf down a delicious meal that’s free.
Some men work like a horse for they’re greedy as a pig
Some are drunk as a skunk for many beers they swig.
There’s bikinied foxy girls who swim like a fish
There’s those who are catty and downright vixenish.
A snake in the grass will not like the eagle soar
And a sheepish man is not a stud chicks adore.
In this zoo-like world, where people parrot the beast
Animals name Adam—the greatest become least.

“One Little Word Can Fell Him”

amightyfortress‎”One little word can fell him.” What’s that word?

Today, as many Lutheran congregations celebrated the Reformation, they sang Luther’s hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” which famously declares that “one little word” can bring down the devil. What is that word? In at least one of his writings, Martin Luther refers to his own hymn and reveals that the word he had in mind was “liar.”

Speaking of one of the books his opponent had written against him, Luther says, “For all such books, even if there were as many as thousands of them written every day and every hour…, are very easily refuted with the single word, ‘Devil, you lie,’ just as that haughty beggar Dr. Luther sings so proudly and boldly in those words of his hymn, ‘One little word shall fell him.'”
Against Hanswurst (AE 41:185-186).

For Jesus, the Truth, the Word made Flesh, is always victorious over the spirit who is the Lie.

Samson: A Testosterone Poem

Samson was a big, strong man,
A big, strong man was he.
He killed a lion with his hands
Like one would squash a flea.
With but a donkey’s jawbone
He whacked a thousand men
And iced yet even more
When foes set fire to kin.
He trapped three hundred foxes
And set their tails ablaze
And though men gouged his eyes out
Their temple Samson razed.
But Samson was a small, weak man,
A small, weak man was he.
Just one hot-bodied damsel
Could squash him like a flea.
A rendezvous of passions
Would make his manhood rise
While limp his soul would plummet
Betwixt her willing thighs.
That chink in Samson’s armor,
Of hips and lips and breast,
Is a hole through which the blade
Has pierced the church’s best.
Samson was a strong, weak man,
A strong, weak man was he,
But erect betwixt two pillars
This blind man came to see.

Jesus, Bread, and Breasts

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows—saw the veil between the seen and the unseen rent in twain while serving at the altar of the Most High. This man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows—when a daughter of the Father knelt at the rail and opened her mouth to receive the body of Jesus, saw something inexpressible. On behalf of such a man I will boast, and I will disclose the mystery his eyes beheld.

The church was small. The pastor was young. The season was summer. Men showed up in Wranglers and boots. Most of the women wore dresses, and the occasional miniskirt added a flash of flesh to the mix. Kim was wearing a dress. She was a lovely woman, not young, not old. Her attendance was sporadic. This Sunday, she too had confessed her sins and been absolved, sung the hymns, listened to the sermon, and came forward to receive the Sacrament.

The rail held only six to eight communicants, depending on the girth of the people in question. Ushers had to be Johnny-on-the-spot with mathematics lest too many saints be sardined between pulpit and lectern. As the hymns were sung, the pastor did the sideways walk, holding up each holy host between thumb and forefinger and declaring, “The Body of Christ, for you”, before placing it on the tongue of the eater.

Kim knelt, the pastor stepped in front of her, held up the bread, and as the words left his mouth, the wafer slipped from his hand. Feather-like, it began its descent, wafting left and wafting right, spinning and somersaulting downward, until it caught in the fabric of Kim’s dress, right at the point where her right breast extended to its furthermost point. And there it hung, attached, going nowhere. The recovering hand froze in midair. Kim looked up at him. Their eyes widened, laughed, and believed.

Late in the winter night, far away, years before, a teenager held her baby boy close to her virgin body to keep him warm. Her breasts had been expanding as the nativity of the child drew nigh. The warm liquid of life, pooled in her breasts, was now her baby’s to drink to his heart’s content. And drink he did, as cattle slept and far-off angels sang to shepherds. From his mother’s bosom would come the nourishment his body needed to grow, to remain healthy, to take the next step in his odyssey of life and death and life again. “With milk was fed the Lord of all, who feeds the ravens when they call,” as the poet says. The God who creates life nurses life from the woman he himself gave life to, that he might grow to give life to all.

Back in the church, with her own hand, Kim took the wafer, the body of Jesus, from her breast and placed in her mouth. Her Lord had promised that in his Supper he gives his body to eat and his blood to drink. And she believed it, for if there is a man to doubt, it is surely not one who rose from the dead. The sliver of bread dissolved on her tongue, was swallowed, and became part of her body. Body to body, Jesus to Kim. It was no longer Kim who lived, but Christ who lived in her, who gave himself up for her.

Mary holds the baby Jesus close. He nurses at her breast. And in those infant eyes there sparkles a prophesy, of a place far away, years later, when a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—would behold a mystery, and would write the inexpressible story of a God who receives in order that he might give.

My Three-Year-Old Daughter’s Sermon: Baptism Theology at Its Finest

I live by one very simple rule in preaching: the shorter, the better. I have never heard a long, excellent sermon. This, no doubt, has a great deal to do with my gutter level of sanctification. It also has to do with the fact that most preaching simply bores me—not to tears, but to frustration. The office of the ministry is not enhanced by logorrhea. Say what you have to say, with precision and truth and (if possible) beauty, then vacate the pulpit. The best sermons I’ve heard have been those that ended before you wanted the preacher to shut up and sit down.

And sometimes, the best sermons aren’t preached by preachers at all. They are declarations of truth by strangers, friends, children, that are branded in your memory. One of those unforgettable, short sermons was preached to me by my three-year-old daughter on the question of why Jesus died.

We were living in Wellston, Oklahoma, where I served as a pastor of a small Lutheran church. My daughter, Auriana, was one of the first children I baptized, and, if memory serves me right, the youngest—three days old. My goal was for her to have all the Bible, Catechism, Hymnal, writings of the Church Fathers, and at least half of Dickens’ novels memorized before she was three. Though that proved a bit too optimistic, she did at least have the Catechism down by heart by her third birthday. And it was during that third year that, from her Bible-storied, catechized heart, came forth a very short sermon—a mere four words—that revealed a truth profound in its meaning, and of inestimable comfort.

One day while she was playing with her toys, I walked in, sat beside her, and began playing as well. It was a farm set, with cows and sheep and a barn and tiny bales of hay. As we played, and talked, my eye fell on the simple crucifix that hung on her wall. I pointed at the cross, and asked her, quite simply, “Sweetie, why did Jesus die?” Of course, I expected her to say something like, “To pay for our sins” or even “for me”. Instead, she looked up from her toys, over at the crucifix, back at me, then responded, “Because he was baptized.”

Because he was baptized. That’s why Jesus died. His baptism is the only baptism that there’s ever been. “One Lord, one faith, one baptism,” as Paul writes. What happened in that one baptism? Jesus, stepping into the Jordan, became as a sponge, to soak up the flood of our wrongdoings. To fulfill all righteousness he became our unrighteousness. He became all the bad we are, that we might become all the good he is. Jesus died on the cross because he was baptized, because he who knew no sin became sin for us, absorbing a world saturated with hatred and lies and lusts and murders and all we do wrong. And he carried it to the hill and tree of death. So even Jesus himself speaks of his death as a baptism with which he must be baptized. Of course he does. Because besides my daughter, if anyone knows what baptism really is, it’s the only one who’s ever been baptized. “One Lord, one faith, one baptism.” It all belongs to Jesus. But like his death and resurrection, which become our own, so his baptism becomes our own. We are joined to his oneness, and in that find oneness find fullness.

But lest I be guilty of the very thing I complained about in the first paragraph, this is the end. For the sermon has already been preached in full, eleven years ago, by a little girl who knew well the man who hung upon her wall, and why he was there. “Why did Jesus die? Because he was baptized.”

Killing Roosters

Killing Roosters

I’m not sure why anyone would choose to live there. Short, thorny mesquite trees riddle the arid land. And under these mesquites are shorter, thornier varieties of cacti. And under every other cactus is a rattlesnake, which, given his surroundings, is almost always in a foul mood. It is Eden’s far, distant, ugly cousin. And it is this town, Jal, sequestered in the very southeastern corner of New Mexico, in which I came into this world and spent the first eleven years of my life.

I think we owned a house in Jal, but doubts still plague me about that, because it seems my every waking hour, and a few of my sleeping ones, were spent in a five-acre patch of land my family dubbed, quite creatively, The Place. This spot outside town was the home of our horses, of which there were many; a constantly changing number of cats, to keep the mice population low and the coyote bellies full; a cage full of rattlesnakes at one time; and, for a brief, unhappy span, chickens and roosters.

Where my folks acquired these birds, and why, I don’t know. Perhaps it was during a moment of weakness in which they were tempted by forces beyond their control to make a rash decision. Whatever it was, judging by the temperament of the roosters, at least, the whole enterprise was a diabolical plot to bring injury and harm to our family. For these roosters, who hailed from the Rhode Island Red tribe, were feathered demons. Butcher one of them and just see if you can find a heart in that black chest. It’s not there. They are strutting, crowing fiends who will attack just about anyone, including me. No one was safe. And that was why, at the brave young age of four, I told my Dad I was going to kill me some roosters.

For the most part, I’m a relatively peaceful person who doesn’t go around looking for a fight. But attack me, or my family, and a revengeful, bloodthirsty monster arises from deep within the caverns of my soul to act swiftly and decisively to annihilate the foe. Obviously, these roosters were either too stupid to realize this, or didn’t care. Whatever the reason, they smugly flaunted their aggression, as if punitive consequences applied to every beast under heaven except them. Woe to such fools.

My Dad, upon hearing my declaration of war, said that was okay with him, and watched as I walked away. I don’t think he took me seriously. Most parents don’t take four-year-olds seriously. So he didn’t follow me into the barn, where I rummaged through the tools until I found a hammer. He didn’t observe me balance it in my young hands, and swing it through the air, like a knight his sword. He didn’t see me walk out of the barn with the hammer in my hand, and set my face toward the pen where the roosters were roaming about. My Dad didn’t see the coming massacre.

But a few minutes after he’d given me blanket permission to kill off the Rhode Island Reds, he did hear me screaming at the top of my lungs. And running over from where he’d been working, he saw me, hammer clutched by a white-knuckled hand, my four-year-old frame perched atop the fence as high as I could get, with roosters dancing violently below me, all of those birds still, still!, alive.

In my youth, and military inexperience, I had underestimated their love of life. And perhaps I had underestimated the fierceness of my fighting ability. Sometimes adversaries surprise us. But thirty eight years later, as I look back on that day, I can say one thing: though my mission was a failure, at least I was brave enough to take the hammer in hand and face down my enemy. Sure, I wish I’d have brained every one of those vicious birds, but that victory would have to wait for another day. You don’t always win a fight, but if you’re brave enough to fight, you’re going to win some of them. A coward always loses.

The Great God Mammon

The great god Mammon,
Woos both the rich and poor,
All who bend the knee,
Before the idol More.
We devote our lives
With paparazzi zeal
To chasing those ‘things’
We think will grant us weal.
But true joy is found,
Contentment and still more,
In God who though rich
For your sake became poor.

Mary Go Round

Mary, Mary, Mary go round,
Your heart awhirl at the angel’s sound
That gold shall gild your virgin womb
And ‘neath your breasts the LORD shall loom.

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