I’m No Poet

I’m no poet, no fine words to describe my world.

I’m no Mary Oliver, who speaks of writing as a dance,

while I dance with two left feet, stepping on toes.

I’m no Wendell Berry, whose walks are brought to life,

I walk my dog and picking up poop isn’t poetic.

I’m no writer of love sonnets, or one who sees

the ethereal clouds gliding overhead, the shapes shifting.

Yet, I look out onto this world, where dark images

populate our media and angry voices are heard.

My heart grows heavy and so I turn to my words,

words that are not refined, not eloquent, sometimes raw.

In the heartbeat of the one I love, I hear a sweet poem,

that speaks of communion, of two bodies yearning,

to know where the heart lays and where the soul is one.

No, I’m no poet, just a lover, a poor one at that,

yet, on I continue, in the twilight of life, seeking grace.

Shadows and Dreams

 “Vung Chua Mountain looms ominously over the city of Qui Nhon in Vietnam as a silent sentinel wreathed in a thin mist. Qui Nhon is a crescent shape, coastal city in the Bin Dinh province of central Vietnam and hugs the coast along the South China Sea. Due to its proximity to the warm ocean the easterly winds wafting over the sea drag moisture up into the cooler mountain air creating a mist that rings the top. Vung Chua the place where kings rested, means “Ghost Mountain,” and when looking up at it from the city when clothed in mist and fog, it’s easy to see why.”

 So begins my personal memoir of my year in Vietnam, a time and a place wrapped in a fog as thick and deep as those we encountered on that mountain. I write this, not out of any sense of heroism, an oft used phrase today describing our military personnel, but out of my own need to make sense if that time. There is also that deep need to explore my own inner feelings about that place, after all, in that one year my whole life changed. The journey I thought I was on took many twists and turns, certainties were tested, life was changed, and the road that emerged would take me into unexplored territory.

 There are many things I remember with a clarity as bright and clear as fine crystal. The smell of diesel fuel, the sound of the choppers, the rumble of trucks, the unique cracking of an AK-47 and the responding pop of M-16 gunfire. The Vietnamese peasants, eking out a living in the slums of the city, homes made out of the debris we thought useless, children running around dirty and naked, young girls selling themselves in the doorways and markets. The acrid smell of the cooking pots being watched over by aging mama sans, their lips and teeth red from chewing betel nuts, while young men and woman tried to find love in the messiness of war. On our mountain, hootch maids cleaned our rooms, washed our sweaty jungle fatigues, while old papa san burned our shit.  

 War, is not all glory and our worst enemy was the tedium of daily living. In the quiet moments, when I’m alone, I’m suddenly taken back to that year and the memories flood back in a torrent. Yet, as time continues to march on, those memories fade like shadows as the sun slowly sets. I wonder if I’m remembering truth or something I wish happened but didn’t. We all, in some way, embellish our past. Accomplishments take on epic proportions way beyond the reality and that small fish we caught now is our own “Great White Whale.” Our tales grow as as we look back, censoring those parts that weren’t our best moments and creating monuments of our better days.

 I am no different, I am still a human being and like many, I to want to be remembered as a decent person. However, underneath, there is that part that seeks to be heard, the part that lies in the wasteland of memory, where the leafless trees reach out and the ghosts haunt the living. Fear dominates this place, our failures rise up out of the ground as skeletal hands that seek to drag us under the cold, dark earth. 

 So now, I begin the journey into that land where truth and fantasy dance together in a waltz, ever so slightly out of rhythm, a place that is at once both comforting and disconcerting. 

Pain

Pain, I’ve been giving this word,

a lot of attention lately. 

Pain, the sheer physical pain 

that dogs me everyday, 

from when I wake up 

until I go back to bed that evening, 

it is my constant, unforgiving companion. 

The pain in my hip, healing from the fracture, 

pain in my shoulders and knees, 

a reminder that aging does have its consequences. 

This physical pain can stop me, 

it would be easy just to not move, 

to stay in bed or sit around all day, 

but not to move means that the pain wins. 

Yet, there is the emotional pain,

that pain deep within the soul,

the pain that creeps up in those,

moments of peace, that grab onto,

the soul like thorns of a rose bush.

How much more can one take,

how much more can one endure,

yet, life without pain, is life without spirit.

Pain, teaches as well as gives,

it seeks to guide, while opening us to

the mystery all around us.

Without pain we are less

than what God has called us to be,

without pain, we live in isolation,

without pain, we become indifferent,

without pain, we never know love.

Summer’s Love

Listening to love songs,

dark and melancholy,

remembering lost loves,

that first sweet kiss,

those warm embraces.

Now, in the twilight, 

as the summer sun sets,

and the sky darkens,

while the first stars twinkle,

he holds on to what is real,

the love in his heart,

as he looks deep into her eyes.

Knowing his faults, yet,

ever trusting that her love,

will open his heart,

as the light shines within,

the darkness.

Faith, Social Media, and Me

 I read this tweet from Eugene Peterson, which got me thinking, yes that can be a tad bit dangerous. Here’s what he wrote; “They are preoccupied with shopkeeper’s concerns–how to keep the customers happy, how to lure customers away from competitors down the street.” Somehow this resonated with me, probably because it is now summer and the Sunday numbers have dwindled considerably. Even though we’re told that numbers should not be our focus, the true bottom line is that numbers do matter. We, clergy, are judged by the numbers, of people, of money, of confirmands, you name it and there is some kind of measuring stick. Lately, I’ve been noticing lots of sermons being posted on Facebook or Twitter or both, they are either Soundcloud podcasts or YouTube videos. Yes, I’ve fallen prey to the vultures of social media and have at least one sermon recently posted. It seems, to me, that religious faith has turned into some kind of Game of Thrones episode, a who will win the numbers war this week, who will ultimately sit on the “Iron Throne”, as uncomfortable as that sounds.

 I am under no illusion that my one or two sermons, posted on social media, will gain me any more people. Just as I am under no grand illusion that what I write will somehow go “viral” and blow up the Internet. There are other folks out there who are writing and being quoted, folks a whole lot smarter than I am and who have their groupies hanging on the every word. 

 Faith is not something we can force on another just by virtue of our magnetic personalities. Even Jesus had his detractors. The scary thing for us, as priests, pastors, ministers, is not being valued, that our words, thoughts and passions are easily dismissed. Not everyone will become an Episcopalian, just as not everyone will become a Lutheran, Congregationalist, Presbyterian, Baptist, etc.. In fact more are becoming what is termed “nones,” those having no affiliation, who defy our best efforts to just come and see what we are about. Even as we dismantle the walls and barriers that have kept us sheltered from the outside, there are other new walls and barriers being created, not just by the institutions but also by the people themselves. 

 Eugene Peterson is right, we have become “shopkeepers” concerned more for the bottom line and in finding new ways to lure in a shrinking number of possible consumers. It’s hard not to think this way but with all of the blogs out there telling us all the ways in which we either fail or blunder, sometimes morale can sink. After being hit by that car door resulting in a fractured hip last summer giving me time to process my own ministry and calling, I have come to accept that nothing is black and white. Living in the mystery, accepting that I live in ambiguity, has in fact been freeing. I’ve begun to write, taking classes to help me sort out the feelings through the medium of essay, poetry and creative writing. Is my writing polished, are my poems insightful? I’d be the first to tell anyone that I have a long journey ahead. Yet, like my call to ministry, I believe that I am being called to write. In the silence of the night watches, as I lay down, that still, small voice enters into my being, calling me to come out of my own self imposed shell. Like any journey there will be pitfalls and places of danger, but there will also be those vistas that will open before my eyes, places of deep beauty where the heart knows it is home.