My heart sank until
I remembered to thank God
For maple syrup.
My heart sank until
I remembered to thank God
For maple syrup.
A poem on idolatry and repentance…
I stopped in silence on the corner,
As I watched Superman stumble out of the bar,
His eyes emptied of their stars and stuttering
With six glasses of Kryptonite.
He swung his strong arm around the street lamp,
Guffawed a wet vomit on the sidewalk,
Then hacked his spit back through his nose to burn his lungs.
Passers by halted as he threw up again,
His x-ray vision malfunctioning, now
A sterile gaze frantic for the trash bin.
With his left hand, he clumsily groped for his red cape
To wipe the mealy puke from his lips,
And the ladies on the corner softly covered their own mouths in shame.
We noticed his look had lost that Clark Kent cut,
The sharp and dapper face of a hero, and his cheekbones,
Once formed by flight,
Now stubbled lazily as his dingy suit glinted in the moonlight.
But as he bent over the trash can to ready himself for more wrenching,
I knew then what I must do,
What we all must do.
The crowd stared as I wrapped my arms around his neck,
Hugged our feeble god,
And pulled his cape knot tight against his throat
With all my evening strength.
One by one the audience faded away,
Abandoning the suffocating drunkard,
Bearing the startling truth that
We lose the things we idolize
And must choke the things we cherish most.
My mother’s birthday is today, and I wanted to honor her and everything she has done for my family and me by writing this poem for her. Happy birthday, Mom.
I saw her breathing deeply
As I stared through strands of tumbling hair,
Like little wispy veils,
Slurring my sleepy vision as I shivered at her bedside.
I was small and scared and four.
My mother’s sleep lay on her thick as quilts,
Lulling her tired bones to the rest of sacred dreams,
Filled with the iron ballast of a day of boundless worship:
Her living room worn by the hymns of an aged vacuum,
Choruses offered as sacred vespers,
The clouds of sunset filling her temple,
My mother’s domestic liturgy.
I see her hands fold behind her pillow,
Fingers faded by the baptism of dishes,
The scrape of cereal from the bowl and the wisdom of rags
Wiping away the filth of human failures.
Her forehead lightens as her mind replays
The wonders of laughter
And the splattering grace of the evening meal,
Smeared cheeks chewing on the Passover,
Remembrances of a body broken
As my mother’s bends beneath the steam of a swollen oven,
Her electric altar of praise.
My little voice whispers through missing teeth
That the dragon in my room was snarling again,
Its bared fangs aching for the taste of boy,
And I needed her to rescue my wet sheets.
Her eyes half-closed,
Limbs dangling from the strings of endless love,
She stumbles to the linen closet as I anxiously peer through the dark,
Searching for the twin braids of smoke in the shadows of my urine-stained room,
Trusting in the holy strength of my beautiful mother
Whose arms bear the load of a midnight sacrifice
And whose kiss can slay the dragons.
The following is an article I wrote on creativity in writing and Christian education originally published on Landmark Christian School’s blog.
In Ephesians 5:1, Paul instructs his fellow believers to “be imitators of God as dearly loved children.” Therefore, as followers of Christ and His Word, our first duty in following this command must be to determine, “Well, what is God like?” In opening the Bible, then, to discover the character of God through His revelation in Scripture, we should note the first description we stumble upon: “In the beginning, God created…”
The human capacity for creativity, wonder, and imagination is not only a gift from God to bring Him glory through wholehearted expression and majestic praise but also a mandate; just as the Creator was creative in the design of all things, so must His creation be creative as a way of magnifying Christ through imitating God. When God fashioned Adam from little turrets of dirt and the swirling breath of life, He was not merely stirring human history into existence; He was training us in the way we should perpetuate human history. God, the Grand Storyteller, taught His characters how to tell stories. God revealed the essence of His divinity by sparking divinity in our first family and threading that divinity through thousands of years of plot. When we thus breathe life into the skin of our own protagonists and bid them walk among us in our fictions, when we strain courageously to perfect our poetic effort, when we sing glorious harmonies of praise in reverberating cathedrals, we come as close to the wild invention of God as our finitude allows. We press toward godliness. We imitate God.
This truth is compounded as Paul exhorts us in another letter that “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Eph. 2:10). It is notable that the Greek word rendered as “workmanship” here in Ephesians is poiema, from which we can clearly see our English word poem. So, we are, quite truly, the poetry of God, created in the loving care of a master wordsmith. We are a robust, abundant, vibrant kaleidoscope of God’s artistic pleasure, penned with brilliant passion, and when He “saw all that He had made, [He declared] it was very good” (Gen. 1:31, emphasis added).
So, since the poetry and creativity of God is rich and imaginative, we must see that the education of our next generation is not simply a means of hardwiring them for social contribution but a full-throated movement to awaken their wonder, to intensify their desire for truth, goodness, and beauty and, from that desire, to pursue creatively the worship of a glorious God. We must train our students to express themselves well, to write with passion and authority, but, more importantly, we must teach them to approach their individual calling, whatever it may be, with godly creativity – that, whatever they do, they do it with all their heart unto the Lord (Col. 3:23). We cannot be in the business of piling young people onto the conveyer belt to college, cookie-cutting them into monochrome caricatures of human beings. They are the living, breathing poetry of God, descendants of the very dust and bone of Eden, with voices and diverse passions. By teaching them to think creatively not only in a Creative Writing elective but also in math, science, physical fitness, history, and athletics, we are raising them to imitate God in all His multifaceted character.
As educators, we recognize not every student is called to a writing career. However, the world needs businessmen and bakers, mechanics and managers, and my prayer is that we provide it with Christian graduates that, like Daniel, rise to the top of their field for the excellent spirit within them. But the world certainly cannot bear the weight of any more graduates who shuffle through life bored and half-asleep. As Douglas Wilson once quipped, we cannot live in a world where “the bland lead the bland.” Creative thinking and creative writing are essential tools not only to our scholarship but to our souls. Creativity is the signature of God on the well-rounded human being, fully equipped to navigate a broken and creaking world with the fire of a full imagination.
May we all learn to “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8). May we raise (and be) a generation that sees the glory of God in all things, that creatively expresses His praise in every word with plenty of color and sonorous splendor. May we truly absorb the words of John Piper:
“[W]hen a person speaks or writes or sings or paints about breathtaking truth in a boring way, it is probably a sin. The supremacy of God in the life of the mind is not honored when God and his amazing world are observed truly, analyzed duly, and communicated boringly. Imagination is the key to killing boredom. We must imagine ways to say truth for what it really is. And it is not boring. God’s world – all of it – rings with wonders. The imagination calls up new words, new images, new analogies, new metaphors, new illustrations, new connections to say old, glorious truth. Imagination is the faculty of the mind that God has given us to make the communication of his beauty beautiful.”
To set the scene, King Hrothgar is celebrating with his thanes in the glorious golden mead-hall Herot, an Edenic image of heaven and ultimate koinonia fellowship. As the men pass the communion cup around the magnificent hall, full of dancing and revelry, the king’s bard begins to sing of creation and God’s almighty power:
“Loud in that hall, the harp’s rejoicing / Call and the poet’s clear songs, sung / Of the ancient beginnings of us all, recalling / The Almighty making the earth, shaping / These beautiful plains marked off by oceans […] And then / As now warriors sang of their pleasure”
This moment, with all of its wild and boisterous celebration of God, provides a remarkable perspective on the right view of Christian worship. The noble warriors, toasting their king and pledging loyalty to their queen, fill the evening with hearty laughter, rowdy storytelling, and robust psalm-singing as they praise God for the blessing of creation and the joy of Christian camaraderie. They are not tamed, domesticated, effete Christian men, calmly tucking in their shirts and going about their business. Nor are they mindless brutes, scoffing at all this “girly” singing and storytelling. They are mighty men, knuckles sore from battle and throats sore from exuberant singing. Remember, the same man who sawed off the head of Goliath would later write a poem about it (Psalm 9).
It is no wonder, then, that the joyous noise of worship in Herot summons the envy and wrath of Grendel, the terrible beast “born of Cain” who is exiled from the mighty hall. At this point, I prefer Seamus Heaney’s translation:
“Then a powerful demon, a prowler through the dark, / nursed a hard grievance. It harrowed him / to hear the din of the loud banquet / every day in the hall, the harp being struck / and the clear song of a skilled poet / telling with mastery of man’s beginnings, / how the Almighty had made the earth / a gleaming plain girdled with waters”
So Grendel attacks Hrothgar’s men out of a supreme irritation by the “din of the loud banquet.” He is furious at their joy. In this way, Grendel embodies the very nature of evil, a jealous, petty fiend livid at the joy of the Lord. He is a demonic figure representative of the Devil himself, and, as C.S. Lewis describes him, Satan is the “cosmic killjoy.” His is an unsatisfying lust, an alienated loneliness, a banal and uncelebrated eternity of selfishness and pride. Who can forget the cry of the White Witch in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as her staggering sledge grates across the thawing ground and she stumbles upon a small party of Narnians celebrating the return of Aslan?
“What is the meaning of all this gluttony, this waste, this self-indulgence?”
She cannot stand the sight of righteous feasting, of glorious revelry, the “din of the loud banquet.” And neither can Grendel. His attack on Herot, then, and the subsequent arrival of Beowulf show us the power and danger of the right worship of God. As Charles Spurgeon said, “There is no more levity in a hearty laugh than a hearty cry.” We must resist with every ounce of our power the popular notion that Satan has cornered the market on fun and joyful partying. All sin and worldliness can do is drain the potency of glory and gloss it over with a thin coating of happiness and thrill. Only in Christ and the merry jubilation of His people can true wildness and joy be found.
Or, in other words, as Lewis affirms, “Joy is the serious business of heaven.”