Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The echoes of laughter
That settle like dust
On the closing Sabbath
Imbue faded walls
With the kindly warmth of faces.

Issuing from a host of frames -
Those embassies of decades -
The gawky fads
Of a nervous culture
Obscure pleasant memories.

"Did I really wear that shirt?"

The cumulative joy
Of oft-redeemed moments
Return with severity of sorrow;
Hazy memories of her,
Bent as always
Over her crossword puzzle,
Awaiting the inevitable onslaught
Of hungry youths -
Memories too simple
And too grand
Not to be woven into
The fabric of our myth.

Sitting by the hearth
Is the hunched figure
Of my hero,
Bird-legs crossed
And meticulous snow-draped-melon-head
Bowed beneath the glory
Of love lost -
An earnest of a long hoped-for
Promise yet to be.

He remembers like only
The very strong can;
Between kind words of comfort,
And deep sobs,
And a longing presses in
About my chest,
About the base of my skull,
Threatening my airways.
It is a longing
I have yet experienced
Only in its infancy.

"Give me his pain!" is cries,
And I want to crawl
Into something,
Or envelope something,
But what it is
I don't know.

The sound of heavy footfall
Draws him unceremoniously
From the solace
Of deep reverie
And he lifts his wise head
Probing to recognize.

As I smile weakly
I find my self
Full and untarnished
In his dark eyes.

"Hi dad," I manage,
Not sure how to approach.
"How ya doin?"

And through tears
He smiles
As though amused
That any concern
For how he is
Would be of any consequence.

"Some days are going to be hard,"
He says,
And his tone is clinical.
"But I'm going to be fine.
Lets go eat."

And with a deep heave
He stands,
Tucks in his shirt,
Straightens his snowy hair,
and limps toward the garage door
Saying as he goes,
"Mexican or Chinese?"

Friday, September 19, 2014

Minor Muse

She regards the deepening hues with pleasure,
Cheeks alight with the faint rumors of beckoning frost,
Willowy stature uncoiled and bent upon something.

"Sometimes I wake,"

She says, and the privilege of being thus welcomed
Into a thought mid-stream is not lost on me.
I can hear the weight of it on her tongue.
"I wake,"

Says she, knotting the dilemma in her brow,
"and I have been somewhere like a forest,
or a meadow,
and something's there."

Eyes darting as one half expecting to catch a glimpse
Of the allusive sprite,
My Minor Muse dims her light,
And something expires on her lips.

"Something's there,
and I almost have it.
And I just can't get it."

With locked gaze,
Bemusement melting her countenance like sadness,
She asks simply,

"What is it?"

And thankful for a ready spark,
I reply with the expediency
Of taking out an umbrella,

"Honey, that's joy."

And as I nervously search the horizon
For the object of her scrutiny
She inflates
As with new hope
And asks,

"Daddy, when's it gonna snow?"

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Make a Joyful Noise!

In Ephesians 5:17-21 we are told, "Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God." (NKJV)

In scripture, music is generally associated with merrymaking, and ceases in times of great distress (Isaiah 55:12; Song of Songs 2:12; Psalm 137; Lamentations 5:14). It is interesting then that this passage tells us to sing and, "give(ing) thanks always for all things." It may be that as those who are deserving of wrath, any mercy, or grace shown to us is impetus enough for perpetual thanksgiving. This may account for giving thanks always. But what about "for all things?" This seems to carry the notion that we are to give thanks because all things are mercy and grace to those who are in Christ. For it is only "in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" that we can give thanks for all things.

Imagine Paul and Silas sitting in jail and singing hymns. " But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them." Acts 16:25 (NKJV) Notice they were not singing "in their hearts" as though the prisoners were listening to nothing. They were singing aloud from the steadfastness of their heart's conviction. As the psalmist says, "My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and give praise." Psalm 57:7 (NKJV) And what was the basis for the steadfastness of their hearts? In Paul's own words, " For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 8:38-39 (NKJV)

Therefore, let us also make a joyful noise to the Lord!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Commencement Speech 2011 for The Oaks Classical Christian Academy

Class of 2011, fathers, mothers, members of the faculty and board of directors, families and friends, thank you for affording me this opportunity to speak to you. It really is a tremendous honor to be asked to encourage you on what is likely one of your most momentous occasions to date. But as our own Mr. Kimball wisely observed, every honor has its down side. While it is a great honor for Mr. Palpant to be chosen teacher of the year by a member of the Lilac Court, it does require he ride on float and wave at the crowd. Likewise, while it is quite flattering to be asked to give a commencement address to a very fine group of soon-to-be-graduates, it does require you have something to say.
The reality of this hit me about two days after I accepted the invitation and I began to panic . . . but then I realized the up side to the whole thing. At least now I would not have to listen to the commencement speaker. But I am afraid the same is not true for you. And, on an occasion when you deserve much better than the kind of trite bumper sticker platitudes that do little more than reveal the speakers high regard for his own intellect, I thought it best to convey something a very wise man showed me. But first, here is a little reading from satirist Terry Pratchett’s book The Wee Free Men. Please lend an ear:

"Witches are naturally nosy,” said Miss Tick, standing up. “Well, I must go. I hope we shall meet again. I will give you some free advice, though.”
“Will it cost me anything?”
“What? I just said it was free!” said Miss Tick.
“Yes, but my father said that free advice often turns out to be expensive,” said Tiffany.
Miss Tick sniffed. “You could say this advice is priceless,” she said, “Are you listening?”
“Yes,” said Tiffany.
“Good. Now...if you trust in yourself...”
“...and believe in your dreams...”
“...and follow your star...” Miss Tick went on.
“’ll still be beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy. Goodbye."
I include this because I am supposed to give you advice and this came to mind because in one short, pithy statement it seems Miss Tick had demolished the very foundation of every Disney movie, and most graduation speeches.

So, now that the advice part is out of the way, allow me to relate this story that is perhaps far too familiar. You may wonder at my choice, considering all of the manifold wisdom in scripture from which to choose. But this is commencement, and what is a commencement but the beginning of a thing. You are starting out, and we are gathered here to witness the conferring of diplomas which is to say, “Congratulations, that part is done. A new part begins.” This is precisely the moment to lift our heads and take a look around; the time to take stock and compare where we are with where we want to go. We get to draw back a bit, into our more poetic impulses to take a look at our narrative like a frozen stream; the architecture of several instances in a single moment. It is an appropriate time to give thanks to God for his graciousness and have our minds renewed. And it is at these moments that a good reminder of the main things is most suitable. So please prepare your ears, and your hearts for this story from Mark’s Gospel, 14:53-72.

And they led Jesus away to the high priest; and with him were assembled all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes. 54 But Peter followed Him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. And he sat with the servants and warmed himself at the fire. 55 Now the chief priests and all the council sought testimony against Jesus to put Him to death, but found none. 56 For many bore false witness against Him, but their testimonies did not agree. 57 Then some rose up and bore false witness against Him, saying, 58 "We heard Him say, 'I will destroy this temple made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands.' " 59 But not even then did their testimony agree. 60 And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, saying, "Do You answer nothing? What is it these men testify against You?" 61 But He kept silent and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked Him, saying to Him, "Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?" 62 Jesus said, "I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven." 63 Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, "What further need do we have of witnesses? 64 You have heard the blasphemy! What do you think?" And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death. 65 Then some began to spit on Him, and to blindfold Him, and to beat Him, and to say to Him, "Prophesy!" And the officers struck Him with the palms of their hands. 66 Now as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came. 67 And when she saw Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, "You also were with Jesus of Nazareth." 68 But he denied it, saying, "I neither know nor understand what you are saying." And he went out on the porch, and a rooster crowed. 69 And the servant girl saw him again, and began to say to those who stood by, "This is one of them." 70 But he denied it again. And a little later those who stood by said to Peter again, "Surely you are one of them; for you are a Galilean, and your speech shows it." 71 Then he began to curse and swear, "I do not know this Man of whom you speak!" 72 A second time the rooster crowed. Then Peter called to mind the word that Jesus had said to him, "Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times." And when he thought about it, he wept.
Mark 14:53-72 (NKJV)
Have no fear! I will not be asking you to outline this chapter, find Mark’s thesis, or memorize two main events from it! What I do want to point out is the particular way Mark conveys this story. It is not entirely peculiar to Mark, though, because Matthew conveys it in a similar manner. But I want you to notice the form of the story. It is clear that each of the Gospel writers arranged their narratives to best support their intended message, and our job is to pay attention not only to the words, but to the arrangement.
Notice that Mark uses a literary device that we might call cross-cutting. It is the kind of thing we often encounter in the movies. I don’t know if you are familiar with the movie The Godfather starring Al Pacino and Marlon Brando. Your parents may be more familiar, but there is a scene toward the end of the film where Pacino’s character, Michael Corleone, is at the baptism of his godchild. This is the scene from which the movie gets its name. He is becoming the godfather.
Michael Corleone is the son of Mafia Don Vito Corleone. At the beginning of the film he is squarely opposed to the criminal life of his father. But throughout the move, his loyalty to his family has made him move to the point where in this scene, after the death of his father, he is in a beautiful cathedral at the baptism of his nephew, while at the same time his hit men are carrying out revenge against a rival gang that Michael has staged. The scene cuts between Michael taking holy vows and his lackeys carrying out his bloody orders.
“Michael, do you believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth?”
“I do.”
One man is gunned down in his home.
“Do you believe in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord?”
“I do.”
Another is killed in cold blood.
“Do you believe in the Holy Ghost, and the Holy Catholic Church?”
“I do.”
And another . . .
“And do you renounce Satan?”
“I do renounce him.”
And another . . . And another . . .
“And all his works?”
“I do renounce them.”
Clearly the intent is to show Michael’s hypocrisy and hardheartedness. That he could steel himself for such a blatant lie as this is a powerful exposition of his depravity.
We have much the same kind of thing in this story from Mark, and I think Mark desires that his readers meditate on it. We can easily understand the meaning of the cross-cutting in The Godfather. What is Mark trying to convey here?
In this narrative we have cross-cut scenes from inside where Christ stands before the High Priest, and outside in the courtyard is Peter, the one who only hours before swore he would not deny his Lord. Indeed, he was ready to follow Jesus to his death while within the comfort and security of the upper room.
I’m sure the contrast is already apparent. There Christ stands facing accusation after accusation, the lie of which can be seen by their disagreement. And he says nothing.
I wonder how he looked. Serene? Sad? There must have been no hostility or resentment on his countenance because the High Priest obviously becomes exasperated.
“Do you answer nothing?”
There stands Christ facing the agitated officialdom and he looks on without a word. Then the High Priest asks a legitimate question, the answer to which he must not have expected.
“Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?”
“I Am.”
Jesus finally opens his mouth and condemns himself with the truth.
All this and just outside, in the courtyard below, stands Peter facing, not the officialdom, but a maid servant.
What is Peter doing there anyway? All the others have fled, save one disciple known to the High Priest, and Peter had followed close behind. Is this the fulfillment of his pledge? "Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You!" It is easy to condemn Peter. But try to imagine this. It must have taken a tremendous amount of courage to come this far. But Peter’s stout fortitude was just not up to it when the trial began.
“You also were with Jesus of Nazareth.”
“I neither know nor understand what you are saying!”
And with a lie and curses Peter attempts to save his life.

I shudder to think what my narrative would look like cross-cut this way. Would there be the faithful churchgoer set against the lazy husband? Or maybe the encouraging choir director against the grouchy, impatient father? What would yours look like? I’m willing to bet you’ve written the script before. Surely the irony has not gotten by you in the middle of Cantabile, or as you sing on Sunday morning. The same mouth that only days, or perhaps hours before mumbled curses or complaints is now employed in the praise of the most high?

But, thank God this is not the way He cross-cuts our story. The fact that Peter failed utterly is hardly big news. That he would later be confronted by Paul for his hypocrisy is only the back story, the context for the truly surprising truth that what God cross-cuts our unfaithfulness with is Christ’s faithfulness. No fact of history is more glorious for us than this, and I doubt any fact is more confounding. Christopher Hitchens, in his book god in not Great seems to agree. He says, “Ask yourself the question: how moral is the following? I am told of a human sacrifice that took place two thousand years ago, without my wishing it and in circumstances so ghastly that, had I been present and in possession of any influence, I would have been duty-bound to try and stop it. In consequence of this murder, my own manifold sins are forgiven me, and I may hope to enjoy everlasting life.”(Christopher Hitchens, 'god is not Great,' p. 208-209). Exactly! When Jesus died for sinners He turned the world on its head!

Why am I telling you the gospel? You already know it. “For goodness’ sake, Mr. Young we’re graduating tonight from a Christian institution.” The answer is simply this. You are about to embark on a journey into uncharted territory. The way is treacherous and you will be tempted to save your life. This was the problem with Peter.
You remember the story of the great confession. Jesus asks who people say He is and the disciples reply with, "Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." But when Jesus asks who they say He is Peter replies, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
It seems Peter, the standard bearer gets it.
“Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood have not revealed this to you, but My Father Who is in Heaven.”
But then Jesus begins to teach them that he must go to Jerusalem, encounter various trials, and die. And there is an interesting phrase Matthew uses in telling this part of the story. He says “from that time.” It is as though now the thing is out in no uncertain terms. Peter said it unequivocally and now there can be no question about who this is. But this little phrase - from that time – tells us that we have hit a transitional moment in the story. Here Jesus is with his disciples, and the question that must have been burning in their minds is finally settled. This is the One, the Anointed! Do you know what this means? The anticipation must have been unbearable. What is the plan Lord? What are we going to do? So Jesus tells them. I am going to go to Jerusalem and die. That’s it! That’s the plan!
I am thankful God is not like men. Take a look at all of redemptive history and tell me if this is not completely in keeping with the way God does things. Yet we still don’t get it, and I often imagine God shaking His head and wondering, “Will they ever learn?”
But as I say, Jesus began to teach them that he must go to Jerusalem, suffer various trials and die. So, Peter, perhaps emboldened by the recent benediction has the gall to correct his Lord.
"Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!"
To which Jesus sharply responded, "Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men."
What Peter did not understand Christ would make clear a few verses later.
"If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. 26
Matt 16:24-26 (NKJV)
What Christ did was twofold. First, Christ secured deliverance from the narrative of condemnation. Your righteousness is in Christ and what God says about you is true. And what does He say? He says you, “are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.” And for what purpose? Zacharias, in Luke 1:74-75 says that God delivered us, “To grant us that we, Being delivered from the hand of our enemies, Might serve Him without fear, 75 In holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life.” Notice, your deliverance is so you might serve without fear.
Secondly, Christ showed us the way things really are. The way to save your life is to give it away. Do you want to live? Take up your cross daily and follow Christ. Do this and you will turn the world on its head.
But, you see, something is still missing. This isn’t the end of the story. You must die, surely. But only in reliance on Christ who promises that you are receiving a kingdom that can’t be shaken. You have not come to the mountain that can be touched with human hands. But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.
You have received a liberal arts education. This is the education for free citizen. And because of Christ you are free citizens of a heavenly kingdom. So I charge you now, I encourage you, build that kingdom.
You know the gospel. Now go live it. Embrace the glorious dualities. The way up is down. Tyrants are not respected, but true servants are. Often, the one in the room most noticed is the only one who is quiet. The wise are not lofty. The way to enjoy stuff is not to desire it too much. Be humble, but conscious of your royal inheritance. Be meek as a lamb, and courageous as lions. As Chesterton said, “Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of readiness to die.”
The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord make His face shine upon you.
And give you peace,

Friday, June 18, 2010

Love Cultivated

Sound sweeps
Like scented dew drops
Of morning
Engulfing once for all
Like color raptures the dawn,
And finds me
Gentle breeze swept,
In warm embraces,
Remaining with one
Sanctified to me
Like new identity,
Much for the better!
Much for the worse!

Youthful enticements fade,
And favorite denim,
Knee holes,
Like worn souls,
Requiring mending,
for lack of tending
Like late to bed and early to rise,
Persuade tyranny
Like self guided missals.
Much for the better!
Much for the worse!

And in the late
With eyes red,
The things said or left unsaid,
Like drafty windows,
Exploit my better intentions
and push friendly strangers
In similar surroundings,
Much for the better!
Much for the worse!

With teeth locked
Rock grinding
Finding sweet sleep
Amongst needs deep
Like the fashioning of iron
In the FIRE
The Source of the sound,
the scent,
the color,
the dawn,
the sanctity,
the new identity,
Like with a
still small voice,
And says,
so much for the worse!

And rest returns
Rendering love complete
Like vase
Just pulled from the kiln,
With sweltering heat
Like black on skin
With aid from life-giving SUN.
The mud,
The glaze,
The trial by fire,
Like rain and stream,
Stream and river,
River and ocean,
And the Crafter
With gifted pleasure
And none will rebut,
Much for the BETTER!

So come to me,
Love of my youth,
Forgive my lack of resolve,
Remember my words
Like sweet spring,
And require of me what you will,
Like testing the gallant,
And rewarding trust!
And I will seek
With new eyes,
And fire-glazed

Friendship's Inquiry

Have you ever


In the rain

To the music in your head?

It is, perhaps,

A slower, wiser, dance,

Reminiscent of the weathered


Whose smile and wits within


You know you.

I do not.

It’s raining.

Let’s dance.

Have you ever


In the rain

An impromptu melody?

It is, perhaps,

A melancholy tune,

Reminiscent of the dreamers


Whose rule and object,

Not disclosing.

You know you.

I do not.

It’s raining.

Let’s dance

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Dragons, Fables and The Spruce

This is my first summer as a teacher that I don't have to work a full time job. As a notorious slacker I decided it was my duty to figure out some things to do with Corbin, my 7 year old, before I wasted the summer eating pop-sickles and complaining that I don't have enough time to take care of the lawn. I'm not much for theme parks or carnivals, but I love to play catch, hike, fish, and shoot BB guns. While these are noble activities, we are landlocked, and generally surrounded by blacktop and cookie cutter modular homes. With gas prices rocketing out of the range of our zero balance budget, I decided we would do well to find a few things to do together at home. Among these things are reading Aesop's Fables, building a fort in the base of the huge blue spruce out front, and drawing mythical creatures.

Here is a picture of my first dragon. I have never been much for drawing but have always admired those who could. I got a gift certificate for Barns and Noble (thanks Schlects) and Corbin found a book on how to draw mythical creatures. I thought, "Why not?" We bought the book and have learned a valuable lesson this week. In order to do art, one must first learn the technique. Yep, it's that simple. The genius may come later, but first, the technique.

This dragon is nothing more than a recreation of what was in the book; nothing original really. I don't know how to draw one from my imagination yet. I can imagine plenty, but I don't yet have the skill to put it on paper. Perhaps a few hundred copies of other people's work will teach me though, and Corbin is having a blast.