Five Autumn Haikus


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Roll down your window

Summer is on vacation

Unpack your sweatshirts.

~

The air smells of rain

A wall of ribbons and wind

Sneak up from behind.

~

Fresh cut grass and smoke

From backyard games and cookouts

Fade when school bells ring.

~

Harvest moon appears

As dogs howl their haunting songs

Trees shiver their leaves.

~

School is in session

Time to quit childish nonsense

Flip-flops are no more

 

Do You Hate Losing?

Hello_Loser_by_HaloKitty10461

I admit it; I’m a sore loser. That’s probably why I never enjoyed competitive sports as a kid. I don’t like being on a losing team.

As an adult, I do my best to stay clear of competitive games, yet I recognize I’m still a pretty competitive guy. I might not be competitive on the sports field, but I am in other areas.

I’ve served as a Music Minister for over thirty years and for much of that time my competitive nature would show up when comparing the number of singers in my choir or ranks in my pipe organ with the church across town. As a Baptist, I also found myself comparing my church’s Sunday school enrollment and annual baptisms. Maybe it was not so much competition as it was comparison and envy.

As a 55-year-old-man, I have found myself contemplating a lot about my life, wondering if I’ve achieved any of the things I dreamed about as a younger man. But when I do this, I run the risk of falling into this competitive-slash-comparison-slash-envy mode and end up in a pit of despair. I haven’t achieved many of those dreams from my youth. I’m not in a mega-church leading a mega-choir on a mega-tour promoting our mega-hit album. I’m not working for the world’s largest and fastest growing church or denomination. I haven’t published the great American novel or even a short story for that matter. Heck, I don’t even have my house paid off. Actually, I don’t even have a house at the moment. Sally and I are presently renting an apartment just like we did when we first got married. So at face value, things are not looking exceptionally swell.

But then I remember the teachings of Jesus. He’s the one who said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” and “For he who is least among you all, he is the greatest.” I also remember the story of Gideon when God trimmed his army down from 32,000 to a measly 300 soldiers and led them to victory over the Midianites.

The Kingdom of God is upside-down, or perhaps better said, down-side up. I might be leading fewer people with fewer resources, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m on a losing team. But then again, it might. Bottom line, it’s not my job to compete with other churches in an attempt to enlarge my numbers so I can feel like a winner. It’s my job to prayerfully discern if I’m losing because of disobedience or neglect and need to repent OR because God is just trimming the fat or simply burning off the dross so He can show off His glory.

If you are finding yourself feeling like a loser, take heart, God can do great things in the midst of your loss and brokenness. I’m praying for God to do that in my life and I pray He will do it for you as well.

 

A Prompting

Something tells me I must write,

Or perhaps someone;

My muse? God?

A schizophrenic episode?

 

I sit in silence, voices scream in my head,

Too many voices, jumbled words.

Slowly evolving into dictation,

Deciphering my legion of messengers.

 

At first, nothing makes sense,

Meaning uncertain, devoid of form.

But soon a sentence takes shape,

And a story is born.

 

At Arm’s Length

At Arm's length

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 I am afraid; but I’m too scared to admit it.

 I am afraid of you, and what you would think if you knew my fear.

 I am afraid of you; yet I don’t even know you. (But I know your type).

And it frightens me, so I keep you at arm’s length,

Just a face in the crowd, a statistic, my enemy.

 

I am afraid; so I mask my fear with loud condemnation.

It’s easier to preach against those I do not know.

 

I am afraid; so I camouflage my fear with humor.

Cutting sarcasm makes everyone laugh, right?

 

I am afraid; so I build beautiful walls around my neighborhood

With ornate gates that open only with secret passwords.

The secret? I am afraid.

 

I am afraid; so I project false courage and buy a gun,

That’s every American‘s right.

But I will only use it on those who wish me harm,

Those evil men whom I keep at arm’s length.

 

I am afraid. I am afraid of you;

Yet I don’t even know you. (But I know your type) 

And it frightens me…

 

    There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.”                                                                                              1 John 4:18

 

The Steps to Nowhere

Kiepe PlaceThere were steps on the back of my grandparents’ farmhouse that led to nowhere. Apparently, there was once a back porch that got enclosed in order to enlarge the kitchen for their growing family.

Even though those steps led to nowhere, I still remember them as an important and hallowed part of the family farm. Whenever our large family got together, say for the 4th of July holiday, those steps became the place where bushel baskets of fresh ears of corn were shucked and garden green beans were snapped by the pot-full. I have fond memories of playing hide and seek with my cousins in the back yard while the women prepared our feast perched on those back steps. Multitasking was the name of the game for them; shucking, snapping and visiting, all while keeping an eye on us kids.

While I never witnessed it, I’m pretty sure the back steps was also where a chicken or two made their ultimate contribution to dinner. Funny how those chickens scattered through the backyard during our games, but never once did they venture close to the back steps. I suppose they saw the steps as hallowed ground as well.

Every summer grandpa made a four-hour round trip trek to the Missouri Bootheel to buy a  pickup bed full of watermelons to bring back to friends and neighbors. After dinner, grandpa would use the back steps to bust open the dark green variegated rind, exposing the beautiful red flesh for the family to devour. Grandpa was a connoisseur of good melon and was known to cut them open only to eat the heart and leave the rest for us kids. We loved standing on the back steps and spitting the seeds into the yard.

The steps that went to nowhere are indeed hallowed in my mind. I believe they’re a beautiful metaphor for how our lives can be repurposed for something even greater than we had ever thought possible. If it seems your life is going nowhere, take heart; it just means you’re on the brink of a new purpose and adventure.

Was there a time in your life when you thought you had lost your purpose, only to discover a new purpose that was actually more meaningful than before?

The 6 Train and the Church

Today we will take the 6 train up to the Bronx to work in the World Vision Storehouse. Yesterday we took the same train up to Harlem to purchase some supplies at Costco’s for our servant evangelism project. On our return trip, I was fascinated by the different passengers that boarded the subway.

The 6 train route runs through the heart of Harlem, down through the upper East side, continuing through the shopping district, midtown, Rockefeller Plaza, Grand Central Terminal and on to City Hall in downtown. There is such an interesting diversity of passengers, from the kids from the hood, to the preps on a field trip, from the Spring breakers to the shoppers, and from the nannies and maids to the executives and young lions headed to the financial district, all traveling together, not only on the same train, but in the same car, side by side. Some are laughing and talking while others quietly read or nap. It all happened together.

This got me to thinking about the church. Wouldn’t it be great if we could all journey together, celebrating the diversity of God’s Kingdom, without feeling the need to divide the passengers into different denominational cars?

zoom-midtown-963

Leaving on a Jet Plane

abu-dhabi-plane-fly-sky

The pilot is on the intercom announcing our cruising altitude when Sally starts rummaging through her seat pocket looking for a barf bag.

“I need a bag, I’m feeling sick,” my wife says. She leans back in her seat. I quickly find a bag in my seat pocket and hand it to her, but she doesn’t take it. A bit perturbed, I nudge Sally’s arm, but she still doesn’t respond. When I look up, I see her ashen face staring blankly into space; her mouth gaped open as if she has suddenly been frightened to death.

“Sally, what’s wrong?” There is no response. She just sits there frozen. My heart is pounding in my ears as I begin yelling her name and patting, no, slapping her face for signs of life.

“Sally, honey! Wake up! Sally!” my mind is frantic. People around us start taking notice that something is terribly wrong. I push the flight attendant button, but no one comes, so I push it again and again, then yelling and waving my arms for help. The feeling of helplessness overwhelms me.

I turn back toward Sally just as she comes to. She looks at me with confusion, wondering why in the world I am in her face. As the flight attendant arrives on the scene, Sally leaves me again. What is going on? Is she having a seizure, is she dying? I fumble for a pulse, but my heart is beating so loudly, it is impossible to tell if it’s her pulse or mine.

Another flight attendant runs up with oxygen, but it isn’t working, so they call for another tank. They place the mask over her nose and mouth, but I keep removing it to see if she’s breathing. Finally, the flight attendant has me move away since I am obviously hindering their efforts to help.

I hear the announcement over the intercom seeking assistance from any medical personnel on board and then I see the angel from five rows up stand up and walk toward us. Her name is Lori and she’s a nurse. She sits down next to Sally and begins checking her vitals. Low blood pressure. Clammy skin.

The flight attendants are discussing the need to divert the plane when Sally finally comes back to us, the color quickly returning to her face, but mine will take more time to recover. I’m pretty sure, I just aged a year or two. She spends the rest of the flight wearing an oxygen mask while I sit and watch her breathe. My heart slowly reboots as I see my love, my life returning in her eyes.

She’s fine now, thanks to God, Nurse Lori and two calm flight attendants. We’re chalking it up to no sleep the night before, not enough hydration and a pattern of fainting spells that occur once every 15 to 20 years.

I write this as she sleeps in bed next to me. She’s breathing and I’m grateful.

Accusatory Living

Photo by purpleslog

Photo by purpleslog

Zealots, eager to take St. Paul’s challenge;
Hunting down heretics,
And wolves in wool blazers,
Suspecting snakes in the baptistry.

Pharisees gobbling down Sunday dinner;
Dining on southern fried preacher
Smothered in peppered gravy,
Serving rhubarb pie a la goad.

Critical analysis, parsing the pastor;
The sermons are too long, too short,
His over-worn necktie
Becomes a hangman’s noose.

Churches filled with Inspectors Javert
Spiritual guard dogs unleashed
Smelling fear, tasting blood,
Unending hunger for dirt.

Where is grace? Where is God?
Where is trust and brotherly love?
Lost in the forest of suspicious minds
Dead is accusatory living.

1 Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. 2 Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. 3 Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”
4 Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.
5 He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. 6 Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.      Mark 3:1-6

One Small Step : February 20

Mental Illness

Mental illness is distressing not only for the person who struggles with it, but also for family members and friends. Unlike physical illness, that can usually be observed and diagnosed, mental illness is rarely seen or understood by others and difficult to diagnose. When they finally do receive a diagnosis, it often continues to be a struggle finding the best treatment. Folks with mental illness deal with a myriad of challenges that affect their personal relationships, their jobs, their finances as well as their physical and emotional well-being. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could just pray mental illness away?

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.           2 Corinthians 12:9

One Small Step: We should certainly pray for God to heal mental illness, but I believe God still calls us to do our part, working toward our own recovery and supporting others who struggle with it. Check out NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) for helpful resources.