The Flood

I knew a man once
(not fourteen days ago)
who went down into Jordan, rain falling
down and down, the dirty water
circling, eddying round his breaking
stone-soul, foam-flecked,
baptized into Death,

And the Baptizer stood by, 
beside him in the water, 
scarred feet set firm on the hard
stone of the bottom, flotsam 
caught in his beard, the wind 
whipping his hair in the mist, water
flowing round his belly.

But cold wet Death
burns strangely warm in the cold
circle of the horizon, and the Baptizer
smiles, and a living stone 
floats in the rain.

Cañon City

I’ve been here in Colorado for the past few days. I hadn’t seen the Rocky Mountains in person in fourteen years, and they’re even bigger, even more beautiful, than I’d remembered. But there are things so much bigger than the Rockies.

There are things so big that one needs a whole new horizon in which to fit them. But the eyes it takes to see those things fit like new glasses. They hurt. That’s what this poem is about.

Cañon City


Does everything die? You fool,
I went out into a field in the night,
and a chill wind blew through the grass,
and a chill wind blew through my bones,
and I forgot the life I’d lived,
forgot the life I’d wanted to live.

Today I climbed a mountain–
the scenery here was spectacular.
But in this dark, in this fog, I couldn’t see
more than a hundred feet.

Home tomorrow. A hundred feet, huh.
I can’t take the rocks with me, can’t take the cactus, the blue sky, the Rockies, only memories . . .
I forget.
Tell me: does everything die?


Lord Jesus,
tell me: does everything die?
I am the grass. Green and fresh now . . .
Generations go, and the Rockies are eroding.
I, I am the fool.

Home tomorrow. I am a fool,
and my works follow me, and my hands
hang down. Only one Rock in this night
stands firm, Lord Jesus.

Lead Us In

We will take Your hand,
You will lead us in.
Take away our pain,
take away our sin.
Give us peace around,
give us love within:
we will take Your hand,
You will lead us in.

We will take Your hand,
hand by which we’re fed.
Living water, quench;
fill us, living bread.
Boundless life impart:
Raise us from the dead.
We will take Your hand,
hand by which we’re fed.

We will take Your hand,
hand that brings the light.
Come and touch our eyes—
come restore our sight—
Eyes to see by faith
Day defeats the night
when we take Your hand,
hand that brings the light.

We will take Your hand,
hand that took the nail.
We will reach to You
through the parted veil,
feel Your grasp of love,
grace that cannot fail.
We will take Your hand,
hand that took the nail.

We will take Your hand,
You will lead us in.
There’ll be no more pain,
there’ll be no more sin.
Perfect peace around,
perfect love within:
we will take Your hand,
You will lead us in.


The Weary

(Beware that I have been known to take eisegesis to ridiculous levels. Just like my literary-critic heroes.)

Lately I’ve been floundering a little, to be honest.

If you’ve talked to me in the last month, I’ve probably communicated that my life is finally beginning to come together. That I feel like I have some direction. And that I have a lot of ambition. And none of that has changed. But I’ve begun to realize that the short term is just as important in my life as the long term—and that’s uncomfortable, because short-term planning is something I shrink from.

Some of this feeling is a coming-of-age angst that will pass (I hope) in a couple of years. Wandering, though, is a trait of God’s people throughout recorded history. Just think of Hebrews: “They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins”. Or Second Corinthians: “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair”.

I have a wonderfully charming book on this subject in my library—Chaim Potok’s Wanderings: A History of the Jews. The title says it all; Potok’s people have been homeless, restless, since the day God displaced their ancestor Abraham. Restless four millennia.

The story I ultimately find encouraging, though, is even older than Abraham. It’s from what many scholars have called the oldest book in the Bible, the book of Job; and if there ever was a story of a displacement, of a wandering, of trouble and perplexity, this is it.

I was drawn to this story again because of Job’s words in chapter 26:14 (forgive me, I’ve already forgotten where I came across them): “Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand?” But I decided I’d start at the beginning. And, ironically, I found comfort in Job’s first recorded outburst to his friends after he’s lost everything, in his raw ragged shock and grief:

“Why did I not die at birth, come out from the womb and expire? Why did the knees receive me? Or why the breasts, that I should nurse? For then I would have been quiet; I would have slept; then I would have been at rest….Or why was I not as a hidden stillborn child, as infants who never see the light? There the wicked cease from troubling, and there the weary are at rest….Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in (Job 3:11-13, 16, 17, 23)?”

(Here’s where I eisegete.)

Intelligent people through all ages have puzzled over the questions of existence and purpose; I dare not discredit them all. However, the entire issue seems so obvious to me.

As a Christian, I must believe several things about this scenario:

  1. That there is a God Who created every man (Genesis 1, 2).
  2. That this God determines men’s affairs (Daniel 4:17).
  3. That God is light, and no darkness can be found in Him (1 John 1:5).
  4. That God has provided a plan—a plan—a means by which His entire creation will someday see that light (John 3:16,17; Philippians 2:5-11).

Given these premises, I ought to reach a simple conclusion: that we exist solely to become part of the great Illumination. Then, since we know that there is no darkness in God, we can rest assured that any method He uses will bring us to that place of illumination. And further, we know that some of His methods favour ends over means: “Whom the Lord loves, He chastens; He scourges every son He receives (Hebrews 12:6).

Now to bring my wanderings back into focus—

No test seems fun in the present (Don’t be too literal about this. I loved taking English exams). No stretch comes without a little more pain. No prize comes without practice. No growth occurs without added responsibility.

But I am persuaded that the tests, the pains, the burdens of my life—the blood, toil, tears, and sweat, as Churchill famously put it—are in my life for a reason. I get to experience them in the process of learning how to reflect His glorious light.

Or as Job said himself:

“Behold, I go forward, but he is not there, and backward, but I do not perceive him; on the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him; he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him. But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold (Job 23:8-10).”

Sometimes other people’s words say it so much better than mine. And now is one of those times; since I can’t be bothered to write a poem this afternoon, I’ve got this classic attributed to Edwin Markham:

Defeat may serve as well as victory
To shake the soul and let the glory out.
When the great oak is straining in the wind,
The boughs drink in new beauty, and the trunk
Sends down a deeper root on the windward side.
Only the soul that knows the mighty grief
Can known the mighty rapture. Sorrows come
to stretch out spaces in the heart for joy.

Love and peace. No matter what you’re facing.

Gathering the family

Yesterday was Christmas Day.

Throughout the Western world, the twenty-fifth of December was marked by several things: a wholesale slaughter of turkeys; an infestation of mutant LED-lit reindeer and inflatable fuzzy old men; a tremendous transfer of small finances (the average Canadian spends over six hundred dollars on Christmas gifts); and so forth. Everyone knows the harrowing effects of indulging in a little too much holiday spirit.

But another notorious thing about our most notorious festival is its ability to bring people together. All sorts of people, from far-flung places, of widely varying status, of infinitely varying personality. People who couldn’t get along with each other at any other time of year will gladly load their plates together on Christmas Day.

What part of Christmas gives it this consolidating power? It’s probably a combination of multiple factors. Few people don’t enjoy a great meal once in a while (not to mention all those mysterious things wrapped in pretty paper). Even those who don’t think much of such excesses can enjoy the music, or the weather—Anybody else excited by the white Christmas he had this year?—or something. A lot of people are willing to bear with things for a day or two that they’d be hard-pressed to endure over the span of a year.

And of course, a lot of people are reluctant to break into fights on a day that still harks faintly to the singing of angel heralds, the prayers of humble shepherds, the exotic gifts of foreign rulers, the pride of a mother and the love of the Father. The birthday of a Saviour, to be exact, and the incarnation of Love.

Why can’t we have Christmas every day?

It’s not that we need three hundred sixty-five helpings of turkey per year, or that we need to give each other useless little trinkets more often, or that sitting on Santa’s lap makes us better people. But we do need each other. Everybody needs somebody. And the way we come together at Christmas is a beautiful thing.

Near the top of this post, I made a wry reference to holiday spirit. The truth, though, is that the Saviour Whose birth we celebrated yesterday has given us a much more powerful Spirit—a Spirit, in fact, with the power to unify us permanently.

Since I last posted here (and I’m sorry it’s been so long; I intend to post more often in the future), I’ve been to Michigan for a one-week Bible camp. That’s a long story that I don’t intend to tell here. But one of the greatest things I was able to experience there was the very unifying Spirit I’m talking about. At the beginning of the week, I didn’t know anybody—most of us campers felt a little out of our league. But that didn’t keep God from bringing us together in amazing ways, opening us up to each other, freeing us to pray together, worship together, simply be together.

In Christ we are all brothers and sisters—we ought to be one big happy family. May I suggest that a family with no serious relationships is incredibly dysfunctional? Yet so often our churches are oriented exclusively to individualist agendas, and far too many members of the Family are slipping away because they have no relationships.

I’d like to set some theology straight in all our minds. I don’t have space to go into a lot of detail here (though I’ll undoubtedly come back to these topics in future posts), so I’m going to be quick and blunt.

First, Christmas Day isn’t your birthday. Jesus didn’t come for you. He didn’t die for you. He came and He died for everyone and for everything—the whole creation that is currently sweating and groaning under a painful curse. He came to set us all free.

Second, you cannot thrive alone. The apostle Paul uses the illustration of a body: “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you'” (I Cor. 12:21). Every single Christian is an equally valid, equally valuable part of this body.

Finally—and obviously—the unity I’m talking about cannot benefit you. It can only help us. Brotherhood involves giving things up, letting things go, for the sake of community.

But that’s not the end of the story. This is the Christmas season, after all, and there are some gifts under the Tree.

God gave Haggai a tough message to some tough people. These people had been through a lot. They’d just suffered seventy years of oppression. Then, by God’s grace, they’d been released to go back to their own land, and they’d gone joyfully. But it didn’t take them long to forget everything they’d learned while they were gone. The people that had come back from Babylon had stood together, had worked together, had rebuilt the wall of their city in an astounding fifty-two days. But they’d lost focus. They’d given up on community, they’d gone back to pursuing their own ends, they’d decided God’s house wasn’t important. And God wasn’t happy about it.

So He sent Haggai. The prophet had a burden for brotherhood, a burden for a new focus on God among his people. He explained why life had turned so tough on them:

Consider your ways. You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes….You looked for much, and behold, it came to little. And when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why? declares the Lord of hosts. Because of my house that lies in ruins, while each of you busies himself with his own house (Haggai 1:5,6,9).

Then the people gathered together, like the family of God that they were, and built His house. It wasn’t much. The new temple didn’t look like a hill of beans compared to Solomon’s. But God promised that He would bless community:

My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not….The treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts….The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the Lord of hosts (Haggai 2:5,7,9).

I just can’t get over how powerful community is, and how important it is to God and to His people. Where two or three are gathered in God’s name, He is there, remember? And where God is, great things happen.

Planning to make a list of resolutions for Monday? Put intentional community near the top. You will be profoundly blessed—mark my words—by the things God does for us.

In principio

In the beginning was the Word.

That’s how it started. God spoke two words into the endless emptiness of eternity:

—Yehi ‘or, let there be light, and there was light.

More than that, it’s been obvious from the start, from the time when He used to walk with Man and Woman in the afternoon shade: God loves communication. He loves hearing His children tell Him all about their hopes and dreams. And He loves to reply, to break the silence with a word or two; He loves to bring a little of His light to their childish darkness.

They bear His image, these children of His. They have a little of His character ingrained within them. They have a little of His love for words. They have a little of the power with which He expresses those words—because words are powerful. They have a little of the same urge He has to create, to use His words to bring light to dark places. They have a deep-seated need to use those words to worship Him. But these children are just that: children. They haven’t learned all the tricks of their Father’s trade.

And there’s an Enemy out there, a pervert, a predator who wants to use and abuse the children for his own ends. An Enemy with the cold slimy heart of a snake coiled and ready to strike. An Enemy who’s learned how to use words. Not his own—the Enemy has no creative power. But it didn’t take him long to figure out how to twist the Father’s words, how to use their innate power for his own purposes: seduction, desecration, destruction. And it didn’t take long for his pernicious plans to infiltrate the innocent minds of helpless children.

So now they’re no longer innocent. The children of God know how to use the power of their words to worship and serve themselves. And far too often they do just that. The gift of language, that precious power with which He entrusted them, is turned against Him. The word that created so much is found to be able to destroy it even more quickly. The word that once brought light to life out of an endless darkness now snuffs that light without a second thought.

God looks at His twisted children, and His heart breaks for them, and His Spirit stirs within Him, and He whispers the saddest words:

—You are not my people, He says, and I will not be your God.

The story doesn’t stop there, of course. Because we children don’t hear His words, God sends His Word to begin something new—In principio est verbum,  in the beginning is the Word. The perfect Word, the eternal Word, with the power to create us a way of escape from the Enemy’s abuse.

But it’s strange how hard it is to unlearn the habits the Enemy taught us. It’s terrible, really: we still seduce and destroy our brothers and sisters with our words. Without a second thought, we hurt and crush and disregard; we bite and devour each other.

Recently I’ve been thinking about how terribly we of the household of faith treat each other, how judgmental we are toward each other. We let our little differences get in the way of the communication that God meant us to have. Instead of talking things over, we love to criticize them loudly (I guess pretending to know it all makes us feel smart). We love to bite off heads. It gives us that crazy rush of adrenaline.

But sometimes when heads are bitten off, the damage is irreversible.

It’s not that we’re not supposed to use the power of words. Au contraire, God intends us to use that power for His kingdom. And that’s where this problem is most serious: though we know God, we don’t glorify Him as God. We become vain in our words, and our foolish hearts are darkened. We’ve been given words that free, yet too often we use our words to bind. When we indulge in verbal cannibalism, neither the eaters nor the eaten are taking the time to go teach all nations.

James looks at this whole mess and comes down hard on it:

—No one can tame his tongue. It’s undisciplined and evil, it’s dripping with deadly venom.

But he goes on to say that God can tame it (which makes sense after all: shouldn’t the One Who created words be able to reverse the damage we’ve done to them?):

Where people are jealous, where they look out only for their own interests, everything will be twisted and degenerate. But when they get wisdom from above, they become pure—peaceable—gentle—reasonable—merciful and fruitful—they are freed from bias and hypocrisy. And those who make peace, those who scatter the seeds of peace, will reap righteousness.

That’s a vision for the church, it’s a vision for this blog, it’s a vision for you and a vision for me.

He’s a Palestinian. Everyone involved in his society, from the American diplomat with a hat four sizes too big for her to the dirt-poor goatherd, knows the destructive power of words. But Manal Hreb says it so well:

Bein hachoshekh la’or elech tamid
uvachol makom shelekh.
Eftach chalon, chalon shel ‘or,
v’azra zi’rei ah vah.

Bayn al ‘atmah w’al nur sa’amshee dayman
wabekul makan sa’amshee
sa ‘aftah shubaak, shubaak annur
wa sa azra buthoor al hohb.

Between darkness and light I will always walk,
and wherever I will go,
I will open the window of light,
and will plant the seeds of love.

And it all starts with a word.