Like Always

This is my body
bones brittler than
a decade ago
eyes dependent
to glass distances
middle thickening
against my please
mind content to
mine yesterdays.
But my heart still
breaks then mends
breaks then mends
like always.
 
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I AM RESOLVED

I’ve zero interest in being a red letter christian
or a common good christian or whatever other
bastardization some feel crucial to crossfit the
old faith, tone it hard for our dark new world.
If the over articulate is the enemy of the erotic
could this not also threaten the desired agapic?
No, call me Christian – the one word that means
little Christ. This feels earthlingly possible,
that with Christ’s help I might achieve small feats
of uncommon graceness on the human scale.
Yes, Christian. I want to be swept away by this,
this noun I daily bear, this my light burden. 
 
 
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Christmas Day Meditation, 2016

As long as we’ve been a part of our local Lutheran congregation, a fundamental facet of our Christmas Eve service has always been communion. Always. And it was again last night. For almost forty-five minutes we were swept up in the drama of the birth of Christ via words and imagery and song, and then these words cut the narrative like a blade: “On the night he was betrayed…” And in that moment I heard those words like never before.
 
I realized that long before that black night of Judas-betrayal was the dark night of betrayal of his birth. In the timelessness of eternity that night he was handed over to us to do with as we pleased, and it pleased us to shout, “Crucify him! Give us Barabbas!”
 
But even though the betrayal was assured, still Christ came.
 
Of the many things that Christmas illuminates to us, maybe one of the most shining is that the purest incarnations of love will always be betrayed. Always. Oh, we don’t like to wallow in such negativity, but in our deepest marrow we know it to be true. For that pure brand of love is too intense, it howls and strips us bare to reveal us. And though we throw pep rallies rah-rahing our desire to be known, I’m not sure we really do. Or if we do, we only do to a point of our own choosing, and beyond that we rebel and say, “No more. It is too much.”
 
Even though the betrayal was assured, still Christ came.
 
On the night be was betrayed
Mary saw his newborn eyes harden
to the black of winter ice,
his stare chilling enough to melt the stars.
Christ was born to cherish us
and this he would accomplish,
even if it killed him.
 
       
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Dear Winn – 8 December 2016

Dear Winn:
Its a little before 6am here, and its 3°. Most of my younger life I dreamed of, as that line from Harry Nilsson’s song so pointedly put it, “going where the weather suits my clothes.” Now, here in my forty-ninth year, I realize that dream has come true. My weather app tells me that by 7am it will be 0° and from there the newly risen sun will be burdened with warming us up a bit, today’s high of 12°. I share such weather statistics with my parents when I call and they ask if its cold here. There is always a minuscule pause on their end, and in that stillness I think they still wonder where on earth their son has gone to live.
 
I was glad when you too said you had decided to use Mary Oliver’s new book – Upstream – as your Advent reading material. I have learned over the years that for me, reading a book of some sort helps give shape to this season. Without a book my soul gets unwieldy, and that’s no good. This book doesn’t have to be distinctly Christian. In fact, I prefer that it not be. I love worldly, earthy books that my Christian imagination can get all mixed up in and roll around in the sheets, sorta like the Incarnation.
 
And I have also learned that if I’ll just be patient around the end of November, the right book will usually present itself. Not always, but usually. Winn, as soon as I read this line near the start – Attention is the beginning of devotion – I knew the right book had found me, one more time. I just adore Mary’s hypethral theology. She is so rooted in the world. And that’s what I believe this season to be so much about – God rooting himself in this world. I don’t agree with everything Mary writes, but I find myself agreeing with more than I disagree. It seems to me in that tipping of the scales lies kinship.
 
I was reading “Emerson: An Introduction” and this line arrested me: Soon after Ellen Tucker’s death he left the pulpit. I know you know a little of the story of my leaving the pulpit. It wasn’t due to the death of someone I loved but rather someone I’d been. And as hard and as painful as it is, and God knows it is, the only way for new things to be born is for old things to die. That’s kinda where my head’s been these early days of Advent, Winn – on the old things that had to die in order for something or someone else to take their place. The adolescent stance is to see those old things as bad or less-than, but that’s just silly. Those old things were the seeds, seeds which remain in the soft grip of memory, seeds of which I will be forever grateful.
 
Winn, I believe just about anything’s possible, but chances are good that if I hadn’t left the pulpit I would never have met you. I would have never met Brennan Manning (lord, he was an absolute piece of work, and I miss him dearly). I would never have started writing poetry, or at least started writing it in the frame of mind in which I did. I would never have grown a ponytail. I cannot recall a single Southern Baptist pastor I knew who had a beard much less a ponytail, ever. I would never have met star-brilliant writers like Kent Haruf and Pam Houston, and James Smith. I would never have met and then grieved a lady named Kara Tippetts. I would never have stumbled upon an AM radio station in Denver that spun my kind of music, and befriended its good dj Rick Crandall. If I hadn’t left the pulpit I would have possibly never finally found myself where the weather suits my clothes.             
 
That’s kinda where my head’s been, seeing myself standing in a room full of people much like that final scene in It’s A Wonderful Life, looking around at the eyes gathered, with a goofy George Bailey look on my face thinking “How on earth did I get here?” And then that old familiar pain: I remember that something has to die in order for something to be born.
 
Coraggio.
John
 
 
 
 
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And All For What?

The inglorious angels speak of
Incarnation as The Great Betrayal –
the breaking of every existent code
and convention of divinity, an
infidelity if there ever was one.
In touching the young Jewish girl
God’s reputable chastity fell scarlet.
The contact with Mary’s waiting flesh
sowed the seed for God’s new electric skin.
He then grew alive to every breeze,
sensitive to the appearances of the moon,
bent to give and to offer but just as
temptable to taking, and the longing.
And all that loss of position for what?
The oldest excuse in the world: Love.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Dear Winn – 18 November 2016

Dear Winn:
Happy Birthday, pard! I never had the pleasure of meeting your Mom, but I bet she was tickled pink when the doctor handed you to her. Yes, I betcha she held you close and breathed you in, all howevermany justborn pounds of ya. The gift of a son. My, my. Who knows, maybe she whispered something prophetic like, “One of these days you shall have a friend named John.” Ha!
 
But back to that phrase Happy Birthday. I do hope you’re happy, Winn, or at least inching every day closer to that feeling. I sense that in you, what with being lucky-duck married to the lovely Miska, and having your sweet sons growing tall right before your eyeballs, then there’s that old cantankerous farmhouse you’re all shacking up in these days, plus you’re almost a Pee-H-Dee so that soon and very soon I call address you as Doc Collier. There are always shitter days now and then, lord we both know that full well, but it really is a wonderful life when you stop and take stock. So yes, from your old pal John George Bailey Blase – Happy Birthday!
 
It is not lost on me that your birthday is mucho close to Thanksgiving. Just know that when I count my many blessings later next week, which will include having my college kids home (I got teary just typing that, god I miss ’em), one of the earthly blessings I will count is you. The gift of your friendship surprised me, at least the way its grown to what it is today. I liked you from the first time we met, but I didn’t know that I would grow to love you. And I do, my good one-year-older friend. I do.
 
Coraggio.
John   
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America’s Tomorrow

Were I a bit younger and not
kindly cut I would approach my
wife in whispers and plead my
case for another child.
Her eyes would no doubt double
and she would say But we have three
and they are radiant in the sun.
I would say yes, yes.
But, I would press on, we could
stir the dust and with God’s help
welcome another, and name
the child America.
Her eyes would no doubt triple
and she would say America?
I would say yes, yes.
But, she would insist, a child
so named now would be
shouldered with symbol –
the cross of justice for all –
plus sadly we won’t live always
and who would defend this child?
I would say yes, yes,
but the older three learned well
the lessons necessary to tutor
a sibling into such a name…I
believe our current children
could ensure America’s tomorrow.
It is possible my wife’s eyes might soften,
possible she might say yes.
 
*(Lesser Ury, Couple Walking in the Woods)
ury
 
 
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