today, as i was driving to town, about to turn left down a familiar stretch of road, i looked both ways several times before i pulled out, continuing to search the lanes for oncoming traffic even as i turned. basic driving discipline, right? when i was learning to drive, i remember that specific turn being a major cause of discussments between my father and me — i’d forget to look right, or i’d just look once each way and be done with it, and, when i got a little (but not much) wiser, i’d turn my head back and forth lots of times just so my father would see that i was going through the motions. i wanted him to see my performance of the task so that i could go on peacefully without any grief.  i was doing what i was supposed to, but it was in vain.  i had missed the point.

several years and a wreck or two later, i look both ways before i turn out because i know it is imperative. if i don’t look for oncoming cars or if i look without seeing, i am putting myself at high risk. now, i see the value behind the discipline.

spiritual disciplines have, for me, developed in the same way. i once read scripture and prayed because i know that i should. i knew reading and talking to the Lord were things that Christians do, but, as i did with looking both ways before i pulled my car out, i had missed the point severely. i didn’t want the guilt of not going through the motions, so i’d do it to appease the Lord.

how absurd! appease the Lord with an empty, heartless offering!?

the Lord speaks through Isaiah to the sons of Judah (Isaiah 1):

when you come to appear before me,
who has required of you
this trampling of my courts?

bring no more vain offerings;
incense is an abomination to me.
new moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations —
i cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly.

your new moons and your appointed feasts
my soul hates.
they have become a burden to me
i am weary of bearing them.

our solemn, heartless rituals do not please the Lord.  in fact, he despises them.  he despises anything that gets in the way of Him taking posession of our full hearts.  He didn’t tell us to hide his word in our hearts, to pray without ceasing, to present all things before Him just so He could make us feel guilty when we don’t perform.  no, He commands these things of us because these things ultimately bring about our good and His glory.  the pursuit of these things is the pursuit of that which is truly life.

Isaiah goes on to say:

wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes;
cease to do evil;
learn to do good;
seek justice;
correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless;
plead the widow’s cause.

rather than offer the Lord a 30 minute block of our busy days to get Him out of the way, may we humble ourselves and offer Him our entire hearts and lives that He may have His way for His glory. may He infect all we do with purpose and with the intention of becoming more and more like His Son.

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tyranny

April 6, 2009

The tyranny of a single man
spills onto a nation
as though his conscience
has been seared,
left under the iron
a moment or so too long.

Behind the man,
a child soldier
marches in line,
holding an AK47,
and lets out a breath
that is too heavy
for a ten-year-old.
The wind carries it –
transatlantic –
and I breathe in,
choking for a moment
on indignation,
in sudden fury
at the injustice
in the air.

I recover my breath,
continue my shopping,
and call a friend,
triviality falling
from my lips
like acid rain.

I perpetuate the evil.

the music of conversation

February 19, 2009

The music of conversation
begins, perhaps, with a warm-up
of small talk and treading lightly
in search of harmony.
We know the scales:
weather, profession, mutual friends,
and can whip them
from our pockets in an instant,
but the notes soon begin to flow
in more complex form,
weaving out of one’s vocal chords
and into the other’s eardrums,
invoking art, vivid splashes of color,
and the warmth of connection
blankets us both.
Carelessness, maybe, or comfort,
drops the reigns of the tongue,
and as suddenly as if the conductor
had been bumped off of his stand,
the music crashes into discord,
shattering to pieces at our feet.
Blue silence hangs between us,
and we part, in agreement
that it will be awhile
until the next performance.

train station

February 7, 2009

As she got off the train in Memphis,

she understood what it meant

to hear the dirge of a heart with

a single look into the eyes.

He leaned against a snack machine

as she clambered off the car

with a suitcase in each fist,

searching the sea for her city friend.

He stared ahead blankly, not tasting

a pair of pink Sno-ball cakes,

as a dark crescent moon

descended down each cheek.

Bodies bustled into his line of sight,

but they merely bounced away,

never penetrating his solitude.

Why her parents let her board

the train alone at age eleven

is a mystery to her,

but she prays for the man still,

thirty-seven years later.

felicity

January 27, 2009

Two days ago,
Tea captured my affinity
In the mug of a friend’s
Hospitality.

I was unaware
Of the drink’s capability
To enter so often my
Verbosity,

But that cup of chai
Offered curious dexterity
On the whole of our
Vitality.

So leave to the dregs
The choke of animosity
And the stifling of
Vanity,

And drink deeply
The delight of generosity
(And don’t neglect
Spontaneity).

grandpa’s pond

January 19, 2009

The pond in Jackson,
More of an oversized puddle, really,
Bears easily the pair of ducks
Gliding over its surface.

The feathery couple,
Initially interested by my presence,
Loses interest on discovering
I’ve forgotten handouts.

Pine needles litter the banks,
Dropped as playbills after a show
Leaving bare the tall specimens
Gathered at the theater.

A path of ancient bricks,
Once making a complete circle,
Disappears beneath my feet,
My walk now cushioned.

I remember the advice,
“The world is too much with us.”
The moss grabs the bricks
And spreads its fingers.

the echo

January 2, 2009

The wind halted my long run today.
I decided instead to lie down
On the hilly lawn of Union University,
Smack dab in the “U” sculpted out of bushes.

A thought welled up inside my head.
I watched the clouds heave,
And they began to play tricks on me,
Convincing me I rather saw waves in the ocean.

Then the others got in on the joke.
In the limbs of the bushes,
I saw tributaries branching out of a river,
And the veins carrying my blood were there, too.

The wind, of course, took its turn.
I felt the earth inhale,
Even as my own lungs filled themselves,
And nature’s respiration proved much more effective.

happy first.

December 1, 2008

the first day
of a month:
to me, it is a
mini new year’s.

i resolve
to be better
to be smarter
to be healthier.

i resolve
to pickle a cucumber
to find my trumpet
to say i love you.

it seems that
if there is a
new name on
the calendar,

it is more likely
that i can make
a new name
for myself.

breathe in
freshness
any chance
you get.

put me in.

November 19, 2008

lately, i haven’t seen much playing time.  i’ve been sitting the bench, watching the action, quite disconnected from what’s actually taking place. the thing is, though, i put myself here.  i walked off of the court, and i plopped down onto this chair voluntarily.

i expected the chair to have more cushion.

i remember before the game. this summer. august.

i am so eager.  i watch as the coach draws up the plays on the whiteboard, hanging on his every word, muscles tense, ready to put the x’s and dotted lines into action.  ready to make representation into reality.

the buzzer sounds, and i’m suddenly very confused.  this court doesn’t look like the one i saw back in the locker room, drawn with a squeaky blue expo marker.  but i should know; i just learned the play, didn’t i? in my confusion, the game goes on.

the ball is suddenly in my hands, a foreign object.  i hold it away from my body, unprotected; the other team swiftly grabs it. shoot, score. my head falls. i hear the coach saying something, but my ears are ringing, the crowd is hollering.  i can’t make out the words.

but, okay, that was just one time. just a mistake. i’ll get it together here in a minute.  the ball hits me in the head.  i recover it, though, and somehow, the ball finds its way through the hoop.  except it wasn’t ours.

i’m devastated. i thought i knew how to do this. i run off of the court as fast as i can; i want to hide from the crowd and never have to feel so confused and lost again.

most of all, oh most of all — i don’t want to look at my coach.  i could not bear to see confirmed on his face what i know to be true: i’m just not cut out for this game.

i bury my head in my towel, soaked by now with sweat and tears.

i feel a hand on my shoulder.  i slowly slip my towel off of my head and peek up into the eyes of my coach.  i’m startled deeply that there is not a trace of disappointment in his eyes. they are kind. they always have been, but today, surely today he has reason to be upset. instead, i hear him say:

‘ mel, hey, you ready? we need you out there. look — no subs. you were so eager before, you forgot to hear my voice. i am talking you through every play. listen. pick my voice out above the crowd. and really, truly — i just love watching you play. ‘

suddenly, i remember my love for the game.

except, it’s no game at all, really.

oh, i love Him so much.

the office.

November 14, 2008

i want you to meet a few of the characters at my office.  unfortunately, there is no jim to be found.

meet bob. bob is a round man in his mid-fifties or so, and he is the boss.  the main thing about bob is that you can always tell if he has had contact with a stack of papers because there will be coke stains all over them.  i always know what he ate for lunch, because it covers the front of his shirt quite artfully. but he would not like you to point that out. okay, that isn’t the main thing about him, but it seriously cracks me up.  he is constantly checking the stock market and constantly losing money in the stock market. he talks to himself more than a little bit, and he laughs after everything he says.  and he may or may not have a problem controlling the volume of his voice.

meet john.  john is my friend.  he is also about in his mid-fifties, and he just got back from a cruise.  john always gives me a piece of strawberry hard candy when i arrive, and he always gives me gum at 3:00. “is it close enough to chewin’ gum time yet?” he asks me from his office.  he just got a puppy, and he shows me pictures of it nearly every day. i have never known someone with so many stories.

meet brenda.  she was a scarecrow for halloween.  she has the most sweet, calm kindergarten teacher voice in the world, but it is kind of misleading.  she fully believes that a ghost resides in her house, and she talks about how the ghost turns on her lights while she is gone to run up her electricity bill. a few weeks ago, brenda smashed me between our rolling file shelves, and this is what began our relationship.  she called me over to her cubicle the other day to show me pictures of policemen without shirts on.  her voice does not match her personality.

meet penelope peaknuckle.  she is the kitty cat who has taken up residence outside the office.  we watch her comings and goings through the big window, and the girls by that window have taken to feeding her.  i don’t know what penelope eats on the weekends.  she used to have kittens, and they all had names too, but they have disappeared, much to our disappointment.

meet casey.  she is a tiny middle-aged woman with short curly hair, and she has a very distinct smell to her.  not a bad one, just a distinct one.  her daughter has rocket dog shoes like mine, she says.  no one likes casey.  anytime she walks up to a group and tries to add to the conversation, everyone stops talking and disperses.  in the new office, they are putting her in a room by herself because no one wants to have a desk next to her.  i like casey.  not because i’m awesome, but because i don’t really see what there is to hate so much?  sure, she talks a lot, but as far as i can tell, so does everyone in that entire office. she was a whoopie cushion for halloween.

meet kari.  she is a young girl who does something with insurance, and she is on a diet.  she eats chick-fil-a every day, though, so i guess i’d like to be on that kind of diet.  she has the same eye disease as i do, and that is mostly what we talk about.  she rearranges her desk about once a week, and you should avoid telling her that she should vote. she doesn’t like that.

meet melanie.  she is the college-aged file clerk who comes in from 1-5 every afternoon, except on fridays sometimes.  she got smashed in the file shelves the other day, and she didn’t even say anything until brenda looked in and saw that she was smashing her.  she always has weird-colored water.  and she goes to the bathroom a lot.  she brought some massive bags of tortilla chips for the halloween party that we didn’t even eat, and she always takes her shoes off. sure wish she would leave them on.