A Poem

Morning

I sat at the base of the tree
Grasping my book tight
My fingers gripping the pen as words furiously took shape
I poured my heart unto the pages
Like climbing into them
Like being one with the fibers of the papers
Overflowing

In a moment the wind gusts
And my pages explode into the air
Each one catching it’s own current
Like a parasail aloft
Like a kite swelled and dancing among the clouds
Soaring

But these pages were my story
And this was not how it unfolded
I leapt to retrieve them
Dashing and thrashing
Arms wailing in the air to snatch the loose pages from flight
Like desperation in the ring
Like panic embodied and hands hopelessly grasping
Reeling

Tears flood my eyes as the pages vanish from sight
Carried away to join someone else’s story
Because what remained in my hands was what was left of mine
Like a disordered novel
Like unintended consequences
Fleeing

I dropped to my knees
With the fragments of my carefully planned life
Shifting between my fingers
It was not how I had written it
The story had been derailed
It’s order dismantled
Like a deconstructed novel
Like a puzzle inadvertently kicked
Waiting

And a whisper swirls into my ear and tells me,
This is your life
Shake hands with the unknown darkness
And welcome with joy the known light
Like meeting a new friend
Like starting a new adventure
Smiling

I grip the loose tattered remnants
And pulled them close to my heart
My hands still gripping
But perhaps less tightly
Like a new chapter unfurling
Like a corner being turned
Awakening

–jbs

Getting Old Stinks…Regardless of the Age

There have been several events, as of late, announcing the reality of my “accumulated birthdays” (as my friend Shari describes aging). There are the subtle hints, such as a strange desire (and resulting joy!) in tucking my t-shirts into my sweatpants; the complete comfort in standing at the bus stop with your kids in your bathrobe and a cup of coffee that reads, “World’s Best Dad”; and the hearing that seems to tune out anything undesirable. My kids could be complaining at the top of their lungs about their waffles being too cold and, on my honor, I would not hear them, even if they were stepping on my feet (which is often).

And then there are the more glaring examples, such as the move to “progressive” lenses, which undoubtedly heralds the transition to the second half of your life. After testing my vision, my optometrist looked at me sympathetically and said, “it happens to the best of us.”

There is the frustratingly slow metabolism, which manifests itself in unsightly love handles and a more prominent gut. Sure, there are those freakishly fit 40-something guys out there (my dad calls them “flat-bellied home-wreckers”) who seemingly have time for hours in the gym or elaborate workout routines. But for the most part, guys my age are starting to put on a little weight.

And then there are the pains. Recently I threw my back out by….sleeping. Yep, sleeping. Somehow I slept in the wrong position, which resulted in me unable to bend without a sudden yelp of pain for days. Soreness, stiffness–all the signs of age.

Crankiness seems to come a lot more easily, too. As a father of 5, I couldn’t help but relate to the cantankerousness of the father in the wonderful classic, “A Christmas Story.” My kids affirmed this similarity, too. Oh well. I snarl about leaving the lights on, protest any request costing even a nickel, and find myself often referring to “when I was your age.” All signs of getting old.

And I don’t like it one bit. Sure, there is the wisdom that comes with aging. Blah, blah, blah. It still doesn’t make up for that crestfallen feeling you experience when you are getting your hair cut and the stylist points out the thinning hairline and gives you a condescending frown.

But like every other guy who’s either in or approaching middle age, I’m going to FIGHT IT. I’m going to stay current with music, buy hip clothes (Old Navy is hip, right? Right?), and keep up with the Kardashians. I’m also going to order one of those FitBits….to go above my Medical ID bracelet.

Nothing New Under the Sun?

“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9 (NIV).

This blog is not intentionally a theological blog, but considering I am a seminarian, I expect faith and spiritual themes to weave themselves in periodically.  And despite the quoted bible quote, this post isn’t really theological at all.  Rather, a recent experience called to mind this verse (and its biblical truth) so I had to reference it.

I recently started the remarkable memoir, “Just Kids” by punk rocker Patti Smith recalling the early days of her friendship with artist Robert Mapplethorpe.  The book has pulled me into this bohemian fantasy and I truly can’t put it down.   It’s such a different reality from my staid, suburban lifestyle that I’m truly fascinated. (It’s also well written, earning it the 2010 National Book Award for Non-Fiction).

But until I started this book, I had never really listened to Smith’s music.  So while cooking dinner tonight, I pulled up her album “Horses” and took a listen and immediately thought, “that’s Courtney Love”.  I had a similar experience, curiously, when I first listened to Jimi Hendrix as an interested listener (not just a high school bystander) and was immediately struck by how the guitar distortion was so clearly borrowed from him (or “inspired” perhaps) by Nirvana and the likes of other grunge bands.

Similarly, I recall listening to a live album of Richard Pryor and was equally struck by how I thought I was listening to an older Eddie Murphy.  The cadence, the jokes, (the vulgarity) was all the same.  So what occurred to me was, as Solomon wrote, “there is really nothing new under the sun.”  Not that this is necessarily a bad thing.  Admittedly, everyone is inspired by someone.  Furthermore,  many times artists, writers, and filmmakers breathe new life into older forms, or re-imagine a work that’s been previously done and renews it completely (the new “Star Trek” films comes to mind).

But I find it interesting to apply this understanding to a variety of forms.  Consider the adage, “history repeats itself” and you get the point.  So, I guess the point is to enjoy these contemporary forms and expressions, but try digging a little deeper and try to discover the “original” inspiration;  pay homage, of sorts, to the predecessors or those who paved the way for them.  You might end up not only gaining a deeper appreciate for the current form, but also perhaps exposing yourself to an entirely new artist altogether.

Creatively Working through Life’s Questions

Personal questions or internal debates usually serve as the catalysts for some of the best art.  These questions could be personal, existential ones, or they could be general, more global questions that peak the interest of the artist.  Either way, the artists are using their art as a medium for processing these questions and working toward a deeper understanding.  A musician, for example, might go about tackling loneliness through a series of interconnected pieces, or a painter might wrestle with body image issues through a particular painting.  A performance artist, perhaps, might challenge society’s neglect of the homeless population through a provocative show calling for legislative action.  All of these are examples of ways these individuals harness their talent of expression to arrive at a deeper understanding of a specific reality.

But these methods of expression aren’t limited to professional artists.  I want be as cliched to proclaim, “we are all artists!” (even though we are) but all of us have questions rattling in our heads that beg for resolution or exploration.  So how are you handling your existential questions? Has the Ferguson issue prompted in you a desire to explore race relations in your own community? If so, how are you processing it?  Are you journaling? painting? Are you using fabric or film, music or dance?  Has the birth of a child and the feeding of this child instilled in you a desire to learn more about how are food is processed? Where it comes from?  If so, has this triggered a love of cooking?

Oftentimes, we go about our lives, engaging in the most mundane of tasks, which somehow seem to connect together to form a “day”.  But within that day is lost these magical questions that excite us and intrigue us; those ideas and “wonderings” that pop into our heads while we are driving to work or logging miles on the treadmill.

I invite you to grab hold of one of those ideas and through whatever method you choose, wrestle with it; process it;  explore it.  You could open up an entirely new dimension to your world.  It could lead you to new opportunities or simply to a new level of contentment.  Life is short and the questions are many.  Go for it!

Tis A Gift to Be Gracious

With the holiday season now officially underway, messages abound encouraging us to be generous.  We are to be generous with our talents, helping others in need and lending a helping hand.  We are to be generous with our treasure, giving special gifts to special people, and donating resources to meaningful charities and ministries that participate in good causes. But what often gets neglected is the important need to be generous with our loving words.

For whatever reason, the thought of complimenting another human being sends some into an existential crisis.  Perhaps it is the competitive nature of our society, but there is this sense that if we are too abundant in our praise that somehow we will be giving up some of our power.  What a shame.  To be fair, there are some individuals who are so free with their praise that a recipient might question the sincerity of the praise.  But aren’t we called to be generous with our praise?  Shouldn’t we err on the side of being overly encouraging?  Excessive with our praise?

Scripture instructs us to do just that.  “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up,” Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:11.  “Encourage one another daily” (Hebrews 3:13).  So why do some struggle with it?  Why is it so difficult?  It shouldn’t be.  This world is tough enough.  Each day will bring challenges and obstacles that often test our very limits.  Just a little “lift” goes a long way.  We need that community to “bear one another burdens” (Gal 6:2).  We need those extra lifts in a day, whether it’s the “like” of a Facebook post, a smile at the post office, or a note to a friend complimenting her on her beautiful Christmas decorations.  It simply is not difficult.  But sadly, too often its easier to criticize than to praise.

Don’t fall into this trap. No matter who you are, we all enjoy a little encouragement.  And it’s so easy.  How difficult is it to yell out to a neighbor as you’re walking by that his yard looks terrific.  Or how taxing is it to tell your loved one that he or she simply looks stunning in that outfit.  Are we really so egocentric that we are afraid that by lifting someone else up, we are in some way sinking down?  This is not what God intends for us.

So I challenge you this holiday season (and beyond) to be generous with our encouragement.  Take that extra step to pat someone on the back and tell them they’ve done a great job;  send an email to a friend thanking them for their friendship;  compliment a loved one on their new hairstyle.  Perhaps challenge yourself to do this at least once each day of Advent.  I assure you, it will change how you feel.