To stop wondering
if what you have to say
is valid, acceptable, reasonable, or appropriate:
That’s a gift.
And to say something
because you need someone who knows you
to hear it
and accept it
and after hearing it reply to you
“I hear you”
without solving it
without explaining it
without answering it:
That’s telling the truth.
And the gift and the telling the truth together:
That’s friendship on a Sunday night
over bourbon and crying babies.
And it’s a sign that the kingdom of heaven is real.
Pine Tree Dr.
I heard the sound of the dog lapping water from the kiddie pool in my back yard.
The kiddie pool I get in when I get home from work on the days I actually get home from work.
I heard the sound of the dog lapping water from the kiddie pool in my back yard,
and then I heard the chime of the bells across the street from the Presbyterian bell tower,
the one I imagine when reading Buechner’s sermon, “The Clown in the Belfry,”
and then I clinked the ice cubes against the edges of my glass and returned to the book
to read the academy’s take of disaster and trauma in communities,
and the promise of resilience and growth and hope
in the face of destruction and death and doom.
And it was silent for a moment.
I was struck with the promise of life
as I was struck again today,
holding a child in my lap as the words of the New Testament were read aloud
by people believing and
people wanting to believe and
people who are furious they ever believed at all.
But I was struck with the promise of life today
holding a child in my lap as the words of the Lord were read aloud
And I remembered the lapping of the water in the kiddie pool,
And I remembered the workday filled with stories of life and loss and love and heartache
And I remembered the child in my lap who was waited on and prayed for
And I remembered the dinner with a new friend asking the same questions
And I remembered the old friend reminding me of my answers
And I remembered the everyday nature of the moments when
all promise and reminder of the kingdom crashes in unannounced
And I heard the chime of the bells across the street from the Presbyterian bell tower,
and the lapping of the dog from the kiddie pool,
and the promise and the boldness of the prayer on
mornings when I believe it and
mornings when I d0n’t
was echoed louder than all the hymns I’ve heard this month:
As our Father taught us, we are bold to pray:
Your kingdom come
your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Why is it so difficult to learn a new language? Not a foreign language, but a new way of talking about things. For the last seven years or so, I’ve been enamored with a renewed vision of my faith. Not an altogether different faith; it’s the same one I grew up with, only now things that were once grayscale are showing signs of color.
I still believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth, only now he’s the God committed to seeing his creation fully restored, reuniting all things in heaven and on earth.
I still believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, only now he’s the Jewish King who brought Israel’s story to its world-renewing climax, and so bringing humanity’s story to its world-inheriting and world-reigning climax.
I still believe that he was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, only now his being God is more about God being faithful to the covenant he made with Israel, and his being man is more about Israel being faithful to the covenant they made with God.
I still believe that he suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried, only now those things matter because of the kingdom agenda Jesus embodied from his birth to his death.
I still believe that he descended to the dead, and that on the third day he rose again, only now his journey from death to life launches the new creation God intends for the whole cosmos.
I still believe that he ascended into heaven, only now am I beginning to understand why that ascension subverts economic systems, political powers, and hailed ideologies.
I still believe that he will come again to judge the living and the death, only now do I see judgment as a thing of beauty, that glorious day when creation is finally liberated from all that has caused its ceaseless groaning.
I still believe in the Holy Spirit, only now am I open to his supernatural presence working through me and the entire church to bring God’s kingdom to bear upon this present age with great power and wonder.
I still believe in the holy catholic church, only now as more than a beneficiary of his transforming grace and love, but as an agent of it as well.
I still believe in the communion of saints, only now has this communion become a foretaste of the kind of community that is promised for all those who seek first the kingdom of God.
I still believe in the forgiveness of sins, only now these sins have grown to include systemic injustice, economic oppression, environmental exploitation, and religious arrogance.
I still believe in the resurrection of the body, only now it’s a resurrection not to heaven, but to a heaven and earth reunited, consisting of everything glorious in both the physical and the spiritual world.
I still believe in the life everlasting, only now it’s life as it should be, every human hope and desire amplified exponentially in the presence of God, among a flourishing people, and enjoying all of creation.
A new language is clearly required, but learning its syntax and phrasing is cumbersome. The words fail me. I can’t articulate what is resonating inside, how I sense the pieces coming together, and how this new story is able to integrate everything that awakens our souls.
How do you talk about this? How do you talk about all this color? The kingdom of God, all things new, flourishing communities, heaven and earth reconciled, peace and justice filling the earth, creation regained, a restored world—these are feeble attempts.
And then how do you talk about these things in relation to sin, to Israel, to the prophets, to the law, to Jesus, to the cross, to justification, to right doctrine, to grace? And then how do you communicate the integration of these ideas in a way that not only inspires, but is intelligible; in a way that breaks old patterns of thinking without undermining the truth imbedded in those old patterns of thinking; in a way that opens up a colorful world without disregarding the black-and-white outlines of that world?
It’s a constant frustration of mine, that this new language eludes me still. Just when I think I’ve found a rhythm, I stutter again and miss another opportunity. Is the gravity of those older formations too much for me to lift off the ground into a sky filled with a whole new vocabulary? Or is this new world too magnificent for any mere mortal to describe? Is it a battle that can be won, or one that will never end?
I keep trying.
by Wes Gristy
There’s poetry of space. And poetry of context. And poetry of memory.
Sitting in the City’s courtroom, where one of my Drug Treatment Court clients reminded me is where the District Attorney’s table is usually placed, I sensed a strong push to remember that holiness shows up in the places we forget to look. And when it shows up, it reminds us that we often look for truth and good gospel news in places that, while religious, are dry and sterile and only shadows of the actual good news. And then there are these other places, where we anticipate the bad news and the emptiness, that we discover the thick and sticky good news that we couldn’t not notice even were that our intention from the beginning.
And in that poetry of space and context and memory, I sit eating a meal and celebrating process and progress with those at all stages of recovery from addiction. Recent drug dealer sitting next to the city mayor. New addition to the Drug Treatment Court program sitting next to the judge that made an offer to seek treatment in lieu of jail.
I find myself sitting next to program participants, grateful for their insight, their courage and the ways they push the truth of the church into my own heart and head through their recovery-minded honesty, acceptance and perseverance.
And the poetry of space and context and memory seems to be ringing louder and louder every time I scan the room. The poetry of people landing themselves in the courtroom after committing a crime in the wake of substance abuse. The poetry of other people, long on the road to recovery linking hands and holding out hope for a future of clarity that seems impossible at that dark time. The poetry of sitting in the very place where you were once sentenced and forced to stare, maybe for the first time, the ugly truth and lies of addiction and powerlessness and unmanageability in the face, now sitting in that very place to celebrate your sobriety and recovery with those ahead of you and those walking in the path left a little more believable in your wake.
And you breath it in deeply because it’s easy to forget when the music isn’t as loud and the poetry isn’t as bold. The day to day and the task to task and the decision to decision doesn’t feel like it’s actually saddling up next to transformation of whole persons with the whole of the good news. For the clients, for the families, for the therapists, for the attorneys, for the judge. The one step at a time mentality feels like it’s actually leading absolutely nowhere.
And then you sit in the room where people were once on trial, convicted of a crime, and watch them now celebrate their newfound strength and resilience, sharing a meal with the ones who made the arrest and the sentence as they cheer for each other.
It’s a sign of the kingdom, no doubt. A sign of the hard work and tested patience of transformation of whole people in communities with the church finding them rather than waiting for them to show up to building. A reminder that we find Christ all over again when we do life with each other because we find him when we look the truths and the lies in the face. The sign of the kingdom stands as a reminder that the presence of the church better be in every crack and cranny of every need in every community before we rest, because there are great opportunities and great stories to be told and great poetry to be created. In our own lives and the lives of those in the margins. Even in the courtroom.
Pine Tree Dr.
I’ve had the conversation with others before
proud of myself, of course,
that I might have arrived at such brilliance
and yet I don’t seem to take it in actually
which suggests I’ve actually arrived at nothing.
It’s only in evening in the cold in the rain
finally driving home
that the reality actually strikes me
leaving a kind of embarrassing ignorance
looking back at me in the rear-view mirror
having been my guide far too long.
The “it” of it all,
I’ve said proudly to others before
isn’t only in the everything-working-out-ness
isn’t only in the everything-happening-right-ness
isn’t only in the everyone-getting-along-ness
The “it” of it all
is actually in the middle of
and in that push and pull
and in those ups and downs
we see our true selves
and we see their true selves
and we find deep effort
and we discover true longing
and we stare our own confusion and frustration and struggle in the face
while staring our own humanity and the humanity of others in the face
and we decide
against all odds
to seek first his kingdom anyway
in the things-struggling-to-work-out-ness
in the things-not-really-happening-right-ness
in the people-not-completely-getting-along-ness
because so much more than the places
where all works out and
where all happens right and
where everyone gets along
we are likely to find the truth of the kingdom
and the “it” of it all
in the mess and the muck
in the paperwork and the policy
in the everything but the “it”
of the day to day
that we’ve been thinking all this time
only gets us to the “it”
when in fact,
it is the “it” of it all.
Pine Tree Dr.