what is a Christian?

fish

Perhaps a Christian is a fish.
Packed into like-minded schools and
Following familiar currents,
Fed to five thousands and useful for a quick couple-buck temple tax.
Maybe we gill-filter saltwater to get only the holy
While we swim in our own waste,
Maybe we gasp and die when taken beyond the sight of our seas,
But at least we still taste good roasted.

But then, maybe,
A Christian is a stream.
Living water flowing from living wounds
Refreshing to the spirit and
Necessary for life.
Perhaps without rivulets and raindrops
Fallow ground would remain barren,
Earth dehydrated of hope,
Withered fruit upon the vine.
Water sometimes tastes funny or requires filtration,
But nobody questions their need of it.

Perhaps a Christian is a cross.
Covered in the molten metal ornaments Of a million dancing idolators,
An instrument of torture and death
That, thank the economic gods and simpering saints,
Can still turn a profit on the shopping channels.
In the end we still might make our owners a couple bucks at a yard sale,
And become again a symbol of mixed allegiance
A chain round the necks of newbies.

But then, maybe,
A Christian is a symbol.
Something that is not the thing but is,
For all intents and purposes.
Esoteric, obfuscating, and erroneous all,
But the symbol still stands as a signpost pointing,
Upward and beyond the withering world,
Despite interpretations and graffiti.
Check the pulse: are they signs of life?

Perhaps a Christian is a tattoo.
Indelibly ink-written in pin-pricked skin
So we would #neverforget:
How trendy we are,
How much tiny needles hurt,
How difficult it is to find good coffee,
And the insta-sacrifice of buying overpriced shoes for those in need.
At least when we’re old we can regret our choices.

But then, maybe,
A Christian is salt.
Preservation of a species is achieved, not by strength, but spice,
Too much is overwhelming,
Too little leaves it bland,
None at all leads to rot,
But when applied with grace and balance all the flavors come out and dance.

Perhaps a Christian is a steeple.
A sword aimed at the heart of heaven,
Separating Spirit and Body,
Human and Divine,
We gut the vapory clouds
And stand tall in our denominations,
A disfigured, dissatisfied body hardly anything more than
Loud mouth and grumbling stomach.
At least our flag will wave even as our roots rot.

But then, maybe,
A Christian is a tree.
Rooted in the riverbank and reaching for the sky,
Granting shelter to all who pass it by.
Maybe the pollen makes some eyes itch and throats scratch.
Maybe ripening fruit is bitter and hard,
But wait for the shade of late summer, filtered heat and light by leaves.
Wait for the brilliant bursts of color and flavor at harvest,
And the surety that ice-fields will be broken up by life.

Maybe we are all these things together,
A panoply of problems and wonders,
One thing one day, one thing another,
With very little concept of which we are when, and why.

But maybe that’s because
A Christian is a child,
Tenderness and tempest in a single tiny form,
Uncertain of my place and searching always to belong.
Perhaps the very thing that makes my love unfettered and real
Is the same thing that provokes tantrums and hair-pulling.
I’m all broken and whole,
Learning how little I really know and what it means to forgive.
And I am desperately in need of my Father.

(originally published in the Qara’ Shem Zine, the Literary Companion to the 2017 Gallery Tour, by my friend and incredible artist Josie Koznarek)

belief is to feed

Digital Capture

Answer!
We’re too fascinated, fastened to our fashions,
Stacked ads and rancid fads,
Flaccid in our patched passions.
What matters most isn’t plastered
On our fast-latched flash-goals,
Or packed onto our flack-stashing, fatty souls.
Catch Him if you can, cracked ones, or crash.
Your cash won’t make you whole.

Listen!
He invites you in. Light glistens,
Bickering in the spinning night,
Filtered criminals sitting, grinning,
Lit as fitting subliminals, bright.
This time is thinning, my sinners, it’s imminent.
Brim with your winnings, flicker as filaments,
Find in each divine pigment your own,
Simplicity, finitude, filigree, home.

Come!
From grueling suns, foolishly roam,
You crumb-combers, polished bones, boxed ones in zones.
Hone your honesty, honey, hold on when it blows,
Blossom slowly and lovely, more room for more growth
For more thorough thorns, force forging, foraging forms.
Forgo foolproof and long-tooth and lonesome and low,
Fold your cold fortunes forward, foes, flow to more floors,
Full forfeits and forgets will open more doors.

Feast!
For fasting will cease when we die,
Taste these teasers of years spent careening through sky,
The unseemly seekers see clearer, seed nearer,
Flee deeper, ye feeble bleating fearers. Here!
O Dearest, see tears swept swiftly aside, keep keening
In a single weeping Weakling, this Sheep-King.
Know need, Jesus-readers, teach each creature to heed;
For the fleet and the gleeful, belief is to feed.

“A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’ Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’ Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’ The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’ ‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’ Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’” Luke 14:16‭-‬24

(Liturgical poetry during ordinary time after Pentecost is inspired by the parables of Luke.)

Words for the Church: Ordinary Time
eat the song
smallness
sisyphus
ninety-nine reasons to stay
before you kiss him
shrewd
exitus acta probat
i am thankful
midnight
sense the butcher

sense the butcher

butcher

Violence in the bone
And silence in the stone
Heart at the cry, we are party
To the crime, parting comfort
From the sigh,
“Come and buy, souls for sale,
Discounts for the dregs, wholesale
Bitter pills,
People killed by kindness withheld!”
Weeping filled with findings revealed:
Our hearts.

Our hearts are violence, pestilence.
Restlessness lingers on our lips.
Listen:
Can you sense the butcher in your head?
Lopping limbs from all the dead around you
(Labeled as such, and losing value
By the touch of our tongues and toneless virtue).
Hear ye: “I am here to hurt you.”

Will we always cast out and
Beat down the Named
For the sake of cash cows
And rebranded fame?
It’s by pity the death of the last
Brought us in, and fitting
His breath blew away every sin.

You,
Who hate.
See yourself in that vine,
See you selfishly climb
On the backs of your kin,
Watch the jostle to win.
Now let go and fall,
Frail bundle of bones.
Now cast yourself down
On a Savior of stone.

He went on to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard, rented it to some farmers and went away for a long time. At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants so they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. He sent another servant, but that one also they beat and treated shamefully and sent away empty-handed. He sent still a third, and they wounded him and threw him out. Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.’ But when the tenants saw him, they talked the matter over. ‘This is the heir,’ they said. ‘Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When the people heard this, they said, “God forbid!” Jesus looked directly at them and asked, “Then what is the meaning of that which is written: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’? Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.” Luke 20:9‭-‬18

(Liturgical poetry during ordinary time after Pentecost is inspired by the parables of Luke.)

Words for the Church: Ordinary Time
eat the song
smallness
sisyphus
ninety-nine reasons to stay
before you kiss him
shrewd
exitus acta probat
i am thankful
hell on earth
midnight

midnight

midnight

Midnight, O midnight: when will you be mine?
I’m weary of letting my little light shine.
I fear that I’m getting a bit more aligned
With religious nuts everywhere, calling for signs,
With fidgety monks, covered hair, falling in line.
The people You tend to catch aren’t my type.
They’re flimsy and fatuous, less substance than hype.
And then I remember, I’m one of them too.
When I dismember us, I mutilate You.

Midnight, O midnight, when will you be mine?
I’m weary of letting my little light shine.
Lord, all I receive is never my own,
But I’m told: believe, and I’ll give you a throne.
You give and You take and You won’t let me be,
I live and I make and I sow: don’t You see?
If You’re God, the question remains: why not act?
But You’re rocky; You reap Your refrains, and I lack.
Stock up on struggle, heart, leap to the fray,
The One Who will part you is the One Who will stay.

Midnight, O midnight: when will you be mine?
I’m weary of letting my little light shine.
Lord, the work must be done. The light dims,
The fields are rich, and the work force is slim.
I need Your need deeply (You gave me that too)
To plant Your seed freely (true faith comes from You)
When night comes, Your people will sleep as the dead.
I’ll triple Your goodness, then lay down my head
On a breast full to bursting of patience and grace,
And rise in the morning. Oh, lift up my face!

“Then another servant came and said, ‘Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.’ His master replied, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?’ Then he said to those standing by, ‘Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.’ ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘he already has ten!’ He replied, ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what they have will be taken away. But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.’”
Luke 19:12‭-‬27

(Liturgical poetry during ordinary time after Pentecost is inspired by the parables of Luke.)

Words for the Church: Ordinary Time
gold dust prayer
receive
eat the song
smallness
sisyphus
ninety-nine reasons to stay
before you kiss him
shrewd
exitus acta probat
i am thankful

hell on earth

autumn
May autumn
Tinge me inward,
Dip me in the colors of death
Under heavens of brass,
And hang me out upside down
To wither and dry in the shivering sun.
For then I’ll make good eating when winter has come.
All of the earth is bloodied and bruised,
And the purple smell of the over-ripe
Hangs everywhere by a thread,
Ready to tumble to rot,
To fall from living to dead.
And I smell it’s brother on the wind, the woodsmoke hovers and seeps,
Soaking my clothes like cider,
Spicy and warm and deep.
The earth is crispy, and
The bushes are burning.
Hell on earth is oddly holy, as incense,
And the impulse to remove my shoes
Rises within me as the northern wind.
I could howl with bloodlust.
I could rend my flannel to shreds
And leap and kneel and fall prostrate in the ashes of the dead and dying,
Lying strewn about my unshod feet,
Scattering in the air as I fling them.
My heart releases in hilarity at blatant disregard,
In the crush of fruit and limb and leaf,
In heavenly hodgepodge and cool relief.
I will take my delight in the death,
with my dear ones and cider,
As this bounty sinks into us all, ever deeper and wider.

i am thankful

pharisee

I am thankful I’m
Not like the Pharisee in
This week’s parable.

 

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Luke 18:9‭-‬14 

(Liturgical poetry during ordinary time after Pentecost is inspired by the parables of Luke.)

Words for the Church: Ordinary Time
something fearsome
gold dust prayer
lamps alike
eat the song
smallness
sisyphus
ninety-nine reasons to stay
before you kiss him
shrewd
exitus acta probat

exitus acta probat

lazarus

Opaque,
And reflected darkly,
This person, this place,
This paralysis of my soul in a state
I deem final.
I know when I’m licked.
I see little and know little,
By seeming binary binoculars
Ones and zeros, codes and pixels,
This or that, no others.
And the same seems true of my sisters and brothers.

“We are here, we are here!”
It’s the cry of the crumb,
The doxology of dust,
To reach out and seek bigger beings to trust,
Raised in utter awareness of us as we are,
Tiny specks in a void.
Molecules. Stars.
We are Here,
And this “There” is fairy tale rot
Of beggars named princes,
Of rich men named not.
This Reversal is real to all who can see
The God behind flesh,
The Christ within me.

Wait awhile, wanderers,
Just beyond that door
Is fire for the deaf of heart,
And mercy for the poor.

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’ He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” – Luke 16:19‭-‬31

(Liturgical poetry during ordinary time after Pentecost is inspired by the parables of Luke.)

Words for the Church: Ordinary Time
knock
unveil
something fearsome
gold dust prayer
lamps alike
eat the song
smallness
sisyphus
ninety-nine reasons to stay
before you kiss him
shrewd

shrewd

bee blossom

Give and give and give again
Of fruitling form and
Volume in heartbeats
Riveting, rhythmically
Sonically, physically
City-slaked streets, then
Open and open and open again
As in blossoming freely
As in everyone, friend
As in cancelling debts
As in cashing in checks, this

Stacked stock of variant hue
Red as blood and twice as thick
Fruit and snake and stake and fire
And glue, of the give
That won’t cease to stick

As in spreading perfume
As in capturing bees
As in honeyed cocoons
As in molasses freeze
Fold in and fold in and fold in again
Skin origami, bend,
Fitfully, captively,
Leisurely, rapidly,
Poured out in putty
Of rich melanin:
Give and give and give again.

“There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’ The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’ So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ ‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied. The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’ Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’ ‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied. He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’ The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. Luke 16:1‭-‬9

(Liturgical poetry during ordinary time after Pentecost is inspired by the parables of Luke.)

Words for the Church: Ordinary Time
when blood
knock
unveil
something fearsome
gold dust prayer
lamps alike
eat the song
smallness
sisyphus
ninety-nine reasons to stay
before you kiss him

before you kiss him

justice

I’ve been here for years now,
Fulfilling my duty,
Willing, that You’d be
Proud of all I’ve accomplished,
All that You’ve wished of me, this and more:
I’ve done it.
If it were a contest with him and his whores,
I’ve won it.
What’s the matter with You?
You never change toward me,
No matter what I do.

My character reads like a resume, listen:
Excellent ethic,
Determination,
Discipline.
I enforce Your rules
(Loyalty) as I would my own.
To think that You’ll hold me
By the hand til I’m home
Is to misjudge my duty of walking alone.
(Self-starter)
So let me speak truthfully,
(Candor and ardor):

This ingrate,
Who comes to You empty-handed
After making You so,
This sin-slave to his passions,
At least make him go
To the fields and produce something of value, some yield,
Before You kiss him.
Don’t pretend that You missed him.
Make clear the difference between the two of us,
Somehow, so he knows (so I know) that You’re just.

I wear my merit,
(Experience)
It’s woven through years.
Don’t be moved by this sinner’s presumptive salt tears.

“Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” Luke 15:25-‬32

(Liturgical poetry during ordinary time after Pentecost is inspired by the parables of Luke.)

Words for the Church: Ordinary Time
difficult, divine
better
torrents of my making
mine to forgive
now does the earth
when blood
when blood
knock
unveil
something fearsome
gold dust prayer
lamps alike
eat the song
smallness
sisyphus
ninety-nine reasons to stay

blanks

blanks

Patches are missing.
But I catch something blurry in the space.
I don’t even know that I miss it until I dig up past days.
(It moved so fast)
And presence isn’t a strength of mine so it’s probable (not impossible)
That I just didn’t impress each length of time,
As wildflower or fallen leaf,
Between the pages of my mind.

The mild power of most memories
Isn’t freeze-framed like the family photos,
Isn’t captured on VHS, in stunning granularity.
Even when I watch the ones I own, they seem trite,
As if I wrote down the wrong things in my journal,
Or I’ve kept the memory without the meaning.

But there must be meaning to those blanks,
Not just noise with no impact,
Because sometimes they suddenly appear, intact,
With the wild power of familiarity:
A face, a smell… oh! and the pace of a yellow atmosphere
at a certain time of day.
Most of my fears cascade in curtains of rhymes between me, myself, and I,
But the ones that ambush me
Part the sea, my hell, and the sky.

It could be, like existence and wonders unexplored,
That this thunder by the door, these bullets to the brain,
Are kept in cabinets for safekeeping till the fullness of the day
I am most in need (most days, it seems).
Most days I could use a dream, or two or three,
(Especially knowing they were real, once).

So you and me?
Let’s leave them lie, let them sleep.
Someday every fragment will have risen from the deep,
And the puzzle will be complete.
And we, memory-dancers all, just maybe, we won’t care.
Since the ephemeral “ANSWER” seems to be in Getting There.