welcome.

writing

Welcome to the place where I keep and sort most of my writing. Below is a brief intro to my projects. For a brief intro to me, visit my vital stats page.

The Words for the Church project consists of weekly poems inspired by Scripture, one for every week of the liturgical calendar. These poems are designed to be used in church community or devotional settings. I have attempted to tag these by subject and liturgical time frame. For reprinting and permissions, click here.

The Weekly Story project consists of primarily children’s stories and poems from the summer of 2016.

Miscellaneous poetry, prayers, stories and liturgies are scattered throughout and tagged by subject. If you’re looking for something specific or need something customized, drop me a line. I’m always interested in doing something new!

Commuter Haikus is my Twitter project, consisting of 5-7-5 observations from my daily commute into downtown Chicago. Follow me on Twitter to get one every weekday.

My upcoming project is a serial fantasy adventure. Once I’ve mapped out the story and done the preliminary research, I’ll be delivering a chapter a week here on the blog. Stay tuned!

If you want to keep up with these adventures and future projects, sign up to get my words in your inbox.

Basically – enjoy. And thanks for reading!

– Chris

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

spring cleaning

broom

I’m ready for spring cleaning, trees.
You brooms,
Bristling and eager
To sweep away dust bunny clouds
And marvel at the powder-blue linoleum of the sky.
And I want to take and shake you
To speed up the process
Because there’s this one spot in the western corner
That could use extra cleaning.
When you scrub it just right it’s all
Shattered crystal and golden tapestry
And it positively shines of an evening.

I’m ready for spring cleaning, rain.
I know you’re capsuled
In jars somewhere
Waiting to be spritzed over old brown fields.
When you shower us just right
It washes off the mud of the year from the heirloom earth
And turns it green around the edges.
The earth is younger than winter let’s you believe.
All it needs is a warm bath,
And it will come out pink and wrinkly,
Giggle-wriggling in the joy of nakedness.

I’m ready for spring cleaning, wind.
Your warmer self is blowing open windows
And sucking up fragmented leaves and fallen fuzzies.
You shake them loose and deposit them somewhere else, like our old vacuum.
It’s all just redistribution anyway…
But you liven up this worn and shaggy rug with noise and frantic glow
And satisfy us by zigzag patterns ‘cross the carpet.
On some spring evening, whisper from behind shuttered doors
And comfort me.
Tell me that Someone is awake and cleaning while I’m tucked away,
And when I wake the world will have woken too.

Inside and Out (A Lament)

heart

These layers we build, unbreakable, bound up in billions of reasons and values and things
That motivate from the inside and out
(For out of the heart comes evil)
We convince and cajole and cook down our opinions
Into slurries unfit for human consumption
Then stick tubes down throats
And make each other swallow them.
We say and we shout and we speak and we spout,
But no one listens.

What comes from inside has good reason to hide,
But what’s evil is counted as good now and forever, amen,
God help us.
In our society the from-depths rejects bubble up – inside and out
To those who don’t need our theological solutions
Our hell-bred confusions
Our tactful exclusions.
This is intentional, damned,
And the best of intentions when bred from deception
Are violent.

Where is love?
Where is the give?
Where is the heart that, transformed from the outside and in, give-loves, love-graces, mercy-lives,
Brothers and sisters, forget these places
Within that we hold,
These high places
Of our old, old hearts,
Grasp not, oh weary heart, let go
And let God,
And let grow.

Forgive us, our Lord,
Have mercy.
For we have none.

The Archaeologist

archaeology

His brow, it’s taut with focus deep.
Who knows what secrets this place keeps?
The stakes are high and thus require
Determined dimpled chin and mind;
Nothing keeps his focus so.
What treasures will he find?

The finger, slim and nimble, creeps
Down passage long and knuckle-deep.
He snags it, pulls it, draws it out
From depths unseen by human eyes,
And holds it up for all to see:
The treasure that no money buys.

This little blob, he made this heap.
It’s stuff of him, his fruit to reap,
There’s nothing like it anywhere,
Not east nor west nor north nor south.
He transfers nimbly to his thumb
And pops it in his mouth.

Acorns

img_4815-2

Acorns, breathless, released their grip on the old oak, dropped for a heart-stopping moment, and struck gravel.  They rattled several feet from impact, losing their tattered caps along the way, and settled on the creekside path.  Perhaps they congratulated themselves for their bravery.

Little Brooklyn gathered them studiously.

“The squirrels need their dinner.”

Mummy provided a vessel.

“They will love this dinner.  What do you think they will do with it?”

“They make acorn bread and acorn stew and acorn honey and peanut butter sandwiches and acorn cake with pink frosting and acorn ice cream.”

Mummy, whose alternate and mildly educational explanation involved burying the acorns in the ground for winter snacks, thought better of providing a statement of such exclusivity.

“Perhaps they do, Brook. Perhaps they do.”

They trundled down the path, Brooklyn pausing every few steps to add more acorns to her cup. She had a patience for the task that far surpassed the short attention spans of adults. Perhaps due to the notion that their tasks take on increasing importance, adults lose the ability to be patient over time. It is primarily an attribute of the young.

“Brook, we must get home for our own dinner.”

“I’m picking up acorns for the squirrels, Mummy.”

On cue, a squirrel appeared ahead of them.  He jerked his way along the path, pulled by an invisible string in his nose.  He was round in the cheek.  Brooklyn scooped several acorns into her fist and hurried forward.  The squirrel, sensing danger of the toddler variety, scurried across the path and corkscrewed up an old oak.  He chunnered merrily to himself, anxious as any squirrel and enjoying every minute of his anxiety.

Brooklyn spiraled around the tree dutifully.  Following a squirrel ’round a tree seems a primordial pleasure, similar to scratching an itch or hugging those who cry.  Perhaps an eternal hope springs up in our hearts: this time, I’ll catch the uncatchable.

This time, Brooklyn did not.  But she did get dizzy and collapsed to the forest floor, giggling even in her defeat.

Mummy caught up.

“Oh, honey, I don’t think we’ll catch him.”

Brooklyn nodded solemnly. “But we can leave the acorns for him.”

“That’s a wonderful idea.”

And they found a knot near the base of the tree, and Brooklyn unloaded, acorn by acorn, her precious, delectable trove. The squirrel peered down benevolently at this strange little creature and her abundant sacrifice.

Brooklyn stepped back and located the squirrel.

“There’s your dinner!” she hollered up to him.

The squirrel ducked back.

Brooklyn stood looking up for a moment or two before Mummy moved in.

“Time to move along, darling, we have to be home for dinner.”

Brooklyn nodded.”But what about the squirrel dinner?”

Mummy thought.

“Well, Brook, squirrels are suspicious of strangers.  Maybe if we left it there overnight, he would come down and take it off of the root.  We can come back tomorrow and see.”

Brooklyn pondered this, and it seemed good to her. She took her mother’s hand and turned toward home.

For several moments afterward, nothing but the early evening buzz of the woodland was heard.  A rustle, a scrabble, and Mr. Silas Squirrel poked his head around the corner of the oak tree, cautious but excited.  He carried a small burlap sack on his back.

“Hmn, well isn’t that, yes, a wonderful find, yes, wonderful find.”

He rolled the acorns in his paws carefully, checking for spots and mold before popping them, one by one, into his bag. He shouldered the lot and, moving with the agility of many seasons, scampered three-legged up the trunk.

“Hmn, now, Mrs. Squirrel, I’ve, hm, I’ve brought us something wonderful. ‘Tis indeed.”

Mrs. Squirrel bustled over to him and gave him a peck on the cheek, taking the sack in one motion.

“Why Silas T. Squirrel, where did you ever find so many…”

“Oh well, it was, er, nothing hm, now really…”

But Mrs. Squirrel was already excitedly preparing her kitchen for this arrival and didn’t hear the blame-shifting.  This was all for the best, in Silas T. Squirrel’s mind.  He propped his paws upon a chair near the window and leaned back as Mrs. Squirrel prepared her kitchen.

“So, hmn honey bumpkins, what shall we have tonight from such a find?”

“Oh, acorn bread, acorn stew, acorn honey and peanut butter sandwiches for the children, and acorn ice cream and cake with pink frosting for dessert.”

“Splendid.”

And he chunnered to himself.

“Yes, quite a find, quite a find. Indeed.”

 

 

Fewer walls.

Trying out taking the side off of K’s crib.
 
Told the little punk with Extreme Dad Voice that Under No Circumstances was he to get out of bed and roam around the house.
 
I’m sitting on the couch doing Very Important Adulting Things (surfing Facebook).
 
Thumps. Giggles. A blonde goblin in a diaper tiptoes round the corner, looking back at his sister and grinning with the sheer joy of disobedience.
 
Suddenly he spots me sitting on the couch.
 
We stare at each other. I’m trying to be fierce with a straight face. His smile slithers away.
 
He backs up slowly into the room. He may possibly think that I just might not have seen him. Just to be sure, he begins intoning what sounds like an ancient kid-wizard protection spell at me (something like “bed bed bed bed”). He’s determined to lull Daddy Ogre into inaction…
 
He disappears, and there’s a thump and more giggles. He doesn’t come out again.
 
I haven’t got the heart to discipline him for his transgression. Although I’m pretty sure he will end up sound asleep, spread-eagled, on the floor tonight.

Charley’s War

charleyswar

The night was a starless one in late summer, the type when you leave the windows open for a cool breeze and the crickets lull you to sleep.

Charley knew the danger.

“Mommy, you can’t close the curtains all the way. If you leave one open They can’t get in.”

“Charlotte, honey, the streetlights are too bright. You won’t sleep. You still have your nightlight.”

So the curtain was closed, the blue-green faded ballerina light was turned on. Charley was tucked into bed with a brush of a kiss and a pat on the head. She closed her eyes to a slit, her whole being set for action, as her mother closed the door.

Click.

Shuffle.

Creak.

Charley was out of bed in a heartbeat, padding like a cat across the muddy carpet. She knew the urgency.

“Philemon, up.”

A breeze wafted the curtain, throwing splatters of light from the streetlamp to the ceiling. The crickets droned. She had ten seconds at most.

“Up, Philly!”

Breathless, she tied her blanket tight around her neck, draping it skillfully to the floor. She felt on the third shelf of the bookcase for her tiara, frantic, grasping. Philemon lifted his fuzzy head with the blank stare of the recently awakened.

“Wassat.”

“Philly, They’re coming.”

Philemon blinked three times, slowly. Then alarm entered his black eyes. Charley had her tiara on.

The curtain suddenly stopped hovering and fell back, hanging like a dead thing from the gallows. The knife-edge of lamplight disappeared.

Charley whirled, reaching desperately behind the bookcase, shielding the nightlight with her pink cloak.

Fingers of darkness began soaking the edge of the window, like a towel catching water from an overflowing bath. Slowly, slowly, at first, then more quickly until the stain was almost a foot wide on every side. The air was still, offensive, and Charley covered her mouth with a corner of her cloak to filter it.

Philemon T. Bear leapt from the bed to her side, his small form growing to child-size as he landed. He turned to the window and produced a heart-shaped shield of red metal, emblazoned with his family’s coat of arms.

“How many?”

“As many as last night.”

The stain grew to two feet.

“Or… maybe more.”

Click. Shuffle. Creak.

To the untrained eye, the change was subtle. Charley knew the signs, knew to look for the places where emptiness replaced darkness, and saw the claws grasping the edge, the dribbling tentacles slip to the floor, the horns, the teeth, the eyeless heads.

“Hold, Philemon.”

Philemon held, readying his weapons. Her hand found what it had been looking for.

The Nightmares gathered at the corners of the window, cautious, smelling the air and reaching out. In her favor was that they couldn’t see her, being eyeless, and they always assumed, being witless, that she would be in her bed.

Philemon growled low. Their heads snapped toward him, and silently the bodies followed.

“Hold.”

The Nightmares heard her. They moved more quickly toward the corner.

“Now!”

Philemon stretched his bow as she threw back her cloak. The warm glow of the nightlight blasted the first two rows of Nightmares into ash. The back rows fell to the edges of the glow, clicking and gnashing their empty teeth at them, but couldn’t escape the first salvo from Philemon’s bow.

Philemon had recently sharpened his extensive collection of Crayolas, and now put them to good use. A tentacled mass was decimated in midair by Forest Green, and Electric Pink snuffed out the scuttling blight to his left.

Charley drew her wand, acquired at great price ($2.25 plus tax) from a street fair vendor two weeks earlier, and lit it by whacking the head off a snaky blot who’d slid past the line.  The red and blue flashing lights confused the demons, and the rubber spikes hardened to titanium in her hand. The flying ones attempted dives at her head but rebounded back from her crown.

She cut down great swaths of Nightmares, leaping and spinning, stabbing and swatting, Philemon by her side, firing Tangerine’s and Cherry Red’s into the heart of the horde.  Together they whirled around the room, by the bookcase, atop the table, bouncing from the bed. Her heart sung in her chest as each fell, and their numbers could not dismay her.

Until the nightlight flickered.

She glanced back at it, doubtful, and tread on her cloak.

Her blanket slid from her back. She fell, it seemed in slow motion, from the bed, landing on Philemon and crushing two crayons and her tiara beneath her. Her wand slipped in the process, and landed a foot from her wild hands. It flashed twice, and with no further impact to keep it alight, went dark.

The nightlight flickered again, and the Nightmares, sensing weakness, grew larger, closer, substantial.

“Milady!”

Philemon struggled out from under her and leapt to the fore, his shield blazing red as he took a blow meant for her.

“Quick, take my cloak.”

The sturdy knit shrunk in her hands to the size of a doll’s blanket, useless.

“Milady, you must believe!”

Charley slid to the wall, setting her back to it and turning her face from the darkness. Philemon leaped to her, smaller, smaller, his shield slipping. The Nightmares cackled in triumph, flaunting their growing reality, and closed in.

Charley cried out.

Click.

Shuffle.

Creak.

The door swung open. Life-giving lamplight scattered the closest monsters into nothing, and the others cringed. Charley looked.

Her mother, framed in glory, stepped brazen into the fray, broom in hand. She swept back the horde, catching a web-winged object full in the face and laying a spiky hulk flat into fragments. Charley recovered enough to retrieve her wand, and knocked the nearest many-legged creature into the bookcase. It exploded to absence with a satisfying splorch.

In seconds it was over. Her mother lifted Charley in her arms and held her, stroking her hair.

“I’m here.”

Charley clung to her for a good while. Being five (almost six), of course, she didn’t really need that long, but she wanted her mother to feel needed too… Eventually, her mother carried her to bed, fished the blanket from behind the bed, and tucked her in tight.

“I’m always here.”

She picked up the broken pieces of warfare from the floor and placed them on a shelf.  Then she dusted Philemon off, set his shield right, tied off his cloak, and slid him in next to Charley. Charley held him tight, her stalwart, and whispered.

“Th… the nightlight is going out.”

Her mother saw the flickering and exited, returning in moments with a new bulb. The light now shone steady.

“Charley, I’m here with you. Even when you can’t see me, I’m here.”

A snuggle. A kiss. A whispered love. And she was gone. But she left a spell of protection behind her in the room, one which the Nightmares couldn’t break. The darkness seeped away, and the night breeze wafted the streetlight’s glow onto the ceiling.

Charley slept.

 

 

 

“Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.

Exactly what the fairy tale does is this: it accustoms him for a series of clear pictures to the idea that these limitless terrors had a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies in the knights of God, that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear.”

G. K. Chesterton, Tremendous Trifles

 

I, the Fly

ithefly

I, the fly
I’m big and I’m brassy,
I get in your face
I’m odious, sassy,
I’ve hairs on my back
And my tummy and nose
And my arms and my legs
And my knees and my toes
That capture the filth and the grime that you fear.
Everything nasty, I’ve got it right here!
I’m a bulge! I’m a bulbous and fabulous blight!
A hairy canary! A goblin in flight!
Germs! I scream as I zip by your head.
And mostly, you boast(ly), you’d best like me dead.

You clumsy oaf human
You swing and you miss
And I zip on by blithely
With whir and with hiss.
Bwa! ha! ha! I cry
(Yes, I the fly)
Outwit, outflit, and
Outdo you all with my spirally whirls
My daredevil flaring, my squirrelly curls

I sit. Yes, I sit. Yes, I the fly,
Sit quietly, taunting, sit quietly by.
I lick my claws at you!
I spit on your chair!
I wiggle my bum at you!
Thppppttt! So there!

You’ll never catch me,
So I show you my tush.
I, the intractable, total implacable
True indestructible, fully unflappable,
I, the unbreakable, yes, inescapable
SMOOSH.

30 Degrees

ws30degrees

Heidi lived with her parents in a house on a hill not far from the edge of the town. She was a quiet, shy girl whose favorite hobby was worrying.

There’s nothing to worry about! Her mother would say. But Heidi knew she was wrong.

You need more courage! Her father would say. But Heidi didn’t know how to get it.

You’re such a chicken! The children at school would say. But Heidi didn’t see how that applied.

But enough about Heidi. This story is actually about her house. Specifically, the foundation of her house, and what she found there.

Heidi’s house was tilted at exactly 30 degrees to the north. Heidi and her parents spent their days on an incline. No one knew why this was. It simply was, and had been since as long as anyone in the town could remember.

They climbed a carpeted hill every evening so they could brush their teeth.

They nailed furniture to the floor so it wouldn’t move.

They made sure that all drawers were extra sticky so that they wouldn’t slide.

They always knew where to find things they dropped, because they all rolled, bounced, or slid to the southern side.

Heidi found walking on a level road to school to be quite easy. Opening drawers was a little too easy. But most of all she worried. She worried that her house was developing structural problems (which was not altogether unfounded), or that it would suddenly right itself in the middle of the night and they would all perish in the wreckage.

Oh, stop worrying about silly things. Her mother would say. But Heidi didn’t know how to stop worrying.

If it hasn’t happened yet, it probably won’t happen. Her father would say. But Heidi knew he was wrong.

Bawk bawk bagawk! The children at school would say. But Heidi still didn’t see how this applied.

One day while watering the flowers by the lower end of the house, Heidi noticed a small rough-hewn door in the sod, no bigger than her, at the base of the porch. It seemed to lead under the porch. Normally, Heidi would worry about getting a splinter, or encountering a poisonous spider, or getting stuck, or getting poked in the head by a nail, or getting crushed beneath the house. However, she had most recently been considering the much larger worry of complete destruction to home and family, and knew she must act.

She opened the door cautiously and peered in. She saw several spiderwebs draping the beams, but couldn’t tell if they were from poisonous types or not. She thought it might be best to be safe. She stood up and was turning to her watering pot when she heard a tiny voice. She looked back.

Sitting upon a daisy nearby was Firefly.

Hello. Firefly said.

Hello. Said Heidi.

Follow me. He said.

Why should I? Said Heidi.

To find out why your house is like this. He said.

I’m worried about the spiders. Said Heidi.

You’re afraid of getting splinters, and you still opened the door. Firefly said, and raised an eyebrow.

Heidi couldn’t fight his logic, and though her stomach did three quick backflips, she followed Firefly under the porch.

The porch had slats on all sides, so the grey dim was shot through with rays of sun. The ground was covered with small pebbles. Heidi inspected the webs carefully, and determined that they were of the non-poisonous variety (she had a precise knowledge of spiders). At the back wall of the foundation there was a wide hole leading to a very dark tunnel. It looked to be too small for her. She took a step backward, but suddenly heard a squeaky voice. She turned.

Sitting upon a rock nearby was Rat.

Hey. Rat said.

Hey. Said Heidi.

Follow me. She said.

Why should I? Said Heidi.

To find answers to your questions. She said.

I’m worried I’ll get stuck. Said Heidi.

You’re afraid of spiders, and you still came under the porch. Rat said, and raised an eyebrow.

Heidi couldn’t fight her logic, and though her stomach fluttered like a flock of hummingbirds, she followed Rat to the tunnel. By Firefly’s pale green light Heidi could see that the tunnel turned downward and north. Rat led the way forward. She followed them both.

The tunnel twisted and turned and dipped and dodged, darker then ever and tight in most spots. Rat guided them expertly, and Firefly lit the way. Soon the tunnel opened into a wider tunnel which began sloping upward, following the line of the house. Beams, skeletal, knocked against each other in all directions; bare nails gleamed dull in Firefly’s light.

Heidi eyed the low ceilings and exposed spikes nervously, brushing the the sod from her pants. She glanced back at the tiny tunnel she had just crawled through, but suddenly heard a gravelly voice. She turned around.

Sitting upon a flat boulder was Badger.

Greetings. Badger said.

Greetings. Said Heidi.

Follow me. He said.

Why should I? Said Heidi.

To know the truth. He said.

I’m worried I’ll get poked by a nail. Said Heidi.

You’re afraid of getting stuck, and you still came through the tunnel. Badger said, and raised an eyebrow.

Heidi couldn’t fight his logic, and though her stomach dropped taut like a rock on a trampoline, she followed him toward the back of the house. Firefly followed stoutly, lighting the way for them all, while Rat followed.

The house and the ground around it sloped up and up and up, gradual but steady, step after step, until they came to the very back of the crawlspace. Badger pointed to the wall. It was covered in mushrooms and scaled by age, and it encroached into the crawl space like the hood of a car through a shop window. Heidi turned and looked at her three guides, quizzical.

Badger spoke.

She has been here for generation after generation.

Rat spoke.

No one knows where she came from.

Firefly spoke.

Or when she will leave.

Heidi turned and looked at the wall again. She didn’t understand. She walked forward and touched it gingerly, brushing some of the dust away.

It moved.

A low rumble built up, the wall vibrating and heaving, the ancient sod on all sides cracking free from the bulge. Heidi saw daylight through the cracks, glimpsed scaly underbelly, reptilian claws pushing out from indentations in the shell.

Turtle stood up ponderously, lifting the house to a 90-degree angle. She turned her head slow from side to side, stretching thousand-year-old kinks and dripping streams of bronze. Heidi was glad her parents weren’t home.

Turtle lifted her foot, intent.

At this point Heidi realized that her worst worries had come true. Sort of. She hadn’t factored in a giant turtle. Mostly, though, she didn’t want to die under her house when the improbable reptile let it drop.

Casting frantically about, she spotted two floorboards in the dust. She looked up, hoping beyond hope, and saw a tiny opening between two nail-festooned, splintered beams. She gathered Firefly, Rat, and Badger in her arms, aimed and closed her eyes tight just as the house slipped from Turtle’s broad back.

There was a whir of dust and color, an almighty crash, and Heidi fell backwards with her friends in her arms. When she opened her eyes she was staring at the ceiling of her home, nestled on the north wall, along with most of her family’s belongings. A tiny spider skittered across her leg and into the crawlspace.

Heidi lives with her parents in a house on a hill not far from the edge of the town. She is a quiet, shy girl whose favorite hobby is trying to explain how her house ended up with a 30-degree incline to the south.

There’s no such thing as a giant turtle! Her father said. But Heidi knew he was wrong.

You know you can tell us what happened. Her mother said. But Heidi didn’t know how to explain any differently.

We don’t believe you! The children at school said.

Heidi didn’t see how that applied.