Tag Archives: poetry

In our Hearts Grief and Grace often Ride Side by Side

By Eugene C. Scott

“Red Rocks is one of the finest places on the planet to perform,” James Taylor said near the end of his show last night.*

He’s right.

Towering above us ancient and unmovable were Ship Rock on the left and Creation Rock on the right. Taylor’s smooth, ageless voice filling the space between. Rock and wind and sky surrounded us while song and poetry and story filled us. The lights of Denver danced in the night sky above the back wall of the amphitheater. It was remarkable.

“There is a young cowboy, he lives on the range,” Taylor sang his famous lullaby. I closed my eyes and imagined that cowboy and sang along to myself, “deep greens and blues are the colors I choose, won’t you let me go down in my dreams?” I breathed deep.

But Taylor was painting a different picture of life than the one many Coloradans had lived out in the last four days. I opened my eyes and saw Alameda Boulevard stretched out west to east in a straight line of lights from the foothills to Aurora. There on the far horizon I imagined one of the lights was the theater. There still lurking was the pain and heart ache of twelve innocent people dying and many more being wounded physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Guilt buffeted against my peace. Should I be enjoying myself? How can this beauty, my sense of well-being, co-exist with that?

Still they seemed to. Drawing my eyes and heart back to the stage–to the here and now, to what I can be and do–Taylor sang, “Shower the people you love with love.”

And I could see, on the screen, in his now creased 64 year-old face, his alive but tired eyes, that he too has known pain. Yet he still believed what he was singing.

Maybe JT, right there on stage, without knowing it, was living out a truth: that in our hearts grief and grace often ride side by side.

As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote in his famous poem “Christmas Bells:”

“And in despair I bowed my head

‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said;

‘For hate is strong

And mocks the song

Of peace on earth good-will to men!’

“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The Wrong shall fail,

The Right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Maybe that’s the thing. Song, poetry–art in general–remind us of this dichotomy of life. In the midst of horrific pain and evil, beauty is undiminished. Grace prevails. Maybe it’s even made more beautiful. James Taylor put on one of the best shows I’ve seen in years. In a stunning setting. The clarity and sweetness of his voice matched the clarity and power of the message I heard God whisper in my heart. “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

*July 23, 2012. This may be a slight paraphrase since I did not write his quote down word for word.

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Imagine There’s No Heaven

Some people imagine that belief in God is at best delusional and at worst dangerous. The late John Lennon seemed to fall into the former group. He asked us to, “Imagine there’s no heaven.” The once mighty Soviet Union fell into the latter group. She arrayed her armies, governments, media, school system and very culture against belief in a loving God. In the Soviet Union anyone who believed in God was no better than an opium addict, a delusional, destructive and dangerous drain on society. Special units of the police searched out Christians and imprisoned or murdered them; they banned and burned Bibles and required children to attend classes which preached against the existence of God. In the U.S.S.R. belief in God was outlawed.

Like the people described in Revelation, they seemed to hope that the mountains would fall on them and hide them “from the face of him who sits on the throne.” Yet, is there anything in the universe tenacious enough–including a vivid imagination–to keep God’s love at bay?

What is it in your life or your part of the world that attempts to keep God’s love at bay, that bans belief?

Eugene C. Scott joins Mike in writing A Daily Bible Conversation twice a week.

TODAY’S READING (click here to view today’s reading online)

Micah 1:1-4:13

Revelation 6:1-17

Psalm 134:1-3

Proverbs 30:1-4

If you’ve found A Daily Bible Conversation helpful, share it with your friends. Forward your daily email or send them a link to the website: www.bibleconversation.com.

THE WORD MADE FRESH

Irina Ratushinskaya, Christian poet and Russian dissident

School-girl Irina Ratushinskaya, grew up in the U.S.S.R. when belief in God was against the law. Yet she could not imagine there was no God. Sitting through one of her required anti-God courses, Irina began to think, “There must be a God. Otherwise they wouldn’t tell us over and over that there is no God.” To find out for herself Irina Ratushinskaya began to pray and the outlaw God answered her–first through a freak snow storm and then through the writings of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Years after that initial prayer, Irina Ratushinskaya saw her first Bible. Upon reading it she made another discovery. “Then I realized that I was a Christian,” she says. Irina Ratushinskaya became a world-renowned poet and was convinced of the reality of the love of Jesus Christ despite being raised in a country in which it was illegal to believe.

Let me ask again. Is there anything in the universe tenacious enough to keep God’s love at bay? Yes, there is, though the Soviet Union failed to do so.

Madalyn Murray O’Hair was born in the United States where no laws or armies prevent belief in God. Just the opposite. God’s name is stamped on our currency. Crosses, the ultimate symbol of God’s love, stand tall in every American city.  Word of the unconditional love of Jesus Christ is available on any street corner, radio or television. Freedom to believe in God, or not, is a sacred right for all Americans.

Madalyn Murray O’Hair imagined, no, fiercely believed, there was no God and spent her life crusading against belief in the same God the U.S.S.R. failed to eliminate. She pleaded her case of unbelief all the way to the Supreme Court and was instrumental in having prayer removed from public schools. Forming an organization named the American Atheists, Madalyn Murray O’Hair litigated, cussed, fought and debated her way through thirty years of disbelief. Seemingly, Madalyn Murray O’Hair had the mirror opposite experience of Irina Ratushinskaya. As if she had said, “They talk about God so much, surely there must be no such Person.”

Tragically, Madalyn Murray O’Hair was robbed and murdered in 1995, along with her son, Jon and granddaughter, Robin, by an estranged employee and member of American Atheists. To pay her back taxes the IRS auctioned off her journals. Of all the insights those journals held into “the most hated woman in America,” as she called herself, the most revealing was how she repeated one phrase at least a half-dozen times. Though Madalyn Murray O’Hair was surrounded by belief in God, she remained impervious to God’s love. In her journals she cried out, “Somebody, somewhere, love me.”

Again, is there anything, anywhere tenacious enough to keep God’s love at bay? Yes–a hardened human heart. No lack of desire, effort or power on God’s part kept the echo of his answer, “Madalyn, I love you” from reaching her ears. God’s respect for human freedom and dignity gave Madalyn Murray O’Hair the power to ignore his love.

Someone once said, “You can lead a horse to water; but even God won’t make it drink.”

So it is with each of us.

One ancient struggler, Paul, wrote, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Nothing can separate us from God’s love! But we can refuse love’s entry to our hearts. Our hearts accommodate love (Jesus Christ himself) only where hate, fear and self-centeredness have fled. Like dogs on a tether we race, yapping in our assumed freedom, only to be yanked back, imprisoned by the measure of a heart not yielded to God.

“Somebody, somewhere, love me.”

Finally, is anything tenacious enough to keep God’s love at bay? Your heart, and my heart, hardened by the cares of this age, can and do. Yet the Gentleman God placed himself on the cross with his arms spread in an eternal embrace. “Come to me,” he said, “all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

If you’re reading this blog on Facebook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here. www.bibleconversation.com.

Eugene co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, CO and writes a blog eugenesgodsightings.blogspot.com

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Read Any Good Love Letters Lately?

 

Robert Browning

 

 

Elizabeth Barret Browning

 

Robert and Elizabeth exchanged over five hundred letters before their kindred passion for words and writing blossomed into a love for one another. Nearly a year after Elizabeth received Robert’s introductory letter, the two met in person and began courting. But Elizabeth’s father vehemently disapproved of their relationship. Undaunted, Robert proposed and the couple eloped to Italy to be married. In Italy their love for one another and for writing grew. So was born one of the world’s greatest love stories between two of the world’s greatest poets.

God too has engaged in a letter writing campaign to his beloved, you and me.

Eugene C. Scott joins Mike in writing A Daily Bible Conversation twice a week.

TODAY’S READING (click here to view today’s reading online)

Jeremiah 31:27-32:44

1 Timothy 3:1-16

Psalm 88:1-18

Proverbs 25:20-22

If you’ve found A Daily Bible Conversation helpful, share it with your friends. Forward your daily email or send them a link to the website: www.bibleconversation.com.

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

1 Timothy 3:1-16: This list of leadership qualifications is intriguing and not as easy to apply as we may wish. Often biblical interpreters focus on certain aspects but not on others. Based on this passage many churches insist elders and deacons must be male, married, but not divorced. But they are less stringent about leaders not being lovers of money, managing their families and having children who treat them with respect. And how do we measure how much temperance and self-control one must possess in order to qualify for leadership?

Is this an exhaustive and absolute list? If so, not many of us qualify, male or not. Or is it more of a measuring stick, something to which we call our leaders to and as leaders we ourselves aspire to?

THE WORD MADE FRESH

These four passages vary vastly. Jeremiah is poetic, otherworldly and prophetic: “‘The days are coming when I will plant the house of Israel,’ declares the Lord.” 1 Timothy is propositional and directive: “Now an overseer must be above reproach.” Today’s Psalm is lyrical and personal “May my prayer come before you; turn you ear to my cry.” Our Proverb is practical but highly interpretive: “If your enemy is hungry, give him food.”

These important interpretive differences aside, what is the thread that runs through all of Scripture that we often miss? Like the letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett, this book we call the Bible is filled with God’s love in history, stories, commands, and letters communicating his love for us.

Sweet, rhythmic words drew Elizabeth and Robert to one another. Today their letters and poetry are classics of English literature. Even most school children can quote the first line of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem defining her love for Robert Browning: “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” God asked the question first.

But there is one man Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s words could not touch–her father. After Elizabeth and Robert eloped, her father never spoke to her again. Still Elizabeth never gave up her hope for reconciliation or her belief in the power of words. She wrote her father nearly every week for ten years. He never replied. How could her father ignore a love communicated so powerfully that the rest of the world considers even these letters classics? He never read a single word Elizabeth wrote him! In a large box, after ten years, he returned to her each letter unopened.

And so a love that moved thousands never affected one she held so dear.

And so it is with God! God gave us a book filled with love stories, love songs, and love poems. Through the rhythm of human history God wrote his poem to us. Every page of this book is filled with the record of Gods desperate desire to win our hearts. In one story God compares his heart sickness over our broken relationship with him to that of a husband whose wife sells herself again and again to the highest bidder. In Isaiah God compares himself to a mother who will nurse us and dandle us on her knee. “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you,” God croons. Through Jeremiah God sings, “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” In the New Testament Jesus stands over Jerusalem lamenting, “I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.” And the Apostle Paul prefigures Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s How Do I Love Thee? poem by wishing we could “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.”

But just like with Elizabeth Barrett Browning and her father, much of this letter goes unread or, at least, misunderstood. Despite millions of Bibles being sold each year (it is still the number one best seller of all time) and hotels hiding Bibles in bedside drawers and scholars and scoffers arguing over its message, few of us have read and understood God’s love letter to us. A comedienne on The Prairie Home Companion radio show warned listeners not to use the maps in the backs of their Bibles when traveling in Israel–because they’re out of date.

And therein lies the problem. We often use the Bible as God never intended. It is not a hammer to pummel those who disagree with us. It is not a proof text for our personal choices. It is not a science textbook or a batch of outlandish myths. The Bible is a series of stories of a Lover’s pursuit. We will never get the message leaving the letter unread. As Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote in her poem Aurora Leigh:

“Earth’s crammed with heaven,

And every common bush afire with God;

But only he who sees takes off his shoes;

The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.”

Have you read any good love letters lately?

If you’re reading this blog on Facebook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here. www.bibleconversation.com.

Eugene co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, CO and writes a blog eugenesgodsightings.blogspot.com

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Did Jesus Have Hair Like a Flock of Goats and Breasts Like Twin Fawns?

The Kiss an 1889 marble sculpture by the French sculptor Auguste Rodin.

No one knows what to do with this book. Why is it in the Bible? What’s Song of Songs about? Bible scholars have asked those questions since before Jesus’ time. Sex, romance, and love? Can’t be. Love, maybe, but a book in the Bible can’t be about sex and romance. Sex is base and romance frivolous. The Bible deals with life and death issues: heaven and hell, eternal salvation, sin, of which sex is usually considered one of the worst.

What is the Song of Solomon?

Eugene C. Scott joins Mike in writing A Daily Bible Conversation twice a week.

TODAY’S READING (click here to view today’s reading online)

Song of Songs 1:1-4:16

2 Corinthians 8:16-24

Psalm 50:1-23

Proverbs 22:22-23

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

2 Corinthians 8:16-24: Paul seems to be taking care of some every day, ordinary business here. Titus is coming to visit with two other men. Treat them well, add to their financial collection for the poor, Paul tells them.

Thus heaven bends down and kisses earth. God enters the mundane and adds to it holiness, meaning and purpose. The Bible is the most far-reaching, powerful, mysterious book in existence. It is God’s word. But the Bible is also practical, earthy, real.

Yet our expectations of the Bible often put it in an untenable place. Each time we crack its covers we expect it to transform our lives, almost magically.

Bible reading, however, may be more like eating. Sometimes the meal is extraordinary, spicy, rare, a feast we remember and tell others about. Sometimes it’s a hamburger and fries. We eat, get up from the table, clean the dishes and go about our business. Both meals nourish, replenish, however.

If you’ve found A Daily Bible Conversation helpful, share it with your friends. Forward your daily email or send them a link to the website: www.bibleconversation.com.

THE WORD MADE FRESH

Origen, a Christian scholar who lived about 200 AD, believed the Song of Solomon was an allegory picturing Christ’s love for us. Like Jewish and Christian scholars before him, he largely ignored the sensual, sexual nature of the book. Unlike Hippolytus, however, he did not restrict its reading to the mature only. These godly, intelligent men could not fathom why God would canonize a provocative love poem from a Hebrew king to his dark, perfumed, busty princess. Nor could they, I imagine, if they were as easily aroused as most other males, read this book without facing their own humanity. Much more simple is it to skim the passionate parts and name the others allegory. But this says more about us than God or the Bible.

Elsewhere God communicates boundaries for our sex lives. We don’t like these restrictive sections–or often obey them–but are more comfortable reading them and tacitly accept them as coming from God. This coincides with our belief that, though we humans enjoy sex, God does not like it, except that it produces children, and probably closes his eyes while any one of us engages in it.

Therefore, this allegorical method of understanding the Song of Solomon provides a distance and safety from one of the more powerful and dangerous (there is no safe sex) drives stirring in the human heart. Reading this poem allegorically allows us to dig a divide between what we see as a very serious and sanitized God and our very earthy, sensual lives. It’s a literary version of safe sex.

The allegorical method has fallen out of favor in modern times, however. What are we moderns to do with the Song of Songs then? Ignore it. Yeah, that’s it! Oh and don’t let our teens read it and our preachers preach on it.

Or. . . .

We can face the truth that, though God recognizes and abhors our sinful mishandling of, and obsession with his beautiful gift of sex, God is not uncomfortable with our sexuality. He made us that way. God made sex fun!

This poem is not an allegory about Jesus, though Jesus’ love for us is every bit as passionate and earthy. Jesus did not have breasts like twin fawns. This poem is about the beauty of human love and passion and romance. It shows even our fallen state cannot completely tarnish God’s greatest gifts.

In our times sex, even between husband and wife, can be twisted, manipulative and ugly. This dirtiness results, in part, from how even Christians have relegated sex to a mere physical act, forgetting that it is one of the most beautiful, intimate spiritual acts a man and woman can engage in. God created sex so that a man and woman could participate in sharing their bodies and souls–and sometimes take part in the creation of a unique, complicated, wonderful new life that also contains the image of God.

God canonized the Song of Songs in order to paint for us a word picture of romance, love, and sex that soars beyond the physical and takes us into the realm of the soul. Seen that way, Solomon’s Song may not be a picture of Jesus on the cross, but it does deal with life and death issues.      

  1. What do these for passages share in common?
  2. How does the Song of Songs’ picture of sex differ from Hollywood’s?
  3. What passage spoke most to you?

If you’re reading this blog on Facebook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here. www.bibleconversation.com.

Eugene co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, CO and writes a blog eugenesgodsightings.blogspot.com

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