Category Archives: Poetry



Mark 12:41 [Jesus] sat down opposite the treasury and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (NRSVUE)

Such amazing freedom this impoverished widow had – 

Clinging to nothing, but rather,

Freely giving all to God, knowing

God would take care of her.

As free as the birds of the air and

The lilies in the fields.

In times past, I pictured her old, bent, in rags,

Walking with a cane; but now I see her as

Ageless, happy, joyous, stepping lightly with

Sparkles in her eyes, full of peaceful contentment.

I like to imagine the women who were always with

Jesus rushing to her with love, embraces, and joy – 

Taking her into the fold – this widow now joining the

Disciples at Jesus’ feet, learning and loving; with

Him at the Passover Seder, aghast at the mock trials,

Weeping at the scourging post and the cross;

Dancing with the risen King,

Aflame in the upper room.

a film review

A Film Called First Reformed

My son turned me on to a deep movie. All really good art lends itself to a variety of interpretations. The film First Reformed is one such work of art. 

Trigger alert: It is dark, at times surreal, and contains a graphic suicide scene. It’s also brilliant.

The Plot: 

First Reformed is a 2017 American drama film written and directed by Paul Schrader staring Ethan Hawke, Amanda Seyfried, and Cedric Kyles. 

It’s the story of a divorced, bereaved, isolated, 46-year-old pastor of an historic colonial era Dutch Reformed church in upstate New York.  The church building is well-preserved, but has become not much more than a museum.  The pastor, a former military chaplain who talked his son into joining the army only to learn he was killed in action a few months later, is struggling with probable gastrointestinal cancer and self-medicating his pain with alcohol. 

The surrounding countryside is stark, cold, and bleak. Old gravestones, barren trees, dirty cars, empty spaces. The soundtrack is often more the moan of a dying creation than lyrical. Traditional hymns about the comfort and transformative power of Christ are interspersed.

First Reformed church is supported by a megachurch called Abundant Life that is itself buoyed by the large donations of an industrialist who denies climate change and pollutes the environment. Abundant Life never challenges the sins of its financiers. 

Mary, one of only a handful of congregants at First Reformed, is pregnant and married to an environmental activist who is filled with existential angst over humanity’s destruction of the planet. A central theme: “Will God forgive us for destroying his creation?” In despair, Mary’s husband commits suicide in spite of the pastor’s counsel. 

Later, she and the pastor share an out-of-body experience in which they see the beauty of creation and what humans have done to it. It is beautiful and surreal, transcending space-time. 

The combination of his struggle with the relevance of his faith in the light of human greed, his physical sickness, the loss of his son and then his marriage, leads the pastor to the brink of destroying himself and the church at the church’s 250th anniversary celebration, which is attended by the industrialist, the governor, and the megachurch pastor, among many others. Seeing Mary entering the building, he quickly decides against mass destruction and opts for intense self-flagellation. Mary enters, they kiss passionately, and the screen goes black.

Some Thoughts: 

The lead pastor of the megachurch is a good man. He wants his church to do good things to help people. But, to keep it solvent, he compromises truth so as not to offend his biggest donor.

Abundant Life is huge and modern, but in the film, is never abundant. Its choir has four members; its youth group has maybe a dozen. When we see it, it is always mostly empty, just like its theology.

Mary’s husband is kind, caring, and brilliant. Everything he researches and reports is well substantiated. He sees no hope for humanity, no hope for the planet. 

The protagonist is struggling with existential anguish. He is grieving the loss of his marriage, feels guilty over the death of his son, is sick with probable cancer, and is alone. He hates being nothing more than a docent, and longs to be relevant in the world. He reads Thomas Merton and G.K. Chesterton, and keeps a journal. The parsonage in which he lives is almost void of furniture. It is dark and empty, like him.

Mary is pregnant, like the Mary in the nativity stories. She alone has hope. She agrees with her husband’s conclusions, but still wants to bring her baby boy into the world. Like the Virgin Mary, she brings light into darkness, hope into despair. At the very end of the film, her love saves and redeems the pastor.

So many lessons:

  • Speak truth to power. Ignore the budget.
  • Stand for justice. 
  • Steward God’s creation.
  • Eschew violence. In the end, it accomplishes nothing.
  • Let yourself love and be loved.
  • Love is redemptive.
  • Love brings hope.
  • Love conquers despair.
  • The industrialist lost his way through greed.
  • The megachurch pastor lost his way through success.
  • Mary’s husband lost his way by abandoning hope.
  • The pastor of First Reformed lost his way through grief.
  • Mother Mary never lost her way.


she was a day-sailor designed for

sounds, bays, harbors, lakes, not

open ocean, and indeed, she was not

in the open ocean, but instead well

within the sight of land when the

fog fell like a thick wet blanket

obliterating any possibility of sight

his left hand on the tiller, his right

holding the mainsheet, he could not

see her bow, nor the top of the mast;

even the jib was shrouded in grey

she had no motor, carried no compass, 

no radar, no navigation aids of any kind,

not even a bucket to use as a sea anchor

only the airhorn he blasted at the 

top of each minute as he luffed 

her into irons and waited, drifting

with the tide, which he knew would

eventually suck him through the hole – 

the narrows between the islands where

the current rushed with strength that 

put many a large vessel on the rocks

he hoped the fog would lift before the

current gripped her in its clutches, but

it did not. helpless to do anything except

don a life jacket, lash to the boat,

drop sail and cling to the gunnels, she

spun like a bubble swirling down a drain

bumping rocks like a pinball, jarring,

dizzy and dazed, surreal as he observed that,

contrary to nature, he had no fear, but

instead was almost able to stand beside

himself observing with curiosity as the

salt spray burst through the fog to soak him

he licked the salt on his lips as a strange

joy washed over him, still spinning, still bumping,


as suddenly as it began

the waters calmed and he knew he had

shot through the hole from the sound into

the bay without harm, but yet still

cloaked in thick fog, and now, with the

current against him, without possibility of 

sailing back to the harbor, drifting, drifting,

as if veiled from 


sensing an unreachable connection, adrift from identity

the glass through which he peers is warped,

thick, wavy, malformed, scratched by 

abandonment, smeared by envy – only

shadows, glimpses, hints of 

Truth, yet


Enough to reveal the sunrays of

Perpetual Love


Vast fields of ice

Pure white, blinding

Endurance wedged,

Groans as she’s crushed

The miraculous trek begins.

Through war-ravaged shambles

Across homeless encampments and

Hospital wards where respirators

Gasp and saline drips; 

Past ice-cliffs of struggle,

Through foreboding canyons of grief

Among the starving children and 

Newly baptized saints in the cages that

Overlook the cemetery where infants join

Old men and widows, and where reckless

Teenagers sleep and young widowers wail as they

Stumble for words of explanation for sobbing children.

Trudging on over blazing deserts 

Snake mounds and petroglyphs

Where cactus wrens and roadrunners worship

Under the watchful gaze of the ram

Perched confidently on enigmatic assurance.

Sailing now on lashed barges with

Cotton sails, through inky seas of chaos,

Racism and fascist hatred; seas filled with 

Macropredators slicing waves that 

Can swallow the most massive ship.

Onward through sorrow, pain, grief, and loss,

Indominable women, scarves pulled

Tightly about their heads, sheltering 

Babes in ragged coats in groups of four

Or, are there five?
“I know that during that long and racking march, it seemed to me often that we were four, not three.” – Sir Ernest Shackleton, South

“Who is the third who walks always beside you?

When I count, there are only you and I together

But when I look ahead up the white road

There is always another one walking beside you.”

–  T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land

“Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)


Soft, warm, gentle, long-lasting,

First rain of Spring, soaking, softening the

Hard and cracked soil as 

Earth takes a long, slow, deep

Drink and her flowers, grasses,

Bushes and trees absorb water and minerals.

Life. Soon, leaves, buds, flowers, fruit.

So comes the good spirit.

Blasting wind, icy torrents slicing, biting,

Snapping weighed down branches.

Shingles fly, villages lose power,

Topsoil washes away as

Creek banks cave in and 

Basements flood.

Death. Destruction, chill, ruin.

So comes the evil spirit.

a door & a coffin

The carpenter made them both

Out of a fine piece of oak 

That came from an ancient tree at long

Last felled by gale-force winds

Stirred up at the poles by

Rising temperatures elevated by

Human greed. 

So, in one sense, they

Were both redeemed out of death.

The stately oak volunteered to be

Sacrificed for this cause.

Two fine pieces of artisanship planed and

Chiseled, carved and sanded

Both designed for one adult size human body

Both of wood; both made in the same shop by

The same craftsperson with the same tools.

Both stained in natural oak; both notched and

Pegged rather than nailed or screwed.

Both from the same source.

A door and a coffin.

A door hung at the entrance to the parish manse

Opening its whole self to welcome

Dignitaries and hobos alike

To a blazing hearth where warm stew and

Hot ale whisper gospels.

A coffin draped in cloth in the

Kirk storeroom waiting to 

Open its whole being to welcome 

Dignitaries and hobos alike

To the blazing throne where bread is

Blessed, broken, and given, and 

Cherubim choruses ascend.


Dressed in his finest $11,000 suit,

He cut a fine figure standing in the

Pulpit invited to read the Lectionary

Which he prefaced with a smile and the

Explanation that hell was but an ancient

Construct to indicate the just

Punishment of murderers, rapists, and

Drug dealers like those in the city.

While his classmates were protesting

And cities were burning; while

Children were dying in villages

Blanketed with napalm, and the 

Dark-skinned young men were locked in cages,

He was devising a plan, a very

Practical plan, to become rich.

Top preparatory school, then

Prestigious university where he

Wore suit and collegiate tie and joined the

Young Republicans until he was 

Accepted at the well-known

School of Business.

MBA in hand, office in Manhattan,

Owning his own firm, house in

Connecticut, train to the city,

Two-thousand-dollar shoes,

Trips to Europe, sports cars,

Summer place on Martha’s Vineyard,

Power yacht, world tours, 5-star resorts,

Six-hundred-dollar bottles of wine in

The wine cellar; million-dollar

Art on the wall.

A fund-raiser for charities that serve the

Elite – galleries and Ivy League, his

Name on the sides of buildings designed by

The latest architectural phenom 

All American success, fine Christian man,

A life without purpose, self-absorbed, 

Self-seeking, emptiness 

void, lacking compassion

Never noticing begging

Lazarus, nor his sores being

Licked by dogs.

A life without love.

A life without God.

Outer darkness.

Wailing. Wailing. Wailing.



One candle

Just one

Wafting the fragrance of

Spring apples throughout the room

One candle

Just one

With three wicks

Three identical flames

Burning in tender synchronicity

Harmoniously focused

Singular purpose

One candle

Just one

With three identical flames

Now cloven into multiple

Tongues of fire

Dancing, joyous, spreading

Light, love, beauty

Sweet bouquet to savor

On the Origin of Evil

Often, we have walked this shore

Felt the sea breeze

Watched the sandpipers stab translucent sand crabs

And the ring-billed gulls glide across the surf.

But this morning there’s a strangeness in the air

An odd glow on the horizon

An unnatural unnerving wind in the eel-grass

A cold inverted vortex lifts us aloft

The dark myth unfolds

As ineffable as it is unfathomable.

Swirling in the thickness of illogic

It makes no sense to speak of 

“Time before time,” of something

Before nothing, yet there it is – 

Before infinitely condensed space-time,

Pure ethereal spirits, flames of fire 

Created with free will.

(But, why? Surely not that the Omnipotent

Alpha-Omega had needs, or wanted slaves;

Nor would Divine Love be so aggrandizing as to

Narcissistically fashion beings just to adore the Divine Self.)

Unknown, unanswered, mystical and mythical

Creatures (if spirits can be called creatures) 

Some of which choose pride, rebel, and,

By so doing, self-isolate into terrible aloneness.

Grace becomes malice

Love becomes hatred

Order turns into chaos

A thick fog in the dead of cold night

Darkness upon the face of the deep

A cosmos without order or beauty or music

Great God of Goodness and Love – heartbroken – 

Loved these strange creatures, these shape-shifters,

These wraiths, these flames of fire.

Though humans were created in the Imago Dei, 

All of creation bears the fingerprints of the

Divine – snake and eagle, toad and puppy, orca and damselfish.

These fallen dominions, principalities, powers – 

Are they irredeemable?  

Can created beings place themselves beyond the reach of divine love?

Being eternal, are they indestructible?

Is it impossible to annihilate them?

And, if not, why allow them to continue 

Their spoiling of masterpieces?

They are dissonance, confusion, cruelty, heartbreak.

Did the Omniscient One not know they would choose

Havok, death, chaos, and cause merciless anguish?

Did not Perfect Love anticipate wars and burn units?

The whirlwind tenderly sets us down

As the chill dissipates and the sun – 

Blessed in its normalness – 

Rises to spread a warmth across land and sea.

With gentle strokes, we wave the warmth

Onto our faces as the portal softly closes

And feel the warm sand under our bare feet

And hear the lapping of the waves on a golden shore.

We are content with mystery.

We no longer need answers.

We bask in Love.

This God

This kingdom – 

Fundamentalist theocracy?

Handmaid’s tale?

Animal farm, 1984, brave new world?

Red tsunami that washes in

Patriarchal white supremacy so

Jews won’t replace us?

This kingdom – military incursions

Kowtowing to dictators,

Mockery and greed,

Goons with assault weapons?


The reign of the

Servant King

Suffering Messiah

God who is perfect

Cruciform Love?

This cross – a 

Human tragedy?

Innocent death?

Brutal state execution?

A soft, bland bloodless atonement?

Some sort of lesson?


The King of the cosmos absorbing

All evil and destroying the works of the devil?

This resurrection – 

Circle of life?

Alive in our thoughts?

Pleasant myth?

Eggs and bunnies and lilies?


Death conquered,

Sin removed,

Serpent crushed,

Stone table cracked,

Ring destroyed,

Blood, salt, fire,

The earth trembled,

Demons wept,

Promise fulfilled?

This God – 

A myth of the ignorant and fearful?

A creation of human imagination?

Distant, impersonal, uninterested?

Mechanical watchmaker?

Subjective deity of beauty and goodness inside our minds?

Formless life force surging through the cosmos?

The sum total of all there is?

An energy we can tap?

A soft-bellied partly senile grampa who wants all to have a good time?

A vending machine Santa Claus to give me my best life now?

Strick harsh legal judge?

Warlord crushing enemies?

Vengeful monster inflicting eternal conscious torture?


YHWH, the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Israel, the

God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 

True and living God who is

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

God is exactly like Jesus – 

Burning with passion,

Flaming out against hypocrisy and injustice,

Caring for the least, the broken, the sheep

Scattered, bleeding, ripped, bleeding on the

Hillsides for lack of shepherd.

Demanding – sell all, follow me,

Deny self, take up cross,

Servant of all, wash feet,

Die but don’t kill,

Go the extra mile

Give but don’t sue

Forgive, love enemies,

Lose life for my sake.

Welcoming alien, stranger, 

Marginalized, hated,

Healing, loving, forgiving


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