The Dogwood Never Fails

Now Faith and Hope and Charity—

Upon these three men all agree

None greater can in heart reside.

More fickle, though, are veins of wood,

And tenderest April blossoms could

(No lack of good intent besides)

Be withered by an ill-timed frost

Or by nor’easter be accost’d.

The life of blossoms is not sure!

The Cherry falls at slightest breeze;

Magnolia buds like castwork freeze;

The Redbud and the Flow’ring Pear,

Though more resilient, don’t compare.

Hopes often dashed ere April’s past–

Can none of Spring’s vast hoard e’er last?

Yet, ah! the Dogwood does endure.

May 14, 2022

Tulip People

Tulip people aren’t Crocus people.

They don’t tweet out

   slapdash signals of spring

   at February’s first foray into the 50s.

Tulip people are distinct from the Daffodil crowd—

apart and unmoved, apparently unheralded

   by spring’s delirious drum majors

   and clamorous countryside.

Tulip people aren’t Hyacinth hipsters 

   or Snowdrop snobs, nor (forgive me)

   are they quite odd enough to 

   associate with the Amaryllis assortment.

Never late, and rarely early,

Tulip people know who they are

and how to bloom where they are planted.

Tulips do not tell the singular story of Spring—

they don’t tell it loudest or brightest,

or fastest or most fragrantly.

Tulips don’t tell the first story of Spring,

but they do tell it best.

May 2, 2022

Apple Stickers

Yesterday I was driving to work and eating an apple. For the first time in my nearly 37 years, I wondered, “Who puts the little stickers on all the apples?”

Who puts them on and when do they put them on? Do harvesters apply stickers as the apples are picked off the tree? Does someone at the apple depot apply stickers to all the bushels and pecks that come in from the orchards? Does a team ride in the back of the apple truck and sticker the fruit as it’s in transit across the country?

I drove for miles imagining how the stickers are printed (sheets or rolls?), how they are applied (how about gloves that apply stickers from the fingertips?), and who is best fruit sticker in the world (and do his co-workers call him Johnny Applestick?). I hurled myself toward my office at 65 miles per hour, simultaneously keeping my primary care physician at bay for yet another 24 hours and blissfully entangling myself in a web of imagination and a mystery that I had never considered.

Then, I did it. I parked my truck and walked into my office. I logged in, opened an internet browser, and searched for the answer. And it did not spark joy. Google did not show me industrious migrants with leathered hands and pure smiling faces. Google did not show me fertile orchards in Washington or illuminate a niche community in the apple industry.

Google showed me machines in factories. Belts and robotic arms and soulless sensors whirling apples past an automated sticker applicator. Google took my imagined utopia and utterly decimated it with a brief but informative YouTube video. My inquest did not enhance or impel my imagination. Rather than improve my intelligence, the reality I encountered on the internet inhibited my very humanity.

Knowledge may indeed be power, but sometimes—aye, this time!—ignorance is bliss.

May 4, 2019

Route 31, 4:37 A.M.

On a Tuesday

at 4:37 A.M.,

on NJSH Route 31 South,

the Toyota Camrys

and the Honda Odysseys

keep polite company

with the pick-up trucks,

saying,

“How are you this morning,”

and, “Isn’t it remarkable how,”

and, “Yes, one must consider.”

And the bakery truck passes,

and asks,

“Oh, excuse me–

are you just getting up?”

April 16, 2014

April 9

There are three things

which I do not believe—

four that I

will never understand:

The ninny

who announces

that she doesn’t like bacon,

the philistine

who posits

improvements of baseball,

the charlatan

who espouses

a god in his own image,

and the ogre

who identifies

his favorite season

without stating

first and foremost,

unequivocally,

enthusiastically,

irrevocably and unceasingly–

Spring.

April 9, 2022

Walking Home from a New Jersey Diner

The sights and sounds of a tow truck are among those few things in life that evoke almost the same feelings in almost everyone in almost every situation. The somber whirring of the cables, the sharp clang of the hooks and chains, and the slow lurch of the vehicle onto the flatbed are each slightly jarring in their own way and unique to the experience of being towed.

Collectively, those elements are saturated with feelings of overwhelming helplessness, trauma, and/or loss. It is a uniquely emasculating experience to stand idly by while a stranger tows one’s chariot away, maybe permanently–to have the desire to work, to act, to help, but to be prevented by policy and insurance terms. Recollections of regret, relief, embarrassment, shock, disappointment, worry, fear (or all of the above) can flood the soul on a Tuesday morning while walking past a stranger being towed.

How immeasurably complex is the human experience! How wonderfully we have been made to be able to think and feel and remember and share these things.

March 28, 2017

Wrong Way

The WRONG WAY road sign stands unique in the pantheon of road signs. Barely more verbose than the abrupt STOP, and definitively more forceful than the deferent YIELD, the WRONG WAY sign is alone unto itself. It does not speculate like BRIDGE MAY BE ICY, and it does not equivocate like SLIPPERY WHEN WET. No, WRONG WAY has a warning and declares it in bold and frank and certain terms.

The other unique attribute of the WRONG WAY sign is that you rarely ever see one. They are usually only posted for travelers who, in a state of severe discombobulation, or under the influence of a controlled substance, and/or perhaps on the front end of a wild police chase, are traveling the wrong way down an otherwise One Way street.

Granted, we who are correctly cruising on the right side of the highway, and ably navigating our life’s course through the vistas and valleys of this world, do sometimes catch an errant glimpse of an askew WRONG WAY sign. It’s usually a startling and unnerving moment, albeit brief. But our fears are quickly assuaged by a thousand points of solid reference—“Ah! No, that sign wasn’t intended for me. I am going the right way in the right lane.” (But that’s a metaphor about life in Progressive [so-called] America for another day).

If the WRONG WAY sign isn’t the most severe of all roadside warnings, it’s certainly one of them. What could be more dangerous than driving into oncoming traffic on a closed highway? What action behind the wheel could put more people at more severe risk? The WRONG WAY sign should get our attention immediately. It should stop us in our tracks and cause us to get help, get turned around, get going the right way right away.

But the sobering analogy is that we all know that friend, that family member, that congregation, that leader, etc. who has been blowing past the WRONG WAY signs for miles. Withdrawing from fellowship, nurturing callouses, despising a spouse, abusing a substance, erecting an idol, embracing heterodoxy. The list goes on. How did he get so turned around? Why is she continuing on that path—and at such speed?! Where were their WRONG WAY signs? Did they see them?

Tolerance is a good and necessary principal to practice in a multi-faceted society. But there are plenty of things that we are fools to tolerate: day-old anger (Ephesians 4:26), sexual immorality (Ephesians 5:3), laziness (Proverbs 6:10), idolatry (Romans 1), apathy (Philippians 2:12), fear (1 Peter 3:6), heterodoxy (Galatians 1:8), etc. etc. There are plenty of WRONG WAYS to be avoided at all costs. There are roads that are objectively harmful, hazardous, and lead to certain destruction.

Maybe better than asking where did that friend go wrong or when did she miss the WRONG WAY signs in her path, we should consider Who? Who were the friends, family, neighbors to flash the WRONG WAY signs? Who followed up with the brother who slunk out the door after Sunday worship without speaking to anyone? Who could have made a point to have coffee with the withdrawn housewife? Who should have spoken up after a man’s harsh words to his wife? Who could have macheted through “busy schedules” and “I’m fine” and “life’s just so crazy right now” to get to the heart of the matter? Who could have spoken the truth in love, called a spade a spade, and administered faithful wounds of a friend?

Maybe you’re watching that loved one hurtling the wrong way right now. Maybe you think your friend has made a few wrong turns. Maybe you know that your own life is not headed in the right direction. Maybe you’ve already made a shipwreck of your family or a friendship or your faith. Maybe you know what’s at the bottom of that slippery slope because that’s where you wake up every morning.

There is good news! There is hope for the hopelessly lost. Today can be the day you turn around. You don’t need to dwell at the end of the road you’re on. There is forgiveness for the wayward. A feast and a robe and a birthright for the prodigal son who comes home. From the hymnal: “Come, ye sinners, poor and needy, weak and wounded, sick and sore. Jesus ready stands to save you, full of pity, grace, and power.”

From the book of Hebrews: “Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”

March 19, 2021

Such A Time As This

The books of I and II Kings read like current events. Weak, wicked kings capitulating to a wicked, rebellious populace. Strong, wicked kings leading eager subjects into further debauchery and idolatry. Cycle after cycle, a progression of increasing heinousness and decay.

But sprinkled into the timeline are a few righteous kings who know the truth and restore (for a time) a semblance of morality and order during their reigns. A measure of prosperity and favor flow from the brief times when these monarchs help lead the people back to the one true God by both edict and example. The coming judgement due an increasingly wicked people is stayed, albeit briefly.

I think I took these “good” kings for granted when I read the Old Testament as a child. After all, didn’t everyone know God’s Word and his standard for kingdoms, clans, and families? Didn’t everyone know the right thing to do and know they should do it?

But we are now raising children in a post-truth era when the spirit of the age is incessantly taking the nuclear option to any as-yet-untoppled bastion of Judeo-Christian morality and ethos. Our cultural icons leapfrog each other down the second half of Romans 1 at a breakneck pace, a veritable pageant of brazen immorality parading as Progress. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

It’s enough to tempt a parent to unchecked anxiety or maddening speculation. How are we to know what lies in store? What is the future arc of our country and culture? Are these the latter days of an evil Abijam with a righteous Asa in the wings, or are we just beginning 55 years under an abominable Manasseh? If the latter, and if the cultural fallout proves irreversible, how are we to live in these evil days?

The stories of Joash and Josiah are among the things keep me from forlorn disenfranchisement. As a baby, Joash was kept alive in secret and then crowned at age seven by a brave priest after his father’s entire family was slaughtered by an insurrection. And Josiah is the most unlikely of righteous kings—the grandson of Judah’s most wicked ruler, and thrust onto the throne at eight years old when his father gets the Et Tu Brute at the hand of conspirators. There is nothing in either of these boy kings’ heritages or circumstances that would cause anyone to expect the righteous reigns that follow.

Yet each of these boys rise from the charred ashes of idolatrous fathers and despicable grandfathers to become righteous kings over God’s people. How? How on earth was wanton wickedness succeeded by the fruit of righteousness and justice?

The simple, ordinary answer is that these boys were each mentored and taught and raised in the way of the Lord by the members of a faithful remnant who had not yet bowed the knee to Baal. There were chaste, orthodox citizens ready, willing, and able to instruct and guide a future generation onto the the paths of life—out of the scorched earth of their fathers’ depravity.   There were faithful men and women who preserved the truth and taught it to the next generation.

Maybe the course of our debased culture won’t be reversed in your lifetime or in mine. Maybe our trajectory has dipped too far down with too much momentum. Perhaps the toothpaste is irrevocably out of the tube, as they say. But in hope and expectation, let’s parent and teach and grandparent as if the next Josiah was on our lap. Let’s homeschool and Sunday school and counsel and care for the next generation to equip them for the rebuild.

“For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for God’s people from another place… And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

January 28, 2022

The Last Bath

Will we know it when it happens?

And (if so) how will we know?

Will we know that we know?

Will we be able to recognize it?

.

Will the moment herald itself

  with the shout of an archangel?

Or will we anticipate its coy arrival with

  a kind of parental prescience?

.

Will we decipher cryptic foreshadowing

  or detect an otherwise obscure clue?

Will we commemorate it in the moment,

  in real time, en diem?

.

Will we parade it down the staircase

  like Calvin’s living art?

Will we celebrate it, savor it,

  memorialize, or mourn it?

.

Perhaps, like a winter holiday

that we tacitly cling to,

it will unceremoniously,

surreptitiously pass us by—

a moment unmarked,

unheeded, unnoticed—

until finally, in years distant,

as erstwhile nesters,

we cringe and discard

the last of our last child’s bath toys?

.

There are notes of melancholy

  in every goblet raised to Progress.

Often a veiled pain accompanies

  the celebration of success.

Milestones are marked and praised,

  and dreaded as much as desired.

We long for what’s next

  while we pine for what’s past.

And we never really know

  which Saturday evening

  will bring us

The Last Bath.

January 7, 2022