Respecting the awesome power of words!

hope

E-Strangement

IMG_3929Photo by Owen Jenkins

How much more has our access
to a virtual world exacerbated
our isolation and identity
of both other and self as stranger?

We are, are we not, e-strangers;
limited-character replies
passing in the night,
hell-bent and fear-rent
on steaming full speed ahead
so we don’t dare take on anything,
much less anyone?

Neighborhooding, friending,
working, voting, and churching
ourselves into social, economic,
and religious homogeneity
are not the answer;
they are the problem.

Open the door —
the actual physical one —
and break out the food —
the kind that satisfies
real human hunger.

We must gather ‘round a table
where all have a seat
and none are on the menu.

This is our only chance;
our only path away
from mutually assured destruction;
our only road to hope.

© 2018 Todd Jenkins
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Be

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Esse quam videri –
 literally, “To be,
rather than to seem.”
is the North Carolina state motto.

It has also been translated,
“Be who you are.”

If ever there was
a “be and not just seem” one,
it was God-with-skin-on
from Nazareth,
whose parents named him “Jesus.”

I spent most
(okay, pretty much ALL)
of my first 30 years focused
on proving other people wrong.

That is, when someone said,
“You can’t/don’t know
how to do that.”
(because you’re left-handed,
too small/weak, young,
from a small town,
not educated enough, etc.),
I set out to prove them wrong.

Even though I became
quite adept at this,
one day, I realized
my life choices were based,
not on any inner sense
of purpose or drive,
but merely on competing
against the expectations of others.

I’ve spent the last 28+ years
learning to let go
of that need to prove
my enoughness to anyone,
including myself.

Wilderness, whether it’s mountains,
lakes, desert, or somewhere else,
is a place where the taunting voices
can most fully be shed,

giving me ears to hear
and heart to focus
on my own breath,

and helping me recognize
where and how my own worth
is validated, not in
the meeting or defeating
of others’ expectations,

but through the defining
and developing of self
in mutually healthful
service to the world.

Thanks be to God!

© 2018 Todd Jenkins

A Mom’s Dream

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Mother Earth hopes,
  at the core
    of her molten magma,
      that we will soon wake up

    to the divine declaration,
  proclaimed at the universe’s dawning,
that we are all connected,

and our purpose is
  to pull together,
    instead of apart,

      so we all experience
    a full unfolding
  of dignity, worth, and respect. 

Otherwise, we’ll become
  little more than momentary fireworks
    in a recalculation
      of global proportions.

© 2018 Todd Jenkins

 


May Our Prayers Rise to Meet You

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Our prayers rise on your behalf,
lifting you into the presence
of the Great Physician:

Behold your precious child, O God;
one created in your image
and filled with your reflection.

Grant that the medical team
may continue to act with wisdom,
compassion, and understanding,
so that the journey along the
road to recovery may be
bearable and dotted
with respites and oases
giving breathing room.

Grant an awakening each day
with enough courage
to climb out of bed,
enough strength
to shuffle forward,
and enough hope
to lift eyes to the rising sun.

Grant that caretakers and family
may discern when to push
and when to hold,
when to cry
and when to laugh,
when to speak
and when to sit in silence.

These and all prayers we waft
in the name of him whose robe hem
sparkled with life itself,
Jesus the Christ. Amen.

© 2018 Todd Jenkins


Foundations

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More than a dozen years ago, as a friend’s dad faced chemotherapy, I envisioned and wrote about this scene:

 

I see him standing
on a stormy beach.
It is a place
he’s been before.

The waves are tall,
strong, and fast.
Sand is washing out
from under his feet.
Anxiety is, understandably,
rising with the tide.

I also see a strong,
enormous hand scooping him up
and holding him safely.

Where the receding sand
washed away,
large foundation stones
are moved into place.

The cornerstone has
a familiar look and scent;
the look of compassion
and the scent of love.

When the foundation is secure,
the protective hand sets him
back down onto the rocks.

May Christ be for you all,
and may he give you each
the hope, strength,
and courage to be
for one another,
pillars of hope and
foundations of comfort
during the raging storm
of chemotherapy.

© 2018 Todd Jenkins

Reflexive

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(when Psalm 22 stares back at you from the mirror)

 

"My sons and daughters,
why have you forsaken them?
Why are you so far from responding
to the their cries and groanings?

They beseech you in daylight,
wailing at the wall you’ve constructed
to separate their lives
from your comfort and security.

By night, their pleas waft
on smoldering embers
of their deconstruction."

The victors have constructed
a lovely narrative of deliverance;
their cry, God’s response;
like a sacred vending machine,
fed with the coin of deserving.

But what of those who are judged
to be subpar, those whose DNA,
language, or faith heritage
come from beyond
the 23&me dream package?

What of those who showed up
for work or school or worship,
oblivious to the call to pack heat
for self-preservation;
those who trusted that
the least of these, the lambs,
would be protected
by the Great Shepherd’s shepherds?

They counted on us to carry them;
to be there, not just in the delivery room,
but at the grocery store checkout,
the public library, the classroom,
the youth group meeting, the job fair.

Is our absence because
we don’t really care, or because
we’re actually the carnivores
circling ‘round them?

Their tongues glue to the roof
of their mouths, like jerky
dried for consumption,
salted with the tears of their anguish.

Their skin taut, revealing
a cadaverous collection of bones.

The coyotes circle,
yipping and nipping,
casting lots for what little remains.

The dream we sold them
promised they’d have a shot;
guaranteed dignity, respect,
even opportunity;
but the fine print and disclaimer
excluded them for myriad reasons,
mostly because we feared
that including them
would cost us too much.

We are slow to catch on, O Lord;
blind and deaf and too scared
to realize that tossing them
to the curb is infinitely more costly
than we ever dreamed,
because it has cost us our very souls.

Is there still time, still hope,
still opportunity to pull
more chairs ‘round the table?

If we feed those who’ve been starved,
welcome those who’ve been exiled,
humble ourselves before you and pray,
will you make your light shine 
upon us all, once again?

We wrap ourselves
with the sackcloth of confession,
and dust ourselves
with the ash of contrition,
O holy one, in hopes
that our forsaking
will not become our forsakenness.

Deliver us, we pray,
that we may live
to proclaim your story
to generations yet to come.

© 2018 Todd Jenkins

 


Spoken Hearts

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Those who are
 vocabulary-challenged,
  and/or overcome by fear,
  often feel forced
 to abandon oral communication
in favor of violence;

the bravest, or perhaps
 the most desperate,
perpetrate physical aggression;

those with lesser gumption
 often assault language itself,
  waging battle against long-held meaning,
 gas-lighting society
into lexical confusion.

The rest of us
 are then tasked
  to hold firm
   to the tension
    between conflict
     forced upon us,
    and the eternal possibility
   of language,
  refusing to abandon
 the common ground
of our shared meanings.

In the end,
 war’s horror cannot
  stand on its own;
  and words, with their
 community interpretations,
will win,

because our common story
 outlives every other blitzkrieg,
  and love’s vocal evocation
 eventually woos
even frozen, trembling hearts.

          And now faith, hope, 
          and love abide, these three; 
          and the greatest of these is love. 
          (1 Corinthians 13:13)

© 2018 Todd Jenkins

 


The Psalmist’s Drawer

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We all need a drawer,
  roomy and strong,
  where nothing but
our painful feelings are held.

Every day, and as many times
  as necessary,
  we can air out the filters,
  and let the hurts,
  injustices, and suffocations
  rise to the surface and
  be expressed with all the passion
and outrage we can muster.

When the fireworks subside,
  and respiration has slowed and deepened,
  the drawer will ask,
  “Is this going to define your day, 
or even your life?”

If our answer is, “No.”, 
  we can open the drawer,
  lay our feels to rest,
  and return to our life,
  assured that our emotions
  have been heard, and
that they’re real and valid.

Then, and only then,
  can we allow ourselves
to be raised above the ache.

Some days, new grief
  triggers memories of injuries past,
  tempting us to make a withdrawal
  from the drawer,
rather than a deposit.

This is when the drawer’s inquiry
  is crucial,
  “Is this going to define your day, 
or even your life?” 

By the way,
  in case you’re wondering,
the drawer’s name is God.

© 2018 Todd Jenkins

Yet

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So many choices we have 
for what might be God’s utterance, 
when all seems done and 
the only thing left to say – 
the only thing allowed 
to be said – is a single word.

Powerful and compassionate verbs 
come to mind, as do 
unique and tender nouns, 
or maybe adjectives, 
or some other eloquent string 
of letters and syllables 
possessing unmatched beauty.

Even so, I know 
the word is “Yet.”

Yet, in its not-quite, 
still-to-come sense, 
holding out possibility 
in the presence of nothingness, 
or even in the face 
of every imaginable oppositeness.

Yet, in its 
“You’ve blazed a long trail 
in the opposite direction 
from where you need to be, 
and missed what’s been 
in front of your face all along, 
so turn around.” sense.

God’s word is “Yet.” 
I’m still trying 
to get used to it.

© 2018 Todd Jenkins

Here We Are

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I wanted my words
to make a difference;
not just the words
that leaked out of my mouth
in the heat of the moment,

but the words that seeped
out of my veins, carrying parts
of me from the deepest places
I’ve yet to plumb,

when your pain stabbed me
with the dull side of its blade,
its razor edge sunk
to the hilt in your heart.

I wanted my blood
to make a difference;
but it didn’t.

At least, it didn’t effect
the wispy dream of reconciliation
I constructed with letters,
punctuation, and space —
lots of space.

So, here we are,
on the far side of words —
on the dried side of blood —
and the wet side of tears;

still groping for the edge
of the grave,
still hoping for breath
not squeezed tight
by pain and rejection.

Here we are.

Here we are.

© 2018 Todd Jenkins