Meek and lowly, little child
Stains and dirt crease and sear
Scars slash deep so daily keep
Watch over them, my dear
The little ones, the babes in tears
The gentle-wild love and fear
Fierce and hard, so nightly keep
Watch over them, my dear
You but a child and half-grown man
Guard and nourish, follow and steer
When father sleeps, you must keep
Watch over them, my dear
And when the evening seems so drear
And daybreak equally unclear
Rest in Him, who e'er will keep
Watch over you, my dear
Meek and lowly, little child
However, I've managed to find some lately.
1) In the spirit of the upcoming Christmas holiday, I give you two picks for Christmas albums which diverge from normal fare. So Elated's The Bewildering Light and Over the Rhine's Snow Angels. So Elated has a bit of an emo/indie flair, and some wonderful original songs as well as a good rendition of "Come Thou Long Expected Jesus" - one of my favorites of all time. Over the Rhine's album is at turns jazzy and folky, with some incredibly sexy make-out songs as well as songs with piercing, heart-stirring lyrics. They have a version of "O Little Town of Bethlehem" that can't be surpassed, I'm convinced. And "White Horse for Christmas" brings me to tears of worship almost every time I hear it.
2) Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry. I don't think I've read a book I've loved so much for a very long time. This one has immediately risen to the same status I reserved for books like Till We Have Faces and Anna Karenina. The character of this small-town barber who doesn't realize what a profound and integral part he plays in the lives of the people of the town, who follows what he believes is his calling, who keeps an unrequited marriage vow, I felt an instant kinship to both the character and the author who penned him. Wendell Berry is worthy of being one of America's very greatest novelists and storytellers. He reminds me in many ways of Tolstoy, both in his passionate individualism and his adherence to unique, revolutionary philosophies.
3) Shai Linne. Can you hate a Reformed, African-American rapper who incorporates John Piper quotes into his songs? Well, maybe you can, but I can't. I have always secretly liked the sound of hip hop and rap, but the problem is that most artists of this genre are misogynistic, violent men who a) either complain about how hard their lives have been, or b) seduce women by talking about how much their like their butts and how much they want to have sex with them, or c) threatening violence on those who impede their goals or show them disrespect. And those who are not - those who are Christian, often tend to be a) corny, b) shallow, or c) corny and shallow (KJ-52, John Reuben, etc). And white. More often than not. Shai Linne is both humble and theologically deep, and his lyrics are skillfully crafted. Here's a video of him being interviewed. Even if you don't watch the whole thing, the first minute and a half or so are fantastic - they gave me chills.
As this holiday season approaches, I have been pondering what I should be thankful about. As a believer, I know my life should be characterized by thanksgiving and patience, but I fail so miserably in both of those areas that I have been incredibly intentional about both most of the time.
An attitude of thankfulness springs first out of knowing how little I deserve of my own merit. Before my Lord, all my works and human efforts are as dirty rags. I am a beggar at the foot of God's door sang the Normals. If one stops to help a beggar with even a penny and they show no gratitude, we know what the Samaritan's thought is: "How dare they take my help for granted?" Likewise, Christ brought Himself low - lower than all - in order to bring us up out of the mire of the gutter. And likewise, I so often acknowledge His gift with my lips but my heart is far from grateful until I reflect on how low my natural estate is.
So this Thanksgiving, as is fitting for each day I live in His grace, I am thankful to the Lord for laying down His life, for entering our world in a lowly shed, and for laying His life down on the cross. By doing so, He has blessed me with every spiritual gift, gifts which are far more lasting than material goods. I was reading yesterday in 1 Corinthians 10: "No temptation has overtaken you that is no common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it." In all the trials and hardships we face, what a blessing it is to know that God's hand carefully controls everything that comes in our path, and He will not let us be stretched beyond our elasticity! I should trust Him implicitly, even when the way seems narrow and dark. What a debt of gratitude I see that I owe Him, whichever way I look. Whether it is for His grace on the cross, His grace of a Christian home and husband, His promise that He will care for my children, His promise that I will face nothing that He won't conquer through me, or His promise to sustain and keep me as a shepherd watches His sheep. There is no dimension in which I do not owe Him my entire self and with it, my gratitude. He has bought me with His blood, and I am now my Beloved's. I will eat and drink and fellowship with my family during this holiday season with all thankfulness to His grace and glory.
I haven't been feeling very creative lately, but I have been devouring a lot of good music. So I decided to start sharing whatever I happen to be into at the moment - partially just because I like sharing music, and partially in the hopes that digging deeper into someone else's music will get me inspired again.
I already put up my first post on my personal blog, so I figured I'd just put a link here.
And if anyone else has some good music to turn me on to, I'm all ears.
This is a story I wrote several years back that I have recently returned to. I've changed the ending considerably from its first, and have been trying to transform it from a pointless meandering through a series of character sketches to something that resembles a coherent story with focus and plot and meaning. Previously titled "Death, Warmed Over," I've been considering other titles because there is no real correlation between the title and its topic. Another option might be "Crossing the Bar." The story takes place in a bar owned by Death, so this title has a nice little play on words built into it as well. Any other title ideas would be welcome.
I'll post a couple of sample pieces here; I'm wont to publish the whole thing for fear of not being able to have it published elsewhere if I do. So here are three excerpts:
That's the first. I'd appreciate it if you'd let know if you'd read on, or anything you might change, or might be confusing.
I saw Death first thing when I entered the bar. He was at the slots by the entrance, plugging quarters into the machine and muttering recriminations to it through fleshless jaws. When I walked by he looked up briefly, touched the brim of his black Stetson and turned back to the spinning wheels of fortune.
I can't say I felt easy about Death being here, but I needed a phone, and badly. I hadn't had cell reception since I passed through Hawthorne some hundred miles back, and my car broke down not too long after that. I'd only made it to this bar through a series of events I wouldn't wish on anyone, and I took Death's presence as one more stop on this train of oddities my day had become.
I was an accountant for Paternale and Associates of Reno, Nevada, traveling home from a business trip to Boulder City. I hated traveling, even in the best of conditions; I'm a terrible homebody who has never in his life been east of the Mississippi, north of Boise, south of Phoenix, or west of San Francisco. I liked knowing where things were and having things happen just as I predicted. Perhaps that's why I became an accountant in the first place. Numbers didn't surprise me, and I knew if they were out of order, it was my job to find out why and fix them. Accounting made sense and it didn't scare me. Traveling, however, did, and today's events were a prime example of why.
I'd left Boulder City, Nevada, at 8:30 this morning. The weather was a balmy 85°, and I took my car – a two-year-old Mazda 6 – to Jiffy Lube right before I left to have the oil changed and the fluids checked. I always did this.
I traveled incident-free until I entered the Walker Indian Reservation. Then my car started lurching, increasing in violence and frequency the further I drove. The thermometer readout on rearview mirror said 102°. I didn't want to stop, but I couldn't go on – not with the way the car was operating.
I waited for someone to stop. Like I said, I had no cell service. I kept bottles of water in the trunk for emergencies, and they went fast as hours passed and no one responded to my attempts to flag them down. Finally, as dehydration began to set in, a lone trucker stopped and offered me a ride. I accepted gladly, but was horrified when some time into our drive he asked me to perform acts of a sexual nature upon him in exchange for the ride. I refused, of course, but this only made him angry. Under compulsion I offered him a check for $50, telling him that with that money he ought to be able to pay someone else to do that for him. “Think of it as a gift certificate,” I said. He reluctantly accepted it, then dumped me unceremoniously in the town I was now in. I'd stopped in the Shell station first, but their phone was out of order. They'd directed me to this bar.
Here's the second:
And the third:
gulped deep breaths, sucking in oxygen like a man drowning. What happened in there? I looked back at the bar. Neon lights spelled “TURN--'-” on the roof, half the letters extinguished. The situation was beyond me, beyond my ability to analyze and manage, but I tried anyway, listing the sequence of events in my head like items on a financial report. Item one, a business trip to a client in Boulder City; Item two, Jiffy Lube; Item three, bad gas(?); Item four, stranded; Item five, horny homosexual trucker; Item six, no phone at Shell station; Item seven, bar owned by Death.
Item eight: a woman named Heather.
Item nine: whatever had just happened in there.
How did things balance? I wasn't liking what they were adding up to. It looked like I was ending up in the red.
Accountants hate red.
One thing puzzled me still – item eight. Where did it fit? It was right after Heather left that Death pulled his hypnotic trick. Why then? What was going on between them?
Thinking of Heather brought a vivid picture of her into my mind. She wasn't my type, if I had one, so why did she dominate my thoughts? The way she smiled, the way she moved when she walked – that slow-motion gait – what a dream she was!
A movement caught the corner of my eye. I turned. It was Heather, the glow of her cigarette lighting up her lined face. My heart leaped. Perhaps she was my way out, the item that would make my books balance. She saw me and smiled. “Good to see you again, Cowboy.”
Her smoky, velvet voice gave me chills. “Good to see you too, uh, cowgirl.” I'd never been good at flirting, and was glad for the dark that hid my blush.
She laughed that silvery laugh again. “You've got a sharp wit, Cowboy, watch where you point that thing!” She winked at me.
“Are- are you in any trouble?” I asked. “I couldn't help overhearing...”
“Oh, now Cowboy, don't even worry your head about that,” she lilted. “Ol' Turner's just got a stick up his ass tonight, 's all. But there is one thing you could do...”
“What's that?” I said, eager.
“Well, this little friend o' mine -” she held up a small hip flask “- seems to be runnin' dry. Could you nip in there and buy me a swallow or two of Jim Beam? I'd make it worth your while.”
Worth my while. “Sure,” I said, forgetting the terror I'd just faced in the bar as I stared into those captivating gray eyes. “I'd be glad to.”
“Well, that's just fine. I'll be right here waitin'.”
I cleared my throat and prepared to face down Death. Heather had me in her thrall. I swung the door open wide, setting off the bell above it.
It was quiet for another few minutes as I pondered all this. I was a junk soul – I was meant to be tossed out with the trash, destroyed. If it weren't for Arnie ... I choked up suddenly, overcome by the immensity of what he had done. “Is it common practice for reclaimers to give up their lives for the souls they're reclaiming?” I asked.
Walt and Rufus exchanged glances. “It happens,” Walt said. “Every reclaimer ends up doing it at one point or another. We try not to, of course, but sometimes that's the only option you got left.”
“So what am I supposed to do from here?” I asked. “You've reclaimed me, but what does a reclaimed man do? Am I supposed to go help orphans in Africa? Become a Buddhist monk?”
Rufus chuckled. “How about you start with just living, Wilson. Seems like you need to practice that first. What about that pretty lady who flirts with you? Why don't you ask her out?”
Walt grinned, a toothless smile like his brother's. “Good idea, Rufus. That's a good start. And for gosh sake, take a vacation! You got what, four weeks' time accumulated? Go see the world, man!”
I nodded. “I don't know what my problem has been.”
“Your soul's been collecting dust, that's what the problem's been,” Rufus said. “Every man knows how to live, but not every man has the courage to.”
I reached for the truck's radio dial, flipping it on. I tuned the radio till I found what I was looking for: something warbly, screechy, and raw: Jimi Hendrix's “All Along the Watchtower.” I cranked it up as high as it would go. Walt and Rufus rolled down their windows, and the wind whipped at us as we sang along at the top of our lungs. It was good to live.
There you have it. This is a rewrite, still a little rough, but it gives you a basic feel for the voice of the story and a glimpse at the main characters. If you have any comments on these, don't hesitate. If you'd like to read the whole thing, let me know and I'll email it to you.
This is an ongoing series of poems centering around the book of Genesis. I began it several years ago, and still on occasion attempt to add a poem to it. I have so far made it up to Jacob's betrayal of Isaac and Esau, and am currently working on a poem about Rachel and Leah's marriage to Jacob. I have several more poems to write before the account is complete.
I began posting this series on my personal blog when I first started writing it, but they were lost in the Blogpocalypse of '07 (otherwise known as That Foolish Day I Accidentally Deleted My Blog). So I'll officially kick of this community by posting the first in this series: "Spoken." I consider it the strongest of the pieces, and ironically, it's not really in free verse, since it employs some structure. I welcome any comments or suggestions on the piece.
Command: it flames out into burning,
The formless void knows nothing
Like this brightness, light: separate
From the blackness.
Command: it splits the waters – a horizontal
Slash, expanse of air and vapor
Miles between. Water above, water beneath.
Command: the sea boils, bubbles, soil
Protrudes, sprouts green
Shoot from earth, trunks twist, gyrate, birth
Branches, blossoms, fruit.
Command: it explodes in furious gases, burning
Hot, shining forth fire – rocks
Orbit them, shining their light back
In stony, elliptical obeisance.
Command: it flutters feathers against the sky, the sea
Sparkles with scaly luminescence – they rest
On branch and under bank,
Singing and swimming.
Command: it bursts into a cacophony of
Cries, a chorus of bestial jubilance –
Beasts of field and forest frolic
On unspoiled meadows.
Hand: it reaches from heaven, scoops
The soil, spits, mixes –
It forms shoulders, head, then
Limbs, then, into nostrils:
Command: it proclaims exultant
Success, pride, ecstasy in the product
Of its voice – then, beaming,
Cross-hatching is something one does when sketching with a pen or pencil to achieve shadow and lighting effects. So in the sense that this is a place devoted to artistry, I chose the name. It calls to mind artistic endeavors. Cross-hatching is a way of contrasting light and dark; it gives life and realism to sketches that would otherwise be two-dimensional shapes on a page. It brings depth and meaning to a picture.
I want this to be a place where our art "cross-hatches" the world around us. Art is meant to reflect truth about the world we live in, to bring into contrast the forces and elements we face on a day-to-day basis. We use our art to contrast light from dark, we use it to give shape and depth and meaning to our lives.
Another reason I chose the name "Cross-hatched" was as a play on words. We are all of us purchased by a cross. We are all of us born again - "hatched," if you will - by Christ's death. We ourselves are Cross-hatched. And our art ought to reflect that fact. It is our faith that gives our lives depth and meaning, and our art ought to reflect the depth and meaning that our faith gives us.
With that said, how do I envision this site working? However we want it to work. Feel free to post anything you wish here: if it's a sample of your work, great; if it's some thoughts related to art of some kind, good; if it's a chart related to the frequency and level of intensity of your toothbrushing, well, fine, if you feel like sharing that.
As you may have noted, I also created a message board, which may be more appropriate for intense critiquing of each other's work, or if you want to share your thoughts more informally. The message board format seems more conducive to free thought than a blog does, and perhaps I'm odd for thinking so. For me, a blog is a place to post more polished pieces of writing, while a message board allows posts without a lot of editing or censoring. So there's a glimpse into my reasoning, at any rate.
So, what are your thoughts?
As I mentioned on Wayfarer, I have long envisioned a community like unto the Rabbit Room or the Inklings where artists (be they musicians, writers, film-makers, sculptors, photographers, etc.) can come together and share their work.
Art's a part of all of us, whether we realize it or not. We're created in the image of a Creator, and in turn we feel a drive to create. That process cannot be complete until it is shared and enjoyed by others as well as yourself, and I hope that this will be a place where we can not only share what we create, but also grow in our creativity and have others enjoy it as well.
How this shall all play out I'm still in the process of figuring out, but you're all welcome to offer suggestions and invite any whom you think may be interested in joining such a community.
I hope, and we shall see how this works, that this will be a success.