Tuesday, December 9, 2014

POEMS BETWEEN BIRTH AND RESURRECTION - Introduction

Signed copy can be purchased through Tictail
(Before becoming a preacher, a nurse, an amateur artist, or a massage therapist, I was a poet. I still am. Getting my poetry published in more than homemade binders had been a dream for years. Health challenges and the rise of modern book-publishing technology merged to motivate me to make the effort. Now all five of my poem books are published in paperback and Kindle editions.

I wanted to put the introductory essays for each collection on my blog. If you want to know what makes me tick, my poetry tells it better than a biography.

This "Introduction" and the concluding poem are from my fourth book of poems. To read the posts from my others, click on these links:
Poems Between Heaven and Hell;
Poems Between Darkness and Light;
Poems Between Death and Life;
Poems Between Here and Beyond.)


“Introduction” to
Poems Between Birth and Resurrection

My life journey has brought me delightful discoveries, all of them best described in their relationship to love and truth. Loving brings joy, whether through sending a check to a worthy cause, putting extra care into someone’s body-work massage, or holding my wife in an affectionate embrace. Joy rises especially strong when a sudden burst of love for God overflows in silent, verbal, or poetic praise. But love’s nature is fully experienced only when fully reciprocated. I find the same joy in loving as in being loved and appreciated, whether by my wife, family, Christian friends, hospital co-workers, or grateful new parents I’ve helped with newborns. Love returns to us in sincere “thank you” notes, in spontaneous hugs, in a silent presence at times of grief. The God of love has prescribed equally mixed proportions of loving and being loved as the divine epoxy glue that binds human hearts together. He ordains this mutually reciprocating love to characterize our journey from the womb to the tomb. It’s our calling during this present life and for the eternal glory beyond it.

In a similar way, love itself must be tempered with truth, and vice versa. As loving draws us closer to the God of love, so discovering and embracing truth draws us closer to the God of truth. Truth liberates love from the dysfunctional rut of sentimental lies. Love emancipates truth from the chains of stifling legalisms. The wedding of love and truth gives birth both to an abundant life and to an authentic lifestyle.

Two special theological truths make the Christian Gospel the most alive and human-friendly faith in existence. One is the Incarnation. God, our Creator, “became flesh to dwell among us.” He was born into this world as a real human being to teach us, as our Master; to die for us, as our Redeemer; and to restore us and the rest of creation, as our Deliverer. The other human-friendly truth is the Resurrection. This same incarnate God-Man was physically raised from death to be the body-spirit Mediator and priestly Ruler of all worlds, cosmic and celestial. His bodily resurrection is the guarantee of our own, for which the whole “creation waits in eager expectation” (Romans 8:19-23). In His own physically resurrected human body, God—as King of the universe—will forever lead the rest of redeemed and resurrected humanity in ruling over the whole material and spiritual creation. Nothing is more human-friendly than these two truths: in His Incarnation, Jesus is Savior; in His Resurrection, Jesus is Lord.

In my journey of digging out rich gems from these two deep mines of doctrinal truth, I’ve had to grapple with some human-unfriendly attitudes toward the material world, and toward our physical bodies in particular, which seem firmly embedded in the popular “Christian” view of earthly life. This first happened in my job as an RN, when my frank view of unclad female bodies didn’t arouse in me the immoral, lustful thoughts that all my life had been faithfully preached to me as inevitable. Many years of experiencing this discrepancy between religious teaching and realized truth led to intense research about the phenomenon of human nakedness, not just by a careful review of Scripture, but by a laborious investigation of various historical, aesthetic, and psycho-social disciplines. The resulting fruits of this educational pursuit was nothing less than a major paradigm shift in my thinking. That bold intellectual endeavor helped me see the heretical Gnostic influences behind the “body shame” issues in the typical modern church. It led me full circle, back to the awesome implications for human destiny in those two doctrines, Christ’s Incarnation and His Resurrection.

Some people do personal journaling. I do poetic journeying. My poetry often records personal experiences of love and truth during my earthly sojourn. The title of this fourth book of my poetry, Poems Between Birth and Resurrection, describes the source of many of the themes in my poetry since the turn of the century. Much in the world has changed, especially in this last decade, and much has changed in me. A poet’s poems cannot help being autobiographical, but I’ve always wished mine to be prophetic, in the sense of proclaiming truth that corrects and reforms.

Contemplating the truths of the incarnate birth and resurrection of God’s Son have brought my theological thinking “down to earth,” where it belongs. I’ve gained a new awareness of humanity’s original, God-given responsibilities as body-spirit beings, and of our duty to recognize the God-pronounced goodness of this physical world, even while it still groans under sin’s curse. These twin doctrines have dramatically changed my attitude toward the wholesomeness of the human body, with or without man-made, fig-leaf dress.

This shift in attitude toward human embodiment led me into taking art classes, learning massage therapy, and trying to practice natural ways of health maintenance. These involvements, overflowing into my poetry, reveal the direction and depth of this conceptual shift. If I sometimes sound radical and startling, it’s on purpose. Shocking minds to alertness is often the only effective prelude to dislodging long-believed lies and sacred half-truths. If the surprising reality about the human body hadn’t jolted me awake, I couldn’t share some of these poems. I felt consciously called to write them, and now feel relieved of a prophetic burden in publishing them. Through them, I hope my readers can experience an epiphany similar to what gave them birth.

God bless your journey between birth and resurrection! May these poems inspire your life as they have mine. Don’t miss any of your life’s mission in the here-and-now by an otherworldly focus on the hereafter. God intends our eternal life in Christ to be lived out with overflowing abundance in these “fearfully and wonderfully made” earthen vessels from the cradle to the grave, and beyond.

— David L. Hatton

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

GOD’S NAKED LAMB


When Jesus died stark naked on the Tree
Prescribed by Roman minds for cruelty,
Shrewd Pilate had his will against the hoard
Who pushed his hand to crucify our Lord.
Above Christ’s head he made the placard stay
That said, “Here dies the King of Jews today.”

Stripped to the skin of every Jewish thread,
His body, bare, had one thing left they read
That marked His place distinctly by the sign
Of promise in the Abrahamic line:
That tender cut received eight days from birth
To seal God’s vow of blessing all the earth.

But we, who like to cover up His loins,
Forgetting how He went for thirty coins
The way nude slaves did in the marketplace,
We blush to look, so miss the glow of grace
That shines from His exposed humanity
To light salvation’s path to sanity.

The unclad body of our Lord displayed
That God took up the very flesh He made
To show by sacrifice without His robe
That every human tribe around the globe
Was purchased in a body like their own.
We see this in God’s naked Lamb alone.

— David L. Hatton, 2/14/2008
(Poems Between Birth and Resurrection,  © 2013)

For more single poems from this volume, visit my website's “Poetry Page.”

Monday, December 8, 2014

POEMS BETWEEN DEATH AND LIFE - Introduction

Signed copy may be purchased through Tictail
(Before becoming a preacher, a nurse, an amateur artist, or a massage therapist, I was a poet. I still am. Getting my poetry published in more than homemade binders had been a dream for years. Health challenges and the rise of modern book-publishing technology merged to motivate me to make the effort. Now all five of my poem books are published in paperback and Kindle editions.

I wanted to put the introductory essays for each collection on my blog. If you want to know what makes me tick, my poetry tells it better than a biography.

This "Introduction" and the concluding poem are from my third book of poems. To read the posts from my others, click on these links:
Poems Between Heaven and Hell;
Poems Between Darkness and Light;
Poems Between Birth and Resurrection;
Poems Between Here and Beyond.)


“Introduction” to
Poems Between Death and Life

Death is something we have to live with, but that does not stop us from trying to ignore it. We hide it from ourselves by sweeping its inevitability under the carpet of busy schedules and daily routines. When its alien countenance creeps up to stare us in the face, we cringe. When its foreign hand grips someone we love, we are devastated. Death’s approach captures our full attention. Its arrival gives birth to the powerful, heart-rending emotion of grief. It awakens us to the reality of our human condition, brought about in the Garden, when our first parents embraced death’s mother: sin. Yet, failing to stay alert to death, or neglecting to live with it properly, can set us up inadvertently to fail at life.

A common exhortation to spiritual seekers woven into the mystical writings of monks in the Orthodox tradition is this: “Meditate on the day of your death.” You might protest, “How morbid! How depressing!” But there is deep wisdom in such a practice. Those who frequently recall the brevity of life, and the uncertainty of its limit, are more apt to place proper value on every minute of time that God grants them. A daily recollection of death’s certainty can emancipate us from squandering precious hours in trivial pursuits. Intentionally remembering that one day, any day, we will die, helps to keep us on the pathway of freedom from a thoughtless, aimless dissipation of life. Also, regular meditation on departing from this life motivates our sober preparation to face God as Judge of how we have lived our earthly lives. We all must, and will, have our “day in court” with our Maker. Death is a reminder that, sooner or later, we will definitely keep that appointment.

But while it may be helpful in spurring us on in life, death is still our enemy. We were created for life, not death. The whole tenor of Scripture sets the two in opposition: death to be avoided, life to be sought (Deuteronomy 30:19). Not only did death enter God’s creation as a foreign power, but somehow, perhaps through some spiritual transaction in the nature of the Fall, its power was seized by the malicious hands of another foreign foe of humanity. That enemy, Satan, held Adam’s race in bondage through the “fear of death”, until the Author of Life gave His life to destroy “him who had the power of death” (Hebrews 2:14-15). Jesus Christ became for us both the Way out of death and the Way into life. God invaded our death-ridden planet, incarnating Himself to live in our skin, so that Life could challenge death to a duel. Augustine wrote, “The Immortal One took on mortality to die for us and by His death to destroy ours.” It was the only way: God’s Life for our death, so that His death and resurrection life could bring new birth to Adam’s death-bound race.

While living with death and growing toward dying, we should live faithfully. Much of Christian faith is anchored in a sure future with God, when death shall be no more. But right now, we still have dusty feet, walking on trails of dust to which our bodies, these vehicles for our souls, will return. The contrast is stark: we burst into this world screaming with vitality and promise, but approach our earthly exit with progressive decay and a concluding moan. So, a legitimate earthly faith must hold these two realities in tension, not denying or trifling with death, but neither allowing it to spoil life. Let’s not slip back into the bondage of fearing death, while remembering its reality. Let death remind us to live real life and to flee the lethal trap of a sinful lifestyle. Carelessness with life is not truly living at all.

For years, as an emergency room nurse, I often watched death at work. Presently, as an obstetric nurse, I often watch the advent of new life. As a part-time pastor, I am called to assist people spiritually on their journey between those two realities. As a poet, I have tried to share my thoughts and feelings “between death and life.” And so, like my other two books of poetry, this one also bears the title, “Poems Between . . .” Not everything in this book is of a spiritual nature. Some of these poems are from my teen years and exhibit my early poetic experiments in structure and style. Others merely reflect feelings of gladness or sadness that I wanted to capture in poetry. But most of what I’ve compiled here is from the past six years and reflects my own personal journey between life and death.

My deepest desire in writing poetry is to promote the gift of divine life offered to us through God’s Son. Karl Barth wrote, “Already in this life the wise person lives beyond death. Already here and now we may begin to live eternally.” If I help introduce life in Christ or nurture it in my readers, I will count my work successful. In particular, I hope you see why I place “death” first, before “life” in my title. Historically, we were “dead in trespasses and sins” before we were “alive in Christ.” Spiritually, we enter the abundant life in Christ only by submitting to and experiencing death to self. This is a choice Jesus holds before any would-be disciple in His words, “Take up your cross and follow Me.” Somewhere between birth and death, we must embrace this self-denying “death” in order to live out “new birth” in its fullness. Somewhere in our journey, we must grasp and apply what Christ meant in saying, “whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:25, NIV) That loss, difficult as it might seem, is nearly insignificant in comparison to the treasure of divine life in Christ, both for the rest of our earthly journey and for all eternity beyond.

David L. Hatton

*    *    *    *    *    *    *

CAUGHT BY LOVE

Love of God, You awesome Seeker,
Searching for our straying heart,
Gaining speed as we grow weaker,
Closing in to end the chase.
Love of God, You ardent Hunter,
Waiting for our will’s head start;
Watching, till our path grows bleaker,
Then begins Your steady race.

“Let me go!” screams out the quarry,
“Let go; let Me!” the Hunter calls.
So persists God’s passion-story;
Stubborn Love has set the pace.
“Let me go, You ardent Hunter!”
But we fail to see the walls
Limiting our flight from glory,
As we run from Love’s embrace.

Slamming into such protection,
Stopped and spared from suicide,
We are trapped by God’s affection,
Forced to hear Love face to Face.
“Let go; let Me!” repeats the Hunter,
“Let Me heal the wounds you hide:
First, your sins; then hurts . . . rejection . . . .
Let Me bathe them in My grace.”

Caught by Love’s intent pursuing,
Captured for eternal bliss,
Fools we were to flee the wooing
Our retreat could not erase.
Let go; let God, the loving Hunter
Catch your hand and plant His kiss.
Our escape was our undoing;
His arrest, our resting-place.

— David L. Hatton, 8/15/1998
(Poems Between Death and Life,  © 1999, 2014)

For more single poems from this volume, visit my website's “Poetry Page.”

POEMS BETWEEN DARKNESS AND LIGHT - Introduction

Signed copy may be purchased through Tictail
(Before becoming a preacher, a nurse, an amateur artist, or a massage therapist, I was a poet. I still am. Getting my poetry published in more than homemade binders had been a dream for years. Health challenges and the rise of modern book-publishing technology merged to motivate me to make the effort. Now all five of my poem books are published in paperback and Kindle editions.

I wanted to put the introductory essays for each collection on my blog. If you want to know what makes me tick, my poetry tells it better than a biography.

This "Introduction" and the concluding poem are from my second book of poems. To read the posts from my others, click on these links:
Poems Between Heaven and Hell;
Poems Between Death and Life;
Poems Between Birth and Resurrection;
Poems Between Here and Beyond.)

“Introduction” to
Poems Between Darkness and Light

Everyone appreciates sleep, and along with it, the darkness of night. For those like myself, who work at night and sleep in the day, closing the eyelids is not sufficient for escaping light. Most of us also darken the room for sleeping. Yet upon waking, if we found neither sunlight nor lamplight to dispel the darkness, we would panic. Darkness is fine for the inactivity of sleep, but for the business of living, we need light. All people, even the blind who have learned to see with their ears and hands, want to know what is going on around them, who is present nearby, which direction is clear to walk in. Whatever lies in the darkness or in the unknown becomes apparent with light or with enlightenment.

Many people have poisoned themselves by taking medications in the dark. False assumptions can be dangerous. I remember one of my nursing instructors insisting on our doing “under-cover rounds” for all our patient assessments. It meant to pull back the covers, lift up the gowns and examine bare bodies. Merely presuming that all was well could result in negligent care. At first, I felt uncomfortable crossing a stranger’s normal boundaries of privacy to gather the physical facts. But as a seasoned nurse, I would now feel uncomfortable and even delinquent in not doing so.

Sufficient light banishes both doubt and inaccurate conjecture. It endows us with the priceless knowledge of reality. After all, we want the truth, don’t we? Without the light of truth, the world of humanity is dysfunctional and abusive. Purposeful lies, sly half-truths, ignorant falsehoods, or whatever else wields the power to mislead thought and action: these are the central agents of disintegration in a friendship, a home, a nation, a world. Although the gift of imagination is magnificent, we fail at life if we live in a world of dreams which are never brought into reality by our planning, prayer, and personal sweat.

In keeping with the thematic title of my first book, Poems Between Heaven and Hell, I have entitled this one Poems Between Darkness and Light. On earth we are in the midst of a tension between the forces of good and evil, between the holy influence of Heaven and the damning incitements of Hell. There is such complexity in life’s mixtures of good and evil, so many shades of darkness, so much filtering of light’s intensity, that ultimate choices become confusing. Humanity’s common plight in this world of thick mist and shadow is a lost sense of direction and destiny. At the core of our muddled thinking is a divided heart. We were created for and crave unity with our Maker, yet, at the same time, try to avoid Him. Perhaps our sleep has become too precious. We fear a God whose light obliterates the comfort of dreamy pillows and the secrecy of thick blankets. But our only legitimate fear is that of not fearing, not heeding, not obeying such a loving God whose commitment to truth causes Him to call us to, and insist upon, the same commitment.

The God who is love is also light. Light is not subtle or complex, but simply pure and revealing. If the God of light hides Himself at all, it is for our own preservation. In our inner selves, we often house such a turbulent amalgamation of good and evil, truth and error, light and darkness, that His fully directed focus, like the blast of a high-powered laser beam, would blow us away in an instant. In His love and kindness, God bestows little glimpses of truth here and there during the course of our lives in order to turn us away from the darkness of selfishness toward the light of holiness and love. But often this slow process is only to prepare us for an essential “crisis” experience where a sudden pouring in of His light catches us off guard, exposing our true situation and our danger. At such moments, the choice is clear. We either turn back willfully toward the deceptive comfort of our darkness or enter a new, bright journey on the highway of God’s will. At such a crossroad, choosing not to choose is by default to sink back into the darkness, which may not only be costly, but even damning.

This book has been compiled without categorical or chronological arrangement. As in my first book, I have included some older poems, along with others which do not necessarily follow this introductory theme. Some of them are merely poetic experimentation. But for the most part, the poetry in this volume captures my insights on the human condition, in which light and darkness are so intertwined. I have tried to embody in poetry a message that exposes the blind spots that prevent our world from recognizing the truth. In these areas especially, I pray that my poems succeed in pointing readers away from darkness and toward the light. Where I have included poems of a personal nature, whether humorous, sentimental, or descriptive of life experience and observation, I hope they do not detract from the central theme of this introduction.

As a Christian, I am not ashamed to state my absolute confidence in God’s Word, the Bible, as His guiding light for our lives in this world of shadows. Many of these poems express my longing for closer union with God, and I hope they engender that same desire in all who read them. Above all, I want my readers to know that God’s invitation is open to everyone for a new life in His Son, Jesus Christ. This God of love and light waits for all of us to come to Him, and the nearer, the better—the closer, the brighter.

— David L. Hatton

*    *    *    *    *    *    *

THE PERFECT POEM

When a poet is a prophet,
When the singing strikes and stings
At the shifting social conscience
Modern foolish thinking brings,
We’re reminded of the Poem
From God’s lips of love sublime:
Jesus Christ, the Word Incarnate,
Perfect rhythm, perfect rhyme.

God spoke nature into being:
Beasts and rivers, rocks and hills,
Trees and sunsets, stars and seasons,
Human passions, human wills . . .
Then, because we failed to listen,
God in perfect harmony,
With Himself the Song and Music,
Sang to us His Melody.

Passions twisted and perverted
By our wills that went astray
Wander blindly through a wasteland
That we know so well today.
But God’s law still speaks within us
By true guilt when we are wrong,
And true grace will only greet us
At the singing of His Song.

There is hope for our confusion—
Dissonance from sins we sung.
Hear the rhapsody of passion
On the cross where Jesus hung:
Perfect words for perfect healing,
Peace throughout eternity
In the chorus choir of Heaven,
If we choose God’s Poetry.

— David L. Hatton, 5/19/92
(Poems Between Darkness and Light,  © 1994, 2014)

For more single poems from this volume, visit my website's “Poetry Page.”

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

POEMS BETWEEN HEAVEN AND HELL - Introduction

Signed copy may be purchased through Tictail
(Before becoming a preacher, a nurse, an amateur artist, or a massage therapist, I was a poet. I still am. Getting my poetry published in more than homemade binders had been a dream for years. Health challenges and the rise of modern book-publishing technology merged to motivate me to make the effort. Now all five of my poem books are published in paperback and Kindle editions.

I wanted to put the introductory essays for each collection on my blog. If you want to know what makes me tick, my poetry tells it better than a biography.

This "Introduction" and the concluding poem are from my first book of poems. To read the posts from my others, click on these links:
Poems Between Darkness and Light;
Poems Between Death and Life;
Poems Between Birth and Resurrection;
Poems Between Here and Beyond.)

“Introduction” to
 Poems Between Heaven and Hell

I was born half way through the most noisy, confused, and dangerous century this world has known, yet also in the century that has seen the greatest advances in science, medicine and global education. As a Christian, I realize that no century has seen a more rapid spread of the Christian faith throughout the world, yet I am saddened by the fact that no century has seen such devastation of human life through famine, war and willful infanticide. It is appropriate that I call this collection Poems Between Heaven and Hell, for that is where they were written. That is where this planet spins. That is where this world struggles to survive. Each day I am more acutely aware that our world basks in a shower of Divine Grace keeping it sprinkled with reminders of Heaven. But at the same time we totter on the hellish brink of damnation and destruction. We are not in Heaven, nor do we experience the utter doom of an eternal Hell. We are somewhere in between.

I used to believe that Heaven and Hell were totally future states, and that people who said, “Hell is right now!” were just reacting emotionally to unfortunate circumstances. The older I grow, the closer I believe such people are to the truth. Aging does something to you. Youth focuses zealously on the hopeful prospects of the present and an unknown future. Years tend to thin out the thick tangibility of the present and render the future more transparent and realistic. At least for me, and for many who are older and wiser than I, maturity brings greater insight into the spiritual realities of this life. The material world of humanity once held so much promise, but the traumas of change, illness, and accident bring in a new understanding of our mortality. The “ultimate” questions gain new significance. How the spiritual world touches this world becomes so relevant and meaningful to daily life. The future is built on the present, and the seeds of Hell and Heaven started sprouting yesterday.

These are poems from the earth, where we waver between good and evil in the choices we make day in and day out. Here the populations of the afterlife are being created in the wills of individuals. Today's earthly inhabitants are the future citizens of a divided eternity. Much of my poetry is an appeal to the reader to open up to the Divine Grace mentioned above. I have an evangelistic intent in some of my poetry, because I believe the acts of God's love toward humanity are “good news” for this planet. The responsibility of human freewill is awesome. The consequences of human choices are ultimately final. But there is still time for anyone “between Heaven and Hell” to choose differently, to choose more in line with the Divine Grace that God has caused “to fall upon the just and the unjust.”

I experienced that Divine Grace early in my life. These poems form a chronological sketch of my reflections and musings since age thirteen. My encounter with God has patterned my view of life in this world. It has focused my meditation on the spiritual and ultimate realities behind what our world considers common business. It has sharpened my appreciation of the beauty and value of God's gracious acts toward humanity. My poems deal with love, human and Divine, with Christ and His work, with philosophy and philosophers, with worship, with sexuality, with sickness and healing, with life and death. I wrestle with ideologies old and new. I touch on the dilemmas and trials of God's people. I confess my own failings and my aspirations in the Christian life. I comment on the problems of a society alienated from God and from itself. I do have a lighter side, and you will find a few poems of humor and satire. But for the most part, poetry has been my channel of expressing the insights and wisdom gained by trying to seek the mind of God throughout my own pilgrimage on a planet that hangs between Heaven and Hell.

I want to thank all the friends who over the years have encouraged me to publish my poetry. I thank my precious wife Rosemary for her patience with me. I often neglected other important duties when inspiration for a poem came and all else was set aside until it was written. I believe poetry is like any other creative skill, a gift of God to those who write it. But more often with me, it has been like what the Old Testament prophets have described as the massa (burden, or word) of the Lord, which they felt internally when a prophecy was to be proclaimed. That is what it is like for me when I feel compelled to put down on paper a message in poetry: a burden. Peace from the burden is found only in its proclamation. I can say with the prophet Amos, “A lion has roared! Who will not fear? The Lord GOD has spoken! Who can but prophesy?” (Amos 3:8, NASB). So, I thank God for the gift, though it comes as a burden. And finally, thank you for taking the time to read me. The Lord be with you.

David L. Hatton

*    *    *    *    *    *    *



(This poem was written at age 13.)

A CHRISTMAS THOUGHT

When Christmas comes with Christmas trees
And Christmas gifts and fine candies,
I wonder what the Savior sighs
As He stares down from Heaven’s skies.

Not many people dare neglect
To pay this day its due respect
By the exchange of gifts in turn.
But of the meaning, what concern?

  “A time for fun, a time for play,
  A jolly time is Christmas Day!
  Look at the gifts beneath the tree.
  A gift for me! A gift for me!”

    “What happened years and years ago
    That we do honor this day so?”
    “I think it’s kept to give applause
    To some old man named Santa Claus.”

  “No school next week, it’s Christmas time,
  So class, let’s sing the Christmas rhyme;
  ‘Oh hurry, hurry, Christmas Day!
  Please hurry, Santa, on your way!
  Bring with you candy canes and toys
  For all the little girls and boys.’”

    “Oh, this wicked season’s chills
    And Christmas cards and Christmas bills!”

    “The party’s still young, pal, don’t leave.
    Have one more beer; it’s Christmas Eve.”

Yes, the memory of the Son,
Who is the Christmas Holy One,
Seems to have found a minor place
Behind the mask of a Christmas face.

  “Tell us, Grandma, we want to know,
  At Christmas time, why does it snow?”
  “Someone up in Heaven, my dears,
  Cries many sad, unhappy tears
  And as they fall, the cold world’s air
  Freezes them all without a care.”

— David L. Hatton, 1963
(Poems Between Heaven and Hell,  © 1991, 2014)

For more single poems from this volume, visit my website's “Poetry Page.”

Thursday, May 1, 2014

THE LIFE LESS UNRAVELED


For too long M. Scott Peck’s best-seller from 1978, The Road Less Traveled, gathered dust on my bookshelf. When recently starting it, I immediately felt my loss in not doing so sooner. This book conveys not only a secular psychiatrist’s religion-friendly observations on mental health but many practical principles about love and relationships.

I was pleased to find that Dr. Peck’s preliminary words on love validated and supplemented my own in “Dance of the Sexes”—an occasional talk I’ve given for decades. He expressed it bluntly: “Of all the misconceptions about love the most powerful and pervasive is the belief that ‘falling in love’ is love or at least one of the manifestations of love.” After showing why falling in love and romantic attraction are not love, he described the real thing. Authentic love is work. To face life’s challenges, it takes tools of courageous discipline, which he introduces at the outset: “delaying of gratification, acceptance of responsibility, dedication to truth, and balancing.”

When he wrote this book, Dr. Peck was not a Christian. I found myself disagreeing with him in some areas of ethics and theology. But our current culture urgently needs his psychological wisdom. Today’s society is unraveling at the seams from adults failing to grow up into authentically caring persons and parents.

Dr. Peck calls love a mystery with many facets that raise questions not “answered by sociobiology.” He frankly admits that “people who know the most about such things are those among the religious who are students of Mystery.” In fact, he finishes his book by addressing the “relationship between religion and the growth process.” While duly critical of “hand-me-down” faith or manipulative uses of religion, he boldly affirms that “an understanding of the phenomenon of grace is essential to complete understanding of the process of growth in human beings.”

It was perhaps this thought about grace that led him to explore the New Testament shortly after writing this book. Studying the Gospels doesn’t seem to have ended his religious eclecticism, but he said it did bring him to Christ. Already having recognized the importance of grace, Dr. Peck’s conversion testimony isn’t surprising. I read that, upon hearing of some scholars disagreeing on what made Christianity unique among world religions, C. S. Lewis candidly commented, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.”

The 60s song that exclaimed, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love,” is true now more than ever! But authentic love has a divine source: the loving God of the Bible whose “grace and truth” were bodily revealed in His Son (John 1:14). For a “life less unraveled” I unashamedly preach our need for the Good Shepherd’s enlightening grace and guidance, but that doesn’t mean He won’t use liberating truths and helpful insights reported by those not yet in His flock.

While Christians may need to study it with spiritual discernment, The Road Less Traveled is a sound stimulus for healthier patterns of behavior. Bible reading and church attendance are both good practices, but neither guarantee personal maturity, productive lifestyles and successful relationships. Believers cannot shirk the hard work of love and expect to enjoy the blessings of psychological and social health.

For people struggling with stubborn attitudes and habits that keep them stuck in cycles of personal and interpersonal dysfunction, this book may be just the eye-opener they need. Its many examples from therapeutic case studies provide reality checks for those of us who think we’re doing “just fine” on our familiar, well-traveled roads. But the choice to pursue the discipline it takes to grow up into real love is, unfortunately, a road less traveled.

(a book available in most libraries, and on Amazon)

Thursday, March 20, 2014

THE MIRACULOUS HEALING OF ROBERT LIVINGSTONE

In 1970, Rosemary and I attended a summer program at the University of Montreal. Before it started, we stayed with the Wilkinsons, a missionary family in Ville d’Anjou. During our few weeks there, we tried evangelizing teens on the street. Never had we met such strong resistance to Christ’s message. However, a bright spot in our experience was meeting 12-year-old Robert Livingstone, who told us he had trusted Jesus as His Savior a few years earlier.

Robert enthusiastically supported our efforts, often exhorting his peers to “listen to the truth” we were sharing. But they ignored him. The same disability that caused his two auto-pedestrian accidents had also rendered him almost illiterate. Robert was blind in one eye with “tunnel vision” in the other. His visual field was so narrow that he had to wag his head back and forth to scan the ground wherever he went. It was hard to leave him, when our French classes began.

One morning in prayer, God impressed on me to pray for Robert’s eyes. I finally got that opportunity when we went to visit Mr. Chivers, one of our professors from Bob Jones University, who was staying at the Wilkinsons. Even though we told him how hard it was to reach the youth there, he insisted we take him to their nightly hang-out at the local supermarket. Indeed, it was the same crowd, same resistance. One of them scoffed, “If Jesus is real, why doesn’t he do miracles today?” Another challenged, “Yeah, if he shows up, then we’ll believe!”

Mr. Chivers replied with Christ’s parable in Luke 16:19-31. In hell, the rich man begged that Lazarus be sent to warn his brothers. Abraham replied that they already had God’s Word to warn them. But he persisted, “if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.” Abraham answered that, if they refused to believe God’s Word, they wouldn’t be convinced even if someone rose from death. Our teacher explained how the Jewish nation fulfilled this by failing to believe even after Christ’s resurrection. It would be the same with them. If they refused the Gospel, another miracle wouldn't help them to believe.

“What a cop out!” – “You’re just avoiding our argument!” On and on they ranted, and just when I was fed up listening, I saw Robert zigzagging his way towards us in the dim lights of the parking lot. The crowd of teens were now in two groups—the guys arguing with Mr. Chivers and the girls with Rosemary. I decided to go meet Robert before he got closer, so we could talk quietly together. We were about 20 yards from the others.

After telling him that I'd soon be returning to the States, I recalled God’s direction to pray for his eyes. My prayer ended up rather wishy-washy. I envisioned God possibly healing him through the right kind of eye surgery or gradual medical treatment. In that frame of thought, I told him to keep praying for his own eyes, too. That prompted Robert to bow his head and simply ask, “Lord Jesus, please heal my eyes.” He immediately looked up, saying he felt a hand on his shoulder. I smiled, for that’s where my hand was. “And a hand came down on my head.”

Chills shot through me. I got goose bumps all over. “Robert, pray again, and this time really, really believe!”

He bowed his head once more, but instantly started shouting, “My eyes! I have my eyes! I can see!”

I was screaming “Praise God!” again and again as fast as my mouth could move. We were jumping around like two people gone crazy with joy. Robert suddenly cried, “I have to go tell my momma!” Before I could stop him, off he disappeared into the darkness. I ran over to find everyone, including Rosemary and Mr. Chivers, with blank stares and jaws gaping.

“This is what you kids just asked for—a miracle!” I bellowed at the young skeptics. “Jesus came and healed Robert’s eyes! Now do you believe what we’re saying?” No, it was just as predicted. Though the miracle shocked them, it led none to entrust their hearts to Christ. Silently, they all dispersed. But just as Mr. Chivers and Rosemary began interrogating me about what had happened, we saw Robert returning with tears streaming down his face.

“I’m scared to go home. Can you go with me?” It was our pleasure. And all along our the way to his apartment, Robert surveyed everything in amazement, saying, “Look at all the lights! They’re everywhere! The world is so big!”

When his mother opened the door, Robert threw his arms around her and burst forth with his wonderful news, “Oh, Momma, I have my eyes! I have my eyes!”

“What’s this nonsense?” Mrs. Livingstone scolded with a thick Scottish accent, pushing him away from her. “And who are these people? What have you done to him?”

So, this was why Robert feared reporting his miracle. But a much more cordial Mr. Livingstone soon came to our rescue. He invited us in and very pragmatically suggested a test. Covering Robert’s other eye, he held up fingers in front of the eye that had been blind. Robert counted them perfectly, each time his father held up a new set. “Amazing . . . truly amazing. Please, sit down and tell us about this. Can we get you some tea?” He told us Robert’s vision loss had been progressive and that medically total blindness was predicted.

Mr. Chivers left the next morning. Word spread about Robert’s healing, and the following night we returned to find the parking lot teeming with a more receptive group of young people. I boldly shared the Gospel, and two young men asked Christ into their hearts. But where was Robert? A week later, I went back to his apartment. It was empty. The concierge said the family moved back to Scotland with no forwarding address. This devastated me. How I wanted to stay in touch, following Robert's progress in the Christian faith.

Five years later, again in Quebec and working with Jeunesse en Mission (YWAM), we met a couple who grew up in Ville d’Anjou. They told us a strange tale about a Jehovah’s Witness couple who healed young Robert Livingstone’s eyes. We corrected their version of the story, but they could offer us no clue to Robert’s whereabouts. I’ve tried using the Internet to find him, but to no avail. Maybe someone reading this story can help put me in touch with him, if he’s still living. Or maybe I’ll have to wait for Heaven. . . .