The Herb Of Grace

Theology and Poetry, Politics and Prose

Immature Poets Borrow, Mature Poets Steal May 28, 2010

Filed under: poetry — Joel @ 6:36 am
we are walking through sullen fields
bright skies burning like crows in flame
searching with our fingers, clawing dirt
for orbs of time, wrapped in warm wool
because all the time in the world
is loose and ill managed
there must be some extra
around for the borrowing
but T.S. Eliot said, “immature poets borrow, mature poets steal”
so i’d steal the forgotten moments first
the ones marked by string around pinkies
no one would miss them
that string theory never worked
next i’d slide into bedrooms all over the world
give millionaires one less hour of sleep each
i’d have a doctor’s bag, and i’d slip each hour carefully in between the leather walls
then i’d go to cemeteries where the dead have been misburied
where the wrong relatives stoop over the wrong graves
we could all use a little less grief
so i pickpocket five or ten minutes from each one
then i’d go where i should have gone first
to the moments of mental numbness
on the bus
or in front of the dryer
or on a couch in front of reruns of Lost
i’d take all those, with greedy hands
with eyes not looking for forgiveness
after all this, i’d return
to my secret lair
where i stash the orbs of time
each a different size
a different color
into their various sorted bins, labeled appropriately
i would fill my clawfoot bath tub with steaming hot water
light a cigar
and wait for the morning
when i will begin to spend
an orb here
an orb there
to ease the pain of being

After The Monastery: Finding I Am Awake (A Poem) May 18, 2010

Filed under: poetry — Joel @ 7:57 pm
lay in the light
new born
breath forth
your first
all the fists
in every world
cannot break
these promises
my eye is on the inner landscapes
the twilight hills are commas
road blocks
on the way to delirious heights
my own mental ocean
rocks so quickly on its heels
back and forth
the bells swing
dew glistening
recline in the diving sun
reflect back to him
his own posture of mid-summer leisure
and then arch your back
as you spring from the board of your home-thought
and fling the meddlesome down through no-thought
back into presence
the savior of words
then mash up your power
crumple it up like high school paper
and leave it to be swept clean
by tides and brooms
and gargantuan tongues
who are all getting double-time
so don’t worry.
don’t worry about love
and its many angled faces
its scales of rainbows
and water piping through air
love can take care of its own.
Of its own cares, which are few,
love can sing every lullaby
and can bang every morning drum
so don’t worry about love
the lawsuit is pending
but its not strong.
the swimming stars are recalcitrant
calling back every opinion
back by the back way
the alley highway
the single lane way
I wonder what my last breathe will feel like,
if I think of it at all,
or if my mind will already be aiming
its thousand cannons
its fingers to the sky
never an accusation could I muster
never a foul trap could I construct
in the workshop of my soul
for You who give me life
You who gild life
You who make the rain fall.
I dream of faces I know
persons I share the time of days with
and this is strange
I am outside my skin
for the first time
and the society of men is gleaming
and is real
and stands in clouds of breathe
wandering in stillness
a hundred photographs
flipping into motion
held by invisible fingers

Sex and Philosophy May 12, 2010

Filed under: philosophy,public theology,sex,Spirituality — Joel @ 10:58 pm
Tags: ,

When the life of the mind is given up, as we see that it is in daily discourse, the life of the body attempts to take up the slack, and fails.  Our culture esteems sex as bearing on its passionate waters a singularly spiritual aura of things like “love,” “freedom,” “passion,” and “pleasure.”  The Christian community, with its obsession with the marital power of sex, is as guilty of this as any secular community.  But sex cannot bear the weight of this compliment (though it thanks you very much and blushes, curling its hair in bashful fingers).

Sex is a physical activity that does have a spirituality, but it is not a certain and unchangeable spirituality.  Sexual spirituality, like all other kinds of spirituality, is contingent on the kind of philosophy one holds.  If philosophical conversations are no more in style, then I think that no good kind of sexual spirituality can ensue.  I think our culture has wanted sex to hold within itself all the philosophy, all the good thoughts about the world, that we will ever need.  But sex doesn’t think.  The human mind thinks.

It is the worst and most ironic of philosophies to hold that philosophy is abnormal, too complicated, and therefore unnecessary.  We give up wisdom in hopes that our biology, our bodily urges, will tell us correctly what it is that we should do.  This is indeed incorrect if only for the reason that we have been given such amazing capacities of intellectual and emotional rationality.

Perhaps my point can be made by imagining the cultural swing going the other way (as it has in times past).  Let us imagine that in our society sex is seen as much too complicated, messy, and therefore not worth engaging in (much less being engaged for).  Not being completely dumb, we realize that these biological longings must be assuaged somehow.  Not being completely smart, we decide that a passionate dedication to philosophy and the cultivation of wisdom will serve this purpose.  We no longer need sex as we have figured out how to orgasm in our brains.  This does seem silly.  It is the same ideology in reverse to the one we live in today.

The most important sexual reason to engage in amateur philosophy is that sex happens between two humans, two people made in the image of God, stamped with love, intelligence, longing, and relational matrices.  If we want our lives to be good, and I assume we do, these attributes should be made the subject of common sense reflection.  Only as we recommit ourselves to the life of the mind, that is, to our natural tendency and ability to philosophical investigation, will we find sex knocking at our doors with a thank you card, signed “I never wanted the CEO job, thanks for demoting me.  sincerely, sex.”


Change: “let’s not talk about it, okay?” April 22, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Joel @ 6:48 am


Probably one of the most frightening words for many of us.  To shift gears, to alter direction, to take one’s pulse and then, upon that taking, change one’s life in some regard:  these are some of the phrases that we file away as being descriptive of the most difficult times.  It seems there has been a lot of change this year for myself and for those I love.  And though not all of it has been negative, most all of it has been intense and challenging.

I know i’ve heard people talk about how each of us is geared to deal with change in different ways, and I think I know what they mean.  At least it makes sense to me when I think about saying goodbye.

Some of us, myself here included, are wired to say goodbye without too much emotion–a wave of the hand and a hearty smile and then back to business as usual.  It seems that when the moment to say adieu arrives, the deep feelings depart without notice and without explanation.  It’s after the person has left, perhaps a long while after, that we suddenly find a whole powder keg waiting for us.  This might happen when an event as simple as seeing someone walking down the street who looks like our absent friend slides through every cool defense or family-acquired mode of being and straight into the soft tissue of the heart.  But by that point, and I lament, the far-away friend doesn’t see my tears, my heart break, and the hole inside me.  So that is one way.

One of my friends is decidedly the other way.  I remember being told how, upon arrival of someone they loved, they had already began lamenting their departure.  Their loved one’s temporary presence signaled their soon-absence.  That is another way.

In many ways, it seems that change happens to us regardless of our input.  The new way of life establishes itself in our midst, at a certain moment, and we respond, on a scale, somewhere between ignoring it until we are not allowed to anymore and trying to beat it to the punch, anticipating it in order to get the sting over with.  I’m not sure that one is better than the other.  It seems to me that we are just trying to be as present as we can manage to be at the moment of change or the moment of goodbye, hoping that the love can once again move through our strange wires.

Hope.  That’s a thing, right?  As I reflect tonight, hope’s relation to change looks like a puzzle that we somehow use as a map before we’ve deciphered it.


Rites of Passage: Afflict Your Comfort April 13, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Joel @ 10:17 am

Today I’m posting a reflection I gave at a convocation ceremony for St. Stephen’s University.  As the end of April looms large on the horizon with threats of graduation, the catcall for papers reaching a deafening pitch, and as thoughts of one kind of life turn to thoughts of a different kind of life, I thought now would be as good a time as any other to re-share the thoughts below.  A spotch of context:  the last paragraph before the call and response portion was written with a student in mind for each sentence, hence the particularity (though i’m sure we can each relate to many of them).

We are in the middle of a ritual.  right here, right now, we are present to each other in a significant moment.  We are witnessing and we are commissioning, we are calling out and saying goodbye.  we are saying, “it is time to grow some more now.”  It is time to take the next step.

guard your idealism my friends.  For it is not idealism but seeds of hope that God has given to you, ideas of a future world that was imagined at the beginning.  another way to say this is, “continue to lose your faith in the small gods you have learned to spurn.”  Leaving this community will almost certainly mean a re-confrontation with those small gods.  when this happens, they will try to reconvert you to their ways, their values, their plan for the world.  But Jesus has a different plan for your life and indeed for this world.

I hear and have seen many people move, after school, into a season (or a life) where idealism is looked down upon.  There is the feeling that in the “real world,” you have to be “realistic.”  In this “reality,” there are apparently things like “real jobs,” “starting a family,” “providing for your family,” and “being a beneficial part of society.”  Its interesting how related all these things are to habits of consumerism.  In this reality, you are discouraged from engaging in dangerous things like “poverty,” “looking out for others without seeing to yourself first,” “neighbors,” and so on.

Might I suggest to you that you do not want the “reality” that is being foisted upon our world today.  For it is a “reality” which protects you from reality.  It is only this idealism, which i have properly called the holy gift of hope, which will bring you in over your head and into reality.

As you already know, the world is wide and full of beauty and agony.  There are many places in our world and culture where we can see and find God and His kingdom and so we must be open and excited to find those.  But there are, as I have said, forces and systems which will seek the destruction of your hope, or rather the gift of hope that God has given and is giving you.  These forces will also seek the destruction of the latent hope of the world.  In war, in globalization, in dictators, in insane and unlimited consumption, in the complete disintegration of the unity of body and soul.  These forces will peacefully allow “faith” as long as it remains disembodied and “spiritual.”  But Jesus has a different plan for your life.

so continue, as you have been taught here, to lose faith in the god of violence, the god of human arrogance against the earth, lose faith completely in the small god of pluralism, of democracy, of the myth of “the individual.”  As that faith is lost, then the true life of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, will have increasing reign in your lives and in the lives of all who you meet.

Be passionate caretakers of the aspects of your faith that have been birthed in this place.  Guard the connection between God and the environment, stand watch over issues of justice locally and globally, continue to speak truthfully and intelligently about other religions, write melodies of praise and protest, of lament and celebration, do not lose the call to creative non-violent action centered in Christ, continue to slowly build a life in which you eat mindfully, nurture the gift of the past for the gift of the future, never stop expressing the love of God in vulnerability, keep on developing your art so it is good enough that you might die well, never stop opening your doors and tables to strangers and friends, do one of the most politically radical actions you can: join a church you can walk to.  don’t build a community like this one, build the community that has been put in your heart through this community, don’t let your tears dry up or your anger go out, but pray and act that they may be righteous and humble, seek to know yourself and, more and more, to be at home there.


So in light of all this,

will you go forward in the mystery, confusion, and joy of your individual and communal



though we stumble and fall,

though the way is often hidden from our eyes,

we will go forward.

with the help of friends and enemies, we will go forward.

with the help of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we will go forward.

I now welcome you into the fellowship of those adults who have walked and been

dragged through this community’s process of hopefully holistic education.  When you

are too comfortable, may God always afflict you; when you are afflicted, may God

always comfort you. Amen.


He is Risen! Easter Sunday. April 4, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Joel @ 6:36 pm

Scripture for Reflection:

“But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared.  And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.  While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men suddenly stood near them in dazzling clothing; and as the women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living One among the dead?”

“He is not here, but He has risen.”
Luke 24:1-6
Easter Sunday Reflection

I remember going out one Easter morning with a few friends for an early sunrise service; we decided on Todd’s Point, a slab of rock overlooking the water.  We had prepared in our minds vistas of sun and sea salt ricocheting off each other in dazzling displays of beauty and in reverent devotion to the occasion.  But even as we plunked through the dark with our flashlights, guitars, and armfuls of firewood, we could tell that it would be a grey and misty beginning to the day.  We lit the fire and huddled around its unimpressive flame, waiting for any sign that night had turned to light, that Jesus was anywhere close to exiting His tomb.  I remember vividly the wall of fog that slowly revealed itself as the sun was dragged up over the hills, sitting invisible behind grey and white; we couldn’t even see the water.  All we were left with was grey fog upon grey stone, our faces quickly following suit as the cold continued.  We tried to play some songs of worship to raise our spirits but our fingers grew numb within seconds; We were speechless as the poetics of our time surrounded us: did God really raise Jesus from the dead?  Perhaps we are fooling ourselves; we should’ve stayed in bed.
There is no part to this story where the sun comes out; no finale where our spirits are lifted by nature’s kind intervention, proving all our doubts to be counterfeit.  The fog stayed with us for the whole day.  And this is how the resurrection is to many; we know that it is supposed to be important but we often live with the sense that we are cut off from its depth, truncated from God in the hour when we should be most connected.  The crucifixion is easier, at least in the sense that people are tortured and killed everyday.  But the resurrection can seem to stand aloof from the grasping hands of our minds and hearts.
That morning, something else did happen.  For me, it happened without drama and without organized fanfare.  I looked up from the fire to see my friend walking down the rock to the place where the impenetrable wall of fog shot up from the water.  In his right hand he held a conch, a shell that you can blow like a horn.  He stopped in front of the grey and blew the conch; the sound reverberated around us and beyond us into the formless mass.  It peeled like bells in the wilderness.  It was a distress call and a song of praise all in one.  It was mystery colliding with history colliding with our small brains, bodies, hearts.  It was protest and lament, thanksgiving and stubborn hope.  Soon after, we packed up and trod the muddy trail back to our cars and, in our cars, back to our beds.
I want to put my hand in the scarred side of the risen Jesus.  But sometimes all there is is my feeble song of faith sounding into a formless void.  Somehow, on that day, it was enough.  My friends and I had a certain idea of how our celebration of the resurrection of Jesus should be; and it was thwarted quite completely.  But perhaps what really needed deconstructing was our idea of the resurrection itself.  Perhaps the strange mix of disappointment and joy that sat in my belly as our car jangled and bumped its way home was the realization that we had indeed celebrated the risen Jesus.  Can a celebration be akin to a cry against a void?  Can something be so mysterious and so explosive that its sound waves escape you completely?
One day the fog will lift and I will scatter song in the full assembly of the sun and sky; but until that day, my heart does not stop singing.  It is fired by a sun which shines as well in darkness as it does in light.  My song does not have to be a certain melody of clarity and picturesque moments; it can exist, can thrive, can still utter the only refrain I believe when I believe nothing else: He is Risen.


How I Got Eucharistically Busted: “give me back that wafer!” March 28, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Joel @ 9:11 pm

Today is Palm Sunday.  A Few of us went down to a catholic church in Kitsilano to begin Holy Week with the nominal remnant of Vancouver (humor).

Sparing you all the details of the service, good and bad, the main thing is:  I got turned down for the Eucharist.  All shock and awe aside, all protestant pride let go of, all self-entitlement released (well not all), i still have some thoughts for that short woman with curly hair, concerned eyes, and paltry blessings for the uninitiated.  “wait,” she said, while the body was already in my hands, “are you catholic?”  Having never been refused the Eucharist before (and i’ve been countless times), i was too shocked to say “are you?” and then chomp, down goes Jesus.  No, i was slow of tongue and so mumbled, “no.”  she said, as she firmly pried the Lord from my fingers, “well you come up for a blessing then,” and waved her hand around my cranium, careful not to touch me.  good times.

So i know the official score and the reasons for it; the catholic Eucharist is a strange practice set apart for the faithful, you don’t need to tell me.  But in the end, she was wrong, is wrong, to try and keep me from the most wholesome food i know of in this life.  after the service, on my way out, i was looking to see if there was any chance i could steal a wafer.  And i would have, with joy, but there was none in sight, all had been locked away, so i went away hungry. (ironically, we went to a jewish deli afterwards and i had a bagel)

I feel no guilt or shame about wanting to take the Eucharist in a catholic community.  part of the reason for that is probably that i’ve never been refused before.  But the main reason is that i need the eucharist, and so i will go up next time, and the next, and also the time after that.  At baptist churches where they try and strip the Eucharist of its presence, i still stubbornly eat the presence that IS there, because i am hungry.  at catholic churches where they (only sometimes) keep the body and blood for those baptized in the catholic community, i take it because i am hungry.  no human will tell me i cannot come to the table, ever.  it is my one hope.

so it was a bit funny and a bit painful, but mostly strange and silly.  we all have our ingrained theological beliefs.  the lady who refused me had it hardwired into her head that because i was not baptized in the catholic community, Jesus was not edible to me.  My hardwired belief is that Jesus is, well, mine.  The one thing flesh and blood cannot take from me is the flesh and blood, how interesting.  For even if i am refused in every church i go to from this day till the day i die, my hunger would remain as a sign that my soul and body have been made to take God into my very self, Gift of all gifts.