Heading to a Country Church

Heading down the two lane,
Clouds are overhead,
Pressed against the glass;
Blue sky framing the pane.

I drive, navigate past
Corn standing tall
In neat, ordered lives
And beans in low, squat nests.

A façade – all a show
That hides the dirt
And covers over
The chaos down below.

Up ahead, like pillars,
Beams of light strike
Through the breaking clouds;
Slough away the filler.

I’m told it all depends
On what you are,
Maybe who you are,
Before the story ends.

But I’ve no time to search,
So past the nests
And neat, ordered corn
I make my way to church.


I sometimes get asked to preach in nearby churches and, as my life is a bit higgledy-piggledy right now, it struck me how neat and clean it sometimes appears in church, when we’re really heading along in a fog hoping for a little light to clear things up.


Too Hot and a Cot

I sit on the edge of a cot.
My boots are off, and also socks,
Because it’s noon and bloody hot –
Heat radiating from the rocks.

I drink lots of lukewarm water
That flows from pores like tiny springs
And just seems to make me hotter;
A crust of salt around me rings.

We hear it coming, hit the deck –
Kaboom! That one is way too close!
Another hits, my RP checks;
But all I think of are bare toes.

Heedless of my bodyguard’s shout,
I hobble off to get my boots
Before I head to our dugout
To sit, silent, like budding roots.

These rocket attacks are a bitch
And I sure resent donning boots
Because my feet still ache and itch
From several weeks’ warm abuse.

A call comes on the radio
“Man down!” We head to BAS.
A round hits near, but still we go
Making our way through this hot mess.

Things like that make me stop and think
That nearby round was just a dud
I didn’t stop or even blink
So close I came to spilling blood.

Why was I spared, not even scratched?
Gunny the other day got dead.
He has little kids, barely hatched
A whistle, boom, and no more dad.

Our mortars are returning fire
I find our wounded man is fine
Later, back on my cot and tired
Still too hot, Gunny on my mind.

It's hard to convey just how great the pleasure is, after so much time in the heat and dust and dirt to just have my feet exposed to the air - and thus, how much I resented having to reshod.

And it's hard to convey just how great the pleasure of knowing a man like Gunny B. and having him around to make that heat and dust and dirt a little more bearable - and how much I resent losing him.

The title comes from a phrase used regarding treatment of battle stress – “three hots and a cot”.


Cribbage Life

Hot chocolate?
Suppose so.
Fifteen for two
I’ll set the water to boil
No worries. Your turn.
Thirty-one for two
No. That’s okay.
Too hot for you?
-teen – one for last card.
I’ll get to it soon.

I’m leaving for Germany.
Fifteen for two
How long?
Twenty-one for two
All summer.
Thirty for one
What will you be doing?
Missing you, I think.
I think I’ll miss you, too.
Marry me when I get back?
Thirty-one for two
Have to think about that.

How was your day?
Twelve for two
Not bad. I guess. Okay.
Fifteen for two
Something wrong?
Eighteen for two
No. Not really.
Then what’s up?
Thirty-one for two
Think I’m pregnant
Pregnant? Like, pregnant?
Like, pregnant.

We leave in March
Fifteen for two
Where to?
Twenty-four for three
Iraq. Seven months.
Thirty for four.
They need you there.
Thirty-one for two
Yeah. They do.
We’ll be waiting.
Fifteen for two
I’m sure I’ll be back.
Twenty-one for three.
I know you will.

My wife and I started seeing each other regularly to play cribbage and, at first, that's all either of us had in mind.  There are other stanzas that could be written in the 33 years since we first sat down to play, but this is enough for now.


The Bat Man

Waiting on the Lord
I’ll renew my strength, I’m told.
It’s there, in the word
But this waiting’s gettin’ old.

The Lord will provide –
I really do believe that.
Still feel cast aside
Like the baseball player’s bat.

Against the backstop
Blending with the backfield dust
Haphazardly drop’t.
I’ve got some use left – I must.

Waiting for the boy
To come running and fetch me,
Another t’employ
Challenge the devil’s pitching.

It seems forever,
Though I’m sure the boy’s running.
He won’t leave me here.
I’ll wait. He must be coming.


It's been ten months since I stepped aside from my position as senior pastor and I've two and a half months before this CPE residency is over.  Waiting and trying to discern how and where I should serve next is hard.  I hold to the promises of God - they've never failed me yet - but it's getting old.


Choose the Form of the Destructor

It is looking increasingly like Trump v. Clinton.  Sad.  It doesn't say much for either party that these are the likely nominees.  One is an ignorant gasbag, more a carnival barker than anything - and like the stereotypical carnival barker, way too expensive for way too little.  The other is a walking parody of feminism, having earned almost nothing except by hitching her wagon to a man.  Her actual accomplishments are no more substantive than her opponent's.

Both of them are backed by supporters who are shrill and emotionally reactive, primarily it seems because they think that if they scream loud enough at the nay-sayers, the flaws in their chosen candidates will somehow fade away.  They are behaving like a 2-year-old, fingers in his ears, insisting that if he doesn't hear your unpleasant truths, they won't apply to him.

It's easy to blame Trump, but Trump is just being who he's always been.  It's the willful blindness of supposedly conservative voters who choose to ignore who he has always been because Trump hit on a couple of catch phrases that resonated with them.  Say "I'll build a wall" even though you have no plan on how to pay for it and 1/3 of the GOP will apparently vote for you no matter how dishonest, disingenuous, and ignorant you may be.

It would be equally easy to blame Clinton, but she also is simply being who she has always been.  Laws don't apply to her - they're for the little people of whom she sneeringly claims to be a champion.  She was a disaster at the State Department and as Bill's "co-president."  She did okay - not great, but okay - as a senator from New York and in truth she is better as a legislator than an executive.  Even so, corruption and scandal follow her and her husband as surely as the smell follows a honey-wagon.  But too many vote for her, holding their noses and hoping that somehow the utopia they envision will magically arise out of the manure she spreads.  It won't.

We still have a very slight chance at a contest between two serious men who take their principles seriously - Cruz and Sanders.  I despair of it happening, though.  Instead, we'll get two tired, broken-down, unprincipled egotists.

It is all reminiscent of the kind of chaos of Rome that led to the desire for a Caesar to ride in on a white horse and somehow save the day without requiring any sacrifice of us.  Sorry.  Not possible.  We still govern ourselves and these impotent claimants to omniscience can't fix everything or even anything, just as the Caesars of old couldn't.  We'll get a Julius and maybe an Augustus, and things will hold together for a decade, maybe two, but eventually we'll get a Caligula, and then a Nero.  It's not invading Goths that will get us.  The real barbarians are inside the gates.


Evening Prayer

Three bells. 2130. Time to go.
Across the passageway, down the ladder,
Through the hatch out into the hangar bay
Dodging the low-slung wings of the fighters
As I to starboard make my quiet way.

There’s a long line aft at the smoking head;
Shadows that snake and curve in the red light.
Through hangar doors, reflecting off the crests
Of waves rolling by, bright sparks of moonlight
Burst and fade on soft, brilliant, foamy nests.

Another hatch, then start the long slow climb.
On the way up, I pass by the skipper,
Then one more ladder and I’m at the bridge.
Declare myself: “Permission to enter?”
Traditions reach out, bind us, stitch by stitch

In the muted stillness, greet the bo’s’n,
Take my station by the 1MC where
Four bells sound. 2200. Then pipe
“All hands, stand by for evening prayer”
Read a psalm, say a prayer – you know the type:

“Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray thee Lord my soul to keep.
Watch those who watch throughout this night
And bring us safe to morning light. Amen.”

I linger just a little on the bridge –
Maybe step outside to the weather deck,
Or talk with the bo’s’n, or silently
Peering into the space ‘tween black and black
Of deep, dark sky at night and ink-toned sea.

More often I go up the ladder aft,
Find the weathered chair on the signal bridge,
Relax and talk to the quartermasters
Debating which constellation is which
And what it all means, these stars upon stars.

I drift off to another place and time
Where other chaplains stood beneath the stars
As bo’s’ns piped the ship to ev’ning prayer.
The sails billowing above hard-worked tars,
While yardarms creak and fresh, young middies stare.

In our modern age, it’s almost a curse,
This honored past and the word “tradition.”
But on nights such as these, it’s like the weight
Of an old blanket, comfortable, known –
Thus cocooned, I enter that blesséd state.

Six bells. 2300. I’ve retired.
Snug in my stateroom, that sweet, sweet bastion,
I pull this tradition up to my chin.
Another day underway is fin’lly done
And e’er the seventh bell sounds, I’m all in.


During my two year stint on an aircraft carrier, my favorite part of the day was evening prayer. After I finished on the bridge, I’d go up and aft to the signal bridge and sit there with the quartermasters and signalmen, looking up at the stars. I love this tradition, connecting us to generations of sailors over the centuries.


Trump Can Dish It Out, But Apparently Can't Take

Trump decided to skip the Iowa debate a short time before the caucus.  Something didn't suit his prima donna-ness.

Now I see he's threatening to sue Ted Cruz about something or other and is whining to the RNC about the Senator from Texas.  Meanwhile, he continues to claim the senator isn't eligible to be president because he was born in Canada, which is, itself, a lie.  No, not that Cruz was born in Canada.  That's true.  But the law on this point is clear and settled.  He was born to an American while in Canada and the law at the time he was born says that makes him a US citizen by birth.

But the whole imbroglio says to me that Donald Trump is a spoiled, tantrum-inclined brat who can dish it out but can't take it.

Personally, the media fixation on Trump strikes me as another instance of the main stream press trying to encourage the GOP to select the nominee most likely to lose to Hillary or Bernie.  I think that's why they were fairly early fixated on Jeb Bush, too, but since he's obviously going nowhere, they're jumping on Trump's bandwagon for the moment.

The people I really liked as potential candidates are out - Jindal and Walker - and of the remaining ones, my preference would be, in order: Fiorina, Rubio, Cruz, and Carson.  If Trump is the nominee, I'll probably not vote in the presidential election.  When it comes to the man's character, he's just Obama without Obama's good points.