The Gospel of Mark & Laureti’s “The Triumph of the Cross over Paganism”


For each preaching series at my church, we take time in choosing a piece of art to reflect the content. This is a reflection I wrote for our series going through the Gospel of Mark.

Of all the Gospels, the Gospel of Mark is the most stripped-down, earthy, human depiction of Jesus. It is spare and humble, with an earnest pace, and ironic wink. Yet it may seem odd that we’ve decided on Tomasso Laureti’s 1585 fresco Triumph of Christianity as its thematic image—a painting that hangs in one of the most opulent, larger-than-life halls of power in all the world.

Laureti’s piece lives on the ceiling of the Hall of Constantine, the largest room in the Vatican’s Papal Palace. It is not part of the original design: it replaced the original wooden ceiling in 1585, six decades after the room was finished. This being the case, there is an odd tension between this art and the garish displays on the walls below; and this tension embodies much what we will be explore in our sermon series through Mark.
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For Holy Saturday: “The Elements” [a poem]


death-of-salesman-clothes-hangerWelcome, hello
Come in.

Take your shoes off
Set down your suitcase
And hang your jacket

Enjoy the fire; enjoy the tea
Rock the chair, back and forth

That’s all you can do right now.
Rest.

Your items will still be there when it’s done.

Your shoes–
the mud will be dry, they’ll feel like new
to aid you on your way

Your suitcase–
is not all that important, frankly
take it or leave it
it doesn’t do much
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For Good Friday: “Gabriel Came on Friday (Magnificat)” [a poem]


 

Pierced–
Not of flesh nor will of man
But of heart by will of Him.

Deep within a shot was cast and burrowed in the bow
The fine line of ecstasy and horror homoousion‘d among
And within
Obedience was found on worthy lips, blessing bestowed for ages come.
Yet the blessing’s joy was found as a bell in the mist,
Meaning: it was not.

Until the rocks came.
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I Am God’s Poetry


It is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
~ Ephesians 2.8-10

(original photo taken by, and edited with permission of, Elizabeth Jane Schrott)

Because We’re Not Good: “East of Eden”, a Book Review



We all have those pieces of art–be they movies, books, music, what have you–that upon first exposure we fall in love. We turn the last page or exit the theater or concert hall certain that this will surely be added to our list of favorites and long-held companions. Yet, how many times do we say this and a year or two down the road someone mentions that very piece of art and we find ourselves thinking, “oh yeah, I did read that, didn’t I?” or “I had forgotten how much I loved that album!”

So often we get swept away in the immediate experience of something skipping upon the waters of our soul, leaving little ripples and echoes dancing in its wake. But these dimples and dapples merely play on the surface for a time, returning once more to their source, leaving the waters ultimately undisturbed–the liquid plane unbroken; the deepest depths untouched.

There are other times, however, that we encounter a piece of art–or rather, it encounters us–and we are changed. It transcends mere rankings of “favorites” and “Top 10s” and weaves itself into our fibers. We do not critique and assess it, so much as it sizes and weighs us. The surface tension is broken and we are plunged beneath, staring humanity’s unvarnished truths in the face. And in so doing our own humanity is enlarged, a spaciousness expands in our souls, and we feel more human–even as our foundations are shaken.

John Steinbeck’s 1952 magnum opus, East of Eden, is just this kind of piece of art. It’s the kind of book people say they will read “someday”, only to read it and wish “someday” had come a lot sooner. So if you haven’t read it. Do so. Start today.

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Sabbath [a Holy Saturday poem]


Rothko-Black-RedOn the 1st Day: God created Palm Trees and Donkeys
On the 2nd Day: He created Fig Trees and Temples
On the 3rd Day: He created Scribes and Pharisees
On the 4th Day: He created Silver and Kisses
On the 5th Day: He created Bread, Wine, and Gardens
On the 6th Day: He created a Tree, Nails, and Thorns

And on the 7th Day: God rested from His labor.

And there was evening
And there was mourning…

___________________________

[read my other Holy Day poetry here]
all writings licensed: Creative Commons License

The Elements [a Good Friday poem]


death-of-salesman-clothes-hangerWelcome, hello
Come in.

Take your shoes off
Set down your suitcase
And hang your jacket

Enjoy the fire; enjoy the tea
Rock in the chair, back and forth

That’s all you can do right now.
Rest.

Your items will still be there when it’s done.

Your shoes–
the mud will be dry, they’ll feel like new
to aid you on your way

Your suitcase–
is not all that important, frankly
take it or leave it
it doesn’t do much

And your coat–
yes, it just hangs there, dripping from the storm
the rip in its side as apparent as ever

But it will dry out and stiffen once more.
Ready to clothe you and hold you;

To keep what’s within,
within.
To keep what’s without,
without.

To speed you home in health.

But for now

Let us wait.
Let us drink.
Let us rest.
Let us cry.

Let us feel the searing heat of flame lap our feet in the hearth below.

___________________________

[read my other Holy Day poetry here]
all writings licensed: Creative Commons License

Holy Week Music: Mozart’s “Requiem”


Klimt-Death-LifeOne of the primary ways I relate to the Church Calendar is through music (hence the free Mixtapes I put out each season). Even when I am terrible at engaging at an intellectual or even a practical devotional way, I am really intentional about filling my life with music that will still put my soul in the proper posture for the particular season.

For this Lent, I found myself spending significant time with Mozart’s Requiem, a “Mass for the Dead”. This was his last (and still mysterious) piece–unfinished before he died. Before Holy Week was over, and as we enter into the Holy Weekend, I wanted to offer this to as a way you might be able to engage in these last few days of Lent. Here is the audio, and below that you will find an English translation of the entire Mass. The words are achingly haunting and beautiful and deserve your perusal whether you have time for the music or not. Have a blessed Lent.

W. A. MOZART, REQUIEM
English Translation, from St. Matthew’s choir
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Palm Sunday: “The Emperor Has No Clothes” [POEM]


I feel far, Lord.
But I know you’re here.  I know it.
(Do I?)

(Can I?)

It’s the nature of the matter; a matter of nature, I suppose.
Perhaps only now I feel at the deepest existential depths:
“I believe! Help my unbelief!”

Or in a word: Hosanna

That cry.  That plea.

The certainty of uncertainty.
The pregnancy of a pause.
The pondering of a moment.

That moment.  The moment.  

The moment that dressed my doubt in assurance.
But that emperor has no clothes
(or so everything says).

So where does my assurance lie?
Where do my feet stand?

My body pelted with rain, snow, and hail;
I pray my heart rests beside a fire,
drinking tea,
rocking in a chair,
my shoulders draped in that most costly of quilts –
my Rest.

Clothe me–
with the coat I lay on your path–
for this emperor is naked

and needs his King.

[read my other Holy Day poetry here]
all writings licensed: Creative Commons License

Cool Hand Luke’s “Of Man”: a favorite album is now free (and perfect for Lent)


cool-hand-luke-of-man-coverIf you don’t care about the commentary, and just want the amazing music, you can get it at Noisetrade. If you’d like to listen to the album first, just press play:


Someone’s “favorites” are a weird thing to define.  They are prone to fickleness, are tied so closely with whatever else is subjectively happening in one’s life, and usually bear little resemblance to what that person would consider as the technically “best” of any particular thing. So when you have a “favorite” that sustains that title for years–decades, even–it’s a big deal.

Since high school my favorite band has been Cool Hand Luke. Back then they were a little hardcore screamo band. At that time, to get their CD, you had to mail a check to the lead singer’s house. As time when on, their style changed at the very same time and in the very same way as my own. It felt like we were growing together.

Around my senior year of high school, they came out with an album called Wake Up,  O SleeperAnyone who’s heard of CHL probably knows them from this stunningly powerful work of art. It quickly became the most influential and “favorite” album of mine. And it has been ever since.

Towards the end of college, I became pretty good friends with the lead singer. For a while, every few months, we’d talk for a couple of hours on the phone. He was discerning whether to go to seminary and what to do about the financial mess their shady manager had left the band in. I got to see his heart and the heart behind the beautiful music they made.

Eventually, he got married, I started seminary, and he decided it was time to end the band and begin seminary himself. But there was one last project he felt he had to do.

Of Man.

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Ash Wednesday Benediction [POEM]


ash-wednesday-faces-of-the-faithful-photos

The shape of the promise is death 
Say the word, feel the space, build the coffin in your mouth
Climb inside and make it yours

For it is

That tomb washed white, emerges in life, enslaves in death, watches the end

agape

Expiration exorcism, cast the spirit, cast it low;
Cast your eyes and feel the blow
Cast the lots

Carve the promise into your bones, your forehead

Let your face shine with Moses glory: that of the immortal God
–that suffering, dying, ashen glory-story

May your face shine with Ash
As you wear the world’s judgment embedded in your skin, in your body,
May you feel the world’s death in your face, may you hold it before your eyes

May the flame that licked the palm find its end in you.
Bear the flame the world shall never know, precisely so it never will

Take their judgment and rub it on our faces and cast it to proclaim

Lift up your eyes

Wear it loud

The shape of the promise is death

[read my other Holy Day poetry here]
all writings licensed: Creative Commons License

“Coffee Crucifix” (a sonnet for National Coffee Day)


Coffee Crucifix

Crescent ring under porcelain smooth
___stain the wood-stained finish.
______(It is finished.)
___Marked with muddy water;
___mark the merry day; to
___marry the murdered man.

Floral notes in blackened waves
___crash the shore of trembled lips.
Choral bright, in darkest night,
___wake the tone of trebled kiss.

Younger tastes left open-wide; older eyes made
satisfied.

Mark the wood: complex simplicity.
Pierce my heart: storied infinity.

[read my other Holy Week poetry here]

all writings licensed: Creative Commons License