For my son, on his birthday

He is one who has taken many steps
along life’s road
bearing witness
to the rhythms of time.
He has known the sun’s warmth
upon his neck
and the sting of winter wind’s bite
upon his cheeks.
He has felt the pain of loss
at autumn’s death
but stands in hope,
because he knows
spring promises rebirth.
Life lived in the flow
of days
and seasons
and years
has endowed him with strength.
In courage, he journeys on
protecting and providing
for those battered by life.

Along the way,
he hungers for truth
and forages for understanding,
wherever it may be found.
He was wired with
both reason and curiosity.
Although he knows the map,
he’s not afraid of exploring.
He drinks deeply from wisdom’s spring
and nourishes himself
by listening to others with humility
knowing that every interaction
is an opportunity for growth.

His footprints leave impressions of goodness.
He seeks to bless his fellow travelers.
As he walks along,
he leaves the road
better than he found it.
He tries to live
by the rules of the road,
yet in humility
he knows that he will fall
because he understands
the path of goodness
is more journey
than destination.

As he courses on,
he looks not only to the road ahead,
but lifts his face
to the heavens.
He is aware
that night brings darkness,
but he knows too
that heaven’s canopy
is dappled with beauty and light.
He lives with a present awareness
of the beauty of the cosmos.
He appreciates
that all of creation
constantly reveals
a beautiful Creator.
As he gazes in awe
at God’s magnificence
he cannot help but glorify God
with the beauty
of word, form, and song.

Son, my prayer for you on your 13th birthday is this:

That as you journey in courage,
you develop the strength
to pursue justice
and a clear voice for those
who cannot speak for themselves.

That as you journey toward wisdom,
you allow God’s truth
revealed in his word
and in his world
to equip you for a well-lived life.

That as you journey toward goodness,
you look to the ways of Jesus.
This road can be bumpy at times,
but Jesus showed us how to walk well.

That as you journey by grace,
you never forget that
you are one who was made
in beauty.
Whatever brokenness
or pain
or darkness you feel,
it cannot extinguish
the light
of the beauty
of God
that exists in you.

The Good & Bad of Proverbs

Have you ever taken the time to read through the book of Proverbs? The whole thing in one sitting? There are thirty-one chapters chock full of wisdom. In these pithy sayings is a storehouse of knowledge, contrasting wise or righteous living with foolish and evil living. In the opening lines, we read that these proverbs can help show us how to live well. Below, I have written out a series of descriptors of a fool, an evil person, and a wise person pulled directly from Proverbs. Take some time and think through these characteristics in terms of your own life, and in terms of the culture you see around you. To whom are you exposing yourself? What do you value in others? Who are you becoming?

What are the characteristics of a fool?

A fool despises wisdom and instruction (1:7); hates knowledge (1:22); delights in mocking others (1:22);  uses words recklessly (12:18; 13:3; 29:20); blurts out folly (12:23; 13:16; 15:2); delights in airing opinions (18:2); answers before listening (18:13), lashes out pridefully (14:3); refuses to be corrected (5:12; 12:1; 13:1; 15:5); believes his or her way is right/is wise in own eyes (12:15; 26:5; 26:12; 28:26); is boastful (27:1); lacks discipline (5:23); lusts after another’s spouse (6:24, 32); cozies up to evil (7:6-23); uses flattery (26:28); feeds on folly (15:14); often speaks poorly of others (10:10); enjoys wicked schemes (10:23); destroys his or her neighbors with words (11:9); ridicules his or her neighbors (11:12); places trust in wealth (11:28); chases fantasies (12:11); believes anything (14:15); is easily annoyed (12:16); is quick tempered (14:17; 14:29; 20:3; 29:9-10); and mocks attempts to make amends (14:9).

What are the characteristics of an evil person?

Take note: there is assuredly overlap between the evil person and the fool. This list simply extends what characterizes unwise living.

An evil person delights in wrong doing (2:14; 6:19; 17:11; 21:10); listens to liars (17:4); gloats over disaster (17:5); is devious (2:14); pours out lies (6:19; 12:20; 12:22; 14:5; 20:23; 25:18); speaks corruptly/mouth gushes evil (6:12; 15:4;15:12); stirs up conflict (6:14; 6:19; 10:12;15:18; 16:28; 18:1); like a maniac, lies and then says “I was only joking” (26:18-19); plots evil (16:27; 24:2); lies in wait for blood (12:6); is cruel (12:10; 15:1); his or her teeth are swords (30:14); is hot-headed (14:16); has an appetite for violence (13:2) gulps down evil (19:28), loves to quarrel (18:1), is duplicitous (11:3); looks down upon others (6:19; 16:18; 18:12; 21:4; 30:13); mocks others (9:7; 21:24); is proud and arrogant (8:13; 11:2; 21:24); ignores and resents correction / refuses to do right (10:17; 15:12; 21:2); is selfish (18:1); exalts him or herself (25:6); makes him or herself a stench (13:5); closes eyes / shuts ears to cries of the poor (21:13; 28:27); oppresses the poor (14:31; 22:16; 30:14); acquits the guilty while condemning the innocent (17:15; 17:23; 18:5; 22:22; 24:23); accepts bribes (17:23); detests the upright (29:27); and builds a high gate (17:19).

Conversely, what are the characteristics of a wise or righteous person?

A wise person applies his or her heart to gaining understanding and insight (2:2-3; 14:8; 18:15; 20:18) and acts according to knowledge (13:16); shares knowledge (15:14); heeds discipline (10:17; 12:1; 13:18; 15:31); does not trust his or her own cleverness (23:4); seeks out and listens to advice (12:15; 13:1; 13:10; 15:22; 16:20; 24:6; 27:9), yet chooses friends carefully (12:26; 20:19; 22:24; 23:9; 23:20-21); trusts in God’s wisdom (3:5-6); shows discernment (17:24), humility (3:7;11:2; 15:33; 18:12), gentleness (15:1), even temper (17:27), integrity (11:3), honesty (16:11; 16:13), trustworthiness (12:22; 25:13), prudence (16:22), patience (15:14; 16:32; 19:11), perseverance (24:16), and generosity (3:9; 22:9); is kind to the needy (14:21; 31; 19:12); feeds the hungry (25:21); cares about justice for the poor (29:7); speaks for those who cannot speak for themselves (31:8); stands up for the rights of the destitute (31:8,9); does what is just and right (21:3); does not plot harm against another (3:28-29); does not withhold good from another (3:28-29); promotes peace (12:20); brings calm (29:11); rescues those being led to death (24:11); keeps lips from corruption and perverse speech (4:24; 13:3); guards/holds his or her tongue (10:19; 12:12; 17:27; 21:23); has a healing tongue (12:18; 15:4); uses gracious words (15:26; 16:24; 22:11); overlooks insult (12:16); avoids strife (20:3); turns away anger (29:8); sees danger and takes refuge (22:3; 27:12);  hates wickedness (8:7; 13:5);  hates dishonesty (29:27); shuns evil (14:16); and shows a strong work ethic (10:4-5; 12:11).

Binge Eating Disorder and Poetic Wisdom

I have a Binge Eating Disorder.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, “Binge eating disorder is a severe, life-threatening and treatable eating disorder characterized by recurrent episodes of eating large quantities of food (often very quickly and to the point of discomfort); a feeling of a loss of control during the binge; experiencing shame, distress or guilt afterwards; and not regularly using unhealthy compensatory measures (e.g., purging) to counter the binge eating. It is the most common eating disorder in the United States.

I cannot recall a time when I was not desperately affected by food. I was thin as a child. My mom would say that even slim-fit jeans would fall from my waist, though I do not remember those days. I look back at school pictures and sometime in the middle grades, I began to fill out. By my sophomore year of high school, I reached 220 pounds and started my first diet. As an all-or-nothing person (I suspect many folks with eating disorders tend in that direction), I quickly lost 40 pounds. Yet it was not to last. I would like to tell you that the thirty years since then have been a piece of cake, but more often than not, it was the whole cake.

I wish that last sentence was tongue in cheek. It isn’t. I have eaten a whole cake at one time. A whole Baker’s Square French Silk pie in a hotel room alone. Pounds of M&Ms behind my closed office door. Dozens of cookies in my car driving home. Not over a lifetime, mind you, but at one sitting. Those who binge eat all have their war stories, but the number of episodes we forget far outnumber those we remember. During a binge, the brain’s executive center seems to go offline, allowing baser desires to take over.  Eating becomes an automatic behavior that nullifies appreciation of food and flavor.

By the grace of God, I have not had an episode of binge eating in over a year, though I’ve lived enough life to know that it is unwise to say that I have beaten it.

Enter the Poets

Perhaps you were intrigued enough by the title to read this far. I hope so. Over the past several weeks, I have had a dawning realization that poets are granting me insight into my binge eating. How so? The best poets bid us to pay attention. In my limited experience, Mary Oliver succeeds at this better than most. I am currently reading Devotions, a remarkable anthology of her poetry. On each page, she invites her readers to see extraordinariness in the ordinariness of creation. Her Instructions for Living a Life capture her invitation well: “Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” When one binges, the capacity for attention is short-circuited. I am discovering that for me, poets re-awaken those circuits.

In addition, to improving our ability to pay attention, poets whisper, “Slow down. Breathe. Not so fast.” Many writing genres encourage rapid consumption. How many readers have found themselves repeatedly saying, “Just one more chapter”? Not so with the poets. Just this morning, I found myself beginning to rush ahead. I was not listening. I imagined Oliver telling me, “Jason, set the book down. Savor what you have read today. I will still be here tomorrow.”

In our brokenness, it seems that our primary, and often only, response is to seek answers in what the scientists tell us. Often, they can and do offer benefit. But what if, in addition to listening to the doctors and scientists, we also begin to pay attention to the poets and painters and musicians? Or to the farmers and housewives and World War II veterans? Perhaps our deepest healing occurs in a community where diverse gifts and experiences contribute to the deepest wisdom.

In all things, adored

See young men enflamed
pondering God’s fame
knowing holy words
leaves them self-assured.

Fast growing knowledge
scriptural college
read theology
what the learned see.

See them equating
knowledge inflating
with godly wisdom
blind to the schism.

Knowledge, yes, is good
God’s word understood
but wisdom it’s not
they differ a lot.

Knowledge puffs us up
wisdom teaches love
Knowledge is a start
toward wisdom’s heart.

Wisdom grows from life
in comfort and strife
lived before the Lord
in all things, adored.

Wisdom’s Drought

Words are frequent
but wisdom is scarce,
billions of voices raised
in praise
not to God, but to self.

Perpetual adolescents
assured of the veracity and value
of their own views
take to their keyboards
to offer their wisdom’s treasures
140 characters at a time.

With enough red hearts
and retweets
they can remain sure
that they are just what culture needs
when, in reality,
what is truly needed
is silence.