No One Will Be There But Jesus (#poem)

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As friends solemnly told him to call
On them if ever he needed anything,
Only his pastor was candid enough
To tell him Jesus alone would stay.

And so it was as it had always been,
Walking alone on the beach, in town,
Along the highway, and in the upstairs
Hallway with no memory of being carried.

He supposed Jesus was a faithful companion,
But a bit quiet, and not much help when
A flat needs fixing. He’s someone you can
Always talk to, but feedback is lacking.

And why should Jesus be different from the
Others? Why would the Son of God care
That he was lonely? Why would he look
For Divinity in the deep pools of loss?

Randall Horton

First Impressions That Last (#fiction)

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People overstate the importance of first impressions. It’s possible to change your impressions of someone, for better or worse, on second or third impressions. It is even possible to change your mind about someone after 25 years. I’m sure of all that, but some people sure do make memorable first impressions.

Sharon pretty much introduced herself to me by saying, “Well, I’m a Black bisexual woman who just wants to make trouble and maybe help make a better world.” Some people would say that for shock effect, but I don’t think she really cared about that. She just liked to vet new friends. It’s sort of like those signs that say, “You must be this tall to get on this ride.” If you were bothered by her introduction, then she didn’t need to waste any more time on you.

As far as I could tell, she loved life. She loved men and women. She loved humanity. Somehow, the world can’t accommodate people like that, though. Some of us just never find a safe place. One day she would talk about all the drama women cause. The next day she would lament all the baggage Black men bring on dates with them. What’s the difference between anger, fear, grief, or love?

Blame the structure of the world. Blame biology. Blame the devil. Do what you want, but it is hard for some of us to feel connected to anything. It’s like that Jimmy Cliff line about how loneliness would never leave him alone. You know, we’re all in this together—it’s just that we seem unable to share the burden of that, so we’re all seekers.

So, anyway, at her funeral, her aunt gets up and tells all the family and other busy bodies that no one knows where Sharon is now but Sharon and God, and no one else even needs to worry about it, so just shut your mouth and show a little respect. I guess some people think Heaven is a hotel that rejects people who couldn’t find safe shelter on Earth. Some people believe in a God that locks the door for his most sensitive children.

I guess that’s just our nature. We all want to feel we’re blessed. We want to feel protected in the end. We’re not like the others, somehow. Flannery O’Connor’s Mrs. Turpin had this vision of good Christian folks like herself having their virtue “being burned away” as they descended into Hell while her inferiors sang and praised their way into Heaven. Some of us find out we are like the others before it is too late. Some of us don’t.

Randall Horton

The Magic and Mystery of Ministry (#poem #NaPoWriMo)

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Know how in the 1970s the televangelists
All had perfectly sculpted and blow-dried hair?
Well, my Daddy was at least partly responsible
For all that glitz and fancy get-up.

He didn’t do hair for anyone as famous
As Pat Robertson or Jim Bakker, but
Styled hair for some big traveling evangelists
Like Gene Williams. These guys would take the
Word of God around the world, but come back
To Galena Park to get their hair done right.
Sometimes they’d come to the house, too,
And they were always downright charming.

I used to like playing “The King is Coming”
On the piano because it started soft but
You’d be banging on the keys pretty hard
By the end of it, and my parents liked me
To play it for the preachers, even if
I wasn’t very good. And they’d always say,
“That was real good. You should be very
Proud of your boy. He’ll grow up to
Be a great Christian.”

They were always so sweet, and I think
They believed it. They made me believe
The magic. They made me believe I could
Fly when I died or even burn eternally.
They said they had to travel the world
Telling people about Jesus or else
Those people would burn forever.

They would burn forever just because
They hadn’t heard the good word.

“Why would Jesus do that,” I asked.
They said, “Because he loves us.”

Religion and Morality: You could do more

Immanuel Kant said, “Morality is not properly the doctrine of how we may make ourselves happy, but how we may make ourselves worthy of happiness.” In the past I was of the opinion that if a moral system makes people miserable, it is not a useful moral system at all, but I think perhaps I’m finally starting to grasp Kant’s meaning. Sometimes it takes me longer than I’d like to get things.

It seems to me now that there are two ways of viewing morality. First, we may seek out systems that give us guidance on how we may improve ourselves. Second, we may seek out systems that validate how we already are.

Over the past few decades (or is this problem much older?), we appear to have embraced a massive self-esteem movement that compels us to seek self-validation rather than self-reflection and self-criticism. Christian mega-churches now teach people that God wants them to be happy, so they should pursue whatever makes them happy: luxury homes, cars, vacations, or other possessions. No more are congregants taught the value of restraint and humility. Thus, immediate and intense gratification is combined with the arrogance of ones who must not be questioned. It is not that I want to see medieval flagellants in the streets, but humble servitude and stewardship might be a nice change. I do realize, of course, that such meek worshipers still exist, but they are too quiet to gain so much notice.

And many people who claim to be interested in Buddhism say that it helps them stay centered. By this, they mean, as far as I can tell, that it helps them cope with the stresses life throws their way. But Buddhism as I understand it teaches discipline and awareness of the suffering of life. Suffering is universal, and relief from suffering must also be universal. To relieve your own suffering, you must stop believing in your “own” suffering and work to relieve universal suffering through loving kindness that pervades all your actions, words, and thoughts.   Your relief comes from the kindness you show others and your restraint from pursuing selfish desires, not from freeing your mind of unpleasant thoughts.

Finally, those who are not religious often turn to moral philosophy as a source of comfort. Rather than evaluating a moral system to see how sound it is and what advice it can offer for living a life that is good, proper, and noble, we read for a philosophy that exalts someone who is very much the way we already are.

When corporate leaders and other public figures are criticized for immoral behavior, they often react angrily and declare that it is their critics who are acting inappropriately. Of course, not all criticisms are valid, so sometimes they are correct, but imagine a world where the same people responded with an air of humility. We’ve entered an age where we constantly demand apologies of anyone in the public who says something we don’t like. I find apologies on demand to be extremely unsatisfying. I would much rather hear someone say, “I try to be a good person, but sometimes I make mistakes. I would ask you to show me the same forbearance and forgiveness that I promise to show you.” And maybe we can all set to the task of improving ourselves and our world.