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About the Poetry (and ministry and marriage)

I recently posted a poem on Facebook. This habit of spontaneous poetry posted to Facebook developed in 2017, and grew when I unintentionally gave up "fear of sharing" for Lent in 2018. These poems are nearly always typed straight into Facebook or a note in my phone, barely (or not at all) combed for editing, and then launched into view of those that call me friends, at least in a virtual way.

It has been a helpful mix of safety and vulnerability - a space to share poems so they aren't stuck with me alone - might bless someone if they're worth a read - or simply chronicle onto the Facebook timeline. Only a rare few poems remain unposted. Usually, this is because I consider them to personal to be public, or because I figure their tone isn't what's needed in the social-media sphere that day, week, month, etc.

For example, a poem I recently wrote came out...well...harshly. In the wake of grieving another shooting, I didn't think folks needed to read words like "barely deigning," "beware," "shame." But there was another reason why I didn't post it: Daniel's family. Right after I wrote that poem (whose subject was church folk who are quick to exclude others, by the way), I remembered that Daniel was going to a family gathering without me. For context: many in Daniel's family are deeply committed Christians. It's a beautiful, intimidating, lovely thing. I didn't necessarily want to post a scathing poetic rebuke of exclusionary church before Daniel was with them without me...

Afterwards, reflecting on these tensions, I wrote another poem:

your wife is a poet

and that is dangerous

because she will not always say

exactly what she means

or always mean exactly what she thinks

in the given moment when those words flow

it's not a tactical experience of yes and no

but a long line of maybes

considerations unreasonable

beware the poet

she is not tamed

(though really she measures)

unruly beast, heretic or saint?

(forever worried she's all of the above)

how can you allow this behavior?

she asks herself

how can she not?

to hold back the waves

of something short of inspiration

it's an ebb and flow and can't claim it's truth

but it might be a little light

and she must

let it shine

you can bring your bushels to hide it

or hope one day she may mellow out

and learn to bite the tongues she does not realize she's speaking in...

it's a dance with delight

and danger

and Jesus is not ashamed of her

no, Jesus

is singing

these newfound lyrics

she managed to let roll out

without hesitating for once

the Holy Spirit is ringing

bells of celebration

that the uninhibitedness grows

ever stronger and she

hopefully forgets herself

a little more today and tomorrow

and learns freedom

some more

for now

she is a poet

a poem

an attempt

work in progress


To be clear: this was only the story I was telling myself. Daniel told me later that a family member that same day shared with him how much she loves that I am a poet - that it makes her feel like I fit right in to the family. Which just made me laugh! And smile. And realize how doom and gloom I can get. Becoming judgmental out of fear of judgement.

More recently, though, I did post a poem. One that left me antsy after posting. Why? Because right now I am raising support (both prayer and financial) to be a Digital Staff Minister with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.

I posted this poem that I knew was imperfect - likely theologically unsound (or at least unclear - which is unsound's cousin) - and waited, wondering as people who've generously offered to pray for and financially support the ministry I'll be doing may or may not encounter this questionable poem. This digital minister is a poet...and that is dangerous.

And to some degree I recognize it IS dangerous. It's risky to mix theology into poetic language - to dare to place God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit in the middle of swirling words that might not perfectly illustrate the truth. I wonder with each poem whether they're worth the risk.

But I am a work in progress. And praise God for weaving my story to work with a campus ministry that doesn't onboard staff for being theologians (though many are) or "expert" Christians. My supervisor graciously reminded me that InterVarsity will hire students that just graduated undergrad; My support raising coach graciously reminded me that InterVarsity has the unique advantage of being able to hire folks struggling with mental illness, disability, or other things that might preclude them serving in another context with less direct support. I'm not joining InterVarsity staff with the expectation of perfection - but rather that my faith will keep getting worked out in humbled service, engaging deep questions, and the ongoing sharpening of community.

I have so much to learn.

So please know, these poems are never posted with a *theologically inaccurate* asterisk, but that's often on my mind as they launch into the social media sphere. Consider them a kind of Psalm - usually they're an honest cry to Jesus, community, or myself.


I want to conclude with an excerpt from Prayer in the Night which I read shortly after these poetry thoughts & tensions unfurled. It was exactly what I needed to hear and remember:

"The Christian life is more like a poem than an encyclopedia. The poet Scott Cairns writes, 'One of the reasons I enjoy that a good poem insists that a reader learn to honor ambiguity, that he learn to collaborate with a poem's suggestive possibilities....That is to say, a great poem - even a pretty good one - isn't ever done saying what it has to say.' What's true of poetry is true of the Christian life as well. Perplexity is built into the Christian faith. It is by nature perplexing. Ours is not primarily a faith of explanation, but of salvation.

This is not to say that Christianity is entirely an enigma, or a wax nose we shape to our liking. The Christian life is not an encyclopedia, but neither is it free verse. Like poetry, it has restraints - even rules, like a sonnet. Christian doctrine is our grammar and syntax; it provides the coherence of the Christian life. To reject doctrinal truth for a self-made, free-form faith makes as much sense as a poet rejecting the alphabet or words themselves. These truths from Scripture, handed to us through the church, are the only way into the poem itself. If we abandon them, we'll miss the poetry. And yet, like a poem, letters or words aren't the end in themselves, but tools that pull us into something greater. The end is not the alphabet or the structure of the sonnet, but the mystery and meaning revealed therein, which is Christianity is the triune God himself. Yet, in the poetry of the Christian life - its creeds, worship, and ethics - there is always a remainder, a space that we cannot pin down neatly. There is much we cannot know of God.

Therefore, to be a Christian is to honor ambiguity. It requires a willingness to endure mystery and to admit that there are limits to human knowledge. God has us on a 'need to know basis,' and there is much it seems that we don't need to know." (Prayer in the Night, pg. 163-164)

So here I am, honestly saying these is much I don't know. I will not be a digital minister with all the answers, but one with plenty of intriguing questions. I think I will continue to be a poet. Whatever, wherever, however Jesus leads. And I'll keep learning how to walk with my family, new family, friends, community, neighbors, church, and InterVarsity in the light (and shadows) of this perplexing, beautiful ambiguity.

Thanks for taking the time to read.




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