Spring training games started this week. I turned on the Red Sox and saw a whole roster full of names I didn’t know. Most of my favorite players over the past few years are gone for one reason or another. Thank goodness baseball and poetry (and spring) all go well together.
the ground is still
frozen at Fenway
but they’re swinging
for the fences in Florida
I recognize the front
of the jerseys but
their shoulders carry
asking me to believe
once again that
anything is possible
chances are that
my heart will break
like a curveball
but this is not then
it is hope season
uncertainty is in the air
anything can happen
nothing stays the same
the crack of the bat
no matter who swings
it’s too much to say
it is about new life
for as long as it lasts
about making errors
and going home
making room for
new names to love
My days have been full and my words have been hard to find, so tonight I’m borrowing from others. As I began looking for songs, I had in mind to play Bruce Cockburn’s “Pacing the Cage” and then remembered Jimmy Buffett’s amazing cover of the song, which seemed to be the one to share tonight. And that got me searching for covers of songs I love.
I’ll let Jimmy start us off.
sunset is an angel weeping
holding out a bloody sword
no matter how I squint I cannot
make out what it’s pointing toward
sometimes you feel like you live too long
days drip slowly on the page
you catch yourself
pacing the cage
I didn’t know who Kyle and Danielle were until YouTube showed me this version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City,” one of my favorite songs of redemption.
everything dies, baby, that’s a fact
but maybe everything that dies some day comes back
put your makeup on, fix your hair up pretty
and meet me tonight in Atlantic City
Grace Potter sang “I Shall Be Released” at a concert to honor Levon Helm, even though Bob Dylan wrote the song. And she sings it like she owns it.
they say everything can be replaced
they say every distance is not near
so I remember every face
of every one who put me here
I see my light come shining
from the west down to the east
any day now, any day now
I shall be released
Skinny Living is another band that is new to me, but their cover of Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic” made me wish I was sitting in the pub with them.
and I wanna rock your gypsy soul
just like way back in the days of old
then magnificently we will float
into the mystic
Justin Townes Earle died this past year. He wrote a lot of great songs himself, but knowing how he struggled with addictions and finding some sense of his own peace, his cover of Paul Simon’s “Graceland” makes the song reach even deeper inside me.
and I may be obliged to defend
every love, every ending
or maybe there’s no obligations now
maybe I’ve a reason to believe
we all will be received in Graceland
I had never heard Andrew Bird sing with Tift Merritt until I heard their cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You” from an old Letterman show.
if I needed you would you come to me?
would you come to me for to ease my pain?
if you needed me I would come to you
I would swim the sea for to ease your pain
I can remember buying my first Crosby, Stills, & Nash in ninth grade. I learned a lot about singing harmonies listening to them. I found this concert footage where they pay tribute to their favorite band–and they will close us out with “Blackbird.”
blackbird singing in the dead of night
take these broken wings and learn to fly
all your life
you were only waiting for this moment to arise
Pull up the covers and enjoy the songs as we wait for spring.
We’ve got tickets for an online concert and conversation between Lyle Lovett and Vince Gill tonight. We had seen him at least once every year of our marriage until the pandemic killed live music.
to be in the room
it was early February long ago
a first date in an ice storm
my Tercel rose to the occasion
and we made our way to
Good Eats for dinner and then
to downtown Fort Worth
and the Caravan of Dreams to
see Lyle Lovett for the first time
February is fading into March
as we settle into a room of our own
to listen to Lyle and Vince Gill
play and sing from their rooms
a long day meant I didn’t make
much of dinner but here we are
remembering all the rooms
Lyle filled to sing to us
I miss being in the room
to hear how the food sounds
and the songs taste
to look around at the tables
filled with stories being told
the host of humanity that has
showed up to help us tell ours
in quite a variety of venues
Good Eats burned down
the Caravan of Dreams gave
way to Sundance Square
and it’s not the same on screen
but when did we ever want
things to be the same
to be in the room with you
is what makes the memory
she got a special walk
around the green this morning
she didn’t know why
anymore than she understood
that breakfast never came
just a car ride to her
least favorite parking lot
where I handed her over
to a kind tech who spoke
sweetly and led her away
after I told her it would be okay
I hope I told her the truth
we don’t know how it will be
then I sat in the car and
looked out at the snow
that will be a melting
muddy mess by mid-afternoon
when we will get word
of the prognosis
the predictive course
all she will know is
she hurts and we love her
and it will be some time
before we walk the green again
I read the screen or the page
I listen to the other ones talking
as though everyone is waiting
for what I will have to say
as if what matters is how I respond
why would that be true?
social media creates the illusion
that life is a series of little soap boxes
waiting for me to stand and speak
or did I create that illusion
to more easily accept their invitations?
I love putting words to page
or screen or setting them free
into the air to find their way
I love a well-crafted sentence
an incisive thought well-timed
I dream of saying the thing
that gets quoted again and again
but that dream comes up empty
what is worth saying?
not the thing that inserts me
in the conversation like the singer
who doesn’t know how to blend
in with the rest of the choir
not the thing that will make me
feel better or righteous or right
not the thing that allows me
to think I have done my part
the pundits and public theologians
will always beat me to the punch
but is punching the point?
perhaps what is worth saying is
not mine to say but to hear and then
after a long pause
to respond with well-worn words
inhabited by presence more than eloquence
words that bear repeating
I love you
I’m with you
this is not the end
I love you
In October, I started a bridge pastorate at a church in the town next to us because the pastor had to take family medical leave. I started posting the sermons and songs here as well. Next Sunday will be my last Sunday at the church and we are going to do the service live on Zoom, so I will not have a recorded sermon, which means this will be my last in this unintentional series. Thanks for being in the congregation.
The passage this week is Genesis 9:12-17, which is the end of the story of Noah and the flood. The song is James Taylor’s “Shower the People.”
The story of Noah and the ark is one most of us have known since we were children: the pairs of animals, the dove with the olive branch, the rainbow, and, of course, the song. Do you remember
the Lord said to Noah there’s gonna be a floody, floody the Lord said to Noah there’s gonna be a floody, floody get those children out of the muddy, muddy children of the Lord
along with the other seventy-two verses that had great rhymes (the animals they came in by twosies; elephants and kangaroozies) and on the chorus we waved our hands high to rise and shine and give God the glory.
The song almost makes the flood sound like fun, but the biblical account says that God became so frustrated with humanity that God regretted creating them and decided to drown them out–except for Noah and his family and a big boat full of animals. The implicit theology built into our little sing-along is problematic because it says God uses weather as a weapon of justice and regret. Listen to Genesis 6:5-7.
The Lord saw that humanity had become thoroughly evil on the earth and that every idea their minds thought up was always completely evil. The Lord regretted making human beings on the earth and was heartbroken. So the Lord said, “I will wipe off of the land the human race that I’ve created: from human beings to livestock to the crawling things to the birds in the skies, because I regret I ever made them.”
The story of the flood made the weather in Texas play big in my thoughts as I prepared to preach on our passage today, for a couple of reasons. One is that my family roots are in Texas and many people I love live there are have been severely affected by the unexpectedly harsh weather and its aftermath. Most Texas cities and towns don’t have the resources we do, when it comes to winter: plows and shovels, or even good coats. The second reason is it has brought up again how deeply the thought that God is behind the storm is embedded in our minds and how hard that is to live with. The third is what I learned this week about what it means to take care of each other from both the flood and the freezing cold.
The story of the first eight chapters of [Genesis] is tragic but simple: creation, followed by de-creation, followed by re-creation. God creates order. Humans then destroy that order, to the point where “the world was filled with violence,” and “all flesh had corrupted its way on earth.” God brings a flood that wipes away all life, until–with the exception of Noach, his family and other animals–the earth has returned to the state it was in at the beginning of Torah, when “the earth was waste and void, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”
What we tell as a bunch of stories are part of the same story, he says, and he notices a couple of interesting details. In Genesis 1, the word good repeats seven times; in Genesis 9 the word covenant–promise–repeats seven times. Here’s the thing he said that most caught my attention: In Genesis 1, God said, “Let us make humanity in our image;” in Genesis 9, God said, “I will surely demand your blood for a human life, from every living thing I will demand it. From humans, from a person for their sibling, I will demand something for a human life. Whoever sheds human blood, by a human their blood will be shed; for in the divine image God made human beings.”
Sacks says, “The difference here is fundamental. Genesis 1 tells me that I am in the image of God. Genesis 9 tells me that the other person is in the image of God.”
God says to us, “Look in the mirror and see the image of God; now look into the face of another and see the image of God.” And then God models the very behavior God is demanding of humanity. God promises to never again destroy the earth with floodwaters: “This is the symbol of the covenant that I am drawing up between me and you and every living thing with you, on behalf of every future generation. I have placed my bow in the clouds; it will be the symbol of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow appears in the clouds, I will remember the covenant between me and you and every living being among all the creatures.”
After the storm, God took a weapon and turned it into a symbol of relationship: “I will place my bow in the sky so I will remember.” God put it there to remind God, not us, of the promises God has to keep. When God is tempted to respond to the violence we inflict on one another with violence, the rainbow is a reminder that God promised to respond to our violence in love. And God’s invitation to us is to live the same way.
The story raises the question of what God does with God’s anger, which is hard for us because far too often, our American model of expressing anger feels petulant and immature: we like to throw tantrums. Sometimes it seems like expressing rage is our national sport. Too often, we use our anger as a way to express that we feel superior to those we are targeting.
God’s anger, as we see it in scripture is often harsh, but it is not impulsive. And God learns from it. God’s promise not to flood the world came after God flooded the world, looked at what happened, and repented. Regretted. God was changed by the encounter, by the ramifications of God’s own actions. God appears to also realize that humanity was not going to quit doing the stuff that fed God’s anger, so God made a unilateral covenant: here is what I am going to do–and here is how I am going to remember it. I am going to change what I do with my anger.
And that takes me back to Texas.
I was living in Dallas in December 1983 when it did not get above freezing from December 18-30. It was the coldest December on record. Roads were icy. People were cold. Some pipes burst. But we didn’t have the systemic problems we have seen this past week. The problem this week in Texas was not just that it got really cold. The problem this time was that the people who make decisions about how to take care of the electrical grid and the water supply had gone years without doing the preparatory and maintenance work to be ready for the storm. They did not consider everyone as they planned for the future, so when it came time to take care of everyone, they couldn’t do it. Put simply, they put profit and political gain before people.
On the other hand, I watched in my Facebook feed as friends reached out for help because they didn’t have power or water and others took them in. Strangers reached out to one another to make sure people stayed warm and fed. Churches and synagogues and mosques opened as places of refuge. One man who owns a mattress business let people come sleep in his showrooms.
I think I can pretty much guarantee that everyone who opened their homes or businesses or buildings to take care of others was angry that millions were without power and safe water. What they did first was take care of each other. I hope they come back to their anger and let it fuel them to make changes in the system so that those in charge prepare for the common good because that is another way we take care of each other. Our personal actions matter, but we undercut our compassion when we allow dehumanizing systems to keep doing violence to others.
God created us in the image of God. Every last one of us. After the flood, God reminded Noah and the others that the place they were to look for the image of God in other people–every other person. Then God painted a bow and hung it in the clouds to remind God of the same thing.
Last week, we rose with Jesus from the baptismal waters to be reminded that we are God’s delightful beloved. This week, the flood waters recede to remind us we are called to treat everyone else as the delightful beloved of God. We can recreate our broken world into the beloved community by taking care of each other, by valuing each other, by loving one another as we love ourselves.
So, let’s rise and shine and give God the glory, children of the Lord. Amen.