The Goodly Fere

by Ezra Pound*
(Fere = mate, companion)

Simon Zelotes speaking after the Crucifixion.

HA’ we lost the goodliest fere o’ all
For the priests and the gallows tree?
Aye lover he was of brawny men,
O’ ships and the open sea.

When they came wi’ a host to take Our Man
His smile was good to see,
“First let these go!” quo’ our Goodly Fere,
“Or I’ll see ye damned,” says he.

Aye he sent us out through the crossed high spears
And the scorn of his laugh rang free,
“Why took ye not me when I walked about
Alone in the town?” says he.

Oh we drank his “Hale” in the good red wine
When we last made company.
No capon priest was the Goodly Fere,
But a man o’ men was he.

I ha’ seen him drive a hundred men
Wi’ a bundle o’ cords swung free,
That they took the high and holy house
For their pawn and treasury.

They’ll no’ get him a’ in a book, I think,
Though they write it cunningly;
No mouse of the scrolls was the Goodly Fere
But aye loved the open sea.

If they think they ha’ snared our Goodly Fere
They are fools to the last degree.
“I’ll go to the feast,” quo’ our Goodly Fere,
“Though I go to the gallows tree.”

“Ye ha’ seen me heal the lame and blind,
And wake the dead,” says he.
“Ye shall see one thing to master all:
’Tis how a brave man dies on the tree.”

A son of God was the Goodly Fere
That bade us his brothers be.
I ha’ seen him cow a thousand men.
I have seen him upon the tree.

He cried no cry when they drave the nails
And the blood gushed hot and free.
The hounds of the crimson sky gave tongue,
But never a cry cried he.

I ha’ seen him cow a thousand men
On the hills o’ Galilee.
They whined as he walked out calm between,
Wi’ his eyes like the gray o’ the sea.

Like the sea that brooks no voyaging,
With the winds unleashed and free,
Like the sea that he cowed at Genseret
Wi’ twey words spoke suddently.

A master of men was the Goodly Fere,
A mate of the wind and sea.
If they think they ha’ slain our Goodly Fere
They are fools eternally.

I ha’ seen him eat o’ the honey-comb
Sin’ they nailed him to the tree.

*Note from the blogger:
I know Ezra Pound did not lead an exemplary life in many respects, but I cannot help but be moved by this depiction of Jesus and His “power under control” at the crucifixion. 

An Ash Wednesday Reflection

The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.
—Exodus 34:6–7

We can often rationalize sin away with the thought, “Well, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else…” We tend to think private, secret sins that don’t involve another are our business alone and nobody else’s.

I have mixed feelings about the passage above. It is God describing Himself to Moses, and it is beautiful and noble and awe-inspiring. But it kind of hits a sour note at the end. I am just fine with the guilty being punished, but to carry it on three and four generations down the line? Doesn’t seem too fair…

There are a number of viewpoints and commentaries on what this might mean and how it might work, but that’s not where my focus is.

What strikes me deeply is this: there is no such thing as a private sin. The people around us are hurt by our wrong choices whether they know about them or not. Our sin affects others. Period.

Ash Wednesday is a day of self-examination, confession, and repentance to kick off the Lent season. Although I did not grow up in a tradition that observed Ash Wednesday, I am now part of a fellowship that does.

In our Ash Wednesday service each person confesses his or her sin to others with the words, “I am sorry for the way my sin has impacted you.” It is a strangely liberating experience to have another look me in the eye and say, “You’re forgiven.”

So whether or not you observe Ash Wednesday, take some time this week to think about the secret sins in your life. Bring them into the light before our God Who is “merciful and gracious…forgiving transgression and sin”. Even better, find someone you trust and speak the words out loud. Let them offer words of forgiveness.

Because even our private sins leave a lasting impact if left unconfessed.

the Good News

I cringed inwardly. “Even if you were the only person on earth, Jesus would have died just for you.” Why did this sit so poorly with me? The speaker was only reiterating things I have heard all my life. In the week that followed, Easter “media” echoed his message again and again. Facebook posts, blogs, worship songs. “Jesus died for me!”

Yet somehow this familiar refrain left me terribly uncomfortable. An inner voice kept crying, “This is all wrong. Jesus’ death was not primarily about ME. I am not the center of this story!”

My Sunday school training quickly kicked in, “No, of course not. It’s about Jesus.” But somehow even that answer didn’t satisfy.

Then it occurred to me that Jesus wasn’t even then center of His Own story.

A recent conversation with a friend echoed in my mind. “You know,” she said, “We have so personalized and individualized the gospel today. But it wasn’t always the case. The message of John the Baptist, Jesus, and the disciples was that the Kingdom of God was coming. That was the good news.”

In describing His mission, Jesus often said that He must proclaim the Kingdom of God. Many of His parables began, “The kingdom of Heaven is like…”, and much of His teaching introduced a new way of living, a new way of thinking, that was out of step with the norms of his society—guidelines for citizens of a new Kingdom.

Jesus did not live to glorify Himself. He didn’t come to earth so that we could see the Father. Nor did He die so that I could be forgiven, have a personal relationship with Him, or live eternally.

He came, quite frankly, to turn the universe on its head; to bring about a new world order; to defeat evil once and for all and establish a Kingdom full of righteousness and peace.

In the process did He receive glory? Absolutely. Did those who saw him catch a glimpse of the Father? Of course. Did He provide a way for us to be cleansed of sin, live in loving relationship with Him, and never die? Thank God—yes, yes, and yes. But these are all small brush strokes in a bigger picture.

In His 33 years on earth, Jesus lived for something greater than His own personal story. In return, He invites each of us to live for something bigger than ourselves. The fact that we are given a part in the divine Story—invited to be citizens of this eternal Kingdom—should fill us with awe and wonder. It should make us feel small and humble and throw us to our knees in all-out worship.

Instead, we make Jesus’ time on earth about ourselves. This is understandable, in one sense, since His death is my only hope of life. But to distill the the mystery and magnificence of Jesus’ sacrifice down to simply what it means for me personally is to cheapen it, to miss the bigger picture, and to live small. Quite frankly, it is not Kingdom behavior.

As I walk away from Easter this year I am challenged to lift my eyes to something bigger than myself. I want this world to fade and become insubstantial, as I catch glimpses of the new Reality that Jesus brought about. I am hungry to learn more and more what it looks like to live each day as a citizen of this Kingdom.

Dance

Who heeds the poor organ grinder? None but myself and little Annie, whose feet begin to move in unison with the lively tune, as if she were loth that music should be wasted without a dance. But where would Annie find a partner? Some have the gout in their toes, or the rheumatism in their joints; some are stiff with age; some feeble with disease; some are so lean that their bones would rattle, and others of such ponderous size that their agility would crack the flag-stones; but many, many have leaden feet, because their hearts are far heavier than lead. It is a sad thought that I have chanced upon.
—Nathaniel Hawthorne, Little Annie’s Ramble

In the past year or so Jesus has been teaching me to dance. He has been asking me to live more lightly and freely. To find joy and delight in Him as I experience His presence in the small, every-day things. To give Him the burdens and troubles that weigh me down.

And for the most part, I am catching on. I am by nature an optimistic, positive person, so some of it comes easily. Releasing control and refusing to worry have been harder steps to master, but I’m getting better with practice. It has been a beautiful thing, learning the freedom of dancing in the moment with my Lord and Lover.

But a few nights ago, various things had piled up in my mind and my soul. I went to bed with heavy sighs and a few tears. I woke up in the morning, hoping the dawn would dispel the clouds that had hovered over me the night before. But they were still there, gray and dismal.

I heard a familiar Voice whisper in my ear, “Come, dance with Me.”

I sighed. “I can’t today. My heart is so heavy. There is no bounce in my step. I can’t bring myself to trip along merrily with You today.”

He looked at me with understanding. “That’s OK,” He said. “Just put your head here.” He patted His chest, right about where the heart is.

Gladly I buried my face into the warmth of His shoulder and felt His arms encircle me. I returned the embrace and rested against Him. He rocked me gently back and forth, and before I knew it we were moving. It was slow and rather sad, but it was unmistakably a dance.

And so I begin to see that His love is the music to which everything on earth moves. His melodies permeate every moment, and are suitable to every occasion. To dance with Him doesn’t merely mean to gambol giddily, always happy and carefree. It means, instead, to cling to His love in every situation, mindful of the beauty of His song, whether merry or melancholy. To heed and respond—loth that music should be wasted without a dance.

Of Nothing

(With many apologies after a long break, I’m back and hope to be more regular in my posting this year!)

I first came face-to-face with my nothingness in Cambodia. I went there full of hope and good intentions, sure that we were going to improve lives and change the world. What followed were years of disappointment, failure, and hard knocks. Unfortunately those tough times did relatively little to shake my confidence in myself as Something. I still had a lot to offer. The problem was everybody else—including God. They just weren’t cooperating with all my good efforts!

What finally did me in was a cat. One very small kitten. Too small, in fact. The vet gave me formula, warning she’d need to be fed every two hours, adding with a shake of the head not to get my hopes up. But my spirit shook an invisible fist at him, and at any other nay-sayer; but most of all I shook my fist at God. “YOU have let me down,” I railed. “I’ll take it from here. I’ll show You.”

After three days of ’round the clock feedings, the tiny thing finally died. Exhausted and crushed, I sobbed to my husband, “I couldn’t even make the world better for one little cat!”

His answer was simple, and revolutionary. “It isn’t your world.”

This was the first step in my journey toward realizing that I am not God. Somehow I had gotten the idea that if I just tried hard, thought hard, behaved right, prayed right, I could control outcomes and guarantee results.

That was about five years ago. I have been slow to learn. But over time God has been chipping away at my in-born impulse to take His place.

Will my worry make a relative’s surgery go any better or worse? No. Will lying awake at night playing out endless scenarios unravel a knotty situation? No. Will rehearsing imaginary conversations in my head make someone change or fix a relationship? No.

Why? Because I am nothing. I am powerless. I am not in control. That person, relationship, problem, situation, is not mine to carry.

The good news is that in counter-point to my nothing there is an Everything. There is God. He is in control. All these things belong to Him. He carries each burden. He holds all things together. He sustains all things by His powerful word. Him. Not me.

I don’t know that handing these things over to God changes the outcomes. It isn’t a magic bullet or a guarantee that all will be as I wish. But I do know that it changes me. I admit my nothingness. I kneel in submission to His sovereignty. I wait for His guidance. I learn what it means to trust.

I begin to live out Jesus’ invitation “Come to Me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28–30)

Whatever weighs you down as you enter this new year, I hope you join me in laying it down. It isn’t yours, or mine, to carry. This requires some crushing, some dying. But in the end, I truly have nothing (myself) to lose, and Everything to gain.

“Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Matt. 11:28–30, MSG

Life

I recently read C. S. Lewis’ sermon/essay “The Weight of Glory,” which opens with these lines:

“If you asked twenty good men today what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness. But if you asked almost any of the great Christians of old he would have replied, Love. You see what has happened? A negative term has been substituted for a positive, and this is of more than philological importance. The negative ideal of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point.…”

His ideas were still rolling around in my head during a discussion at church this past Sunday.

We were studying Leviticus, and the focus was on blood and the regulations surrounding it. With broad brush strokes through the Old Testament, we concluded that, to the best of their understanding at the time, life resided in the blood. The literal Hebrew phrase in many passages is, “its life, its blood”—which led to the translation “lifeblood” in some cases. To lose blood meant to lose life—in other words, to die.

Of course the discussion propelled us forward into the New Testament, to Jesus, His death, the impact of His words as he held aloft the cup at the last supper, solemnly proclaiming it to be His blood, inviting us to partake.

I can’t adequately reproduce the breadth and richness of that discussion in these few lines, nor could our words then fully explore the depths of this holy mystery. But many were struck with the conviction that we, following Christ’s example, were called to death.

This is very true, and very biblical. Die to ourselves, to the world, to the flesh.

But something nagged at my mind. “This is my blood, poured out for you.” Lifeblood. Life. Life poured out for you.

What if we were to look at our Christian walk, not so much as dying, but as pouring out our lives. I know it might be semantics, two sides of the same coin, but what a difference it makes in my outlook.

One seems inward focused, the other outward. One seems like a truncation, an ending; the other a beginning with limitless potential.

Our lives are not, indeed, meant to be preserved, protected, held in reserve. Instead, we are to pour them out into others, into the world around us. Jesus’ sacrifice didn’t begin and end in His death at the cross. The gospels record again and again that He poured Himself out continually into the lives of those around Him. Yes, He gave His life, and that process began years before Calvary.

What’s more, we aren’t even called to give out of our own resources. The truth is, on our own we have nothing to offer. If we try to pour out life in our own strength and wisdom, we will ultimately be depleted, offering only death and disappointment. But Jesus, as the source of all life, once again offers His Life to flow through us to others. In relationship with Him we are tapped in to the limitless spring of Life, which will never run dry.

“This is My blood, poured out for you.” Take it in, drink deeply of My Life. Then pour out Life to others.

I think C. S. would back me up.