There’s no Force Upon the Earth

It’s my wedding anniversary today, here is this year’s poem/song. This one was a bit of a rush job to produce after coming back from DragonCon, so is a little less polished than I would like.

There’s no Force upon the Earth

There’s no force upon the earth
That will make me doubt your worth;
There’s no place on earth that I would rather be
Than beside you every day, united on our way
To claim the prize that shines eternally.

‘Cause your love is true, and it’s seen me through
So many times of darkness and despair;
You give me strength to stand with your loving hand
And all the signs that you so deeply care.

More than silver, more than gold,
I hope that I grow old
Surrounded by the fruits of our great love;
When bound to you I’m free, you are the one for me,
The girl in the whole world I’m most proud of.

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We Celebrate Another Year

It is my wife’s never-you-mindth birthday today, here is this year’s poem/song:

We Celebrate Another Year

We celebrate another year
Of your treasured presence here
On this day, we’d like to say
How much you truly mean

To this energetic family
That’s blessed with musicality
And lots of fun; you are the one,
Our most beloved queen.

Can there be a greater life
Than to have a mum or wife
As awesome as our quorum has
Declared your soul to be?

It’s your birthday, and we’ll find a way
To let you know you’re loved like no-one else
So sit back, enjoy, your sweet girl and boys
As they do things that cause your heart to melt.

The Greatest of These

As we approach the end of an eventful year, and the start of a new that promises a number of big things in the near future, I could make the standard wish to you all of success, health and comfort, but I thought I’d post a little reminder of what is most important of all:

The Greatest of These

There is no force upon the earth
That can outweigh the gift of love;
No wealth or situation
That can outbid its worth;

No jewel in all its glory
No title, honour, place
That can outshine the smile that spreads
Across your loved one’s face.

While victories are powerful joys
And justice plays its part
None can match devotion
From an honest human heart.

So dance and laugh and celebrate,
Savour and appreciate,
Stand, salute, commemorate
Console and commiserate
With those you choose to love.

Today’s Sermon

I was preaching in church today (and translating myself at the same time, since there were a lot of Americans at the service). I thought I’d share what I said here, since it touches on the Superversive Literary Movement.

Colossians 3: 22-24:

Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

In this passage the overall principle is clear, and we in the West are far better off than slaves, even though on a particularly bad day we might briefly forget it. We have even more reason to obey this commandment, and less reason to complain. This doesn’t make it any easier to obey, but it helps to keep things in perspective when we realise who this commandment was originally given to. If slaves are to obey their masters sincerely and in reverence for the Lord, how much more are we to do so, knowing the heavenly as well as often earthly rewards we will receive for our efforts?

It can often seem that we are toiling and toiling away at something with no positive results to show for it, or we see results, but fail to see how what we are producing is of any value, of any wider spiritual benefit. At those times it can be easy to lose hope and just go through the motions. I’d like to look at this issue from a slightly different angle, beginning with a quote from the ever-awesome C.S. Lewis:

While we are on the subject of science, let me digress or a moment. I believe that any Christian who is qualified to write a good popular book on any science may do much more by that than by any directly apologetic work. The difficulty we are up against is this. We can make people (often) attend to the Christian point of view for half an hour or so; but the moment they have gone away from our lecture or laid down our article, they are plunged back into a world where the opposite position is taken for granted. As long as that situation exists, widespread success is simply impossible. We must attack the enemy’s line of communication.

 

What we want is not more little books about Christianity, but more little books by Christians on other subjects — with their Christianity latent.   You can see this most easily if you look at it the other way round. Our Faith is not very likely to be shaken by any book on Hinduism. But if whenever we read an elementary book on Geology, Botany, Politics, or Astronomy, we found that its implications were Hindu, that would shake us. It is not the books written in direct defence of Materialism that make the modern man a materialist; it is the materialistic assumptions in all the other books. In the same way, it is not books on Christianity that will really trouble him. But he would be troubled if, whenever he wanted a cheap popular introduction to some science, the best work on the market was always by a Christian. The first step to the re-conversion of this country is a series, produced by Christians, which can beat the Penguin and the Thinkers Library on their own ground. Its Christianity would have to be latent, not explicit: and of course its science perfectly honest. Science twisted in the interests of apologetics would be sin and folly.

This is what I try to do as a writer, to create works that stand on their own merits alongside other books by people with very different worldviews (I leave it to the readers to decide how successful I am in that regard), while at the same time as a member of the Superversive Literary Movement to tell stories that encourage people to build rather than tear down, to persevere rather than give in to despair, to notice, value and be grateful for the beauty we see all around us in all its forms and provide glimpses of the great truths behind this universe.

This principle not only applies to books, but to every kind of useful work, every productive industry. What if whenever someone wanted to find a good handyman, a good lawyer, a good engineer, a good doctor, a good researcher, the best options available to him, the most capable, the most trustworthy, were always Christians? What effect would that have on that someone, on the society as a whole? Wouldn’t it open up tremendous new opportunities for the Good News to spread? This is the context of Peter’s instruction to the believers in his first epistle:

1 Peter 3:13-16

Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

In the culture in which this was written, pure altruism was unheard of. If you helped someone in some way, they were then literally in your debt, since honour and shame was a much more powerful motivating force than it is today. This sometimes made people reluctant to accept help, since they didn’t know what sort of return favour would be asked of them. So when a Christian helped a stranger and didn’t want anything in return, as Jesus commanded, the recipient of that help would be suspicious. They’d think, ‘Oh, they must be holding out for something really big from me’, and this would be the opportunity for the Christian to explain that they were expecting a heavenly rather than earthly reward for their efforts. It opened up a door to share that hope.

The two greatest commandments are to love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, mind, strength and love our neighbour as ourselves. With all of our strength and our mind includes the work that we do, so it would be appropriate to say that we should love the Lord with all of our work. So let’s work on ourselves, educate ourselves, improve, become the best we can be at what we do. Let’s honour God, make his world a better place and bless others through our work.

 

God likes to work through us, to use us to achieve his purposes. Jesus said that he came that we may have life, and have it abundantly. Let’s be part of that abundance that God has planned for others, and through our work give them a little glimpse of the abundance that only he can give. Sometimes this will open up an opportunity to share some of His good news, other times it will be enough to simply be that blessing for others, and give them a tangible foretaste of His kingdom.

 

This is a great challenge, one not to be taken lightly. I’d like to close with the closing instruction Paul gave to the Phillippian church:

Phillippians 4:8

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

Why is it important to think about such things? Because what we feed our mind on forms our character, transforming us and our behaviour from the inside, so people can watch us and see the Gospel at work. If we can provide true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy things for other people to think about (as the Superversive Literary Movement tries to do), all the better.

If you want to sample some of my efforts in this regard, click on the images below:

all cover_f1_v13_frontsmall

Selected Verse - Heroes and WondersSelected Verse - Faith and Family Beyond the Mist

 

 

 

 

* After the sermon, someone came up to me to ask where I got the C.S. Lewis quote from. I had to explain that I went looking for a Czech translation of God in the Dock, in the end finding one, only to discover that it was a translation of a selection from that essay collection and the passage in question was not included. I ended up translating the passage myself together with my wife in preparation, and handed him the copy I had printed out for the sermon. For my tens of Czech readers, I provide it below:

 

Když už mluvíme o vědě, udělám malou odbočku. Věřím, že jakýkoliv křesťan, který je kvalifikován napsat dobrou popularni knihu z jakékoli oblasti vědy, tím dosahne daleko více než skrze čistě apologetické dílo.  Problem je v tom, že lidé budou často naslouchat křesťasnskému pohledu na věc třeba půl hodiny – ale jakmile odejdou z naší přednášky nebo odloží náš článek, jsou ponoření zpět do světa, kde se opačný postoj považuje za samozřejmost. Dokud tato situace trvá, nějaký dalekosáhlý úspech je prostě nemožný. Musime napadnout nepřítelovy komunikační kanály.

 

To, co chceme, není více knížek o křestanství, ale vice knížek křesťanských autorů o jiných předmetech, v nichž je křesťanství skryté, v pozadi. To lze nejlépe pochopit, když na to podivame z druhé strany. Naší vírou těžko otřese nejaká kniha o Hinduismu. Pokud bychom ale četli nějakou základní knihu o geologii, botanice, politice či astronomie, a jeji závěry by poukazovaly k hinduismu, to by námi otřáslo. Moderního člověka nedělají materialistou knihy napsané na obhajobu materialismu, ale základní materialistické předpoklady ve všech ostatnich knihách. Stejně tak nebude nijak zvlášť znepokojen knihami o křesťanství, ale bude zneklidněn, když kdykoliv bude chtít koupit levnou populárně naučnou knihu v nějakém vědním oboru, zjistí, že nejlepší dílo na trhu napsal nějaký křesťan. Prvním krokem k znovuobrácení tohoto národa je série knih napsaných křesťany, které mohou porazit sekularni alternativy na jejich vlastním hřišti. Křesťanstvi těchto knih by muselo být v pozadi, nevyslovené, a věda samozřejmě naprosto poctivá. Překrucovat vědu v zájmu apologetiky by byl hřích a pošetilost.

One Child

“One child is enough for you, the rest you will discard.
It’s in our nation’s interest; this choice is not so hard.”
A parent’s pure delight is turned into a source of woe,
As they decide which child to keep and which they should let go.

Millions are torn to pieces while still in the womb,
Their tiny bodies adding to another smoky plume.
Many more are left to freeze upon a winter’s day,
Abandoned in the street as if they all can make their way.

Shafts of light come filtered through the roadside’s fragrant trees,
The smells of woks and pans at work, all carried by the breeze,
Piano music interrupted by a teacher’s scold,
None of this brings comfort to a little girl that’s cold.

She’d love someone to scold her for an errant finger placed,
Since then they’d think their time’s investment in her not a waste.
She pines for Grandma’s village hut, with its floor of earth,
Nought but worms to play with, but folk grateful for her birth.

She makes it all the way back ‘home’, but then is left once more,
Each time the police bring her back to that unloving door.
Until at last that father is imprisoned for his crimes,
The girl sent to an orphanage to see more pleasant times.

Those places, though, are more like prisons; she soon runs away,
But there is no long-term escape, the world is bleak and grey.
All these troubles teach her that all parents are a fraud,
That Mother State and Party are her only loving lord.

The chairman of a boarding school then contradicts this thought,
He takes her and her cellmates in and treats them as he ought,
As children, pupils, precious lives of worth and purity;
He sacrifices plenty to restore their dignity.

(For this and other kindnesses, he’s later thrown in jail,
Performing better than the state, that’s far beyond the pale!)
The school’s house mother lavishes her love on all of them,
Soothing all the fears and pain from which her anger stemmed.

As years go by, a loving family seems a distant dream,
No-one will adopt a girl who’s now into her teens;
She must now start to think of when she’ll be a full adult,
On her own, responsible for each choice and result;

Then comes the news of a kind couple from a distant land,
Who long to take her in and hold her with their loving hands.
They’ve sons and want a daughter; they’ve come thousands of miles
To love someone this state discards, to treasure her sweet smile.

Inside her, softly, safe despair gives way to deadly hope
That tempts her from her lonely ledge to grasp this rescue rope.
Her broken self will have to die to birth a new creation,
As she is flown to her new life in that wild, distant nation.

In that odd land, one child is precious—missed when they are gone;
For those strange folk, one child is valued—each and every one.

Fourteen Years a Hero

It is my wedding anniversary today, and this is this year’s poem (my wife actually forgot it was our anniversary until I told her the poem was ready last night, so there are some bonus brownie points for me 🙂 )

Fourteen Years a Hero

Fourteen years a hero, for putting up with me,
And all we do that nearly drives you to insanity:
Noises, fights, and interruptions, not to mention screams;
Sometimes even so bad they’re invading your sweet dreams.

I’d like to think that other times can make your burdens light,
With kindnesses and cuddles and sometimes a such sweet sight
Of learning a new lesson, training a new skill;
Overcoming barriers through pure determined will.

Could I be part of making each day easier for you?
Sharing all your burdens, helping you get through,
Offering my shoulder for those times you need to cry
Or standing by your side as we enjoy a star-filled sky.

Here’s to forty more years of our love and unity,
Through joy and sorrow, times of plenty and of scarcity,
You are the greatest friend I’ve had, we make such a good team,
Together we reflect a glimpse of heaven’s holy gleam.

When Seventy Has Called Upon

I am currently in England at my parents’ house, where on Friday we flew in to surprise my mum for her 70th birthday, with further surprises including a massive party in a beautiful walled garden with more than 60 guests. I gave my mum a copy of my poetry collection, together with some Czech crystal imitation flowers that my boys bought for her. My dad privately joked to me that he should have hired me to write a poem for the main event. These sorts of jokes are dangerous, because it got me thinking and I didn’t sleep well, with lines occurring to me in between the bouts of sleep. For the first time in my life, I gave in to the muse completely and got up in the middle of the night, sneaking into the lounge to scribble down those lines and add to them, then filled out the rest and polished it in the morning.

This is the result, which I recited as the finale of the event, after at least twenty people had stood up to talk about the wonderful ways in which my mum had helped them and been there for them in their hour of need. It went down very well, lots of people asked for a copy of the poem and a number told me they were going to buy a copy of Selected Verse: Friends and Family later. I hope you all like it just as much.

When Seventy Has Called Upon

When seventy has called upon us to commemorate,
Lie in wait with piled-high plate, surprise and celebrate
A life that’s given so much more than it can ever know;
So many wounds she’s helped to heal, so many lives to grow.

When seventy has called upon our minds to be revised,
We see so many of life’s treasures to be grasped and prized;
So many moments of pure fun, so many lessons learned,
And many talks and punishments that we so sorely earned.

When seventy has called upon our bones to be denied,
Will we still have such energy when we get in our stride?
So many projects worked on, gardens dug and sown,
And so much bounty harvested when all those plants have grown.

When seventy has called upon our eyes to be admired,
We see so much to emulate, so much to be desired;
So many lonely stomachs filled and broken hearts made whole
Through simple acts of kindness from this ever-loving soul.

When seventy has called upon our souls to be inspired,
How will our eyes be opened, our imaginations fired?
We’ll see the needs around us that we ourselves can meet,
Sadness we can turn to joy when broken souls we treat.

When heaven’s glee has called upon our souls to be revived,
Will we have won so many over to the angel’s side?
Will our wakes abound with those so full of gratitude
For a life so generous with such great attitude?
Will the Good Shepherd welcome us and shout aloud, “Well done!”
As heartily as he will do for my amazing mum?