Something Wiener This Way Comes

An Ode to Das Weiner schnitzel (My Dachsund, Tilly, 1997-2009)

My little wiener dog
Meaty and muscular
You take the corner in a frenzy
Brown pads skidding on the hardwood floor
Ears flapping like a flying nun
Schnell! Schnell!
Get the sock!
Grit your teeth, tug-o-war
Grind the pig’s ear, chase the tail
You sniff the grass and beg for bits
Pee the floor and take a nap
Nein! Nein!
No more kibble for you now,
Fat dogs are bad dogs
You blitzkrieg, you yapping little disaster
Four legs, needle-teeth, tuna-breath
Der Hund, my hound, I eat you up!



Broken and Beautiful – A Dramatic Reading

If you’re organizing a healing or repentance type service, maybe this “reader’s theatre” piece will benefit you. There’s need for only one read through with your group and you could project it on the rear screen for your readers so they wouldn’t have to hold the script. Easy and no memorization! Enjoy!

“Broken & Beautiful”                                                                                  

By John Chisum


READER 1:                 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.


READER 2:                 I am broken…


READER 3:                 … broken…


READER 4:                 … broken…


READER 1:                 Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.


READER 2:                 Forgive my prayerlessness.


READER 3:                 Forgive my faithlessness.


READER 4:                 Forgive my doubt and unbelief.


READER 1:                 I am recovering from a wounded heart.


READER 2:                 I am recovering from my family of origin.


READER 3:                 I am recovering from my need for reputation and respect.


READER 4:                 I am recovering from my need to know the future.


READER 1:                 I am recovering from fear, anxiety, and self-obsession.


READER 2:                 I am recovering from my neglect of the Word and an authentic relationship with God.


READER 3:                 I am recovering from an inability to accept myself as anything less than perfect.


READER 4:                 I am recovering from religion and my need to control God


READER 1:                 I am broken…


READER 2:                 … broken…


READER 3:                 … broken…


READER 4:                 Who am I?


READER 1:                 I am the deacon addicted to porn.


READER 2:                 I am the homemaker addicted to romance novels and soap operas.


READER 3:                 I am the teen addicted to cigarettes and marijuana.


READER 4:                 I am the alcoholic.


READER 1:                 I am the pedophile and the pervert.


READER 2:                 I am the attorney on the take.


READER 3:                 I am the pastor having an affair with his secretary.


READER 4:                 I am the addicted gambler who’s lost it all.


READER 1:                 I am the wife who has lost all love for her husband.


READER 2:                 I am the abusive father who has lost his wife and children.


READER 3:                 I am the pathological liar and manipulator.


READER 4:                 I am the girl who’s had multiple abortions.


READER 1:                 I am sitting in your congregation.


READER 2:                 I am the people on your praise team.


READER 3:                 I am the sinful human that Jesus came to die for.


READER 4:                 I am every man.


READER 1:                 I am every woman.


READER 2:                 Who am I?


READER 3:                 I am broken…


READER 4:                 …broken…


READER 1:                 …broken…


READER 2:                 I stand in the company of the great sinners in the Bible.


READER 3:                 Adam who committed high treason against God


READER 4:                 Cain who murdered his brother over worship


READER 1:                 Abraham who was ready to sell his wife to save himself


READER 2:                 Esau who sold his birthright for a bowl of soup


READER 3:                 Moses who murdered an Egyptian


READER 4:                 Rahab a harlot


READER 1:                 Lot’s wife who looked back


READER 2:                 David who lusted after Bathsheba, conceived a child with her and then murdered her husband


READER 3:                 Gomer an unfaithful wife to Hosea


READER 4:                 The nation of Israel who repeatedly disobeyed God


READER 1:                 I am Peter who denied Christ three times


READER 2:                 I am the prodigal


READER 3:                 I am the fearful steward who buried his talent


READER 4:                 I am Judas


READER 1:                 I am Ananias and Sapphira who lied to the Holy Spirit


READER 2:                 I am a human being.


READER 3:                 I am a man born in sin.


READER 4:                 I am a man prone to bondage.


READER 1:                 I am God’s creation.


READER 2:                 I am God’s possession.


READER 3:                 I am God’s responsibility.


READER 4:                 I am broken…


READER 1:                 … broken…


READER 2:                 …broken…


READER 3:                 But for all I am, I am loved by the Great I Am.


ALL:                           I am broken and beautiful.   


This reading may be reproduced without permission from the author PROVIDED that you print “Written by John Chisum. All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2008 by John Chisum.”

Get a Life!

“Christian worship speaks, sings, prays, and enacts the source of all created enjoyment in the divine life. What’s more, vital worship grants us a gift of our own life transformed in the promises of God. The mystery of our life hid with Christ in God is sounded and offered back to us in the praying, the singing, the elements of bread and wine, the water, the oil, and the laying on of hands.”

Don E. Saliers, Worship Come to Its Senses1


Motivational mega-marketer and behavioral-change guru Anthony Robbins2 teaches that all of our motivations in life, the things we will and won’t do (with all of their corresponding rewards or punishments), are driven by the double-edged principle of pleasure and pain. In all of his books, seminars, and materials, he says in many different ways that we do what we think will bring us the most pleasure and that we go to great lengths to avoid those things that bring us the most pain. Robbins has often produced seemingly miraculous results in his clients and followers, in some cases instantaneous freedom from addictions or phobias, simply by associating enough pleasure with the things they thought would bring them pain (like diet and exercise), or by associating enough pain with things they thought most pleasurable (like eating non-nutritious foods).

Pleasure and pain are relative, at least to some degree, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that he’s really onto something – we humans really do seek what we think brings pleasure in every area of our lives and the fact that literally billions of dollars are spent each year just marketing pharmaceuticals to us is a pretty good indication that we want to skip as much suffering and pain as we can. Although Robbins’ teaching and methods are not Christ-centered, this principle actually echoes what Jesus said in Matthew 7:13, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life and only a few find it.” Humans will pick pleasure just about every time over pain.

The fact that Christian worship is an actual discipline has seemingly escaped most present-day believers. Because we’ve done such an excellent job of reducing almost all expectations on our congregants to next-to-nothing, most churchgoers today feel no compulsion to actually enter in to corporate worship or practice it at home any time during the week. We’ve practically excused them from all responsibility for personal worship by offering such excellent music from the platform that it places no demands on group participation. As Michael Walters points out in Can’t Wait for Sunday: Leading Your Congregation in Authentic Worship3, wrote, “When we worship God for who He is and what He has done, worship will prove transforming. Thus, the use of music in worship ought to be transformational. It ought to facilitate the discipleship and maturation of people in the faith. Liturgical music that merely entertains the crowd or showcases the skill of the musicians falls short of its intended purpose.” I believe the reason that we’ve come to this point in many of our churches is because we’ve had too little understanding of the discipline and theology of worship, along with an understanding of its “intended purpose(s)” individually and corporately, and we’ve somehow allotted this understanding (discipline) to the pain column. As Robbins so aptly puts it, we avoid the “pain” of discipline, even as Christ’s devoted disciples (note that these have the same root, disciple and discipline). It’s in the discipline practiced over time that reaps the greatest benefit, as any aerobics instructor or personal trainer will tell you if your goal is to shed unwanted pounds. We miss the fruit of transforming worship in our lives because we only practice it for about twenty minutes once a week on Sunday mornings. My friend, Jean, says that “the Devil’s in the details”. I say that “God is in the discipline.”

Christ and His teachings were almost always counter-cultural and even counter-intuitive. He had a knack for shocking His listeners when He told them that they would have to “eat my flesh” and “drink my blood” in order to have eternal life (John 6:53). He told the disciples that they could walk on water, heal sick people, feed multitudes with a few bread crumbs and sardines, and that there existed a Father in heaven that had only been known up to that time as an unpronounceable tetragramatron, YHWH. Even though He used earthy metaphors in his stories like seed, dirt, and water, He often assigned new meanings to those simple things by re-associating them for his listeners (could this be where Robbins got his technique?). In the famous John 4 passage where He interacted with the Samaritan woman at the well, He re-associated the cool, clear artesian water in Jacob’s well (Bir Ya’qub) with a living stream that could be in her heart if she took one drink of what He offered to her. Jesus also re-assigned, or re-associated the stale rituals of the Hebrews, infusing them with new meaning as He fulfilled “all the law and the prophets” (John 1:45) before their very eyes. For them, through His actions and words, He re-worked the dead rituals of their religion into life-giving principles that affected everything from here to eternity.

True worship is much more than re-associations, of course, but we all need a few of them along the way. Churches struggling with worship renewal often need to re-associate their historic traditions, holding onto what is good about them, while incorporating some forward movement for the sake of reaching current culture. People fear losing what has been dear to them in their traditions until they see that what is most valuable in those traditions can be effectively handed on to the next generation with a little updating. In the end, Christ’s aim is to redirect, re-associate, and realign our lives with His own through His completed work at Calvary and by the ongoing ministry of His Spirit in and with us. We are transformed as humans when we worship, spend time in the Word, experience great fellowship (koinonia), and live the disciplined life of devoted Christians. There is no separating the discipline and transformation, for it is the discipline that brings about the transformation. While many people (including me!) would love to sidestep the hard work of discipline in our lives, to be more like Christ means we practice the things He has proscribed as healthy and good. As Don Saliers said in the beginning quote, our lives are “given back to us” as we yield them to Him and worship Him in singing, praying, dancing, the elements of the table, and in all the balance of healthy Christian living – something even Tony Robbins could never do.


Heavenly Father, I pray that You would open my eyes to the areas of my life that need more guidance, instruction, and even discipline. I pray that I could be a more balanced, healthy, and effective Christian believer, able to bear witness of Your goodness and love in this earth. Let the ministry of Your word and Spirit be real to me now, in Jesus’ Name. Amen.



1 Don E. Saliers, Worship Come To Its Senses – simply one of the best books out on worship right now

2  Michael Walters, Can’t Wait for Sunday: Leading Your Congregation in Authentic Worship – this is the book I should have written – I love this book and think every pastor and worship leader should read it!



© Copyright  John Chisum. All Rights Reserved.

 For reprints or other permissions contact John at


From Pig Pens to Palaces

Grace is outrageous. I don’t mean the girl you dated in High School. I’m talking about God and His outrageous grace. The whole concept of forgiving sin is completely inhuman – it goes against the grain of our human nature to let someone off the hook for any reason, especially if the sin is heinous. Do you believe God forgives sin? What about bad sins? Can God forgive murderers? Child molesters? Thieves and adulterers? You betcha and He does anytime they stop to ask Him to from a sincere heart. That doesn’t mean they won’t suffer the consequences of their actions, as well they should. What it does mean is that there will probably be a lot of people with us in heaven who we don’t think should be there. Like I said, grace is outrageous.

If you think there are some people that God shouldn’t forgive, you’re not alone. It’s a common feeling that has more to do with our own inability to forgive than with God’s inexhaustible grace. King David struggled with it. Paul the Apostle struggled with it. Jesus considered it such an important topic that He devoted at least one entire parable to it, completely disturbing His disciples with the idea that God forgives when we do not. In short, any human with one ounce of justice in his or her bones can be downright offended by God’s outrageous grace. We would much rather see someone pay eternally for their sin than be forgiven by God. It’s just so hard to imagine God forgiving someone for abusing a child or lying or stealing or killing, that is, until we need to be forgiven for our own sins.

Let’s look at a few references from Scripture to get our feet grounded on this forgiveness thing. No one is a more famous worshiper than the little shepherd boy who became king of all Israel, David. Chosen by God from among all of Jesse’s older and stronger sons he was called from the fields and hills tending sheep to become Israel’s fiercest and mightiest king. Although brave and a warrior, David was a skilled musician and God’s Spirit had come upon him in great power at his anointing by Samuel. In 1 Samuel 16:1-13 where this account is found, the Bible says that “the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him” (v. 14). While we cannot quite get our theology around how or why the Lord would allow an evil spirit to torment Saul, the point is that the Lord had rejected Saul as king (see 1 Samuel 15 fore details) and anointed David, the warrior psalmist. One of the servants in Saul’s house knew of David’s skill as a worshiper and he was called to play for Saul. As David played, Saul would find relief from the troubling spirit. David eventually goes on to become King of Israel, defeating all of the nation’s enemies and is the most celebrated king the nation had ever known.

All was not perfect with David, however. He was human, like us, and was at times deeply sinful in his behaviors. In 2 Samuel 11 we have an account of adultery and murder that rivals anything on television today. In short, David, the mighty king and psalmist of Israel, fell into lust for another man’s wife, Bathsheba, slept with her and she became pregnant with his child. He arranged to have her soldier husband killed, one of his own men, and then took her for himself. Verse 27 of this chapter says, “But the thing David had done displeased the Lord.” In the next chapter, Nathan the prophet rebukes David and he repents. God’s judgment came upon David’s house and the son borne to him by Bathsheba died. In our own moral economy, David should have gone to the electric chair for what he did. Instead, God allows him to keep right on running the nation! In Acts 13:22, David is even referred to as “a man after” God’s own heart and he is remembered by us as a man of great worship, war, and victory much more than an adulterer and a murderer.

Another interesting case in God’s economy of grace is a Saul found in the New Testament, the man who would become the great Apostle Paul. Paul was a great Pharisee, highly educated, influential, popular, and powerful. There was no greater persecutor of the fledgling cult known as the Christians in Jerusalem and Saul was determined to stamp out yet another annoying detraction from Caesar’s lordship. Saul saw to it that many Christians were killed, including Stephen in Acts 7. Acts 8:1-3 says, “And Saul was there, giving approval to his death. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison” (NIV). (Scary stuff like this is still happening in our world today and the organization Voice of the Martyrs reports that persecution of believers is more rampant and deadly than in all of history today – check them out at Once again, though, God’s economy is not our own. Where we would have Saul locked up and maybe even put to death for all of his atrocities against other humans, God just calls him to be the most dynamic believer, preacher, and author of Scripture we’ve ever had! God changes his name to Paul as a symbol of his inner change and then transforms him from the greatest persecutor of the church to the greatest proponent of the church in all time.

Two last Bible stories I want to mention regarding forgiveness are the healing of the paralytic in Matthew 9 and the story of the prodigal in Luke 15. First the wayward son, a story that may remind you of someone you know. The young man came to his father and requested that his inheritance be given even before the father’s death, which is the usual customary time to receive an inheritance. This was more than a casual request – it meant that the boy no longer wanted anything to do with his family or his father. It meant, in fact, that to him his father was already dead. This broken-hearted father gave the boy his inheritance and the boy left, seemingly forever. But when the money was gone and the boy wound up eating corn husks fed to pigs, he came to himself and made the long journey home. Luke 15:20 says, “So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him” (NIV). What a beautiful picture of God! And though we have done the same thing to God as this lost son had done to his father, God watches for us every day, straining His eyes to see one slight movement from us towards Him and then He runs to us, throws His arms of grace around us, and kisses us once again in the sweetest forgiveness.

And finally, in Matthew 9:1-2, some men brought their friend, a paralytic, to Jesus. The friend was lying on a mat, unable to walk, to work, to care for himself in any way. Verse 2 says, “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven’” (NIV). First, it was “their” faith that Jesus saw, not the paralytic’s faith! Sometimes it is the faith of others that blesses us. Secondly, though we do not know how this man’s sins may have contributed to his condition, Jesus pronounces absolution knowing the condition of his heart and frees him from his paralyzed state. Sin brings a crippling to our souls that only forgiveness, God’s forgiveness, can heal. It is His outrageous grace that forgives and heals, releasing us to be the believers we long to be. It is His amazing gift of forgiveness that takes us from the pig pens and puts us in the palace. It is His lavish love and unfathomable cleansing power that bring health to us in spirit, soul, and body. There is no true worship without accepting God’s gift of forgiveness into your own life. Sin blocks us from the enjoyment of God’s presence. We will never be the sincere worshipers and leaders God has called us to be without forgiving ourselves and others as He indeed forgives us. Today, I invite you to experience and to walk in God’s outrageous grace!

Heavenly Father, Author of outrageous grace through the cross of Jesus Christ, speak Your grace to me now. I pray that You will fill me with a sense of forgiveness for all of my sins as I confess and forsake them now and help me to receive and experience this grace of all graces deep in my heart. I pray that You will empower me to be a grace-giver to all who have hurt me or sinned against me in any way. May I infect others around me today with this outrageous grace! In Christ’s lovely name I pray, amen.



© John Chisum. All Rights Reserved.

 For reprints or other permissions contact John at




What Makes a Worship Song Great?

What makes a worship song great? In this article, John Chisum shares with you his “acid test” for writing and choosing songs that make worship leading easy!


Choosing songs to use in your worship ministry is one of the non-negotiable skills of successful worship leading. Without the ability to recognize an excellent song to lead in your church, you may unwittingly subject your entire congregation to poorly crafted songs that are difficult to follow, to understand, or to sing with any gusto. If you’re like me, there’s nothing quite as unnerving as having the entire congregation just standing there with their arms folded, staring at you like you just landed from Mars. The best way I know to avoid this uncomfortable moment is to pick songs that are accessible to the most people in your congregation and teach them over a number of weeks. Listening to your group’s musical preferences is very important if you’re going to meet them with songs that they can identify with, worship with, and enjoy.

One of my favorite songs to lead is Kelly Carpenter’s Draw Me Close. Even before Michael W. Smith popularized it, I loved this song and used it often in my own private worship moments and in leading worship publicly. It has a beautiful melody, strong lyrics, and it just always seems to work for me! This song stands out in my repertoire among a handful that I go back to time and time again, a standard for me, you might say, and I imagine using this one for years to come. One of the things that makes it special to me is that it passes my “acid test” for what makes a song great. While there are many songs that I enjoy listening to, when it comes to writing for my congregation or leading songs written by others, I always look for three key things that insure that I will meet with success in leading others with that song. The three exceptional qualities that I always search for in a congregational song are: heart, art, and good doctrine.


Heart is that intangible quality in a song that makes it both universal and personal. It is relatively rare to find a song that can speak to huge crowds and to the individual simultaneously. These are the songs that we sing with great passion in our corporate celebrations, or when we’re alone driving in the car. Songs that would qualify as having authentic heart for me are great hymns like How Great Thou Art, Be Thou My Vision, or Great Is Thy Faithfulness, and newer songs like Lord, I Give You My Heart(Morgan) and Worthy is the Lamb(Zschech) from Hillsongs (of course, there are too many to list here – these are just a few examples). The songs with heart will outlast other songs that are less impacting on the level of the soul. In fact, we could use the word soul instead of the word heart and not lose a thing – people have used that word to describe secular songs for years, so why can’t we? Great songs have soul and we know it because it touches our own soul in some way, calling up emotion and feeling. The songs with the most heart can be worn out if we use them too often with our congregations –and we need to be judicious in their use (Chris Tomlin’s How Great is Our God falls in this category, for me – it’s so good I don’t want to wear it out!).


Art is not as intangible a quality as you might imagine. A song is either well-crafted or it is not. I don’t have to name any songs in this category because most of the less-than-well-crafted songs don’t last very long – if their form is off or they’re difficult to use for some reason, we discontinue using them and they fall out of our repertoire. Good art is accessible to the most people, especially when we’re discussing facilitating public worship. When worship leaders forget that they exist to serve the people, they sometimes start choosing songs that please their own preferences instead of facilitating the corporate voice of the people. Composer Brian Wren has stated,

Popular music today is soloistic; popular songs are not generally geared to  audience participation; live music is no longer the norm, so our role as listeners is reinforced. Studio sound has become normative; the result is “electronic             discouragement” because the quality of the pre-recorded sound persuades us that  our own voices have little value. 1

Michael Walters states further that, “If no one in the congregation is singing, it doesn’t matter how good the worship band is. Musicians must take great care to keep the congregation clearly in focus as service music is chosen.” 2 We, as gatekeepers for congregational worship, must guard the connection between music (including all creative arts) and our people with something far beyond mere diligence – we must be fierce, aggressive, and jealous for the glory of God – insuring that everything we do liturgically fuels the fire of white-hot worship to the One Who alone is worthy! Anything less ceases to be authentic congregational worship and slides down the slippery slope of performance for the glory of the creature (us) instead of for the glory of God. This is no excuse for mediocre performance – we must always give our best – it is a reminder that we exist to help others find their voice of praise and not just let them hear ours, as pleasant as we think that might be to them. Good art, at least in the public worship arena, will always seek to facilitate the largest number of worshipers.

Good Doctrine

Good doctrine. Again, Walters says, “The ancient church understood that lex orandi, lex credendi, the rule of prayer is the rule of faith. Theology is primarily a reflection upon worship; they are inseparable. To find our way in the current landscape of worship, we need more theology, not less.” 3 The ongoing debate over the use of hymns and choruses is partially rooted in the idea that hymns contain more theology than choruses and it is often true – the very format of hymns lends them to contain broader themes and longer lines in which to express theological concepts. Consider a verse from the Luther classic, A Mighty Fortress:


A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;

Our helper He amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing.

For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe

His craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate,

On earth is not his equal.



The song is an entire sermon in itself, as you would expect from Luther, and the whole thing holds together exquisitely from start to finish in thought and consistency. This first verse is actually incomplete without the rest of the verses because it pronounces the victory of the name of Jesus over the enemy mentioned at the end of this verse.  In this strophic (AAAA) hymn style, Luther is able to develop a lot of supportive material in the lyric that modern chorus writers aren’t able to provide due to the shorter verse style we currently employ. Think of a song like Marie Barnett’s marvelously intimate and worshipful song Breathe:


This is the air I breathe

This is the air I breathe

Your holy presence living in me

This is my daily bread

This is my daily bread

Your very word spoken to me

And I

I’m desperate for You

And I

I’m lost without You

I’m lost without You

Copyright 1995 Mercy/Vineyard Publishing/ASCAP.


The song is no less meaningful to us for its brevity and is very accessible to worshipers young and old. Its intention of drawing us close to the Lord in worship is accomplished every time we sing it and I believe this is a song that will last for years to come, as well. It’s doctrinal content isn’t as obvious as Luther’s, but it is there, nonetheless. The metaphor of God’s presence being our breath or our spirit links well with the Greek word for breath and spirit, pneuma. That His word is our daily bread alerts us to hear His voice through the Bible and in prayer. That we are lost without Him is the Gospel itself and it’s all wrapped up in a beautiful melody that is singable and easily learned by congregations everywhere – well done, Marie!

I draw close to God through these and other finely crafted songs. We as worship leaders are the primary gatekeepers to the heart, art, and good doctrine that our congregations receive. I’ve heard it said that the church receives the vast majority of its doctrine through its song and the odds are that your people won’t exit the building this coming Sunday humming your pastor’s three points, poem, and prayer. What they will be humming is the last thing you sang together. Will it be something that leads them in their worship, facilitates more faith, and ingrains the Gospel in their hearts? With the help of hundreds of years of great hymns and a few decades of some wonderful new songs, you are equipped with more than enough material to pastor your people in praise and worship. As you pray for wisdom, I believe that God will empower you to be the wise steward of Matthew 15:32 who brought out of his storehouse “treasures old and new” that will draw you and your people ever closer to the heart of God.


Heavenly Father, God of all praise and worthy of all worship – May Your praise be alive in me, Your wisdom welling up in me, and Your worship living large through me today. Draw me close to You, forgiving every moment that I have strayed. Remind me of Your presence, speak to me in the night seasons of Your love, and receive the love I offer back to You through Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior. Amen.




1 As quoted in Michael Walter’s book Can’t Wait for Sunday: Leading Your Congregation in Authentic Worship (page 134).

2 Michael Walter’s Can’t Wait for Sunday: Leading Your Congregation in Authentic Worship (page 134).

3 Michael Walter’s Can’t Wait for Sunday: Leading Your Congregation in Authentic Worship (page 50).




© Copyright 2007 by John Chisum. All Rights Reserved.

 For reprints or other permissions contact John at

Pneuma in the Greek

I saw the breath leave you
(Pneuma in the Greek)
Sallow cheeks gaunt and laid on thin bones
You weren’t you anymore
No more you

I saw you stretched out in the silky rut
Quiet with death, in a brown suit and tie
I’d never seen you wear before
I wasn’t me anymore
No more me

She and I stood at your side
Not much left, a watch and ring she kept
She shook and wept, I cried and crawled through the trails
 of our shattered history
Not one of us us anymore
Not one of us us


(c) John Chisum. All Rights Reserved. For reprints contact John at

Coming of Age (for Dad)

I see you lying there, tubes running in and out,
dangling like octupii from the most inconvenient places of your body
The labored breathing, the feeding apparatus
beeping monitors hunched over you like Robocop.
Your eyes glazed and staring,
I pray and cry a little for you, but my mind wanders back
Retreating to the few moments that shine from our past.
Once, when I was six, we stripped to our skivvies
and splashed in an icy stream, jumping from rock to rock.
Once, we rode hours together, a lifetime in the car ,
silent mile for mile when your father died.
Once, you lectured me when you found me on the couch with a girl.
Now, before me is the precipice of your life
and the span I could never reach.
Somehow, the tubes and bags, the smell of urine
and the hushed swishing of the nurse’s shoes simultaneously repulse me
and call me, lurching forward, into the coming of age.

Brontosaurus for Breakfast

It’s probably not a good thing to wake up teary.

I’m pretty sure it would be better to wake up feeling chipper, bright, alive. Maybe we should all float out of bed and twirl around the room humming a Disney theme like Snow White as the little forest animals help us smooth the bedclothes, sweep the cottage floor and fling wide the shutters for a shimmering new day, but that hasn’t been my experience yet.

I woke up this morning feeling a whole lot more like Grumpy, ready to snap at anyone or anything that happened to stumble into my swarthy path. My breath reeks, my feet and back hurt, and my eyes are refusing to focus. I feel about a half-million years old, like a brontosaurus that somehow woke up in my house this morning, transported miraculously from the paleolithic era to the 21st Century. I haven’t had my second shot of java yet so that may be half the problem. Or it might be the seemingly immense battles I’m facing right now that make the bed so appealing despite all the little forest animals waiting outside to play.

Sometimes I feel like my life has been one giant mood swing. I can feel victorious in Christ one minute and low as the fortieth ring of Dante’s Inferno the next. Life can be one big party or one big misery in about a nano-second. Anti-depressants don’t help artistic types all that much, either. They might smooth the edges a little but they can also take away the depths of feeling that feed our creativity. Some of those meds could turn Michelangelo into an accountant. Too much alcohol just feeds the darkness as many of the great writers found out to their detriment.

The only consistent answer I’ve found so far is to feel whatever I need to feel and go on with life knowing that whatever I feel right now, good or bad, will probably change in about five minutes. I am like the weather in Portland. I’m just a feeling-based person. So sue me. I am wired intrinsically to my emotions and, for the life of me, cannot extricate myself from the ups and downs of my silly little insides. The good news is that God loves me enough to have made David, Asaph, and the other psalm writers open up their insides long ago so I wouldn’t feel so bad, at least for the five minutes or so that I read them.

In Psalm 69:1-4 David writes out of his anguish (and I’m sure stinky bad breath because he had to hide in caves a lot):

“Save me, O God,
for the waters have come up to
my neck.
I sink in the miry depths,
where there is no foothold.
I have come into the deep waters;
the floods engulf me.
I am worn out calling for help;
my throat is parched.
My eyes fail
looking for my God.
Those who hate me without reason
outnumber the hairs of my head;
many are my enemies without cause,
those who seek to destroy me.
I am forced to restore
what I did not steal.”

David had some very real enemies. His own son, Absolom, wanted to cut his head off. He was a warrior-king who felt things at a very deep emotional level, like me, and he wasn’t afraid to wear a tunic and play a harp. He kicked butt and wrote songs. So far my worst enemies are in my head and my teen-aged daughter still wants me to drive her to the mall. I don’t own a tunic or an ephod but I do have some baggy jeans. I’m just learning that it’s okay to sing a lament or two along with the happy-clappy praise stuff that can momentarily lift any of us out of the doldrums.

Maybe that’s the real lesson here. God is big enough to hear the praise and take the complaints. He doesn’t love us more when we’re happy than when we’re sad. He is with us in the good and the bad, when we want to love Him and when we can’t understand why He doesn’t seem to be listening. He sees us when we’re on the mountaintop and when we’re hiding in a cave somewhere fearing for our lives. Maybe it’s just okay to feel what we feel and remember that Jesus was well acquainted with our weaknesses. Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet without sin.”

I was tempted to stay in the bed today. I may be tempted to play the part of Grumpy the Brontosaurus Dwarf all day if things don’t seem to be going my way or if I don’t seem to be getting what I want. I may snap and bite at my loved ones if I don’t think life is fair and I may even complain to God. If I do, at least I will be in good company. Maybe I’ll wake up tomorrow feeling a little more like Happy, Doc, or Sneezy. In the meantime, brontosaurus for breakfast, anyone?


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