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The hot rod Mustang

(A poem about sex and God and marriage)

 

Not even old enough to drive

When it rounded a corner and rolled by

Beautiful, loud, and full of promise,

I stood there gape mouthed and moon eyed,

Starting at the rumbling fury that was a Hot Rod Mustang

And that which would become my obsession.

 

I told my friends and they told me,

For they too had glimpsed those hopped up and fanciful cars.

We speculated what it would be like to drive such splendid machines,

All of us projecting unveiled assumptions with feigned expertise.

Ricky, the kid down the street, even claimed to have even driven one,

When he was away on vacation the past summer,

But we all called him liar, liar

Despite him saying, I swear to God,

Honest I did, really.

 

Ricky did have magazines, though, lots of them

With full-color photographs of incredibly hot rides

That we perused feverously, lavishing our attentions

On those glossy fantastic images.

Those cars were not like the ones our parents drove, mind you,

Though we knew they actually did drive,

For that is what mothers and fathers do.

Those muscle cars were truly of another kind,

Leaping from the page,

Full of heat, speed, thunder, and rancid tire smoke.

 

One time I snuck into a movie theatre,

Dark with vile sticky floors,

Where a hot rod Mustang flashed across the screen.

Fishtailing with tires squealing,

That car flat out hauled ass down the road

Launching airborne over hills, banging back down on the shocks,

Lurching and swerving and rocking before sliding sideways

To a sudden desperate stop.

 

I now know what I saw simply was not real.

Multiple cars wrecked in the filming

Stunt drivers suffered horrific injuries

Strategic camera angles accentuated every lunge and turn.

But something about that movie and all those magazines

Gave me expectations about the automotive experience

No amount of public school drivers’ education could correct.

 

Then I discovered a hot rod Mustang in my father’s garage.

We were estranged at the time, so I would sneak over to his place

And peer through the window at the car parked in shadows.

Eventually I jimmied open the door, slinked inside

And actually touched the hot rod Mustang.

The door was unlocked, so I got behind the wheel, grabbed the shifter

And imagined nighttime cruises with a girl beside me,

Her long hair blowing in the wind.

I took a real girl to the garage not long after

And we did just about everything in that car except actually drive.

I found the keys in the glove box,

Started the engine,

And we got all hot and bothered in the garage,

Nearly poisoning ourselves on exhaust.

We were still too young to be legal,

When our excitement mounted to a frenzy,

And I pushed open the garage door,

Rolled the car out on the street

Banging and grinding the gears.

We almost wrecked before we got the thing back inside.

It was such a fiasco,

You would have thought we’d have given up on the Mustang.

In a way, we did, because after that bleak anti-climactic day,

We never got in the Mustang again, though she did ride in cars with other boys.

 

I found another with whom to ride.

We put serious mileage on the car,

Did all kinds of things my father wouldn’t have approved of

While courting both exhilaration and disaster alike,

But we convinced ourselves otherwise.

Other girls followed

And the Mustang was driven far too hard

Until my father barged in.

He knew all along what I was doing.

Why didn’t you say anything? I asked

He said I already knew I wasn’t supposed to be driving that car

And I wouldn’t have listened anyway.

He made it plain I was his son,

That he loved me

And even though I had used that word so much,

I had no idea what it even meant.

You ready to listen, now? He asked.

Yes, I replied.

Stay away from that car, until I say otherwise.

 

For the most part I did stay away,

But others drove hot rods like they stole them

Busting up everything and leaving others to pay.

Occasional women tried to coerce me into taking them for a ride,

Sometimes laughing as they spoke.

Maybe they saw me as a challenge,

Or even worse, a charity case.

 

I have to admit, I kept thinking about that Mustang,

Even while shunning the movies and magazines.

Memory was my own dank theatre I kept finding myself in

Before walking out and squinting in the light.

 

When I finally got married,

My father awarded me the keys to the hot rod Mustang.

My wife and I drove a lot, especially during our first year together.

Mostly it was quite wonderful,

Except I would remember the way this one girlfriend

Used to throw her head back when I shifted gears:

My wife didn’t do that;

I wondered if the guys she used to ride with had bigger engines.

We worked through it all, one piece at a time,

Because the Mustang requires maintenance,

But I’d have to say it’s been a good ride.

 

Now, the hot rod Mustang is parked a lot of the time.

It’s not what you’d call a daily driver,

But we still relish our rides together.

Sometimes, just a quick jaunt to the corner, sometimes a nice long cruise,

We’ve made the car our own and no one else’s.

There was this kid, though, just the other day,

Who gawked as we rolled by,

Standing nearly motionless on the pedals of his bike,

Transfixed by the hot rod Mustang.

I wanted to tell him,

Yeah, the ride is pretty darn cool,

Just don’t get too worked up about it

Because there’s a whole lot about life

And especially love

That doesn’t have anything

To do with a hot rod Mustang.

 

4/05/2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Marriage: A strong house with no back door

blog-marriage-strong-house-pictureAt this point, our kids are grown and my wife and I are closer to sixty than fifty. Not much is written about love between people like us, and we rarely see ourselves portrayed in movies.  Most of the great love stories focus on relationships before marriage, or on unrequited love that is never consummated, or on adulterous liaisons filled with intrigue and excitement. Real love like ours, though, is tough; its substance is a covenant, and it is more likely to grow into contentment rather than buzz with exhilaration.

Christian marriage is radical in its absolute commitment. We enter the relationship and promise before God to have no other lover. When I made my vows, there was no rider that exempted me from those “’till death do you part” pledges if I became bored, restless, stressed, depressed, or simply found someone I thought might be prettier or more entertaining.

At its core, the covenant of marriage is a decision to love, which runs deeper than mere emotion. This love doesn’t ask how I feel; this love demands that I act, but for me this commitment has resulted in emotion and contentment beyond simple romance that often amounts to little more than narcissism with a sense of novelty.

This married love is not always exciting, at least not like the danger and rebellion and raw emotion of young love expressed in secret rooms and backseats of cars parked in deserted places. This is love of another kind, a love that holds my spouse above all others. In a room full of people, there is everyone else, and then there is my wife.

I used to quote a line from a T-Bone Burnett song to her: “All the other girls look the same standing next to you.” This statement is true because there are the other several billion females out in the world, but she is the only one for me. All the rest are in a mutually excluded class.

At this point, my wife isn’t the same girl I married, nor do I expect her to be. She is a fully mature woman, one who has borne my children and raised them well. She has loved me, supported me, and served me for years, and she has been the recipient of my love as well. There is no one like her.

Images of beauty surround me, but I ignore their siren song and find it sad when older men leave their wives for younger women, or even that they find them overly alluring. Youthful beauty, sex, and even romantic love are transient, but God’s love is eternal, and that ultimately must be the strength of any marriage.

There have been times when my wife and I have looked at each other and wondered what we had in common, but there has always been Christ, and He has always been enough. He is our common ground regardless of our differences. Individually and together, my wife and I seek Him and desire His will, part of which involves us continuing together in love, whatever may come our way.

Real Christian marriage is a brave long shot that works its wonders all the time, even in this age of selfish desire. Two people who have said “yes” to God say “yes” to each other, and they exclude all others to celebrate this most intimate of human bonds.

Marriage is a strong house we enter that has no back door exit, and therein we learn to truly love with the unrelenting grace that God lavishly provides.

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We were married in a 7-11 parking lot

More than three decades ago, my wife and I were wed in front of a convenience store. The decision to do so was practical: our church met in a school, and getting married in a gym or cafeteria wasn’t our idea of a dream wedding.

My parents came to the rescue and made it possible to use the church building I had grown up in. Unfortunately, our pastor wasn’t licensed in Washington, D.C. where the church was located, and making him “legal” would have been a bureaucratic hassle.

The solution was quite simple. On the evening of our wedding rehearsal, we simply went out the church doors, crossed Eastern Avenue, and improvised some vows for the pastor on the first piece of Maryland real estate we came to, the 7-11 parking lot.

The maid of honor and best man, my brother, witnessed it all, and a snapshot commemorates the event. In it, we are all smiling with the 7-11 sign in the background while my brother is holding a Slurpee and a Marlboro cigarette.

That night my bride and I went to separate beds in different residences. The 7-11 was good enough for the government, but God deserved better, and we held to a notion some find rather quaint and outdated, that sex is reserved for a man and woman after making life-long promises before the Maker of the Universe.

The next day my wife and I celebrated a church wedding with vows we had written ourselves, and there was some inspired preaching and lots of good music. Some guys from our church used guitars, electric bass, keyboards, and drums to create instrumentals prior to the service that could best be described as jazz-rock, a classical guitarist provided the processional, worship choruses were played and sung, and a couple of friends shared special songs.

My buddy, who looked a lot like a young Sammy Davis Jr without a glass eye, offered a fine gospel rendition of “You Are Everything to Me,” which my bride and I selected because the song was about Jesus, not us.

The service was very beautiful, and that night, my wife and I consummated our marriage, as they used to say before people reversed the order, like is so often the case now. You know, have sex, live together, maybe even bring a child into the world, and then get married. Or not. Whatever makes you happy.

So much has changed in thirty-one years. A couple of summers after the wedding, my buddy who sang the gospel song came out as gay and left the church.

Not long after that, my wife and I moved from the area, but he did visit us once. We have a photograph of him smiling and holding our infant daughter, but now she’s grown up and married, and my buddy and I drifted far apart as friends too often do.

I have no idea where he is, but I hope he’s well, and it would be great to get together. There is so much we could talk about.

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For Linda on the cusp of our empty nest

Here we are with our children

Almost completely gone

And we wonder:

Is this house a home

And who are we without them?

For me it’s easier, to be sure,

My dear wife and friend,

Because you are a nurturer of all things:

Flowers, wild birds, mongrel dogs,

And not only children.

On the other hand, I am a mere man.

Still, I am not so different from you:

Longing for a home

We truly made one together

And it has been good.

When I was younger but all grown up

Like our own children are now,

I was too old for mother and father

But yearned for a sanctuary in the midst

Of all the craziness and toil.

Before you, it was only me,

And then it was us,

But it felt just like home

With only you and me and God,

That unbreakable cord of three strands.

Later, we added to ourselves

Children who were precious and delightful.

Nonetheless, they were our own tiny crosses of sorts

Nailing our self-interest down and making it good as dead.

But resurrection and joy came in abundance:

As we gave ourselves to them

They returned more than I ever expected.

And now they too are about

To spread their tendrils of love

And create homes of their very own.

That leaves us with you and me

Still bound together in love

Just as when we started.

So I remind you that we are still at home

With only one another in the house.

Perhaps what you feel

With our children going away

Is just a reminder that we

Are essentially pilgrims still on the move,

Always questing and yearning

But nurtured by foretastes of unsurpassing

Grace and peace and, above all else,

Love beyond measure

And certainly beyond comprehension.

It is no wonder that we are a bit restless

On this side of death’s golden threshold.

One day we most likely will not cross together.

Rather, one will go ahead of the other,

And whoever gets there first

Eventually will greet the other and say,

“Welcome home.”

For the very first time

We will mean it absolutely and completely and forever.

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Marriage, funerals, and wearing suits

It’s peculiar, but I’ve noticed that over the past several years, I’ve fallen into the pattern of reversing the words “wedding” and “funeral.” I’ll say that I’m going to a funeral when it’s actually a marriage ceremony I’m to attend, and I’ll say I’m going to a wedding when it’s a funeral that’s scheduled. I could chalk it up to simply getting older, but it probably has more to do with the fact that I almost never wear a suit unless I’m going to one of those two events. In fact, I refer to this seldom-worn garment as my “burying and marrying suit.”

On the other hand, it’s occurred to me that perhaps Christians would do better if we all thought of weddings a bit more like funerals, and funerals a bit more like weddings. Perhaps our rather pathetic divorce rate is partially due to a misconception regarding marriage right from the start. We see marriage as our happily ever after ticket, the fulfillment of our desires, and fail to see it as it is.

Entering into the covenant of marriage requires a death of sorts. Both husband and wife forsake their former independent ways of living and become one together. No longer does the man have a life, nor does the woman have a life. No, together, they now have a life completely entwined with one another and with God.

Of course this all implies a resurrection of sorts because, while the man and woman both die to their former ways of life, they now enter into new life together. After all, we Christians are children of God because Christ died and was resurrected, bearing all our sins and making a way for us to be joined to God so we can live forever with Him.

That is why funerals ought to be more like weddings. If the one who has died was in Christ, the living should celebrate more than grieve the fact that the person has been resurrected to a new life, unshackled from the sin and pain and decay of this present world.

So let us embrace a bit more death in marriage and celebrate more life in the death of beloved Christians.

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