Tuesday, June 30, 2015


Photo by Kendall Cox

No matter how loudly
you speak about God and your
religious practices and beliefs –
no matter how sound your orthodoxy –

   your voice is a fragile whisper
   when compared to the
   of how you live with
   and treat other people –
   your visible orthopraxy.

      That's the reason Jesus couldn't
      separate the commands
      to love God and love neighbor.
      Integrity of faith requires both;
      one cannot exist without the other.

         © 2015 Todd Jenkins

Monday, June 29, 2015

Facing Reality

Hurt and Anger are opposite spheres of a small world named Fear.  It is a world that masquerades as ultimate, unchangeable reality, though it is none of the three.  Much confusion arises when human suffering is not differentiated from fear.  Suffering is as real– as human– as we can get.  Fear is a magnified illusion that rarely, if ever, delivers on its promise that our obeisance to its anxious pleas for hiding and separation will protect us from more suffering. 

Suffering touches deep places of body, mind, and spirit.  Its integration into our whole being is precisely what makes us human.  Its presence offers us the opportunity to become what God intended.  This journey of becoming fully human – the trip we call life –  travels through the fields of suffering. In one form or another, suffering is life-long and never easy.

Fear is the result of being overwhelmed by the mystery and enormity of human experience and life’s transformational capacity.  It is what causes us to shrink into a translucent wisp of lesser possibilities.  We succumb because we mistakenly believe that “less” will somehow be more manageable.  In reality we are not managers at all.  When it comes to suffering, management is not an option; it is a denial.  Pain may be managed, but suffering cannot.

Hurt is an inward-turning, victimized response to suffering.  With it, we personalize the pain and seek to find a simple and quick way out, most often at the expense of others.  We often recognize our own ability to self-inflict physical injury, whether it is simple clumsiness and carelessness or more pernicious masochism. 

Emotional, spiritual, and relational injury, however, are most often blamed on others. This is where hurt comes in. When we choose to cast all blame for pain and suffering beyond ourselves (including blaming it on God), we create a lightning rod which cannot help but cause ourselves to be the ground. That is to say, abdicating all responsibility for our own pain is the surest path to never healing.

Anger is a cousin to Fear’s denial.  It is an outward explosion of Fear.  With it, we attempt to create a force-field of protection against sufferings that we have not yet examined.  It’s a smokescreen that attempts to re-focus attention away from our own vulnerability toward the actions of others, and its trigger is seldom limited to immediate words and actions.  Most often, it’s an accumulated reaction to a host of unexamined encounters.

Anger often masquerades in religious uniform. We justify it with phrases like “righteous indignation” convincing ourselves that we have a moral right and responsibility to unleash our anger, so long as it is on behalf of someone else.  The chances of our righteous indignation being justified are far greater when it is expressed on behalf of voiceless, powerless people, and far less when it is used to protect Jesus or the church from people we believe are fundamentally different from us.

Sometimes righteous indignation is a sacred exercise.  Other times it is only a risky shortcut through unknown territory. Unexamined piety’s anger chills the soul, crusting another layer of resentment between one heart and another.

I would like to tell you that I am at peace with my life’s suffering, that I never allow my pain to turn into hurt and blame, that I never project anger on those near and dear to me, and that my righteous indignation is always sacredly appropriate. But that would not be facing reality. When today’s actions and reactions are better than yesterday’s, I know that grace has triumphed. Other days, I pray for mercy.

© 2015 Todd Jenkins

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Love Grows

How simple it once was—diapers 
and meals on one end
awe, admiration, and 
total dependency on the other;
then the stretching began—
curiosity, personality, disagreement,
anxiety, joy, hopes, 
dreams, “protective custody”

One awed at individuation; 
fearful of risk, dangers;
another trying on ideas and 
beliefs like hats in a haberdashery.
Runaway horse crashing through 
deep woods on a new moon;
one releasing from without, 
clutching from within.

Youth imagines an inverse relationship 
twixt age and wisdom,
infatuated with today’s grape, 
bored with yesterday’s raisin.
Too busy reinventing the wheel 
to stop and comprehend
the inevitable consequence 
of vinegar or wine in the long run.

We are all easily confused into believing 
that the middle of life
is the heart of the matter—
the place where we imagine ourselves
masters of our own destiny, 
frantically working and deciding,
planning a future that would 
do an investment counselor proud.

Then one day we wake up and 
it’s déjà vu all over again;
dependency creeps surely but 
stealthily back into our lives,
moving us toward the way 
it was in the beginning.
We can fight it, or recognize 
the gift of human interdependence.

Oh, the pain of holding 
the illusion of self as individual!
Oh, the joy of thread 
that makes it to the loom!
Love grows not so much 
upward and outward
as it weaves us into 
the fabric of life’s circle.

Auditory Space

Photo by Lee Lindsey McKinney

What happens here,
   in the absence
      of spoken words?

The other four physical senses
   get room to grow,
      as well as Spirit.

As vocal chords,
   teeth, tongues, and lips
      cease their synchronized undulation,

the muted path between
   minds and hearts opens
      divulging connections and opportunities
         we've yet the capability to verbalize.

Sometimes we smell or taste truth
   long before we can enunciate it;
      we hear and see things
         far beyond language's limits.

Often, these inarticulate revelations
   must be revisited again and again
      before we're capable of integrating them
         in word and deed, life and love.

© 2015 Todd Jenkins

Saturday, June 27, 2015


If the church has ever
typed with both hands,
it is in our caricature
of first century Judaism's
institutional professionals.

We condemn their job-class
with generalizations
at our own risk,

unremembering the likes
of Nicodemus, Jairus, and
an unknown host of others

who may well have been willing
to cast aside privilege and
maybe even belief
for a shot at grace.

If we dig deeply enough
into their faults, we just might
realize that, chief among them

is attempting to protect God
by focusing far too exclusively
and confidently on behavior
applicable only to a people
wholly other, which creates barriers
to seeing them as holy other.

E tu, Brute?

© 2015 Todd Jenkins

Friday, June 26, 2015


We confess, O God,
that we not only have difficulty
understanding how faith works,
we sometimes struggle
to believe at all.

In the middle of a hymn's verse,
a question jumps out,
halting voice, brain,
and heart, as the tune
is no longer capable
of carrying the lyrics.

We want to stop the music,
mid-measure, turning
the phrase over and over,
searching for the lock
that will unclasp
and set us free to sing,
to believe, to breathe.

Thank you for those
who keep singing for us,
for the music itself, and
for the question’s plow
that keeps planting seeds
in our messy garden.

© 2015 Todd Jenkins

Thursday, June 25, 2015


Our task not always to question why;
   instead to stretch, to bend and reach,
      sometimes to trust and just get by,
         let circumstance our spirits teach.

In the face of violence or abuse,
   we shouldn’t accept acquiescence’s hour;
      these two really have no excuse;
         nor in the face of oppression’s power.

But when our world and happenstance
   reveal the sham of our control
      and one day offer us the chance
         for grace’s reins to free our soul,

may we be strong and feel so bold
   to give ourselves for one another,
      skip the pottage, remain unsold;
         find and love new sister, brother.

© 2015 Todd Jenkins

Wednesday, June 24, 2015


That thing some call a symbol of their heritage reminds others of when their ancestors were commodities. I don’t believe the heritage of one people owning another can any more be separated from that flag than rapist's or trafficker's faces can be erased from their victims' psyches. The biggest problem with the good old days is that they were anything but good for some people, and insisting that such symbols be universally preserved is an attempt to hold on to one people's pride while salting others' pain.

We have banished the swastika to places where the historical horrors perpetrated under its guise are told without sentimentality, and only those who still harbor hate for members of their own species are audacious enough to display it otherwise. Race is a social construct, perhaps first used to distinguish skin tones and geographies, but ultimately wielded as justification for superiority.

Societies elevating order and control as indicators of divine emulation (e.g. Euro-ages of iron, renaissance, industry, and empire) have historically declared their own "people" to be more advanced and therefore more exceptional than those who've left more of the ordering to creation. We use the words primitive, primordial, and primal pejoratively, to describe cultures on a track different from ours, but some of the greatest human-to-human hostility has been perpetrated by people who pride themselves on civility.

At least two things are sure: [1] The flag is just the beginning. [2] There are still too many stories that need to be heard. They may have been told, but we, as a society, have not really been listening.

© 2015 Todd Jenkins

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


The house of crumbled wishes
sits a far piece down the road
from the field of broken dreams.

One, an architectural structure
of our own choosing, where fads
and fashions are delivered daily,

only to be pulverized
by unseen winds
blustering their harsh reality
through every open window.

The other, hardscrabble ground
plowed over and over
behind the mule of desire,

praying for rain, season after season,
with little more than sweat stains
and blisters to show.

But sometimes, it's hard to tell
exactly where you are
in any given moment,
'cause hope has a way

of winging so much
of our hearts that we
forget we can't fly.
Photo by Lee Lindsey McKinney
 © 2015 Todd Jenkins

Monday, June 22, 2015


The brutality of life is this:
suffering regularly reboots.

   Like a renegade laptop
   giving no warning,
   it shuts down everything
   you were doing,

      and systematically recycles
      you through pain and grief
      as if your operating system
      cannot function otherwise.

         Suffering also mutates.
         Like last year's flu  
         or an antibiotic-resistant
         strain of bacteria,

            it can return with a vengeance
            bearing little resemblance
            to the original incident,
            bringing along a new cast
            of characters and circumstances.

         The beauty of life is this:
         hope stands ready to respond,
         no matter how often or severely
         suffering reappears and morphs.

      By hope, I do not mean
      rescue or resolution,
      but love's willingness to ride out
      each particular storm with you
      on nothing more and nothing less
      than the fortitude of mute presence.

   No super-hero capes
   or sorcerer’s incantations,
   no neuralizer or pixie dust,
   no bubble wrap or fortress;

just a promise that post-traumatic
existence includes possibilities
we can never imagine
if we stay on the shore,
or in the fairy tale
of anesthesia, denial, or “If only…”.

   © 2015 Todd Jenkins

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Prayers June 21, 2015

Prayers of the People 2015-06-21

Creator of all that was, all that is, and all that will ever be, remind us that you are also listener to our dreams; not only our dreams, but the dreams of all creation. Flinger of stars and planets into the heavens, remind us that you are also the architect of each of our strands of DNA; not only our DNA, but architect of the DNA of the whole world, from beginning to end. Weaver of all galaxies, remind us that you are also knitter of our families and community; not only our family and community, but also seamstress of every family and community on the planet.

And THIS – this fully-enveloped reality of all life and love by which you surround us – is the reason that we dare to come to you this morning with our concerns and joys, our hopes and dreams.

We can scarcely connect to the outside world without hearing about violence, destruction, oppression, and death across the globe, so we know that there are your children – our sisters and brothers – in many places who are simply trying to hang-on this morning. There are family members, friends, neighbors, and co-workers of ours – and others we barely know, if at all – who have been flattened by recent circumstances of life and by the systems of governments and societies.

For some, death has sprung suddenly, as a monster from under the bed. Disease and illness have wrapped themselves around others, as a constrictor, slowly suffocating them and their loved ones, until there is hardly any breath left. For still others, it is relational or occupational disconnect that has whipped-up anxiety and stirred-up uncertainty. Actual storms of wind, water, or fire are at some doorsteps, and metaphorical storms, causing seismic shifts, crack others’ foundations.

We have seen another head of the serpent of racism rear its ugly head in Charleston this past week, taking the lives of 9 who were gathered in their church for Bible Study. Hear our prayers, O Lord, as we listen to their names:

Surround Emanuel AME’s congregation and community with your comforting love in the midst of their shock and grief. Give Charleston, and all of us who follow your son, our risen savior, the tenacity and courage to insist that we make meaningful changes in the way our society lives, interacts, and treats one another, so these 9 will not have died in vain.

There are also many things for which we lift up praise to you this morning: good news that has come in the form of wellness… health… healing… reconciliation… and opportunities of all sorts. For your blessings that often overflow so much that we risk taking them for granted, we give you thanks.

We pray your continued guidance on the pastors, staff, leaders, and congregation of this church. As they seek to follow your will in this particular place and time, make the whisper of your Holy Spirit’s guidance clear.

These and all prayers we offer in the name of our risen Lord, who taught his disciples to pray as we now join our voices together, praying: Our father…

Saturday, June 20, 2015


“You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains;
You raise me up to walk on stormy seas;
I am strong when I am on your shoulders;
You raise me up to more than I can be.”
(Josh Groban “You Raise Me Up”)

True ugliness is not 
a judgment of one's appearance. 

That kind of superficial perception 
is simply a subjective opinion 
based on the limits 
of society's acceptable range 
of normalcy and symmetry. 

The real ugly – the one 
that matters – is a hardening 
of the heart that keeps us 
from recognizing our basic connection 
to the rest of the universe.

When love has been drained 
or banished from the soul, 
genuine ugliness is reflected 
in hollow eyes. 

True beauty is also revealed 
through the pupils, as it emanates 
from a love-rich soul's overflow. 

It’s not about size or color, 
but light from within; 
a fire that cannot be 
decorated into existence. 

Love, then, is a freely offered gift 
radiating from within because 
it raises our own worth 
without lowering others'.

© 2015 Todd Jenkins

Friday, June 19, 2015


We have two choices
at every one
of life's intersections:

   (1) build this moment,
   thought, word, act, or plan
   on the foundation of love;

   (2) build on something else,
   like fear, ego, hiding, competition,
   self-loathing, indifference.

Each time we make
choice #2, whatever
we have constructed will crumble.

   God – Love – will be there,
   patiently waiting to help us
   gather the rubble
   and build again.

   When we are courageous enough,
   in any given moment and circumstance,
   to make choice #1,

grace is the mortar
that secures the broken pieces
of our lives, forming them
and us into beautiful structures

   of hope, matching the blueprints
   embedded in our spiritual DNA
   since the dawn of creation.

© 2015 Todd Jenkins

Thursday, June 18, 2015


God with us?
When hate tries
to overcome hope?

When fear flings open
its trench coat wide,
attempting to loom
larger than life
with a ferocious roar?

God with us?
When violence rends
breath from your children
as they gather in your name?

When we are challenged
to live love in our skin
without regard to pigment?

When we are called
to be the body of Christ,
not on Sunday morning
in a building, but on Thursday
in a grieving community?

Emanuel: God is with us!

© 2015 Todd Jenkins