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Portrait of the Artist as a Lone Tree

Simplicity - a message for the church

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Part II.

He turned, and walked towards the town.
His accusations could not stand
without the test of evidence;
I harried him with this demand:
“No matter who you are,” I said,
“You still cannot defy the Word –
‘Where two or three are, so am I’ –
to claim God left the church? Absurd!”

“But one thing you omit,” he said:
“The Word says surely, ‘in my name’,
and who shall say if this is so?
Is God allowed to make his claim?
For if a building full of folk
(or empty, as if oft the case)
gathers because it pleases them,
whose word shall rule the sacred place?

Now if a landlord makes constraints
on those who rent a home from him,
must they not act as he requires,
or may they please their every whim?
Can they decide themselves what he
has meant, or must they keep his word?
Do those allowed to live within
decide their rights? Now, that’s absurd.

And so, if people make their minds
how God is praised, they praise themselves.
How easy if they just ignore
the One who through their conscience delves.
Now turn it round; and say instead,
they truly came to praise my name
if I am there. But otherwise,
upon my words they have no claim.

And what will show my presence best
but every sign I gave before,
of peace and power and purity
I sent to end the pointless law?
Yet if these things have passed away,
then tell me not that I am there!
What kind of God would sit upon
his hands, while people need his care?

Some think perfection’s come, and thus
the power of God is dead and gone.
But these are those who’ll tell me best
if I should leave, or linger on.”
He stopped, and there before us lay
a beggar in a cardboard box;
a man who stared right through us both,
and ate beside the urban fox.

A woman on a corner cold,
whose price was plain for all to see,
with empty eyes that pleaded for
the hungry child on either knee.
A boy that ran alone and scorned
where no one cared to rule his rage;
an honest man who toiled in rags,
trying to earn a living wage.

Then all around I felt the fear
of one unseen who came to kill,
who cherished death as evidence
of owning those who lost their will;
a conqueror whose cold delight
was viciously destroying all
the little hopes and small desires
of those within his prison wall.

“Here are the ones for whom I care,”
the man explained. “But where are they
who tell me that perfection’s come?
Well, what have you, my friend, to say?”
Instead, I answered, “This is death;
death, and the loss of hope and care.
This is the kingdom cold as night,
where every creature wears despair.”

“Tell me,” he said, “if I must choose
between the ones who use my name
but yet neglect my every word,
and those I sent my friends to claim -
who are my friends, but those who go
where I myself would wander long,
among the lost and sad and sold,
to wake inside an angel’s song?

How are they gathered in my name
who stubbornly refuse to face
the burden that I gave to them,
to bring these people joy and grace?
Blind guides! They vainly waste my word!
How shall I tell their tale from snakes
who crept into my home and cast
my flock in sleep whence no one wakes?

Is this my name they gather in?
That never gave a moment’s thought
to anything but ‘please yourself,
do as you want, not as you ought?’
Is this my name, futility?
That sits or stands, that chants or prates,
instead of hearts that gladly sing,
and open to my world their gates?”

I had no answer. I could not
pretend to say that those inside
the walls that once resounded loud
had kept the place of those that died.
For none of them were living life
as Life described their place should be;
to gather from the gates of hell
the lost and lone, and set them free.

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