The City Part 3: Modern Thinker

Modern Thinker on the late bus southbound

Considers columns and pillars,

Ripped jeans and skaters.

Nonsense and cogency–life in a mixture.

Suits in alleys,

Kill-count tallies,

And flowers in cracked concrete

Where poverty greets

.

Death. And breath

.

That fills also folds with smoke.

The broke and the homeless,

Facing the coldness

In hearts of stone,

That roll to the river and

Build their bitter bridges

Over decades, like barricades.

.

It’s a beautiful discrepancy,

Elucidated lunacy.

Each night shines effulgently

Over this city and its forestry

Of streets and steel–and people

Riding buses, everywherebound,

Thinking modern thoughts most profound.

–N.R. 10/18/18

LaSalle Boulevard, Chicago, IL

I wrote this poem while riding the bus in Chicago one evening, watching all the different kinds of people there are to be found in the city on their way. I thought about how amazing cities can be–centers of culture, resources for people of many backgrounds, hubs of activity in the world. I also thought about their injustice, violence, and the ways that they often just make no sense. Cities bring out the worst and best in humanity. It’s a paradox that I tried to drive home in this piece, with the perspective of the Modern Thinker: a resident of Chicago’s South Side.

I’m amazed at how Christ embraces cities with all their contradiction and confusion. In Luke 13:34 he says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” He loves Jerusalem in the midst of its sin, enough to show grace and love to people there who are completely undeserving. He loves our paradoxical cities the same way, too.

The City Part 2: The Sidewalk

Last night,

The sidewalk was

Your House.

Your people laughed and praised

In all colors

Under the streetlight of

Your Truth.

–N.R. 8/3/19

The sky over North Philly on a night much like the one I wrote about in this poem.

Psalm 26:8 says, “I love the house where you live, O Lord, the place where your glory dwells.” Being in the Old Testament, this psalm is talking about the Israelite temple in Jerusalem, which was significant because it housed God’s literal presence on the earth (see Psalm 84 for another great example of how precious the temple was to Israel). In the New Testament, we find an even more stunning reality: God chooses to give His presence to believers now by being in us. 1 Corinthians 6:19 says, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” Similarly, 2 Corinthians 6:16 says, “For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.'”

Every believer is a temple where God lives. Which means even a small gathering of God’s people on a random sidewalk in a big city can still experience His presence; He is right there with them–bringing light, unity, truth, and peace–amidst everything.

The City Part 1: When In the Streets (How Great Thou Art)

When in the streets and city light I wander,

And see the throngs of people rushing by,

I then survey their desperate hearts asunder,

And trust my God to know He hears their cry,

Then sings my soul, my Savior God to thee

How great thou art,

How great thou art!

Then sings my soul, my Savior God to thee

How great thou art,

How great thou art!

-N.R. 2/20/2019

I took this picture from my dorm building the day I moved in to study cities and how God works in them!

While the songs of the Bible are replete with urban imagery (Isaiah 26, Psalm 46, Psalm 107:1-9, to name just a few), I’ve noticed that your typical hymn or Christian lyric focuses primarily on idyllic scenes. You’re more likely to hear melodies concerning peace like a river or burning suns with golden beams than anything regarding skyscrapers or the concrete jungle. To be sure, these songs are beautiful and most certainly meaningful. I believe, however, that this small detail of our musical expression hints at a subtle but present reality within our cultural expression of the faith: Christians in our context don’t fully believe that they can see God’s glory or creativity through cities. Though the biblical authors saw them as provision, safety, and the place where God’s people share life together, we tend to only see them for all their negative qualities. That is why I’ve written this additional verse to a long familiar hymn, to express that God cares for cities (Jonah 4:11), knows their brokenness, and we can worship God in them–even because of them!

Snowflakes This April

Our lives are snowflakes this April,

Melting suddenly as they hit the ground.

So we froze, suspending

Ourselves in skyscrapers,

Paused and muted.

Silent lightning cracks the sky above,

A full moon peaks through the clouds,

And fresh air blows off the unrestrained lake.

The world will spin on–

And we loosen our grip

On ephemeral nothings

We thought we controlled.

Contagion silently cracks

Our lofty fortresses.

We think we hear a whisper

From the world of motion and sound

Calling us to breathe unmasked,

To resume, but in timeless hope,

No longer feebly temporal.

-N.R.

The one bit of snow we had this April in the city, which all melted before the day had ended.

The city of Chicago at this time is the most still that I’ve ever experienced it in the last two and a half years, and I’m sure it hasn’t been like this for a long time in its history. I wrote this while watching the city and contemplating how fragile our grasp on life really is, how easily it seems everything has been halted and we have lost security in so many things we assumed were trustworthy in this world. Even time itself feels meaningless to many of the people I’ve spoken to. But God reaches into those spaces with hope of an eternal future that revives and reanimates.

A Mind Condensed

A poem is

a mind condensed;

all menace, tumult, and ecstasy

delivered with density.

This is a poem I wrote about two years ago about the nature of poetry itself. Poetry distills an experience to its most potent expression, leaving no words wasted or haplessly placed. It can contain great emotional depth, intellectual prowess, and stunning candor in a small amount of space.

I’ve chosen it as the theme of this collection of writing because in a time when words proliferate more than ever, often what is more helpful to fostering quality thought is a focused stream of concentration on a particular subject. Thinking well and hard is not a popular practice, but it does yield a wealth of wisdom to those who partake in it. I’ve decided to publish content on this site that promotes reflection, without necessarily exhausting all possible comments on any idea. While not every piece will be poetry or even necessarily feature poetry, my aim is that this form’s concise quality will infiltrate the other writings of this collection.

Not only is this my goal, but it is also to encourage quality thought through a paradigm of faith, which–whether admitted or not–colors every aspect of cognition. Regardless of your religious background or personal beliefs, I hope you are able to find worthy dialogue here with a distinctly Christian worldview. It is my belief that our highest thoughts are those that are revealed to us by the transcendent God who is also extremely immanent in our human experience; the One who invented human minds, the languages that they use to articulate themselves, and His Word, the Bible, which supplies us with truth that is ingrained into the fabric of our world.

Finally, I’m hoping that the beauty of written words will be impactful in this space. We are heirs to centuries of rich literature and live in a time where access to most of it is commonplace, so I’ll make use of it often. Join me in enjoying words that sonorously echo from ages past with timeless value.