The Sestina of a Lifetime

If you are not aware of the poetic structure of a sestina, it is a poem of highly structured word repetitions (6 words) following this pattern of retrogradatio cruciata: wherein all six chosen words appear in every end-position possible within 6 stanzas of 6 lines.

Table of sestina end-words (columns for stanzas, rows for lines, order+word listed as number+letter)
1 A 6 F 3 C 5 E 4 D 2 B
2 B 1 A 6 F 3 C 5 E 4 D
3 C 5 E 4 D 2 B 1 A 6 F
4 D 2 B 1 A 6 F 3 C 5 E
5 E 4 D 2 B 1 A 6 F 3 C
6 F 3 C 5 E 4 D 2 B 1 A

This is followed by a final 3-line stanza, the envoi, containing the 6 words again in this order: 2-5 / 4-3 / 6-1.

You might surmise by now that a poem with such rigid and repetitive structure that lasts for a significant number of lines (39 in total) is good for expressing something about the more repetitive things in life. I’ve seen good ones about a long train ride with strange people (Sestina of a Train by Al Purdy), and obsessive lovers who can’t stop thinking about each other (The Lover’s Sestina by Bruce Meyer). Both poems capitalised on the repetitive aspect of the sestina form to create that (oppressive) feeling of reading the same words over and over. But I really wanted to try a sestina in which the words clearly repeated without such a heavy feeling of them repeating. For this I had to choose the kind of words that could have varied meanings. I did “cheat” in that I intentionally chose to make one of the six words change throughout the poem, but I decided that before even beginning to write. Besides that disclaimer, I don’t want to over-explain the poem. Here is my attempt:

The Sestina of a Lifetime

9 months she ate the things she craved to eat.
On Monday noon he heard the doctor call,
with trepidation rushed in from the hall,
to see his babe emerge from head to feet,
untangled from the womb to be set free:
To hold her was to see her as The Only.

They sent her off to school when only 5:
a sandwich, fruit, and cookie she would eat,
then play with friends outdoors when time was free.
When bullies nasty names of her did call,
her mother taught her how to turn defeat
into the courage shown in concert halls.

Then, fresh-faced from her graduation hall,
she joined a firm to ‘start her life’. Only,
Monday mornings she would drag her feet
and wonder, “Eat to work or work to eat?”
She’d close her eyes her childhood to recall,
and wonder how she squandered times once free.

When dreamy man her passions did set free,
they tied the knot and filled a banquet hall.
Guests watched as pastor at the altar called
them husband wife – each other: one and only.
They barely sat to celebrate and eat;
their life would start once they had thrown their fête!

But changing diapers proved to be a feat
from which young parents struggled to be free
when seven mouths would cry, “I want to eat!”
Then soon their children passed through college halls,
and once again they were each other’s Only,
except when grown-up children came to call.

On Friday night she got a sudden call:
his heart attack had brought him to his fate,
and once again she lived with herself only,
until her soul fled too. Finally. Free.
Some tears were shed by loved ones in the hall,
then dust to dust and soon the worms would eat.

All counted, would you call your life as “free”?
Which Way goes your feet walking down the hall?
These questions, only, away at you to eat.


Found it on the Web 18.09.12

I’ve wondered for a while if I’m allowed to do this. Tim Challies has an A La Carte post he does where he amalgamates interesting things from the web into a post, by providing links and a little blurb. These cover theology and beyond. I wasn’t sure if I should do this because often the things I’d want to post are just things he’s posted already. (Spell “redundant” for me please.) However, I’ve started to read a bit more far and wide, so I think it’s about time to give this a try, if only for the sake of organizing all these extra ideas I’m putting into my head.

On the gospel, expressed in the idea of 3, 2, and 1. Clearly expressed and the most logical I have heard thus far, perhaps because this way of presenting it is novel to me and not full of over-used phrases.

On our responses to times in our life when we thought we were walking with and following God’s will on the road to blessing, but end up in a mess. How should we perceive these events?

On the wrong way to be faithful – the notion of “I must try harder” which is hopelessly oriented towards self-achievement.

On the criteria for baptism of children. A well-reasoned discussion that gives good points to extrapolate to understanding what conditions should be met for an adult baptism.

On solid advice for youth ministry.

On the right way to “wait” for those who are single. “I Don’t Wait Anymore” also inspired another post.

On observing the responses to the anti-Islam video from the Muslim world. Consider the premise of Islam as a religion compared to Christianity: the effects of valuing honour versus valuing humility.


On 20 things that are useful to know for those in their 20s.

On the magic of photography and the lapse of time, juxtaposed.

James in light of Kony 2012

A few evenings ago, my roommate asked me if I had seen all the posts about Kony on facebook. What? Who?

That’s likely the reaction of most people upon first hearing this name… first, is that a name or a thing? Oh right. Joseph Kony is a Ugandan man wanted for numerous atrocities. There’s a video by the organization called Invisible Children that aims to catch him by making him infamous around the world; they plan to do that by encouraging any and everyone to share it, tweet it, blog it (hm… that would be what I’m doing I suppose)… I won’t link to this video, because not linking is part of my point. You can easily Google/Youtube it yourself.

[Since writing this post, I have watched the video, though I wanted to reflect first before watching it and being ‘swept off my feet’. Scroll down to see thoughts post-viewing.]

I have admittedly not watched it or thought much about it, being of the sort who generally avoids viral internet trends, but I have read a thing or two. First I read this blog post by Tim Challies (, then I followed a link from that post to this one written by Kilama Dennis, a Ugandan survivor of some of those aforementioned atrocities ( Finally, having read those two posts, I was reminded of several parts of the book of James that I studied some months ago.

James 1:19 -21
19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.

James 1:26-27
26 If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

James 4:11-12
11 Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?

James 5:7-11
7 Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. 8 You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. 9 Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. 10 As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 11 Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

Now, the caveat here is that you read those two blog posts and at least the passages from James quoted above before reading on. Otherwise, what I say here rather briefly will not be as sensical as intended.

As Kilama Dennis admitted, “the thought of capturing Kony arouses more anger, more pain and feelings of revenge that are unbiblical.” According to James, that would be focusing more on taking justice into our own hands than on showing mercy and love to the “widows and orphans” who were oppressed and are still in despair. That is not to say social justice is unimportant or that capturing Kony would be a bad thing, but that social justice in the sense of showing mercy and giving hope to the oppressed is vastly different from the justice of retribution on the person of Joseph Kony. The important thing is less to capture him and more to show mercy and give support to the oppressed. To quote James verbatim, “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” As Dennis points out, justice is not going to be inaugurated by the capture of Kony, for there are many others who are just as bad or worse, but justice on earth occurs if “the oppressed are restored and given living hope.”

Here is one more quote from Dennis that I appreciate. He naturally craves revenge — in his human and sinful nature. But, “Now,” he says, “I realize that revenge is for God, I personally have handed Kony over to God. The gospel of Jesus has helped me over come these feelings, the thought of arresting Kony arouses sin in me, reminds me of how hopeless I am and how people do not understand me.”

So as James says, “You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.”

The important matter is not capturing Kony, but making good our concern for the victims by restoring the brokenhearted and giving hope to the hopeless. This does not necessarily mean you need to support these specific Ugandans either! If you are supporting people who are poor/oppressed/hopeless elsewhere, that is just as good. That’s the kind of pure and undefiled religion that James 1:27 speaks of.

——— After watching the video ———

So, I’ve just watched the KONY 2012 video. I think I still stand by this post that I wrote before watching it. I also now understand why it’s “KONY 2012” in capitals with the year: It’s election year in the U.S.

This video is about human triumph. It’s about American triumph. It’s about the American dream, where one regular man can work his way up to make a difference. There are many great things about this video. First, it tries to make people care about something that matters. If Kony is caught, all the children in the LRA and all the children whom he could kidnap will be free. Second, it manipulates our emotions through the clips with the guy’s son and with Jacob to make us care. Third, it shows carefully selected footage and music to motivate us to act and be part of a great cause.

A slight concern I still have with the video is that it generalizes the success over capturing J. Kony to mean ‘saving the world’. Tell me that’s not what you feel in the panoramic shots of the ‘army of peace’ standing united and the plastering of posters all over the city to upbeat music.

The main reason I still stand by my prior post is… Mao Zedong, previous chairman of Communist China. Why? Similar to Kony, but in the 1960s, he brainwashed almost a million Chinese youth, who called themselves Red Guards, to be loyal only to him, and to tattle on parents who weren’t loyal to Mao, or just hadn’t memorized his Little Red Book or hung his picture in their mantleplace. Mao gave these youth whips and had them torturing parents, relatives and anyone else, sometimes killing them, and certainly handing them over to the Chinese Communist Army to then be incarcerated and subjected to brainwashing. One method of torture was to make them kneel on broken glass. Mao is dead now, but the youth who were scarred by this are still scarred. What I am saying, I suppose, is that stopping the tyrant is important, but it’s also easy to forget about those who live in the aftermath of a tyrant’s destruction when the tyrant is gone. Osama Bin Laden has finally been caught, but is the world a much better place, like the rhetoric prior to his capture suggested? No, because Joseph Kony is still out there. After Joseph Kony is caught, will the world be a much better place? No, because the next tyrant is is still out there.

What should we do? I can’t say definitively. I’ll admit that. You could join in the KONY 2012 cause. That wouldn’t be a bad thing. It would be a good thing if your heart is in the right place about it. But don’t go in thinking that it alone will change the world. And don’t be deluded that you will change the world and make it all better. That is for God.

If by this time you still have not read Kilama Dennis’ blog post, you should. ( It’s from the perspective of a Ugandan survivor, not an American middle class man who wants to leave a legacy. It’s humble, and strikes me as the thoughts of a peacemakers who will be blessed, for they shall be called sons of God. Matthew 5:9

More on the topic: [plus a video response]