|a rhythm for my life|
|Issue: 50 Page No: 27 Updated: 12/27/2010 10:00 AM|
|Author:||Kenneth Chafin , James E. Carter|
a rhythm for my life
Those who knew Kenneth Chafin knew him variously as a pastor, a professor of both evangelism and preaching at the two largest Southern Baptist seminaries, a director of evangelism for Southern Baptists, a dean of the Billy Graham Schools of Evangelism, an author, and a friend. Or they may have known him as all of these.
Now they can know him as a poet.
Kenneth Chafin wrote poetry in the last decade of his life. Some of the poems were published. Most of his poems were not previously published. Some were shared in poetry readings. Many of them were not shared publicly. This book is arranged in two parts. The poems included in Part I are in the order that Chafin himself arranged the poems for public readings in both Louisville, Kentucky, and Houston, Texas. The poems in Part II are grouped under four headings: Friends, Family, Nature, and Introspection (although the Preface indicates five headings, poems on Places apparently are included in other sections, a minor editing glitch).
The signature poem, and the poem from which the book gets its title, “a rhythm for my life,” introduces the book. In the form of a prayer, the poem commences with the words: “Help me to find a rhythm for my life/ in keeping with my strength, my gifts,/ my opportunities, my commitments,/ and thy larger purpose.”
Chafin always had the ability to focus on the central issue in any discussion and to express his thoughts in simple but profound language. Never at a loss for words, these words are expressed simply, eloquently, and honestly in his poetry.
That he loved and cherished his family is evident in the poems devoted to family. The poems entitled “Barbara” written for his wife on Mother’s Day, 1996, “Random Thoughts on our Anniversary,” “A Gift for Nancy’s Birthday,” and “Beach Vacation” express this love. Chafin especially enjoyed his farm, Windy Hill, in central Texas. Not only were many of the poems written there, the subject of the farm, farming, the creatures, and nature figure prominently in his poems. He wrote of “Haying in North Austin County,” “Consider the Birds,” and “View from My Window,” for instance, on those subjects.
Kenneth Chafin was an early, and often strident, voice in the controversy that consumed Southern Baptists for over twenty years. That this controversy was very personal, as well as very disturbing, to him is reflected in some of his poetry. “Rage!” is one of the longer poems in the work, and it opens with the words “Doctor Laman Gray sawed open my chest,/ Found three arteries clogged with rage,/ Not cholesterol from too much animal fat/ But the residue from staying mad for a decade.”
This is followed by “Baptists in Babylon.” Both of these poems were chosen by Chafin for public readings. Beginning with a citation of the firing of Russell Dilday as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, each of the five stanzas of the poem ends with the refrain, “Welcome to Babylon and the captivity!” The poem is marked with both the theological insight and the political awareness that Chafin displayed in those years.
Further observations on his ministerial brethren are in the poems, “The Street Preacher” and “Today’s Prophets.”
Some of the most poignant pieces center around the illness and subsequent death from lung cancer of Ernie White, a professorial colleague at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. These poems assume additional meaning when you realize that Chafin himself died from leukemia.
Poems like “Letting the Silence Tell It All,” “Today We Took a Holiday from Talk of Death,” and “Prayer to a Dying Friend” are representative of this group. “Ode to an Alzheimer’s Patient” was written in Barbara’s voice concerning her care for her mother with Alzheimer’s disease. It was reprinted several times and used in other significant ways.
His rural childhood and its importance in shaping his life and values are seen in such poems as “Rain on a Cedar Roof,” “The Ballinger Place,” and “The Newlyweds-1925.”
The book was done in collaboration with Barbara Chafin and the three Chafin children. The Preface of the book characterizes the author and his poetry with these words:
“His [Chafin’s] poetry shows that he was a loving husband, a father of three exceptional children, and a man who loved the country, nature, and the porch swing at the family farm. He enjoyed singing to the cows, talking to the birds, and fishing and frying up a skillet of bass. In particular, he liked small town diners and getting to know the local people. Favorite foods were Texas barbeque and rural cooking (p. xii).” The porch swing motif is utilized in a sketch of a porch swing on both the opening and closing pages of the book. On the next to the last page, a picture of Chafin half reclined on a porch swing with his straw hat at a rakish angle and his boots in your face, catches the mood of the moment and the importance of the porch swing for rest and reflection.
Chafin said it: “Poems are often made of/ old memories and feelings/ that try to interpret events/ to get behind the literal/ to the truth.” He does that in these poems. Both those who knew Chafin and those who knew of Chafin will profit from these poems.
Note: See the “SPECIAL OFFER” for this book elsewhere in the Journal
Cite This Page:
Chafin, Kenneth , Carter, James E.. "a rhythm for my life" ChristianEthicsToday.
The Christian Ethics Today Foundation. Summer 2004 (Issue 50 Page 27)