No Border Land, Tom Graffagnino. Grand Rapids: Credo House Publishers, 2020.
Summary: A prophetic call to a world without moral or spiritual borders, to a lukewarm, compromised church, concluding with a vision of the beauty of the Christian hope rooted in the cross.
Tom Graffagnino is an artist and writer whose work I first ran into on Facebook. Often his response to posts, including some of mine, was a poem, often with a simple rhyme scheme, some clever play on words, and a prophetic “bite.”
This work combines a series of jeremiads lamenting the state of a “no border land” culture, and a lukewarm, compromised church in its first two parts concluding with a proclamation of the hope of the gospel centered in the work of the cross and God’s gift of grace.
A few samples of his writing:
Singer, Sanger, Kinsey, Leary,
Joseph Campbell, Jung, and Freud…
Prophets of New Paganism,
Heroes of the coming Void.
Marx ‘n’ Nietzsche, Kundalini
Foucault-Fun for Me and You
Listen!…Sweat Lodge Kali-calling,
Stir that New, Old Pagan Brew
. . .
Welcome to the heart of darkness,
Stand with us on sinking sand.
Place your bets on “good intentions.”
Welcome to No Border Land.
This is the opening poem and typifies the play on words, the literary allusions, the sarcastic bite of his verse, clothed in a simple rhyme scheme that runs throughout.
If anything, Graffagnino is tougher on a church that he sees is infatuated with celebrities, theologically and morally flabby, making a god it wants, a “moral therapeutic deity.” In Theraeutic Puppy Dogma, he writes:
Welcome to our Puppy Dogma
Quite the soft and cuddly sight,
Waggy-taily, always friendly…
And this Dogma doesn’t bite!
Here’s religion we can hang with,
Here’s a good God to enjoy!
Puppy Dogma co-existing,
Quite laid back…a real good boy!
. . .
Bottom line, he’s reassuring
He’ll make sure you’re feeling good!
He’ll come running when you whistle…
Like good Puppy Dogmas should!
There is a shift in tone in the third and final section, “Living Waters Living.” Graffagnino both acknowledges our spiritual destitution, and the wonder of the cross and the grace of God. In one of the poems in this section, he proclaims:
There’s a Living Word at work here,
Yes, true Language from the Heart…
There’s a Maker, there’s a Reason,
There’s a Romance from the Start.
Listen closely…there’s true Meaning
That transcends the world we’re in…
There’s a Lover who is waiting,
Christ who overcomes our sin.
He’s the Perfect Lamb, a Person,
He’s the Plan you may have heard,
God’s incarnate, Son and Bridegroom…
His proposal’s in the Word.
Each of Graffagnino’s poems is accompanied by one or more quotes by writers like G. K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis that underscore the ideas in Graffagnino’s poems. It seemed to me that each enhanced the other.
If you are looking for a work of great poetry, I would suggest this isn’t that work. Truthfully, much of the work in the prophets, particularly the Minor Prophets, wasn’t of the highest literary quality. Graffagnino’s writing serves a different function, one much like these prophets, to hold up an uncompromising mirror, both to an unbelieving culture and a church of watered-down belief. He’s also like the unflinching doctor who doesn’t spare our feelings when telling us the truth of our condition and what will bring us healing. In doing so, his poetry soars to its most elevated as he considers the wonder of the gospel.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.