Wednesday, December 19, 2012

First cup—"Do no harm"

What kind of final is appropriate for a course that has been more spiritual journey than about spiritual journey? That’s the challenge.

I love to teach; I think everyone who knows me pretty much gets that. I walk into the classroom with equal parts eager anticipation and dread. Eager anticipation—because something wonderful is likely going to happen, largely, I think, because students bring their stuff, meet great texts and questions and, incidentally, teacher, and something happens. Often unpredictable and wonderful. Dread—well, because these students are real folks, loaded down with stuff, and sometimes I’m wearing these big lumber jack boots when I should be wearing ballet slippers, and there I am galumphing all over the place. Like so many people-serving vocations, the prime directive is “Do no harm.” Sometimes there I am galumphing! Thank God, God often shows up to provide the choreography.

So, what kind of final? The course is Rel 320—spirituality, character, and service. Like Hum 310—Faith, Living, and Learning—it is designed to facilitate remembering and reflecting; it’s a discernment course. We read widely. We pay attention. We review our lives. We remember God. We wonder about our neighbor. We reflect on our vocation.

I’ve never really liked “finals”; the idea of final is so presumptuous. But I do place high value on remembering and reflecting. So, a final for a course that is designed to help student and teacher remember and reflect should provide one more opportunity to remember and reflect.

We left the classroom at WPC’s 205 campus—an appropriate move since so much of what we do is focused on neighbor and neighborhood. We went to Mt. Tabor Presbyterian Church—a wonderfully Northwest church on SE Belmont just west of 60th. We started in the sanctuary; it was a cold but well-lighted space. There I talked about journey and the importance of stopping on journeys to reconnoiter and thinking about where we have been, where we are, and where we are going. Spiritual journey, after all, is pilgrimage and pilgrimage requires reconnoitering and reflecting.

I introduced them to the labyrinth, another kind of journey; then, I gave them their “final,” asked them to reflect on the questions before they entered the labyrinth; when that journey was complete, they were to find a comfortable place in the church and “take their final.” When done, find me in TaborSpace (a sacred coffee space in the church), hand me their final—and they are “done.” So, we separated with handshakes and hugs and brief conversations—I think with a sense that something pretty nice had happened this semester in this class. I’m pretty sure, at least, that I did no harm.

The final? I asked them to complete the “Examen,” questions we had lived with all semester: What surprised me? What inspired me? What was life giving? What was life taking? What did I learn about God and/or me? Then, I asked, What are you carrying forward with you from your journey—in the short run and the long? Right, I know, not much of a test. No T-F. No multiple choice or fill in the blank or complete the sentence. I guess it might be defined as a “short essay” test. But, nope, not really. Only another moment to think about who I am, where I am, why I am, whose I am, who I am with, and where I am going. Probably the really important questions, anyway, and we spend a life time trying to get it right, right? (That’s part of why I love teaching—I get to keep working at getting it right—“it” being the classroom, relationships, God, and life.

What were their answers? Well, I’m going to share a few, over the next few days. Anonymously, of course; these are their stories, not mine, and I didn’t ask permission to share. But I love my students and they teach me so much—I want to share. Here are a few:

I learned that I need to be promise focused instead of problem focused. I need to remember that I am not alone; [God] is always present and with me.

The fresh discovery of how much I don’t know. It’s a scary thought. Why have I done the things I have in my life? One understanding that I will carry forward as a governing value in my life is the importance of serving others we share this great Earth with.

The idea that I was so afraid of my past that I was so caught up trying to cover it up that I place that in God’s place….

What surprised me? Jesus—he didn’t do all the right things for the right people. He did all the needed things for the wrong people.

The spiritual self needs to be exercised, challenged, strengthened, and rested. I cannot simply lock it away…. Be like water.

I learned that I’m ready to accept God into my life. I also learned that I don’t have to feel or be alone all the time.

Well, enough for now. I’ll likely share a few more of these over the next several days. Remember: “Not all who wander are lost.”

Saturday, December 15, 2012

First Cup—"The horror! The horror!"

I tend to keep silent about such tragedies as we have watched these
last few days. Words, one of the three ways we have to express ourselves, seem so inadequate--at least in my hands. (The others are touch and silence.) I find myself close to tears, suddenly, fighting despairing surrender and growing angry. Yet, these words came to me last night, suddenly as well. They do not say anything new, but that may be why they matter to me so much. This morning I read these words from Dr. Ajit Jetmalani, in The Oregonian:

"We should be focused on loving acts toward others
because that's what we can control."

So, for what it's worth, I offer this as a reminder that we live in a small, dangerous, and troubled world in which loving and simple acts of human kindness are the only real weapons we have.

Dark Faces Light Faces

A darkness walks among us,
only not outside us,
among us and through us and
in us, that means harm and hurt and horror and loss.

It is a selfish darkness that seeks its own pleasure
like Lucifer chewing on ashen fruit
Feeds on its self and the selves of others.
It is never full and, like a tape worm, is
often famished in a rich and lush world.

It is shadow. It lurks and assumes human form
more than any other. Insatiable and undiscriminating, but
innocence is a favorite meal; surprise a special spice.

Sin is the oldest name for this darkness; yet, it
has many names and faces—despair, distrust,
disconnect, dismay, loss, separation, disappointment,
denied. Meanness. The face of horror is a sad face pretending
something else—an ordinary human face. That
sits briefcase in hand, near the door, to escape

Yet there is also light among us. It walks
quietly but not secretly. Not as certain, for
sure, sometimes embarrassed. Sometimes we see it
most brightly in the darkness:

A slight connection—
hands held and bodies hugged.
Conversation over coffee around tables with friends.
Next to river light and sun light. Enjoying a moment.
Full. It feeds others, not itself,
and is seldom empty though more often ignored and
can breed darkness when unfed.
The face of light is an ordinary human face.


Friday, December 7, 2012

Second Cup—Christmas poem

Several years ago I started writing a poem as part of our annual Christmas letter. Usually this poem grows out of the reading the lectionary texts for the year. Often, I sneak ahead to the Advent and Christmas readings, seeking inspiration, which is usually rewarded.

This year's Christmas poem is rooted in an earlier text from those leading up to the end of the last lectionary year, culminating in this powerful, ironic, multi-layered paradoxical confrontation between Pilate and Jesus. Juxtaposed with the messianic prophecies of Advent and the humility of the Incarnation:


It’s all Currier & Ives and countless
other mock ups: The snow falls and the
darkness softens. Silence reigns—even
the animals softly low.

It is gently lighted by glowing candle or
aura radiating from the manger filled
with clean straw and perfectly formed boy.

There is warmth here.

The oh-so-familiar scene lies before us:
the one who comes to set the crooked
straight, the narrow wide and the bound
free, lies here, lovely and beautiful.

There is dissonance here.

We live in contradictions.
We bow to an upside down world we see
as right side up in dark mirrors only:

dim reflection of what is meant. Like
Plato’s chained, we hold to the shadows
killing those who offer sun.

King is your word.”


Sunday, December 2, 2012

First Cup—First Advent Sunday

Perhaps routines matter too much to me.

My Sunday morning routine: alarm at 6:30; coffee automatically dripping—while I head out to the newspaper drop box; the lectionary readings for today—while drinking my first cup; then, warm up the coffee and settle back on the couch for some serious Sunday comics reading. Soon, I wake up Judy, and while she gets ready for church, I finish the paper. Pretty invariable. It is a routine I look forward to; some might call it a ritual.

This morning: no newspaper.

As a younger generation would say: OMG! A Sunday without the comics is hardly a Sunday at all. Right? Well, perhaps my routines matter too much to me. All else is the same—except for this one addition—it is Advent, after all, so I have to make sure the tree basin for the Christmas tree is full of water. This one is very fresh and so very thirsty.

I am remembering this morning an Advent season many years ago when we spent Advent and Christmas as Lutherans at Central Lutheran near Lloyd Center. I’ll not go into why we were doing that because it is a story too long for today—and, in some ways, too dark to share. I’ll leave it at this: we were churchless and feeling okay about that until Advent showed up and the thought of going through this holy time alone was too great a thought. So, we escaped to Central Lutheran urged by Alice Keinberger, WPC’s librarian at the time—and experienced Advent and Christmas as fully and beautifully and theologically and as communally and as liturgically—as routinely—as, I think, it is meant to be experienced.

The Thessalonian lection for today—1 Thessalonians 3:9–13—calls us to such a place. We live as “in betweeners”: those who are grateful recipients of that Great Grace, the first Advent when we celebrate the One who came and who live in anticipation of that Great Grace, the second Advent when we will worship the One who is to come. We live in that past and future with the One who comes. How do we do that?

…and may the Lord make your love increase and overflow to one another and to everyone, as our love does to you. May he make your hearts firm, so that you may stand before our God and Father holy and blameless when our Lord Jesus comes with all those who are his own (1 Thessalonians 3:12-13 REV).

We live aware. We live on tip toes. We live in relationship with others who are aware and live on tiptoes. We live in expectancy, as my friend, Anne Smith teaches. We practice the future in the present by paying attention to God and scripture in community. We live with a sense of the past that forms us and in eagerness for the future that invites us—and as followers of the Way of Jesus who travels with us. We live in routines—the theological word for that is practices; we practice what it means to live as followers of Jesus: pray, read, talk, worship, remember, eat together, laugh, take care of each other, take care of the stranger. Remember.

The Romans had a god they called Janus; the god of beginnings and transitions and also of gates, doors, doorways, endings and time. Janus is typically presented with two faces: one looking forward and one looking backwards. As pagan as it sounds, I think this is the stance of practicing Christians: remembering the past and with reverence embrace the future with expectancy even as we live now, eagerly desiring to live in God’s reign, as persons who routinely hold both tenderly and loosely, walking the Way from and the Way to.

I know: missing the Sunday comics is not a tragedy, but it is a disruption—but a disruption that leads me to reflect on the importance of routine in our lives. Now, for my second cup, a shower, and church.

Friday, November 30, 2012

First Cup—Poetry Friday

The Valley of the Shadow

The valley of the shadow...the valley of shadows...
valley of shadow...valleys of shadows...
and always, of course there is the
valley of the shadow of death.
But that valley is only inevitable
when it happens, which it does;
we are—praise God—only mortal.

More important because more
immediate are the valleys of the shadows that
come before the valley:
the little deaths of persons in their own (very)
special form are tragedy beyond words—

living deaths.

Seen in the grinning skulls of
joyless eyes because of hollow
sightlessness (mimicking perception),
lipless mouths incapable of any but hollow
moans (mocking loving speech).

They walk Marley-like,
rattling their self-forged chains
semblance of being.

Hardly aware that the little deaths
have merged lastly, finally,
consummately with the valley.

"Son of man, can these bones live?"
"O Lord GOD, Thou knowest."

—amk (and Ezekiel)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

First Cup—First Week of Advent 2012: Remembering

Christmas is nearly up at our house.

(The living tree for the living room is not; that will likely happen this weekend, especially if the lovely Troutdale Tornado stops.) The rest is all down from the attic and displayed around the house. I think it’s a trade off; there are as many Santa’s as Baby Jesus’s—unless you add in all the snowpersons; I confess it is more secular than sacred.

It is comforting to see all of these familiar faces and scenes. (We added one new crèche this year.) So many memories connected to all these “things”—most of which seem to be “Made in China.”
Not the least of these is our first crèche—bought before we knew to call it a crèche from a Ben Franklins somewhere in California. Red Bluff, I think. There is something so utterly traditional and complete about this one. A couple of shepherds were added to it along the way, but that’s all. The angel hanging by a nail at the peak of the stable has a mended wing and every year we lose Joseph’s crook—and find it. This crèche is as old as our marriage and has kept its age better than we have.

There is something so important about all of these. Like so much about the faith, like Eucharist, they are about remembering and forgiving. Each one is a memory—some clearer than others—but it doesn’t take much reflection to connect with where we bought it, who we were with, and when. Trips with friends; trips alone; trips to Frankenmuth and Shipshewana and Ashville and Depoe Bay; trips with children.

Remembering—a central and deeply formational practice of the church—is central also to our lives and journey along the Way. In nearly everyway I can think of there is little more important than remembering. Of course, remembering can become nostalgia, the longing borne out of a sense that the past was better than it was: more certain and more complete. That is not the remembering we are called to. We are never allowed to forget the past, yet we are never allowed to live there.

Remembering—a central and essential practice of God. Remembering—keeping before us the truth of our past is as important to God as it should be to us. It is one of the things that God does: he remembers. If God forgot? Well, let’s not go there.

As I read beyond the Jeremiah lection for this week—Jeremiah 33:14-16—I found this remarkable passage: “These are the words of the LORD: It would be as unthinkable to annul the covenant that I made for the day and the night, so that they should fall our of their proper order, as to annul my covenant with my servant David… (20-21).

I thank God that God remembers.

How comforting and uncomfortable it is to believe in a God who doesn’t forget promises, people, or me.

How comforting it is to sit here on a Wednesday morning, surrounded by images of the One we long for as “in between people,” living in hope, anticipating the One who was, who is, and who is to come.

Monday, November 26, 2012

First Cup—"Christ the King"

Lectionary reflection • November 19-25

These words were written for and published in the annual Fall Connectionary booklet for the Mt. Scott Church of God.

I remember the first time I read Job with some understanding. Reaching the end of what felt like a series of interminable circular arguments, God showed up. God showed up and said to Job: Stand up like a man and answer my questions. Job got a pretty thorough shaking down and straightening out. The outcome was confession: “I yield, repenting in dust and ashes.” The lections for last week feel very much like that. Sunday was “Christ the king” Sunday. Sometimes called “Reign of God” Sunday, it is the last Sunday of the liturgical year; the calendar closes and we turn to Advent, readying ourselves for the arrival of a Baby—and anything else God has in mind.

On this last Sunday, God shows up and he shows up in all God’s “godness”—lest we forget Who God is: ancient of days, enthroned in fire, robed, girded in might, in the clouds, Alpha and Omega.

And, finally, in the gospel reading, Jesus stands before Pilate—the ultimate confrontation between apparent power and apparent weakness, between ultimate earthly (Pilate is Rome) and ultimate godly power (Jesus is God). Jesus says to Pilate: King is your word.

In some ways, the Bible is a failed book; it attempts to frame the un-frameable, name the un-nameable, and describe the indescribable. So, we have to pay close attention as it struggles to help us see. In this moment, we ask, if king is the wrong word, what is Jesus’ word? The earthly category—“king”— is meaningless; earthly definitions of power are pointless. What stands before you, Pilate, is something beyond your ken—God stands before you and God stands before us. Rather, we stand before God. It is not a question of what: The one stands before Pilate—and us—is the same one who stood before Job: creator, judge, redeemer, God Almighty, Creator God.

King is Pilate’s word; what is your word?

Lord God, help me to never see you as less than you are, help me to understand who you are, and help me to ever seek to live as a child of the Creator God of the universe. Help me to never be confused about who I serve. Amen.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Second cup—Poetry Friday

Yes, I know I have been away. Stuff has been happening; mostly WPC and the daily demands of teacher preparation and reading and grading student papers so that they have timely responses. Honestly, I don't remember ever working as hard as I do now to teach.

This poem was begun in June, which will be clear when it is read. I am still 69 but much closer to January next that January last--

Halfway to Seventy

Born in 1943, January; I am now 69.
It is June. Month six. Halfway to 70.
It occurs to me that halfway
is apt metaphor of my life.

Standing in a doorway—the door
I’ve so often described to my students.
The "Hamlet" door, which reference, I hope,
some of my students will remember.
The door of life of decision irrevocable. It
has a doorknob on the enter side—and no such
thing on the other. If it shuts behind you.
There you are.

Shut out. On the other side. No way but forward
into the dark in front. There is no possibility that
you could open it again.

I stand in the doorway. Neither in nor out.
Some might call it liminal space—and there have been
such times of potential.
But more like cowardice for me.

I’ve almost let it close behind me. More than once.
Never really, though. At last moment, finger tips gripping,
I open it and step back in.

Those who can’t, teach. Perhaps.

Perhaps it is that I am a doorkeeper,
meant to keep it open—to live there, on the verge,
in liminal space, to show others the way through.

That would be good.
If it only is true.


Saturday, November 3, 2012

First Cup—Future Story, continued....

This entry connects with the entry for October 11th. The last paragraph of that entry said this: "I think there are some ideas and understandings that were central to how we lived together—or, at least, how we thought and taught we should live together—that are still mighty attractive. I hope these narratives and practices are included in the plotlines of this future story."

What motivates this blog and the concern is this hope—that there has been some really serious effort in this direction. Before we frame a future, is it too much to ask that we have some ontologically clear memory?

Brueggeman says,

“The counter theme [to other dominant cultural narratives] is that the old peculiar memories of the faith community have been lost, forgotten, muted, or distorted. The community suffers from amnesia. The Jews in Babylon, we may suspect were not overwhelmingly preoccupied with the separatist tradition. They likely were busy getting along and making their way in this foreign culture. As a result, the old narrative memory became a luxury for special nostalgic occasions or the practice of irrelevant fanatics. Disregard of the memory is the price of embracing a different way in the world” (Brueggeman, Walter. (1986.) Hopeful Imagination, Prophetic Voices in Exile. Philadelphia: Fortress. 127).

As we engage a future narrative, I think, we cannot view our history either as quaint or as luxury or as nostalgia. So, what am I talking about? (Before I begin my list, I want to state the obvious: the following items are from my own weird perspective and others may look at these and ask, what in the world are you talking about? And, they, no doubt, would have their own list.)

• We were once part of an important narrative about a democracy of the Spirit in which people were brother and sister rather than any other positional relationship. Can our future story contain a more relational rather than organizational narrative?

• We once thought buildings and structures and bureaucracies were dangerous—very dangerous—and in need of constant accountability. Can our future story contain a narrative that transcends physical space and structures to embrace some contemporary brush arbor narrative?

• We were once about prayer and discernment, “waiting for the Spirit,” more than By-laws and organizational structures. Can our future story contain a narrative that embraces discernment as the primary decision making tool?

• We were once about a counter cultural message that called folks out of dominant structures of Christendom into something more flexible and creative and open—finally, a vital conversation about the kingdom of God. Can our future narrative embrace this fundamental narrative—we are Exodus people who live and move and have our being within and under the reign of God?

• We were once part of an important conversation about holiness and unity. Can our narrative include a plotline that lives out a relational holiness and a more inclusive unity?

• We once thought our conversations should be conducted within global as well as local contexts. Can our future story, once again, embrace our global narrative, but this time in partnership and relationship more than competitiveness and paternalism.

• We once thought that there was no more important narrative or topic of conversation than the church. Again, as Strege says, “Indeed, it is not too much to say that the Church of God movement is an extended conversation—some might prefer argument—about the implications of the doctrine of the church as the community in which Christians live out their discipleship” (Strege, Merle. (2009) The Quest for Holiness and Unity. Anderson: Warner Press, 516). Indeed, we were once about as broad and inclusive a conversation as possible. Yes, it was largely an “in house” conversation, but we were all under the same tent. Now, there are so many tents. Can our future story include the narrative of how to widen the tent? Can our future story understand the absolute essential foundation of conversation among the brothers and sisters so that we can, in faith and truth and relationship, move forward into a future we discern together?

As part of a discernment process in the Oregon and SW Washington District of the Church of God, Anderson, IN, I was invited to address the gathered delegates to talk about how the who we were/are factors into the who we might become. A concluding piece of that, in response to challenges by friends who read it, I tried to imagine what that future church might look like out of a sense of the themes that have moved us over the years:

I imagine a church without walls. I imagine a church that spends less time inside than it does outside. I imagine a church where each person—including pastors—is in a discipling relationship; that is, I am in relationship with a person whom I am discipling and I am in a relationship in which I am discipled. I imagine a church that comes together, hungry to learn about the God whose story is contained in scripture and that is willing, even eager, to sit at the feet of men and women called and gifted to teach. I imagine a church that understands itself as part of an ancient and contemporary and future conversation about the church. I imagine a worship community whose worship provides the foundation for discipleship and whose preaching prophetically calls us deep into ourselves, deep into relational and communal connection with God, and outside of ourselves. I imagine a church that looks more similar to than different from the community it finds itself in. I imagine a church that neighbors its neighbors and is neighbored in return. I imagine a church that the neighborhood welcomes to its street fairs, farmers markets, block parties and asks and receives permission to use church facilities for little or nothing in return. I imagine a church that knows its neighbors so well that the church notices when a light is left on too long, or when the trash is not set out, or the grass has grown too long—and feels free to go knock on a door. I imagine a church that stands against the dominant and domineering and degrading cultures of our world—the violent and demeaning cultures, the enslaving and condemning cultures—not as escape from or fear of—but it solidarity with the poor, downtrodden, defeated, and “othered” peoples of the world. I imagine a church that stands on the mean and lonely corners of its city and neighborhood (wherever that corner is) and is a presence of protection and prophecy and justice and mercy and love for any and all who stand there.

To steal from Tony Campolo, I imagine a church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 2 in the morning. I imagine a church that isn’t afraid to go into a bar with a friend in order to talk to him or her about Jesus—or just about life. I imagine a church where, when crap happens and my life unravels, I’ll find welcome and empathy and understanding rather than blame, shame, and judgment. I imagine a church where I don’t have to hide anything. I imagine a church that always and first considers its own sins before it throws one stone anywhere at any body—and, then, drops the stone. I imagine a church that doesn't look like a list of dos and donts; doesn't look like a closed mind, eyes, or ears—or heart; doesn't look like a closed door or an air tight window; doesn't sound like a persons saying this is what it means and nothing else.

So, I guess, the church I imagine is a church of open mind, open ears, and open hearts—
• the sound of a door opening and windows being raised;
• a church that lives with the Godly Play question: "I wonder what....."
• that sounds like a person saying, "Oh, my, what do we have here...."
• a church that stands on tip toes, eagerly searching the world around, the horizon,
• the faces of our neighbors, sensing God at work already, and saying, "All righty now, here we go...."

I imagine a church as hospital, a retreat center, a blood bank—in all of the real and metaphorical senses of those images.

I hope and pray that our future story is deeply grounded in such a narrative—and wildly imaginative, poetic, it is futuring. It is, I believe, what God calls us to—invites us to live.

Friday, November 2, 2012

First Cup—Poetry Friday

This poem was written following a retreat with the Berlin Ministry
Team in 2009. It is a specific response to a specific time with
good friends, but, I think, says much about the importance of
transparent and open story telling.


How knowing changes us!

How knowing, connecting,

reveals—how barriers

drop and defenses are

breached. Towers crumble

from shared tears

down another’s—and then my—

face. What once seemed

impregnable is zapped by

a story that digs deep beneath

the wall and blows it open

—access no longer

denied, we enter the

closed off world, the secret

garden, and find pleasure

in each other’s company.


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

First cup—What I don’t understand….

As a personal rule, I don’t engage in political debate on Facebook. Not that I think it is wrong, but it simply isn’t viable: Hard to carry on a conversation that doesn’t end up in some kind of debate—and often with people you don’t even know and you wonder how in the world they ended up on your friends’ list. I don't mind if people know what I think on issues or who I’m voting for (Obama).

A few weeks ago I shared what I considered to be a clarifying chart on FB. Frankly, I was getting really tired of the lies that the Republicans are telling about the last four years—apparently believing that President Obama is the first president of the United States because everything that is wrong with the economy is, directly, personally his fault and, apparently, there were no problems before him. No wars. No defense spending. No rising oil prices. Everyone had a meaningful, personally fulfilling, and highly paid job. We lived in some sort of Garden of Eden, I guess. Who was that president before Obama and which party was in control of Congress? Hmmm.

So, I posted it and suddenly a chart about the job situation before and after Obama resulted in a debate about abortion and a variety of other women’s justice issues. I kept out of it because, well, the argument was beyond my sense of the kind of discourse that I think is reasonable on FB…. But things continue to spiral down and, honestly, I’m pretty disturbed by the language and attitudes of some of my friends. I get that this election matters—and I get that people who believe differently about important issues and offices can differ. But there is a “Christian” meanness that creeps in that has lead me to hide many of those comments because I just don’t want to be associated with them. Having comments on my FB pages that suggest that Obama is in some sense not Christian—maybe even anti-Christian—and that the Republican agenda is the Jesus agenda; well, I just can’t accept it. Meanness is not a Christian virtue, and confusing political agenda with Jesus’ message leads to such deep confusion among those in the “family” and watching the “family” seem simply (actually complicatedly) wrong.

I do not mean by that statement that I think my faith does not factor into my voting. Of course it does. To the best of my ability and understanding, I want my convictions about what it means to be a follower of Jesus to deeply, even primarily, influence how I mark my ballots. Honestly, to a large extent I am a registered Democrat because of my understanding of what Jesus teaches about how to follow him. But I do not confuse the two; neither do I conflate them. Neither do I think that America is about one religious perspective dominating all other perspectives—there’s something fundamentally un-American about that. I am never confused about the absolute difference between being a follower of Jesus and an American—Jesus said to Pilate, “My kingdom is not a worldly kingdom” and it is to his reign that I am bound. I am not confused about this.

But these are what I’m confused about:

Along with many of my friends, FB and otherwise, I am “pro-life.” What I mean by “pro-life,” however, is this: I am a pacifist; I stand against the death penalty; I believe schools should teach responsible sexual behavior even as they promote abstinence; I believe in providing universal health care for all persons so that all persons are able to lead healthy lives. I do not think you can be pro-life about only one thing and anti-life in others. Jesus calls us to love our neighbors—even when our neighbor is an enemy.

In addition, I don't believe that taking a stance for pro-life requires condemnation—especially mean spirited condemnation of those who believe differently. While I stand in one place in principle, I cannot make decisions that require everyone else to live by my principles—I am not they and I do not know their situation. In other words, my pro-life stance does not allow me to say that abortion is always wrong—nor can I insist that no one should ever be allowed to. Jesus entered into personal relationship with folks of every stripe and invited them to be better than they were; still does that. By drawing the kind of hard lines so many of us draw about acceptable and unacceptable behavior—how is that inviting people into relationship with Jesus?

I’m also confused about the health care debate. Anything that extends health coverage to the most people should not be a political debate; really, for anyone’s neediness to be devalued and ignored and not served seems to me be essentially not Christian. Even Jesus had to be corrected about this—by a woman seeking control over her own body. People in need are people in need (Jesus interrupted just about anything that he was doing to respond to need); to reduce human neediness to political agenda is wrong.

I’m also confused about the education debate. Anything that helps anyone grow in ability to live in this world in meaningful and skillful ways should not be the subject of political debate. We spend untold billions on death; we spend so little on helping people become better people. I do not mean to suggest that the solution to the crisis in public school education can be solved simply with more money. Frankly, I think much of the struggle in our public school system today is because Christians have abandoned them. What sense does it make to remove Christians from some of the neediest places on earth?

I’m also confused about the anger and meanness that flows through conversations about homosexuality. When Jesus told us to love our enemies and love the stranger and take care of our neighbor, I don’t think he was suggesting that we could somehow pick and choose. All persons are valuable. All persons are image bearers. All persons are loved by God. All. Other than the religious leaders of his day—the hard liners who were grateful that they were better than everyone else, especially women—Jesus had only acceptance and welcome and health, even (or especially) when it invited condemnation and accusation. How can we be otherwise—regardless of what we might believe about sexual identity and orientation.

I’m also confused about how we work so hard to exclude people from our country. I remember the day that I realized that on my father’s side of the family, I’m first generation American. My Dad was an immigrant. Actually, so was my Mom’s family, just more generations back. I think we allow our fears to dominate us and create these fences to protect ourselves, creating some sort of false security. Jesus invites us to consider our neighbor—and defines neighbor in the most inclusive terms. Recently in class we were talking about the parable of the Good Samaritan and thinking about the usual stuff. Then, inspiration struck, and I asked: what are we not told? What we are not told is who the man in the gutter is—we know nothing about him but the circumstances of his immediate situation. He is robbed, beaten, left for dead, and naked. He could be anyone, a student said; yes, I said: anyone. That’s pretty inclusive; not much basis there for excluding anyone from the definition of neighbor: the person in need.

Well, I’m sure this will create some kind of debate and that persons out there, even some of the ones who know me well, will dismiss this as Arthur’s usual weirdness. This is stuff, however, that will not leave me alone. I simply mean to invite my Christian friends to spend more time paying attention to Jesus, quit asking what he would do, start asking what he did do—and work really hard at adjusting your political agenda to be one that expresses what Christians say in church about our loving and forgiving and gracious God.

I know that won’t happen because many of you already think that’s what you are doing; so, my final request is this: please quit the meanness!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Third cup: Thinking about teaching....

I’m reading a biography about Leonardo da Vinci (Bramly, Serge. (1994) Leonardo, The Artist and the Man. London: Penguin Books). I’ve long been interested in him—who hasn’t—and decided that I wanted to know more, although apparently there is not a great deal to know for sure. Even though this book is 420 pages, excluding notes and index, for someone so well known and so widely recognized, most of his life is subject to serious, scholarly speculation. What is known for sure, however, is certainly justifiably the basis for describing him as genius.

This is not, however, what I want to write about. Read this from Bramly:

It may seem extraordinary to us that artists of dissimilar and often unequal talents should collaborate on a work. But in Leonardo’s time, a painting was sold in advance, and the painter was working not for himself but on commission. The artist was not yet inspired by an irresistible desire to express himself, his work was not the flesh of his flesh, however great the effort or the passion he put into it: it only have belonged to him (202).

Today, we attach a far more clean-cut—and therefore narrowly proprietorial—notion to the work of art. There was no such thing as artistic property in those days, and I do not think that Leonardo would have minded at all that his style and his ‘concepts’ were divulged to others.… I would say that Leonardo … was something like a famous dress designer in our day who designs for both haute couture and the ready-to-wear market; he may grant licenses to use his name but is not always protected against plagiarism. … At the end of the day, Leonardo would have been perfectly satisfied: his followers would be helping to make his vision known, promoting his reputation, even ‘advertising’ his work.… (203).

So not modern! Ownership of a work matters less than the collaboration that produces the work. Amazing.

This took me back to the olden days of the Culture of Western Man (CWM) program at WPC. (For those of you who don’t know about this: CWM was a two-year interdisciplinary general studies program designed around great questions—“Can man opt out?”—that integrated nearly all of the traditional liberal arts core courses into one focused combination of lectures, readings, and discussion groups.) Clearly the architecture of this brilliant and terribly unwieldy interdisciplinary general studies program clearly belongs to Marshall Christensen; this amazing complexity of important and life-changing questions would guide a lifetime of study. The actual building and then living inside that architecture, however, was one of the most shared and collaborative ventures of my life in academia—perhaps in my whole life. Several of us, sitting around the table, working together to build out the design, carefully assuring appropriate disciplinary contributions while assuring equally that a broader, “live the big questions” rubric was kept supreme.

Beyond that, I think for the first time for most of us "CWM profs" were together in the classroom. I am sure that it was the first time for such an extended period. When I lectured about myth, the whole faculty was present along with the student body; when Charles Nielsen lectured about economic materialism, the whole faculty was present along with the whole student body. We listened to each other and talked with each other and questioned and critiqued each other. It was, for me, a truly collaborative—and transforming—experience.

It was genius, I think. It was a distinctive, nearly unique program that might have survived in another setting. I think WPC lacked the reputation, the finances, the standing to pull it off in relationship to other schools, struggling always to explain to registrars and dean and advisors how this effort broke down into traditional academic credits. I think we lacked simply the number of faculty to sustain this two-year mega effort. While I think the humanities core currently offered at WPC is a strong and thriving program that clearly channels the spirit of CWM, I am sorry it didn’t survive; I am grateful to be part of a grand experiment. It was a transformational work for me—personally and professionally.

Collaborative education is something WPC still works at; I think, however, it needs more attention. Building silos is easier and requires less work than building barns, which always require collaborative conversation about how to make a barn achieve its whole function under one roof.

Friday, October 26, 2012

First Cup—Poetry Friday

What: is a poem?

An explosion in a silent movie,
muted, stretching to say more
than can be said
visually; incomplete missing
something but some how saying

A rose from which the petals
have fallen, on the ground,
somehow connected
though fallen—still in
the picture;

A silent long and wordless sigh
reaching deeper than

An acute angel of vision
seeing less but differently
angled into insight, however
personal and limited and more

A word that stands alone
calling attention to its
sound, discrete and personal
singing its own song for itself
and others with ears to

an image starkly lighted
yet private
inviting to those brave enough
to hear or see or

(a scream on the edge
Of a bridge—
the sky orange)


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Second Cup—Sunday


• Isaiah 53:4-12
• Psalm 91:9-16
• Hebrews 5:1-10
• Mark 10:35-45

The theme of suffering runs pretty much throughout the readings for this 21st Sunday after Pentecost—a theme I’d just as soon not have to think about. Psalm 91 seems to be in contrast to the other three; however, the other three are pretty much undeniably about the redemptive power of suffering.

The Isaiah passage is more often than not connected to Jesus; I get that—it is easy to read Jesus back into this text. (Well, most of the text; there are a few passages that have to be ignored. I understand why the church read Jesus back into the text and concluded that this is Messianic prophecy.) I think, however, that we do that at some risk to ourselves. That reading allows me not to think about what it means for me, my life, and the redemption of the world.

I think that this reading is really about Israel and, by extension, the church. Another way to say that is this passage is about the people of God in the world for the world. The heading reads “a light to the nations.” That’s one of the themes that Israel—and, again, by extension, the church—is uncomfortable with. We like the chosen part; we do not like the light on the hill bit, unless it means that the world can see how wonderful we are, how right we are, and how powerful we are.
The suffering of Jesus can be redemptive—“Behold, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) and "... the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Revelation 13:8). OK. We get that: there is benefit to that. But us? But me? Suffering servants?! Suffering servant?! Getting a bit uncomfortable now.

Yet, Jesus says to his disciples who ask for positions of power and authority in the kingdom, “Can you drink from the cup from which I will drink? Can you be baptized with the baptism with which I will be baptized?” Whew! Hard questions: always hard questions. I think I have grown soft. I think I am cowardly. I think I am afraid of suffering—suffering for me, let alone for anyone else. But Jesus suffered for me—his great sacred heart was broken for me. His love for me—and all humankind—was so wide and deep and high and full and rich that he died rather than give me—give us—up. Can I drink from the cup from which he drank? Can I be baptized with his baptism? It is certainly my question and one I will live with and into. It is also the question for the church.

If the church is the body of Christ, where are the wounds?

Friday, October 19, 2012

First Cup--Poetry Friday

This poem was written a few years back when Judy and I were on a trip in and around Massachusetts. We visited Walden Pond and Concord—truly lovely rich spots. We wondered around in the Bronson Alcott's school/barn where folks like Emerson, Julia Ward Howe, and William James taught.

These Concord men and women
challenge me soul deep.
These self-determining, garden-tending,
child-begetting, paradigm-upsetting,
idea-formulating, barn-schooling.
wood-chopping philosophers--
searchers for the Oversoul in their own backyards.
These talkers, endless explorers, ever vergent.
These walkers in the woods.
These self-reliant connoisseurs and teachers.
These hardy loners, poets, novel writers.
These coffee chatting neighbors.
These book devourers, book producers.
These transcenders.
These endlessly speaking
men and women,
genteel in their dress,
wildly improper in their minds.
These desirers of greatness, certain
of their right to be great.
These influencers; these builders
of schools and systems,
of ideas and houses and cabins.
These Concord men and women
challenge me soul deep.

—amk (2006)

Monday, October 15, 2012

First Cup--Sunday (yesterday)

Lectionary Sunday

Amos 5:6-7, 10-15
Psalm 90: 12-17
Hebrews 4:12-16
Mark 10:17-31

“Hope is believing in God’s future now; faith is dancing to it.”

That calligraphic statement hangs in our dining room just above the buffet and below the teacup rack and to the north of two other statements—these other two are biblical.

“Do not be afraid. I have redeemed you. I have called you by your name. You are mine. You are precious in my eyes and honored and I love you.” —Isaiah

“This is what Yahweh asks of you, only this: to act justly to love tenderly and to walk humbly with your God.” —Micah

These three powerful statements are rich with hope—a hope that is founded, rooted, cemented in the deep and relational and unrelenting inexplicable lovetowardus of God. And, while these passages are moving and reassuring, they are not finally not warm and fuzzy. As Hebrews tells us, God’s word is sharp and dividing and active and piercing and discriminating—hard, in another word. Hard.

“You are mine”—Good, right? The Creator God of the universe owns me. Oh.
“Only this: justice, love, humility”—Good, right. That’s it? That’s all? Only justice, love, and humility. Oh.

Today’s lections are also full of hope—and other ideas:

Justice—always justice. This God nags about justice. “…how monstrous [are] your sins; you bully the innocent, extort ransoms, and in court push the destitute out of the way.”
Economics—justice is so often referenced in economic terms: the hard economics of God. Wealth, always in the way. “One thing you lack: go, sell everything you have, and give to the poor….”
Mortality—that ultimate fact we work so hard to ignore: we die: “So make us know how few are our days, that our minds may learn wisdom.” Wisdom: always hard earned.
Doom—never seems too far away; the unintended consequence of our refusal to do justice. Unintended for us who forget about justice.

And hope—

It is a hard hope we are called to—in the midst of our humanity, our willfulness, our lustfulness, our selfishness. We are called to believe in the world God dreams for us—and, then, to act as if it is already true, even as we see that the world, as lovely as it is, is full of pain and injustice. It is not an easy dance we are called to and more often than not it is not a graceful dance (however grace-filled it may be). We are not practiced at it. We are more like the good young man Jesus meets and says, Leave it all to the those that really need it and come, dance with me. I think the look on Jesus’ face as the young man walks slowly and sadly away is the look he often has as he watches me, turn and walk away.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

First cup--Saturday

I think everyone knows first person personal confessional autobiography is not a new genre. The use of prose and poetry to think and reflect on one’s life—a kind of public journal—dates back, at least, to Augustine Confessions. I think the first time I became really aware of this genre was when I read Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain, although the writings of Loren Eiseley actually predate that.

Over the years, many persons have invited me into their lives and their reflections on their lives through such writings. I know that many novels are cloaked autobiography—sometimes it is simply easier that way. The facts can be bent and rearranged and it is always possible to say, well, no, it’s not my story; remember it’s a novel.

I think, however, that the 20th century has been full of such autobiographical and semi-autobiographical work. As I look over the shelves of my library, I see Madeleine L’Engle, Anne Dillard, Kathleen Norris, Fredric Buechner, Stanley Hauwerwas,Henri Nouwen, Parker Palmer, Philip Yancey, Mel White, William Sloan Coffin, Barry Lopez, C.S. Lewis, Bruce Feiler; I remember clearly the moving reflections on life and science in the writings of Loren Eiseley; and, of course, there are the diaries of Thomas Merton—and his ageless (however dated) classic The Seven Storey Mountain. Don Miller’s books and Anne Lamott’s are recent additions to this list. There are more; too many to list here, although these are the writers whose narratives have moved and challenged and directed me on my own journey.

L’Engle’s Crosswick’s Journals came into my world at important points in my own journey and struggle. The Summer of the Great Grandmother came when we were working through the Alzheimer’s and dementia of my parents; her Two-Part Invention, the story of a marriage recounting her marriage and the journey with her husband’s death provided a profound means of dealing with my own grief at the dying of those same parents—and helped me, perhaps for the first time, to address my own mortality. The freshness of Kathleen Norris’ journey from Bennington to Dakota and into the monastic spirit helped me think about my own journey with the church and mental and spiritual health while I was walking my way to the light guided by my Mary. I don't think I could ever adequately explain the enlightening power of The Seven Storey Mountain—a journey so radically different from and, enigmatically, so much the same as my own.

In the last few days, I’ve added another to this list: Tony Kriz’s Neighbors and Wise Men, a book I might never have noticed had the author not been another of WPC’s “senior adjunct professors.” A doctor in spiritual formation, Tony’s journey from what I would call the dark certainty of fundamentalism to the light uncertainty of relational faith and the lightly held but no less deep convictions and practices of a follower of Jesus is a wonderful confessional journal. It speaks humbly and relationally and invitationally—I guess, I mean incarnationally.

So many people are confused about this idea of “hearing from God.” Many believe that God does speak—we confess it. Yet, frankly, so few understand how. By Tony’s willingness to pay attention to what is going on around him, to the words of the people who talk to him (whether Muslims in Albania or bartenders in Portland), to the stories recorded in scripture, and to what all of this stirs up in him—this latter is in many ways the most important. To not run from the discomfort, the anguish, the uncertainty; to not escape into the old and glib oh-so-easy answers and to, one step at a time, engage what is stirring. It is in such difficult and emotionally trying times that God shows up. One of the amazing biblical pictures of God is when God shows up in a whirlwind. Think about it: here is a man named Job whose life has gone completely and wildly out of control, even as he asserts again and again that the old verities do not explain this out-of-controlness. What is needed here is the God “who makes me to lie down in green pastures” and who vindicates me; instead: whirlwind. That’s the God we don’t like; the God we run from—the God who doesn’t remove us from “the valley of the shadow of death” but is in the valley with us and whose presence is not always comforting or comfortable.

This is the value of this book: unstinting courage in the face of God’s uncomfortable, enigmatically relational creativity; the God who is with us but not in the platitude, no, in the whirlwind. Tony’s honest journey with God and others challenges and inspires. The narrative heart of the book is found near the end of it in a description of another person—Bobbin: “He busted down the door. He busted it with silence, with listening, with humility, with contrition and remorse…at least for one conversation. And sometimes one conversation can change your life” (Kriz, Tony. (2012) Neighbors and Wise Men, sacred encounters in a Portland pub and other unexpected places. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 221).

Friday, October 12, 2012

Poetry Friday

This morning I went looking for an old file of my poems; it took awhile to find it, tucked away in the back of the second drawer of my filing cabinet. Not in alphabetical position. I wonder how it got out of order—isn’t that just like poetry: never where you expect it to be. Yet, while I was looking for it, I thought, I haven’t had a new poem since back in June. Wonder why that is. Too busy? Probably. Not enough time just sitting a staring? Likely. No rain—yes, here, that would be the case; something about the rain that brings out the soul. After so many months of lovely sunny weather, Oregon seems to be back today and the weather experts are saying that it will be around for a while. Perhaps as the soil is watered so my soul will.

Searching back through my journal, I found this, dated June 2 and situated at the Benedictine Monastery, Mt. Angel. It is titled “Halfway to 70.” A momento mori.

Born in 1943, January,
I am 69. It is June.
Month six. Halfway to 70.
It occurs to me that halfway
is an apt metaphor of my life.

Standing in a door—the door
I’ve so often described to my
students: the door of life.
Of decision. Irrevocable. It
has a door knob on the
enter side—and nonesuch
on the other. If it shuts
behind, there you are.
Shut in front, there is
always the possibility that you
could open it again.

I stand in the doorway. Neither
in nor out. Some might call it
liminal space—all such times have
been times of potential. But
more like cowardice for me.

I’ve almost let it close behind
me. More than once. Never really,
though. At last moment, finger tips
gripping, I open it and
step back in.

Those who can’t, teach.

Perhaps it is that I am a
doorkeeper meant to keep it
open? To live on the verge.
In this space. To show others
the way through. Someone has to
be a doorkeeper.

That would be good;
If only it is true

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Future story

In a recent presidential newsletter, In the City, President Cook wrote about her opportunity to serve on the Ministries Council of the Church of God, Anderson. She points out that “The church is undergoing a critical moment of transition” related to the search for a new General Director and is doing serious work about the future. She writes that she has also “been facilitating a committee that has been tasked to write a ‘Future Story’ that will articulate ‘what the Church of God will look like in 2023’” (In the City, September 2012).

I am taken by this idea: writing / describing / illustrating / imagining what the future might look like—what we want it to look like—what we hope it will look like. It is a hopeful idea: there just might be a future. It’s a bridge—at least, that is what I’m reading about future stories: a bridge rooted in the bedrock of the past yet stretching toward the future. Yes, I know, no one can predict that; God happens; life happens; stuff happens, as they say; change is constant, at least that’s what people have been saying since Heraclitus; yet there is something hopeful about the idea. And hope is good.

I’ve been thinking about all this; I’ve been thinking that it might be an interesting ending activity for Hum 310 or Rel 320—after all of this reading and talking and reflecting, write your future. I’ve been thinking that, perhaps, I might write my own. As short term as my future may be, I am hopeful. Most of me is working pretty well—at least, no one has said, “Say, Arthur, could I talk to you about what you…….”

Mostly, however, I’m thinking about the future of Warner Pacific College and about the future of the Church of God reformation movement and about how those two futures intertwine. What is the story our gang of futurists is writing? Who are they, by the way, and why are they the ones who are doing this? Is there a historian among them? What qualifications are necessary to be a futurist? Are they all churchmen, church women, bureaucrats; is there a poet among them? Surely, in some sense, writing the future is writing a poem. What is their demographic—age, gender, ethnicity, geography, and so on? Will we get to vote on our future? Maybe, most importantly, are they people formed by the narrative of this particular and peculiar group of persons—or is their formation along other plot lines? And, then, there is that other question— What if I/we don’t like the story they are writing?

But the question I’m most concerned about is the penultimate one on that list. I’m not sure why we do this, but it seems to me that one way to read our history is that we spend more time listening to other narratives than we do to our own. With the exception, perhaps, of the earliest formational days of the church when a radically different idea was preached, we have often (more often?) listened to other narratives. I think there was a period in the corporate life of the church when the dominative narrative was the narrative of corporate culture—that may be the most dominant parallel narrative. Many, for example, were convinced that the narrative of General Motors was the one we needed to live. I think we embraced a narrative of power (perhaps even of fear) when we decided that the General Assembly should be molded along lines that inhibited rather than permitted dialogue and argument and conversation and mutual discovery and, yes, accountability.

I think the restructuring that resulted in Church of God Ministries—and the struggle we continue to have with it and its relevance—is the result of listening to other cultural narratives: those of the church growth and mega church narratives that have so dominated the church’s conversation for the last 50 years.

Now, I do not mean to suggest that we shouldn’t know those other narratives or ask what they might have to teach us, and neither should this be construed as an argument to go back to another time. We have too many folks around who think that backwards is the direction we should head. However, says Strege, “those who are unclear in their identity can hardly be expected to know how to go forward well. Understanding the present and determining a path through the future become risky and subject to great error when divorced from historical understanding” (Strege, The Quest for Holiness and Unity, 515).

I think there are some ideas and understandings that were central to how we lived together—or, at least, how we thought and taught we should live together—that are still mighty attractive. I hope these narratives and practices are included in the plotlines of this future story.

What am I talking about?

Well, that will be a subject for another blog.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

My books and me....spiritual formation

In class, recently, I said, "I've always been a reader; I honestly cannot remember when I didn't read." Of course, there was a time before I could read, but I have always been surrounded by books. We had books in the house I grew up in and, most importantly, within walking distance was the Julia C. Lathrop Branch Library, located in a wing of the Julia C. Lathrop Junior High School, where I would spend two horrible and one pretty amazing years.

Why am I writing about this today? Well, one of the books I'm reading right now is Tony Kriz's Neighbors and Wise Men—more about that when I've finished it. However, the chapter on spiritual formation got me to thinking about the neighborhood I grew up in, a neighborhood that contained, within walking distance, the Lathrop Branch Library and the wonderful women who worked there who were my guides into the world of books. I still remember Miss Calkins, Leona; she was the boss. A formidable woman who loved books and loved introducing people to books. I could describe this place to you in vivid detail. I spent so many hours there; it was also the location of my first job—imagine that?! I worked in a place I loved. (Actually, pretty much, I can say that about all the places I've worked.)

One powerful memory: the library had four rooms: the main reading and reference room, the adult reading room, the children's room, and the young reader's room. Dark wooden shelves from floor to ceiling; half way up was a shelf. I am following Miss Calkins along that wall as she pulls book after book, sets them on the shelf, saying, "Read this!" Thank you, Miss Calkins! I read them all--most of them, unabridged.

Who knows how many books I've read? I keep a record now, but that might cover only the last ten years or so. What does this have to do with spiritual formation? Well, for me, everything. I love people and have clearly been blessed to be in relationship with wonderful folks who have thought long about what it means to be Jesus follower--and who have tried to live what they thought. Sometime, perhaps, I'll write about those folks. But books have been the voice of God for me. All kinds of books. Not talking only about religious or Christian books--the truth is that there would probably be fewer of them than others. I love novels and I read more novels than anything else. I love theology, too, and novels provide a kind of commentary on theology--much the way that biblical stories are the heart of Scripture.

Last night I finished Michael Gruber's The Book of Air and Shadows. It's a literary mystery developed around one of the great mysteries of English literature--why don't we know more about and have more evidence that Shakespeare actually wrote the plays that bear his name? A contemporary coded set of letters in found bound into the covers of an old book; the set of letters talk about a Mr. W. S. and a seditious play that he has been tricked into writing--all set in the religious struggles of pre-reformation England. Is it possible that W.S. is William Shakespeare and is it possible that there exists a new play, extant, that can clearly and finally be linked to Shakespeare--and, thereby, resolve hundreds of years of scholarship? Well, I won't tell you how it ends (no spoiler alert); but it involves transcontinental travel, the "mob" in various forms and moralities, kidnapping, thugs, international copyright laws, scholarly reputations and, possibly, wealth.

It is a lovely read, but what does it have to do with spiritual formation? A long, loving, honest look into the human condition and the state of the soul. The possibility of redemption. A thoughtful consideration of the relationship between violence and redemption--and the American psyche. Human genius and human duplicity. Sometimes I think it would be better for all of us if we treated the Bible like a novel. Sometimes sacred texts are so sacred that we miss out on the humanity. Sometimes we think that the suffering of Jesus wasn't real suffering--a form of gnosticism. Novels help me to understand that humans are capable of many wonderful things and, yes, redeemable (thank God!); but that we are also capable of really horrible things and are more than able (and sometimes more than willing) to inflict those really horrible things on others--and, yes, even the most loving one who ever walked the face of the earth.

So, thank you, Miss Calkins and Betty Wimpress, for being two of the most important of my spiritual guides along my pilgrim way. And, thank you, Mom and Dad, for encouraging me to read and never really keeping me from reading anything I put my hands on.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Morning Joe--Sunday Lectionary

A commentary on today's readings—

Genesis 2:18-24
Psalm 8
Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
Mark 10:2-16

Friday, October 5, 2012

Morning Joe--Poetry Friday

This poem grows from participation in a Godly Play "wondering"
based on the story of the Great Shepherd and the sheep—a story
that is one of the Jesus stories that never fails to move me. Never.

Olly olly oxen free free free

We hide; he seeks.
He seeks; we run away.
He runs after, gives chase,
calling after us, coaxing us;
We say, What do you want?
He says, Olly olly oxen free free free

He hides; we seek.
He’s found; we’re surprised.
We cover him, hoping he’ll stay hidden
but we’re drawn back and check.
Yes, he’s still there, smiling;
We say, What do you want?
He says, Olly olly oxen free free free

He plays and calls us to play,
to sit with him on the ground,
clothes dusty, knees worn;
We say, What do you want?
He says, Look there’s a box.
Pandora’s? Well, maybe, but God’s, for sure.
Careful, parable at work. Lift the lid, open the present,
look inside:
A sheepfold holding—I wonder.
A quiet seed growing—I wonder.
A whole universe becoming—I wonder.

A mystery—a silent child speaking loudly
in our circle—the face of the child is the
Face of God we can see
and the child, in a quiet and holy space,
humming a tune:
Olly olly oxen free free free

Follow me, the Shepherd says, over the grass,
by the pond, through the rocks
to the golden nest in the mustard tree
under the shining sun
singing a song
Olly olly oxen free free free


Monday, October 1, 2012

First cup—Sunday morning

An amazing, sweet, delightful conversation

• Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29
• Psalm 19:7-14
• James 5:13-20
• Mark 9:38-50

There are weeks in the lectionary when the readings hang together in obvious ways with clear connections. The conversation among the readings and the manner in which they talk about, comment on, and speak to each other is transparent. Then, there are other weeks when the response is “Huh? What in the world did these folks have in mind when they brought these readings into the same room?!”

It was that kind of week for me—at least, initially.

The problem for people like me who were not raised with the lectionary is that I keep forgetting the big picture. The big picture is represented by the Christian calendar. These are not random passages chosen to fill blanks on a chart; they are prayerfully selected readings that fit into a larger scheme. I think also that we tend to forget the historical context as well.

(Far too many of us free church Protestants were raised in “Bible believing churches” that acted as if there were only a few passages that we preached about, taught about—maybe even knew about—most of those were Pauline, and most of those operated in some weird kind of ahistorical time. “Bible believing churches” seemed, well, selective in which part of the Bible they were going to believe—easier that way.)

So, the lections invite us to back up a bit, take another perspective, and remember that there is this calendar. It is a Christian calendar; some call it the church’s calendar. It has its own beginning and its own end that have little to do with the calendar that governs the dailiness of our lives. The latter calendar, as we all know, begins January 1 and ends December 31. The church’s calendar ends this year (Year B) on November 25 or the 26th Sunday after Pentecost or Reign of Christ Sunday; it begins (Year C) December 2 or the First Sunday of Advent.

The point of this is that Christians live in two worlds and two different perspectives—at least, we do if we hear what the lectionary and this calendar are trying to teach us. It's another kairos / chronos paradox. All of which brings us back to this week’s readings that are in the season the church named Pentecost, which begins with Pentecost Sunday and ends November 25—after which the whole cycle re-boots. In fact, November 25 is the last day of the Christian year. Sometimes we act as if the church has always had it all figured out. Why we think that is a mystery since we’ve been fighting about it all for, well, for the church, the last roughly 2000 years. We forget that something pretty dramatically different happened (Incarnation), and we forget that pretty dramatically different happening (Jesus) pretty much upset the whole apple cart.

What began then is an on-going conversation about what it means to be a follower of Jesus and what “church” means—a conversation that continues to this day and, likely, will continue, at least, to the second Advent. What we are reading in these passages today is some of that conversation—what does it mean to be the people of God? Since the Old Testament and Psalm readings are here, we should understand that also means the conversation has been going on even longer. The church puts its own spin on the conversation, but when Joshua ran to Moses and said tell them to stop it, Moses, fresh from a conversation with God, said, who am I to stop this conversation? What a strange God this one is! The Psalmist says, Oh my! Isn’t this rich? This conversation about the heart of things. And James to the church says: This is what you need to understand! Then, Jesus says to his disciples: This is what you need to understand! And they are each still at the table and we get to be there with them, marveling at the honey richness of it all—enjoying the simple truth that we are at the table with each other and Moses, the psalmist, James, and Jesus. We continue that long time conversations at table with Moses, the psalmist, James, and Jesus and say: What does this all mean? How do we live with each other as the people of God in our time and place?

When we newbies join the conversation, we start too deep and way too detailed. We want to do what we always do: argue about the details and ask the American question—what does this have to say to me?—rather than the biblical question—what does this have to do with us?

Really amazing, you know, to think of this all as a wonderful, difficult, challenging, life-giving conversation!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Second Cup—Poetry Friday

The Arc of Grace

The arc of grace is ever-widening,
more including, as the judgment seat
into mercy seat:

Like my eyesight,
the lines of my certainties blur.
The stark outline of my dogma wavers;
even faces—the palimpsests, those
bothersome hard to read words between
the lines, emerge and demand
attention—attention I want to give
even as I am fearful they will
obscure my convictions and leave me
surprised and wondering.

From the very top of the long,
previously unidentified
green stalks—gladiolii, I thought, perhaps;
instead spring lovely white and yellow iris blooms—
iris orientalis—that seem somehow tacked on, added, as if
some one came along and said, these
tall growing spear stalks need
some thing:

Here, these will do.
Surprises, delicate anomalies.


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Second (or third) cup: so...?


So, where is this going? Well, I think all of this memory and story is connected to my growing conviction about teaching:

I walk into the classroom as well-prepared as I know how to be. I am ready. Of course, the syllabus and the calendar have been completed for over a month. I've read the texts, even reviewed them in anticipation of the day's purpose. My PowerPoint is prepared and the technology is reasonable ready. I have my questions and ideas and illustrations and stories in mind (even on a page of notes). I am prepared to perform (and, yes, I do think teaching is a performance art).

Then, I walk into the classroom; the lights go up (or down); the students (also, by the way, performers--they are not the audience) are there and, some more and some less, ready.

Then, something else happens.

Something amazing:

• the art of teaching is the art of jazz: improvisation. I know that our syllabi contain a caveat that is designed on some level to protect the teacher from accusations that the teacher did not cover the syllabus. I think, however, that it might also be because "The best laid schemes of mice and men [and teachers] / Go often awry...." And that is likely a good thing; at least for me, more often than not, a very good thing.

• the art of teaching is the art of the lectionary: improvisation. We pay attention to the text, bring ourselves to the text, stage the conversation; the conversation among the texts and our conversation with the texts; stories commenting on each other and our lives commenting on the stories and the stories commenting on our lives. Story on story on story. Often something wonderful—and unexpected—happens. Something new. Like jazz.

I tend to say the Spirit shows up and, then, who knows what will happen?

So, like a jazz musician and a good preacher and a good story teller, the teacher shows up, pays attention, and the rest, well, the rest is like a stellar jazz ensemble, story time around the camp fire, coffee at TaborSpace or Bipartisan or Starbucks at Gresham Station or RainOrShine. The planned and the unplanned.

The hallmark of the community of truth is not psychological intimacy or political civility or pragmatic accountability, though it does not exclude these virtues. This model of community reaches deeper, into ontology and epistemology—into assumptions about the nature of reality and how we know it—on which all education is built. The hallmark of the community of truth is in its claim that reality is a web of communal relationships, and we can know reality only by being in community with it (Parker J. Palmer. (1998). The Courage to Teach, exploring the inner landscape of a teacher's life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. p. 95).

Saturday, September 22, 2012

First Cup—jazz et al….

I’m not sure where this is going this morning, but here goes:

I spent a great deal of time this summer listening to four great jazz artists—Jessica Williams, Dave Brubeck, Maynard Ferguson, and Miles. The breadth of invention; the dexterity of fingers; amazing, creative, brilliant musicians. Ground breaking; that is, opening up the ground and my soul—airing me out. Filling the vacuum.

Amazing sounds: such sounds; such vibrations; such wildness, barely under control. The journey to and from the chart…the theme….the idea!

I’ve listened to jazz since I was a kid. There were two radio stations I grew up listening to: KLAC, classical radio, Los Angeles, and another, a jazz station, at least at night; I’ve been trying to remember its call numbers but cannot. Yes, I also listened to what was playing on Top 40 stations. I did like Elvis and loved the Beach Boys; when folk music “happened,” I did really connect to that.

Many a Friday or Saturday night my friends and I (so young and so sophisticated, so cool) sat in the dim light of “The Prison of Socrates,” a coffee house near the Newport Pier—old time espresso, poetry, art, and folk music.

But the challenging complexities and beauty of classical music and the amazing intricacies and joyfulness of West Coast Jazz—well, they always drew me back. Sitting in my room, late at night, reading, listening. I listened, fascinated and ignorant.

How can I describe it? My room was the “dorm,” a large room that my Dad built out of packing in the garage. He built it for my oldest brother; then, for my two older brothers. Finally, it was mine. They were gone; I was alone. The room had a full size bed, a oversize chair and a great ottoman that you could sink down into, listening to the radio and my “stereo.” (The first 33 1/3 album I remember was an anthology of “West Coast Jazz All Stars; I remember listening to Art Blakey over and over!) And there was always Brubeck; I wore out my "Take 5" album. In the quiet of a cool southern California night, those sounds moved me in ways I could not understand. I just didn’t get it; I just loved it.

As wonderful as it is, jazz itself is not what I want to write about.

I’m reading Shannon’s Thomas Merton’s Paradise Journey—a refresher on the life giving practice of contemplative prayer. There are some insights here that loudly echo Parker Palmer. (I wonder if Palmer read Merton.) In class, we’ve been living with these words (Palmer paraphrased):

The pilgrimage to our true selves is not only a personal pilgrimage
but it is also a social and political act.

“The journey to our true selves”: the journey inward to find our home—imago dei. This, of course, is Merton’s journey. It is also the journey of Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Juan de la Cruz, Oscar Romero…. Then, in the midst of all of this I find myself sitting with the lections for the week—especially the Gospel: “Who do you say I am?”

The challenge of jazz: to stay true to the tune;
the challenge of contemplative prayer: to stay true to the source;
the challenge of the pilgrimage: to stay true to the journey;
the challenge of discipleship: to stay true to the teacher.

no matter how wildly or widely one may improvise away or through or down or up or along, there is a way home.

As I said, not sure where this is going, but I know this: it isn't done yet.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Second cup--Poetry Friday

Clearly, I did not get back yesterday to the blog for a second cup, and the ruminations about jazz et al are still brewing. Eager to write about those connections; perhaps tomorrow will afford more leisure for that.

Today is Poetry Friday, and I want to honor that commitment.

I have been so fortunate: a life lived with such good friends! So good are they, I think, that they are really undeserved, and I am often puzzled as to why they stick with me. (That is not false modesty; I am often puzzled but always grateful.)

This is a celebration:

Friendship through suffering,
a reflection on particular friends

We have not come here
nor do we continue here by an
easy way. “Yea, though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death.”
Though there is much laughter along the way—
ribald, silly, and joyous; it is the laughter
of friends who stand in the furnace,
flames stoked high, together,
trusting in the presence of a fourth
Friend. Through deaths we have
joined our paths and through pain. Through
cancer and depression. Through wayward
and prodigal children. And
if we laugh too much or too loudly at times,
it may be only, as another poet said, so
we will not cry.
We are together for
the surcease of sorrow, yet more often
for the pleasure of the company,
for such journeys can
be lonely and we have often traveled
far from home—and a good fire, good
food and beverage, good conversation and
laughter and comforting friends
along the way are worthy ends.

amk, 2012