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

Thursday, September 20, 2012

First cup--life and computers

I am having computer issues.

My trusty laptop has been getting slower and slower. I think I figured out the other day that I'd "wasted" nearly an hour sitting and waiting for commands to be followed. I did not sit patiently. So, yesterday we traveled to The Mac Store at Clackamas Town Center and met Steven and Duckie, my Macologist. I am now working on my older but still functioning (sort of like me) desk top, waiting for the call that data is transferred and I can begin working with my new and considerably faster machine. Hence, the few days absent from Morning Joe.

Interesting, I think, how our sense of time has changed because of computers. I know that time is an artificial construct. Well, maybe not entirely. "And there was evening and there was morning, the first day" (Genesis 1:5 NRSV). Yet, the clock that ticks away up there in the right hand corner of my screen—and in every room in this house, parsing seconds and minutes, telling me what "time of day" it is--really? I know that there is whole history around clocks and why they matter.... And I really have no idea why I'm writing about this. It is not what I meant to write about, but now I am out of time :) and need to get ready to head out into the wild and wonderful world of higher education at WPC.

(It is a long day beginning with Hum 410 conversations and ending with conversations about spirituality, character, and service. A long day for a nearly 70 year old prof—but, wow! such conversations!)

I'd meant to write about jazz and Merton and the lections--some interesting connections. Perhaps, there will be time for a second cup today.

Friday, September 14, 2012

First cup—poetry day

erratum: I have always been "calendar challenged," just ask my students who keep finding syllabus mistakes. Yesterday's blog entry on Holy Cross Day should have been today's entry. Today is September 14; today is Holy Cross Day....

Friday will be poetry day.

Yesterday in Rel 320, Spirituality, Character and Service, we were considering Parker Palmer's thinking about life as pilgrimage to "our true selves" and how that pilgrimage is not only a personal journey but also a social and political one. In that context, we were thinking out loud about time (kairos and chronos) and liminal space--the space in which, I think, pilgrimage occurs.

That conversation reminded me of this poem, written earlier this year:

“These Others”: On the verge—to verge*

(verge: the point beyond which something happens or begins
a line, belt, or strip that acts as a boundary or edge
the edge, rim, or margin of something)

What does it mean to head out, to move in directions
you may have traveled often (or not), but this time with others?
New or old way, either way, a whole new journey begins with these others.
What does it mean to live on the verge with these others—
to live with and in a place that, because you’ve never traveled
with these friends before, becomes fresh terrain?

Pioneering. Heading west or east or
north or south. Or in... Like climbing into Conestoga. Like boarding
a ship and heading where no one
has gone before. Like Lewis and Clark heading to the Pacific—
only rumors guiding them, the sun, and the woman.

Except it is different. Because this verge you cross is the
soul’s land. A strange land, familiar and peculiar, known and not.
This land is personal, sometimes private; sometimes you expect and
find posted “No Trespassing.” (Do I ignore?) A terrain sometimes full of
inexpressible fears and inarticulate joys. Death walks this
path with you in the bodies of friends where mortality wears
liminal and stares through and we want to run but
instead draw closer—around the bonfire and wait out the night


Thursday, September 13, 2012

First Cup—Holy Cross Day

The veneration of the cross.

A very strange practice for most of us Protestants: seems a bit idolatrous or, at least, misplaced. Yet, the lectionary reminds us of Holy Cross day with powerful scriptures and a significant portion of Christendom will take time to spend time with the cross. And more than once during the year they will stop and adore the cross and the one on it—as the lectionary reminds us: who is "the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor 1:24 REV). Gives one pause.

Most of us, I think, prefer the shiny gold or silver cross, especially if it is empty. It is so much less troubling and reminds us of the glorious end of the story rather than the even more glorious yet demanding journey to and through the cross. Paul uses words like "offensive" and "foolish"; I think I might add the words "troubling" and "demanding"— "in your face." I suppose over the centuries there has been a great deal of foolishness about it; I think, for example, of the number of pieces of the True Cross that still exist today across Christendom. If those pieces were all brought together in one place! Nonetheless, I think it would be a good practice if we revisited this powerful moment more than once a year so that our collective and individual gaze would "take in" the "very dying form of One who suffered there for me; And from my stricken heart with tears two wonders I confess: The wonders of redeeming love and my own unworthiness" (Elizabeth C. Clephane. "Beneath the Cross of Jesus").

The cross is hard to dismiss, no matter how hard or creatively we try to redirect our gaze. There is something profoundly compelling and deeply attractive. Of course, the theories of atonement abound--all of our efforts over millennia to explain a mystery. We love to explain a mystery! I find myself more convinced by the teaching that it is in the adoration of the mystery of the cross that we come to see the love of God, the true face of God, and are drawn to want to be part of such a deep and wide love. That awareness that God did this—condescended—for me to reveal how great the love of God is. Sitting at the foot of the cross on this day, the truth of who I am and the truth of who God is, and the hope of what that intersection means! In that contemplative state, I see who I am in my sinfulness, I see the love of God as for me, and I seek to be with God, confessing who I am and who God is and find in that restoration. All of the other theories of atonement, for me, fall short and display something less (sometimes far less) than the God revealed to the world on the cross.

Of course, it is all Mystery and all theories fall short and so I also pray

"Lord, have mercy;
Christ, have mercy;
Lord Jesus Christ,
who takes away the
sins of the world,
have mercy on me,
a sinner."

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

First cup--September 11, 2012

Coffee at The Bipartisan Cafe and rich conversation with a good friend. He's a fellow educator who is passionate about Warner Pacific and the grand experiment that is going on here. He's committed his whole life and career here and in a variety of ways that grow out of the remarkably gifted person he is.

Bipartisan is a great place to meet during this political season: dedicated to politics, good coffee (Stumptown), conversation, and pie! It has lovely pastries. This morning I had a wrapped scone--pastry wrapped around blueberries and cheese. Surrounded by memorabilia of past and current campaigns, I'm reminded of what a remarkable (if not always pleasant) story is the life of this strange democracy. It, too, is an experiment--and as long as we keep remembering that it is experiment and not something set in concrete, once and for all done, we'll likely do just fine. It takes a while but we usually get it right.

But I started writing about another kind of experiment, that is, the one going on here at Warner Pacific College, "nestled on Mt. Tabor's bosom." I think one of the realities about this place that has always moved me is way faculty really care about what is going on in their classrooms. While it is not unusual to hear faculty talk passionately about the content of their disciplines, it is also not unusual to her faculty talking passionately about how they teach, that is, the methodologies and relationships of their workplace.

Last Friday I was sitting in a meeting of the English faculty. The meeting was a conversation about why we teach and how we teach and to what ends we teach. Amazingly it was a conversation about these things in the context of mission: What does this mission—"WPC is a Christ-centered, urban, liberal arts college..."—have to do with writing well, appropriate grammar, and APA guidelines. Now, I know that for many (most?) that sounds like a pretty exciting conversation, and you are trying to figure out how you could get to be part of it. At least, you wonder, if you could sit around the edges, on the edges of your seats, eager to hear the thoughtfulness and creative nuances of the conversation. Right?

Well, in response to such sarcasm, let me tell you that you are exactly right; the conversation does matter just that much! How many times have you walked away from a conversation or an email exchange convinced that you had been heard and heard, well, only to have it blow up behind you? Or how many of you wish that you could compellingly say what you really think people need to understand? Right! All about communication.

Another way to understand our conversation: Is our role as English teachers to help students do well as students or is it to help them do well as persons living in a large and diverse world? Well, what if the answer to both questions is "Yes." Finding that middle way is important, but underneath it and in the context of mission, it is about helping students find their voice. Finding voice is an ontological goal because voice and self are so intimately connected.

Another way to emphasize its larger importance: As a follower of Jesus, I am called to live a transparent life--living out in my world the who I am in Jesus. How do I live that and speak that--that's voice. So, part of what we are about is empowerment: living truthfully and compassionately engaged with others. At the heart of the living is communicating. I need to do that well as well.

Well, this has turned into more than I thought it would; probably because of the two cups of Stumptown this morning, the wonderful pastry, and conversation with a good friend who is also following Jesus. Have a good day all. It is nearly time for chapel and I want to be there in my pew.

"Let's have another cup of coffee..."

Monday, September 10, 2012

First cup: a new blog

A new blog.

Why add to this huge growing pile of personal opinions about stuff? The problem is this: I'm requiring that my students at WPC, Fall 2012, develop and keep a blog. I'm interested in exploring the role of performance, especially as it relates to writing. How is it possible to help students think about audience if their only audience--their own reader--is the one paid to read? Well, a blog is a possible answer to that question. If there is the possibility that what I write will be read by others, will my writing improve? We'll see.

Since I am requiring that they blog, I will join them. That's one of those "serve first" principles that my other life experience, centered in Indiana, taught me: don't require students to go where you are not willing or haven't already gone. Therefore, I intend to keep this as an active blog--at least through this semester.

I've been a "journaler" off and on since 1968; I have a box of journals and diaries and a folder on my computer to prove that. For a while, then, I'll go primarily electronic and see what happens. This is my second blog; I developed the first one when we were going to Berlin. You can check that out by going to my BerlinDiary blog. (And, yes, I stole that title from Shirer's wonderful diary about his years there during WWII.)

Here's a list of what I think this blog will be about:
• reflections on teaching and what I'm reading
• reflections of faith, living, and learning
• relationships along the way
• culture and the arts

Why "First Cup"? Most mornings you'll find me in a particular spot in our living room. In some ways, it is where I have always sat--for years, in the same chair, surrounded by the same lamps and tables. The geographical location has changed from Portland to Anderson to Portland, from NE Portland to Oakwood to Troutdale, and decades have passed. But the chair and the rest--pretty much the same. Always with a stack of books, sometimes the daily newspaper is spread around, and always with a cup of morning joe (coffee for those of you too old and think I might have a morning conversation partner). The coffee is nearly always Starbucks French Roast, strongly brewed. This is the spot where I do my journaling and it begins with a first cup of morning joe.... To put a nice spiritual spin on it, this is liminal space--and I think a fine spot to ponder....

I know I have friends who live by the ethical principle that "friends don't let friends drink Starbucks," but, well, since my first cup at Seattle Pacific when the Starbucks phenomenon was just aborning, I've been hooked. A day without Starbucks is going to be a rough one. In words that are surely not original with me, "I don't even talk to God until I've had a cup of coffee."

The exception to the rule: moving my Morning Joe somewhere else. On Tuesday, you'll find me at The Bipartisan Cafe on Stark and on Thursday at Starbucks at Gresham Station. With friends. The other strategic essential of my life. Where would I be without friends? That would be a sad story. A sad story indeed.

A couple of final parting remarks....

Recently finished RailSea by China Mieville. A lovely, disturbing read. Joel gave it to me because he thought I should read it and, being a dutiful father, I did. It is a hopeful dystopia--a glimpse into one possible future that is bleak, not without friends, and, in the end, well, hopeful. I highly recommend.

What else am I reading right now: Thomas Merton's Paradise Journey by William Shannon and Michael Gruber's The Book of Air and Shadows. And, of course, the lectionary--a regular practice along the way. 9/14, by the way, is Holy Cross Day, a day of veneration of the cross. Wonder how life for us Christians would be different if we all took that day to stare at the cross and reflect on the God who is revealed there?

Enough for now; this is the first cup. I need a refill.