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.