Sunday, December 29, 2013

Second Cup—Redemption and the classroom

In a recent noon brown bag lunch, several WPC faculty gathered in Egtvedt 203 to talk further about the mission of the college and how it actually informs the classroom and the life of the mind. It was a good conversation. Timothy, our convener and instigator for this conversation, asked us to think carefully about three challenges.

It was a hearty conversation but one statement really stuck with me. It was almost not heard; I heard it —and I’ve rolled it around in my mind and heart many times since. Ruth said that she wondered about redemption in the classroom….

Seems an appropriate wonder, doesn’t it, for a college whose mission begins “Christ-centered.” I suggested that we might want to think more fully about that wondering when we had more time—as is often true, the richest comments come late in the discussion and there is little time to talk…. But I continue:

Redemption—how does that happen?

As a generic term, we redeem all kinds of things: recycling is a form for redemption; I’m old enough to remember Green Stamps; anyone who has ever been in a pawn shop knows what redemption is about; ransom is sometimes associated with redemption—both legally and theologically; an entity that issues bonds is obligated to redeem those bonds. So, the principle is fairly clear: to regain, turn in, convert, to make up for—even to restore.

I think, however, Ruth is asking more specifically about how we might be in that line of work—how might a Christ-centered liberal arts college do this?

Redemption (in the theological sense of the word) happens at WPC in the usual ways: persons find Jesus for the first (or second) time and begin (or restart) a journey with him. A person goes forward to pray at the end of chapel and life-change occurs. A conversation with a friend, a professor, staff person, the president—such conversations do happen and do lead to redemption in the sense often meant by the word salvation—deliverance from sin through Jesus Christ.

But WPC is not a church; it is a college—a point of confusion not always understood by either its friends or its critics—and its role in the work of redemption may be missed when looking for the more usual ways. I told this story before in my blog but it bears repeating here. Milo Chapman gave me a book and redeemed my mind and heart.

While I was never in his classroom, I count him among the great teachers of my life. I was having the not so unusual struggles of college students making sense out of the Bible and faith and reason (as they were taught and modeled for me growing up) and life and learning, none of which seemed to conform very well to the others. I was reading the Bible and going to church and, yes, Sunday school—just as I was always admonished to. I understood that the Bible is an important book and, as a person who grew up in a Christian culture, I knew it was supposed to be sacred and True. Yet, there were all these problems, which I’ll not enumerate because there was nothing particularly unique about them. I was, however, really struggling. I went to see Milo—actually, then, Dr. Chapman (I would never have called him Milo then). I went a Judy’s urging. He gave me two life-changing gifts:

One, simply, he listened. He is the first person to hear me and my doubts/struggles with faith who did not attempt to solve them for me. By that I mean, he did not try to explain anything, tell me that it was normal, or dismiss them as silly (which, no doubt, some were).

Two, simply, he gave me a book that I still own: John Bright’s
The Kingdom of God. What I came to understand was this: My struggles were with the pieces: I had no frame to put them in. Like a jigsaw puzzle, I didn’t have the outside pieces connected so that a great image would occur. The Kingdom of God did that for me: it gave me a big picture. My purpose here is not to describe that, but simply to say, I was heard and responded to in a meaningful way by a person who really had no reason to. As important as that book and the other Book were and are to me, Milo’s response—and the relationship that emerged from this meeting—were/are far more important.

That is redemption, and I suspect it is the kind of redemption that happens more often at WPC primarily because WPC is not a church but a college. In a very real sense, I think, redemption at WPC can be understood as mission fulfillment. To work seriously, lovingly and relationally and with discernment toward the realization of mission and core values at WPC is to be redemptive. It is inherent in the mission.

I could tell story after story of young men and women, enslaved to all kinds of narrow and fundamentalist and unhealthy perspectives who came to WPC and were redeemed. They were redeemed because someone listened to them and heard them. They were redeemed because no one judged them; instead, they were invited on a journey of discovery with their professors who were also on this journey—and weren’t afraid to say so. As a consequence, they were redeemed because they found a God different than the one they were raised to know; this God is freeing and liberating and challenging and demanding and loving in spite of (or because of) our doubts and questions—especially the ones earnestly asked.

Another form of redemption: discovering how to be a man who is himself and a woman who is herself—not a clone; not a product; not a consequence; not a predetermined Ken or Barbie. We live under such pressure. In a class I teach, Religion 320, we ask students to look critically at the messages with which we are all bombarded—with malice aforethought—in our culture through every possible medium. That message is you are not good enough, not whole enough, not worthy of love enough—unless you buy this product. Instead, colleges like WPC show the hollowness of that powerful and more often than not iniquitous message and replace it with this—You are a person, individual and created for community, worthy and lovable and powerful because you are created by God and loved beyond measure by your Creator.

Another form of redemption: the student who has very nearly given up on life—little or nothing has ever gone well for them. They’ve made poor decisions, have become addicted to something or someone not good for them, been homeless, houseless, churchless; felt life has little good purpose and certainly no higher meaning. Yet, they find a hand somewhere who lifts them up and they find themselves at WPC in a degree program and the process of redemption begun by the one who offered a hand continues through a myriad of hands—professors, academic counselors, teammates—to discover their own distinctiveness, their own worthiness, their own intelligence; in short, their intrinsic value as persons valued and love by others and by God….and valued and loved by themselves.

How does this happen? Books, learning objectives, learning activities, team and individual projects, service learning, opportunities for reflection, teachers, relationships, discernment and reflection, a helping hand, a caring comment—“Take care” “What to talk?” “Can I take you?” Where does it happen? In coffee shops (and sometimes a pub), during an evening break, in between classes, in an office, walking across the commons, standing in the rain at a bus stop. Who helps it to happen? Teachers and advisers and teammates and presidents—persons who know that the fulfillment of mission is finally about relationships and learning and mutual care and living out and teaching within the “letter and spirit” of the Great Commandments.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Second Cup—Students!

Last night I sat in Egtvedt watching a really remarkable event.

But first some background: Just a few months ago a group of about 20 new to WPC students walked into a room—mostly not by choice. A few knew each other but most did not; while they may not have been perfect strangers, they were mostly strangers. Some perhaps a little fearful; one or two a bit defiant; a few perhaps unhappy about the newness and strangeness and apparent arbitrariness of life. Two teachers were there who knew each other but had never taught together before. In many ways, typical of just about every new student’s situation in just about any college or university in the USA.

On top of this, they were part of an experiment—not always the best thing to be. They were members of something called a Freshman Year Learning Community (FYLC). Not only were they going to be in this experiment but they were also going to have to spend time with me in an English class—each week, they were going to be in a room together working on new stuff in new ways and, added to all of that, becoming a community, working on social justice in the classroom and in the neighborhood and with Portland City Council and in downtown Portland and in homeless shelters—whew! That’s a lot of stuff. But there’s more: Strength Finder and Enneagram and self-reflection and biblical justice studies and washing the feet of homeless men and women, cutting hair—well, the list could go on.

Well, amazingly, yep, it happened. Community happened. And last night we celebrated together. If you weren’t there—and most of you were not—you missed out on some good stuff: public, transparent self-reflection; original music; the visual history of the formation of our community, advocacy, life story, art, humor, thoughtful biblical reflection—in short, you missed out on witnessing community: shalom! Celebration!

You know what, these students met with Amanda Fritz and this professor, Stephanie Mathis, carried the petition they wrote with hundreds of WPC student and faculty and staff signatures to the hearing in which they called for the restoration of funds to aid the victims of what is perhaps Portland’s saddest story—human trafficking of boys and girls, men and women.

I sat back in my chair, eyeing the cookies and cake that I had to wait for, amazed by this remarkable group of first year WPC students. And I thought: Oh my! I hope I get to hang around long enough to see how these students change WPC and where the hopeful trajectory they started this semester carries them. Few things more powerful in the world than a community of committed change agents—watch out world, here they come.

The other thing I thought about last night: This is why I love Warner Pacific College: never afraid to walk down the road that connects learning, faith, and life in community to discover what we are called to become.

I am so grateful this morning for Stephanie, Maranda, Linnette, Trent, Tayler, Kiki, Bailey, Robert, Oksana, Riley, Trent, Jose, Skyler, Selena, Justyn, Shannon, Brenden, Ben, and Rochelle. Each of this has taught me this semester; each of them gives me hope for the future. Grateful to God that I get to do this!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

FIRST CUP: Some random thoughts on rebranding and the church….

I don’t suppose it will come as a surprise to anyone that I am not exactly applauding the recent announcement about rebranding the Church of God (now Non-Reformation) Movement. While the church is in many important ways my mother, our relationship has often been more difficult than dutiful. I love her but she’s a difficult mother and I've been a challenging son.

I do want to be hopeful about the future, although I find it harder and harder to believe that anything like the traditional church has much of a future. This won’t be the first time I’ve wondered if God hasn’t already moved on in his constant reimagining of church to something infinitely bolder and humbler. It often feels to me that those of us still connected to the institutional church are filling and stacking sandbags against a perfect storm of cultural and theological change.

The church is in the midst of a massive cultural sea change. This paradigm shift is altering everything around us and we in the church are not at fault for the devastating impact it is having upon our institution. The decline in the church is not primarily the fault of mismanagement, bad theology, or lack of good will. We are caught up in forces much bigger than we can control.

I just want the church to be the church and not some strange hybrid of entertainment, big business, and marketing.

I’m not against marketing; I find value in the processes that marketers manage. There can be real value in the creative process; anytime people are brought together to think about who they are and what they do and where they are going and how to bring greater focus and, thereby, greater energy to their work—that’s good. It is good especially if it is rooted firmly in the historical narrative of the organization as it leads to new/renewed vision.

But I am troubled when the marketing process, as it unfortunately often does, remains pretty much at a superficial level—inch deep and a mile wide. Too often there is a paucity of thoughtfulness and depth—the glossing over of the deep divisions and uncertainties that do exist by the artful use of language and the creation of a new look, a new tag line, and a new web site. And no real grappling with.

I do think it is oddly presumptuous to talk of rebranding the church: brands are about ownership. (I remember at least that much from my Saturday morning Westerns: people got killed for rebranding where a brand already existed.) I don’t think we own the church; I’m not really sure that we have the authority to rebrand it.

I want to be equally clear about this: the future of the church does not rest in the processes and methodologies of marketing and public relations, however useful they may be. The future of the church lies in deep historical, theological, sociological, and epistemological reflection—and actions based on such reflection so long as such work is grounded in the life and teachings of Jesus.

The church will not recover its nerve, its creativity, or its authenticity simply by instituting fancy new gimmicks, implementing flashy programs, trying to get more organized, or working harder. The way forward is through the development of meaningful spiritual practices, a renewal of corporate spirituality, and a profound shift of consciousness in the way we do church. These deep inner changes will only be achieved by creating space for awareness of the presence and action of God to emerge in our midst.

I’m out of the loop on these discussions; I don’t assume that I should be in the loop. But it is interesting to me that I am alerted to the new logo, tag line and web site by a friend in Auckland, New Zealand (I love the Internet!).

The announcement of new bold change for the Church of God came, oddly enough, at the same time I received a copy of Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium. I have to say there is more contrast than comparison.

Church of God—here’s what I found on our new Web site, which I had to look for:

Branding, marketing words—our church as defined and described by a marketing firm, our values color coded, and our mission more ambiguous than ever—although I am sure that marketers would say more open ended and inviting.

Lack of theological reflection—in fact, I have yet to find such. It may be that such reflection exists and that I just haven’t found it, but so far it is missing.

Foundationally ahistorical; we are no longer a reformation—this one, frankly, is pretty astonishing to me and not just a little disturbing. Without the theological reflection, of course, I can’t know what is meant but it seems odd that a church that has described itself as part of the reformation now decides that doesn’t matter anymore.

A tagline as definition, yet a definition that is as ambiguous as it is clever—Jesus is the subject. It has a nice ring, but what does it really mean? It seems to me to raise more questions than it answers.

We are “modern” in a post modern, even a post Christian, era—I just don’t get this. Modernity nearly killed the church; it may be singlehandedly responsible for the understanding that we are now living in a post Christian era and we suddenly want to describe our selves as modern?

A conflation of church and “headquarters”—a dynamic tension in the historical life of the church—how do we do the work of the church without becoming a denomination—is suddenly dismissed, and suddenly it is all one.

I do celebrate the reassertion of a global vision and, certainly, any discussion that doesn’t include Jesus would be simply wrong, but a question is begged: “If Jesus is the subject, which Jesus are we talking about.” The naiveté of the statement is, to me, pretty staggering.

There is a presumption operating: a logo precedes rather than flows from theological reflection.

Evangelii Gaudium—here are my observations after my first read of this letter to the church.

Francis’s “joy of the gospel” resonates so deeply into the roots of the Catholic Church and the Gospel of Jesus Christ—I’m afraid the contrasts between the rebranding of the Church of God, Anderson, and the depth of Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation are so striking that that they are nearly overwhelming.

His is a deeply theological and sociological and economic and relational reflection. It is, I think, a radical call to be the church; it is radical because it is so focused on Jesus—on a particular Jesus.

How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.

Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a “throw away” culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcast, the “leftovers.”

The result is a striking, even radical, contemporary reframing of historical truth, which calls the church and its leadership to a deeper spirit marked by contrition, humility, and integrity—and Christlikeness.

It names the sins of the church for what they are and calls the church to be better—no, really, it calls the church redemption so that it can be the church founded by Jesus.

There is no question which Jesus Francis speaks of: this is the Jesus of justice and peace and life and dignity and inclusion, unity, holiness, dialogue: Jesus, clearly, for others. Radically crossing nearly ever barrier imaginable to make God real in the lives and systems of his—and our—day.

The word of God also invites us to recognize that we are a people: “Once you were no people but now you are God’s people” (1 Pet 2:10). To be evangelizers of souls, we need to develop a spiritual taste for being close to people’s lives and to discover that this is itself a source of greater joy. Mission is at once a passion for Jesus and a passion for his people. When we stand before Jesus crucified, we see the depth of his love which exalts and sustains us, but at the same time, unless we are blind, we begin to realize that Jesus’ gaze, burning with love, expands to embrace all his people. We realize once more that he wants to make use of us to draw closer to his beloved people. He takes us from the midst of his people and he sends us to his people; without this sense of belonging we cannot understand our deepest identity.

I truly believe that every leader of every communion, fellowship, and denomination, especially in the West, should be studying this document: it is a flat out challenge not only to the Pope’s own church (our ancient Babylon) but also to anyone and everyone who claims Jesus as Lord. But it is especially a challenge to any person who assumes leadership roles in any expression of God’s church. I cannot help wondering why we seem incapable (or unwilling) to truly engage each other along the same lines.


The italicized comments are taken from a record of a conversation among eight church clergy, academics, and spiritual teachers that took place in Victoria British Columbia, Canada, during Lent, 2011. There are 12 observations about the “future of the church” that emerged from that conversation. These are two that I thought connected to my random thoughts:

The comments in bold are taken from the text of Pope Francis’s Evangelii Glaudium, which can be found at It is over 200 pages long and not all of it relates to our own story, but if anyone is interested you can download a .pdf of it here:

Sunday, November 24, 2013

First Cup—Lectionary Sunday

The Reign of Christ Sunday

Recently in chapel at Warner Pacific College, we heard some really fine poetry slamming by four young Christian poets. They were thoughtful, articulate, passionate—with a fairly heavy theological bent to what they were slamming. And that’s I want to do some ruminating, cogitating, considering, deliberating, meditating, self-reflecting about. It was a good slam—good stuff; at points quite powerful and moving. As I heard it, their primary focus was informed by a heavy cruci-centric, sacrifice-centric, blood-centric set of images. Jesus was crucified again and again that morning, in all the bloody splendor we often associate with medieval Christianity when the church used to “Dream of the Rood”:

Men carried me [the cross]
Upon their shoulders and set me on a hill,
A host of enemies there fastened me.
And then l saw the Lord of all mankind
hasten with eager zeal that he might mount
Upon me.

“O blessed cross. Oh blessed blood! Oh blessed gore”: the gore is important; all of the human emissions of Jesus on the Cross were celebrated. Sometimes, they are prayed to:

Blood of Christ, shed profusely in the Scourging, save us.

Blood of Christ, flowing forth in the Crowning with Thorns, save us.

Blood of Christ, poured out on the Cross, save us.

Blood of Christ, price of our salvation, save us.

Blood of Christ, without which there is no forgiveness, save us.

Blood of Christ, Eucharistic drink and refreshment of souls, save us.

The church once celebrated the fall of Adam and Eve because, through the fall, we came to experience grace—manifest in its starkest and loveliest ugliness in the bloody cross of Jesus.

I do not want to take down the cross. It’s central in my own understanding of my faith. I do not want to demean or diminish the Eucharistic table, which is at the heart of my own understanding of church. I do not want to suggest that the death of Jesus does not correspond to, build upon and in remarkable ways complete the whole Jewish system of sacrifice. In fact, it would be surprising if this understanding of Jesus’ death were not at the heart of how a predominantly Jewish people came to see and understand that event. (I have often wondered what form atonement might have taken had “the fullness of time” been another time and in another place? The guillotine? The gas chamber? C. S. Lewis explores this in his “Space Trilogy.”) But I am uncomfortable with the bloody theories of atonement primarily because I repudiate the idea of an offended God, who in his divine pettiness, must be made to feel better or whose offended honor must some how be placated.

I know that if anyone actually reads this blog, I’ll be taken to task for dismissing this millennia long set of arguments. I know that most theologians would say something like the vitality of the doctrine of atonement is essential and that the question of atonement is so large and mysterious that no one theory could ever fully address it—we need all of them and, probably, more, even old Bernard.

Years, no decades, ago, my Christian education professor, Dr. Irene Smith Caldwell, helped us to think about translating difficult theological concepts and the challenging realism of biblical stories for children. She answered the question, “How do you help children understand the crucifixion?” saying, “You tell them that because Jesus was unwilling to tell a lie, selfish and jealous persons put him to death.” Children understand the importance of truth telling. As an adult, I understand “unwilling to tell a lie” to mean that he was unwilling, ontologically, to be other than who he was. Period. I think this is the point: Even though the crucified Jesus does sum up the life and teachings of Jesus, it also allows us to ignore his life and teachings. We miss the point that it is how he lived and how he connected and how he related to highest officials and the lowliest non-officials.

These are the realities that brought him to the cross. To deny his identity—no matter how painful or consequential—would be a pain greater than death, akin to Jeremiah’s yielding:

Then I said, “I will not make mention of Him,
Nor speak anymore in His name.”
But His word was in my heart like a burning fire
Shut up in my bones;
I was weary of holding it back,
And I could not. (Jeremiah 6:20 KJV)

Or, in his own words, “He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, ‘O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will’” (Matthew 26:39 KJV).

I do not run from the cross. I run to the cross. I believe the Christian faith is most clearly expressed as cruciform. But what I see there is not my substitute, not my ransom, and not some satisfying sop thrown at the demanding throne of a little god. What I see there is the love (agape, khesed) of God—compelling and attractive and demanding and inviting and, yes, ugly and frightening and horrid and demanding. What I see there is the summation of a whole life; it is not the only moment; it is the fullest witness to the Incarnation, which I take as the most important idea. I see most clearly the extent to which God was willing to say, “I love you.”

I don’t think that’s sentimentality—how can one be sentimental looking at a cross (unless, of course, it is one of those pretty, shiny, golden Protestant crosses that have lost any compelling power and have become little more than costume jewelry). Sentimentality is a hallmark card. Sentimentality is telling a parent grieving over the death of a child that God must have needed another cherub. Sentimentality is a nostalgic longing for a time remembered as better. Sentimentality is “soap opera” love.

No, I’m writing about the crucifix.

Sentimental is not what the crucified Jesus is. Rather, the crucified Jesus is the hardest, most challenging, and most demanding, the most difficult to look at, the most relentless picture of the God who never gives up; the God who, as Lewis said, “Is utterly shameless in what he will do to bring a sinner into the kingdom.” This is the God who risks all 99 sheep to save one; who searches, sweeps, every square inch to find one lost coin; who runs shamelessly down the street of the village in front of “God and everybody” to welcome home the lost son who not many years ago spit in his face; the crucified Jesus is “the hound of heaven” God who refuses to give up and who most fully and more completely than any other picture or icon or theological principle shows the sacred heart of God toward God’s creation. As if God rips open God’s own chest and there, where the heart should be, is the crucified Jesus.

And the contemplative reflection on this heart leads us ever deeper into love; love that convicts and redeems, love that transforms and reforms, love that demands and enables, and love that binds and frees.

Laughter came from every brick.
Just these two words God spoke changed my life, “Enjoy me.”
What a burden I thought I was to carry—a crucifix, as did Christ.
Love once said to me, “I know a song; would you like to hear it?”
And laughter came from every brick in the street
and from every pore in the sky.
After a night of prayer, God changed my life when God sang, “Enjoy me.”

—St. Teresa of Avila

Friday, November 22, 2013

Second Cup—Dark Matter: Dark Teaching—and The Dance....

Those of you who know me--and the one or two of you who read my blog--know that most of the time I find myself perplexed. My life is that way.

Recently on NPR: It was Halloween, so NPR was being cutely relevant. Dark matter; dark energy: clearly a Halloween story, right? I heard talk of dark matter and energy. The speaker said that we can measure these so we know they exist but we have no idea what they are. He also said, we know the universe is expanding; we can measure it. But we have no idea why or where or how.

I think the entity called “The Faculty” is like that. We can measure it, weigh it, hear it. We know such an entity exists but are unclear about why or how—and to think about where it is going might be an argument for astrology. I think now that I’m being cutely esoteric. One thing that seems to be true of The Faculty is that is innately conservative, even though it would describe self as liberal; this is measurable. An initial instinctual response to nearly anything is to step back, question, assess, and doubt the efficacy of any new thing. Especially if that new thing requires change. Especially if that new thing is set before it by another entity—The Administration.

When this happens, a fairly predictable and measurable mechanism kicks in: The Resistance. The Faculty is certain that (a) it cannot be a good idea because (b) it did not come from The Faculty and (c) it did come from The Administration and (d) has not been fully vetted by The Faculty and, therefore, (e) needs more Time.

Another factor about The Faculty is that it will deal with this new thing, often, in ways that it would never allow The Student to behave. For example, rather than speak its opinion carefully and clearly, it passes around essays written by other people (often faculty from another academic institution) with a note to read this because it is pertinent. Rather than speak its opinion forthrightly, it speaks in the back alley, to the ally, in the parking lot, and, strangely enough, over the Internet. Rather than speak its opinion passionately and openly, it speaks it fearfully, sensing conspiracy (by The Administration), in a place called The Department Meeting. It is often silent in the public space it inhabits from time to time—The Faculty Meeting (oddly enough a meeting designed for public discourse but often relegated to a business agenda consisting of The Committee presenting its Report). In The Faculty Meeting, it is given to whispering what it thinks is a clever bon mot to its ally. When The Faculty does speak, it often utilizes faulty logic, rhetorical tools it does not allow its students, and poor grammar. If it writes on the board or on PowerPoint, it often can’t spell.

On the other hand, The Faculty is also the opposite of all of this. The Faculty is capable of amazing thoughtfulness and creativity. Sometimes blow your socks off creativity. This is especially true if it is galvanized by a driving vision, often a moral vision, by significant relationships, about what really matters.

Currently, such a discussion is underway at The College where I sometimes teach. The Administration invites The Faculty to provide a means for a disenfranchised student (and I do think this is an appropriate way to describe The Student) to attend The College. The invitation, which the faculty thinks has not been fully vetted, is to make use of the Internet as a means of providing online education for The Student. The primary response, as I understand it, is negative because of something called “Presence.” The assumption on the part of The Faculty is that one cannot be present to The Student on line and that something distinctly and qualitatively special about education at The College is lost.

While I agree that something often amazingly distinctive takes place in The Classroom (and the halls, cafeteria, Grind, perhaps even the restrooms) of The College that can be understood in terms of relationships and Presence, I do not agree that Presence cannot be found on the Internet (at least my own experience suggests otherwise).

Further, I don’t know that anyone has yet proven it one way or the other. There is a range of assumptions operating here and these assumptions need to be ferreted out and tested. I know the risks of the Internet. I’ve listened to Sherry Turkel’s Ted Talk, "Alone Together." I get that. It is an important cautionary tale. It is likely, however, that such conversations took place in the chapter houses of Cluny and Wells after the word about movable type reached them. I also know the power of unreflected assumptions—at least this is what I teach my students: they are very powerful and empowering and disempowering.

It does not follow, however, from all of this that the imaginative and creative and thoughtful Faculty of The College cannot find a way to address this. I think it should. I think it should be an “industry leader.” I think it can.

There was a time when the only way to think about higher education was geo-centric. If you want a certain kind of education (and a certain pedigree), you went to a certain somewhere—to a Location. In that Location, you “got” an education. When I was a student, “presence” was not a classroom question; knowledge acquisition was and the source of that was The Professor at the front of the room. Now it is a question, and I wonder, even, what we mean by Presence?

I think we are in a paradigm shift and, like all paradigm shifts, it is demanding and disconcerting—even painful. It seems to question the role of The Faculty. But The Faculty is always learning to think about what it does in very different ways. I know this has been my journey since returning to The College. This is—and is NOT—the place I left nearly two decades ago. Nowhere is that clearer to me than each time I walk into The Classroom: I have to be a different kind of teacher than I was when I left here. I think I am more present today in the classroom than I ever was during the 23 years that I taught here. I have to discover ways to be more “me” than I was before. I had to figure it out, and I am figuring it out. I talk with some of The Faculty; I read; I watch and listen. I talk to The Student. I set aside my assumptions—or, at least, suspend them in order to spend time in critical reflection on those assumptions. The fundamental assumption that I am still working on is about who am I in this classroom.

But I cannot conclude that it is simply and unequivocally true that Presence is only possible face-to-face. What do we mean by that word, anyway? I think it follows that I will have to ask about that assumption again—who am I in this virtual classroom? How am I present in this virtual classroom?

Why should I?

I think there is a moral imperative involved—at least, for me. I would frame the question this way: Why should I keep the distinctly mission-driven (faith, life, learning) vision and practice of higher education through The College unavailable to The Student who is otherwise unable to access it? Why should only The Student who can drive or walk or travel on Tri-Met be considered and The Student who cannot drive or walk (or travel the distance) be excluded? As I have recently asked my student, I think we need to ask ourselves about the common good. It seems to me—perhaps I’m guilty of hyperbole or even argumentum absurdum—but if I decide to not walk down this street, I may be making a decision that takes away an opportunity, does harm to the common good, and maybe even reduces my qualitative effectiveness—even my presence—in the classroom.

I think there is an educational imperative involved—for me. I would frame it this way: Why should I resist (refuse?) teaching (fill in the blank) in a new modality any more than I would refuse exploring how to adjust a class to allow for other new technology or new information? We make these decisions all the time, don’t we? Some of us say, no phones. Some of us say, use your phones. Some of us use smart boards and some of us use markers on smart boards. Some of us engage with our students via Facebook and some of us encourage students not to use it. We are always adjusting our syllabi, aren’t we? There is always a discussion about the canon, isn’t there? There’s always a conversation about methods, right?

I think, at least for me, there is also a personal imperative—one, frankly, this is more on my mind in my seventies than it was in earlier years. I would frame it this way: What am I afraid of? Am I afraid of being pushed aside, that is, replaced by new technology and new modalities? Am I afraid that I will not be able to figure it out or make it work? Am I afraid that I just don’t “get it”? Am I afraid that I will have to change in some more substantive ways than simply adapting to new functionalities?

Now, it may be true that The Administration has not properly included The Faculty. I honestly don’t know about that; I’m an outlier regarding most of these discussions. (Although I did just recently see a document that suggests this has been on The Faculty Agenda for a long time—an approved policy and philosophy statement about how online education would occur at The College.) But is that sufficient reason to walk away from the exploration of what might well be a “brave new world” or what might be the opportunity “to go where no man has gone before”? I think not.

Now, what does this have to do with dark matter and dark energy? I am continually impressed by the humility of science, a humility that is reflected in its willingness to look ridiculous in what it posits. Just look at the graphic I’m including; I mean really?

It’s a graphic that says, “Oh my, there is so much I don’t know. Dark Matter/Energy is there; I can measure it; but that’s all I know. But I’m not stopping: I’m going to put this graphic out as one model of what might be—and call it “dark” (the substance of comic book superheroes). There’s so much I don’t know—perhaps I’ll never know. But that’s not going to stop me.” I wonder why we can’t just name this “new” thing “dark teaching” (since most of us, when we’re really honest about this alchemy we call teaching, think it’s a wonder bordering on the miraculous that we ever teach anything). Let’s just put it out there and go to work to see if there is a paradox at play here: presence and distance are both, after all, the dance we dance in the classroom all the time with out students, with ourselves, with the subject, and with life.

Is the dance any less awkward or graceful in the “real” or “virtual” classroom?

I say, I want to dance.

Friday, October 25, 2013


Sunday morning
Inn at Arch Rock

The boats slip out to sea,
under and through a low hanging fog.
The sea is gray, still. Quiet.
No wind. The noise: the soft snore of my wife
in another room and the soft scratch of pencil on paper.
Cat feet quiet.

The sea, on course, in constant motion.
My soul, off course, in constant uncertainty—
rhythms of yes and no. I’m tired this morning.
Of body and soul weary. I wish: Away. How good
It would be to stay. Simply stay. Here. Simply. Away.
From the clamor that besets and agitates the soul.

I would stare at the sea.

Yesterday, all day, whales.
Off Pirate Cove, slightly north of Depoe Bay. Four,
perhaps, five. I spent hours staring at spout
and back and fluke. The mystery returned;
my thoughts, often in the case of whales, traveled
to God. Whales are convincing arguments for God.
(As is all.) Yet these big, air-breathing,
delicate, impossibilities seem
to me especially so. Intelligence
in their eyes, these big-brained
deep-diving, far-swimming deep singers.


Saturday, October 19, 2013

First Cup—Some of my best friends are books....

My Story
I love stories and I love Story.

I think of my life as a story informed by story, stories, and Story. Maybe my life is “nothing more than” storying. When asked about something that happened in my life, I often respond, as a warning: “I have no short stories in my life—only novels.” There’s little I’d rather do than read novels and think about novels and talk about novels. (Of course, there’s also poetry. One formative story of my life revolves around that, but that’s another story….) But what I value even more than novels is hearing personal stories, talking about them, and helping people both write and understand their own stories.

I believe that my faith is an extended narrative and my life is an extended conversation about that narrative in the context of story, stories, and Story—and within a community of extended conversation about how all of these stories “work together for the good.”

All persons are writing their own stories. I am writing my story—sometimes fairly elegantly and often times clumsily; sometimes it reads like that tale written by the proverbial monkeys in a room with typewriter. Sometimes, it reads like Macbeth’s: “…a tale told by an idiot, / full of sound and fury/ signifying nothing.” But I’m not the only idiot writing it. As these reflections on 70 years show, my tale is a collaboratively written story and my fellow writers are students, friends, the church, novels, and, ah yes, not to forget, the Author.

My formation with story began at 920 S. Van Ness, Santa Ana, California in the late 40s-early 50s, sitting next to my Grandma Cochran, listening to her tell story after story—some real and some imagined and some, I learned later, down right, fiction (aka lies) in which she starred. (She was so good that a few years ago at a Cousin’s reunion, we all discovered that the stories told only to us were, in fact, told to all.) Many of the stories were told over and over again because I couldn’t get enough of them. My favorite piece of fiction was the story of “Willy and the Hole.”

Willy was playing in the open fields outside of his hometown, which I took to be Elk City, Oklahoma, where they lived for so many years. In this field were many failed wells into one of which Willy and his dog fell. They tried heartily to get out but it was just out of Willy’s reach. However, it was not out of Willy’s ability to get his loyal dog just over the edge. Meanwhile, of course, it is getting dark and Willy’s parents, mindful of these failed wells, had roused their neighbors, formed a line, and were walking across the Bad Lands. Here, they met the dog that led them back to Willy. I can’t do justice to the terror of this story and the relief I experienced. I LOVED this story.

Grandma told it well but Grandma got tired of telling it. So, one day, as soon as I could get her to the couch so that I could sit next to her for a story time: Tell me the story of Willy and the Hole. To which Grandma said, Well, you know what, Willy’s mom and dad got so tired of Willy falling in that hole that they filled it up; Willy can’t fall in it anymore. End of story. And I learned what Aristotle would later teach me: every story has a beginning, a middle—and an end. It needs all three to be satisfying. I never asked for the story again; but Willy and his dog live on in my memory, precious and famous among the stories I embody. In some ways, a meta-story.

The four points of the compass of my childhood: 920 S. Van Ness, Glenn L. Martin Elementary School, the Santa Ana First Church of God, and Lathrop Library. Which is more important would be hard to say, but my home away from home was the Julia C. Lathrop Junior High School Branch Library, where Miss Leona Calkins, head librarian, held absolute sway.

Access to books, four rooms, full of books—well, it was a church of sorts. My first job and the first and only time I was fired was working in that library (for spending too much time talking and reading on the job). Working in the library was also my only consistent job from high school all the way through college and into graduate school.

I grew up in a home with books—not much of a library, but there they were: Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, The Good Earth, What the Bible Teaches, and The Bible. Douglas, my oldest brother, already had his own library and sometimes I sneaked in there and borrowed a few (some I still have), especially collections of poetry. But it was the library where the whole world opened up for me—a world of books, stewarded by persons who loved books and lived to help others discover their same passion. I read indiscriminately and was, I think, allowed to read what today would have been considered off limits. I read books from the “youth” room. There I discovered the Enid Blyton series about English school kids adventuring on holidays. I read the Freddie the Pig series of barnyard mysteries. I read The Leatherstocking Tales and The Count of Monte Cristo (both unabridged because Miss Calkins would not have it otherwise).

I also discovered early the pleasures of the Caldecott and Newberry award books. The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting; Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes; Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray; ...And Now Miguel by Joseph Krumgold; A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle; The Matchlock Gun by Walter Edmonds; Call It Courage by Armstrong Sperry; Daniel Boone by James Daugherty; The Story of Mankind (with those strangely wonderful illustrations) by Hendrik Willem van Loon; The White Stag by Kate Seredy. I also read from the children’s room where I discovered Dr. Seuss— The 500 Hats Of Bartholomew Cubbins and To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street are still two of my all time favorite books. There was also a wonderful book about a snake named Amanda (by WOLO, Wolf Von Trutzschler)—it is a lovely story and the art is amazing!

I read from the California collection where I fell in love with Ramona—and that whole California mission romance genre consumed many hours. But I was also allowed into the adult reading room where I discovered the best sellers and made a commitment through high school to read all the number ones. That kept me busy for a long time. But I also discovered Mary Renault (The Charioteer and The King Must Die) and Anya Seton (Avalon, Dragonwyck, and, much later, Green Darkness) and William Saroyan (The Human Comedy) and then W. Somerset Maugham (The Razor’s Edge and Of Human Bondage). Then, I discovered Hemingway (The Old Man and the Sea, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and The Big Two-Hearted River) and Steinbeck (Cannery Row and Tortilla Flat). I will never forget the experience of reading these powerful stories told well. I was even allowed to check books out of the “behind the desk” collection of adult books, where The Grapes of Wrath was kept because of its “communist/socialist” worldview. I should add Salinger and Golding and Kerouac, Ellison, Pasternak, White, Asimov, Shute, Baldwin, and Richard Wright.

Later, in college, there were many more: Graham Greene and Alan Paton and Heller and Vonnegut and Heinlein (Stranger in a Strange Land), Bradbury, Stoppard, Solzhenitsyn, Fowles (The Magus and The French Lieutenant’s Woman), Malcolm X and Eldridge Cleaver—this list goes on right up to today when I am reading Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami.

What is the point of such lists? On one level, it is a list of accomplishments—see what I’ve done? I’ll show you mine, if you’ll show me yours. On another level, it is some kind of ego statement—ain’t I grand? Top that! There is also a kind of autobiography in such lists. There is a reminder as well, I think, that such lists matter because the books matter—at least, these particular books matter to me—and tell you something about me. But, this morning, what matters most is that these books and their stories connect all the way back to Grandma Cochran and me sitting on the coach at 920 S. Van Ness, Santa Ana, California, telling and hearing the story of Willy and the Hole. That story and all the others took me where I would likely never go provided a sense of experience that I would likely never have, and added to my own story. These books and the stories that they contain were the Doors that opened me to a whole new world, a whole new spirituality, and a whole new worldview. In many significant ways, whoever I am today is, greatly, the result of the rich vicarious experiences these stories provided and the internal and communal conversations about these stories, the story tellers, and the story telling. I don’t know how to say this fully in Latin, but to a fairly great extent: Books ergo sum.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

First Cup—Sunday Poetry

I know: it isn't Friday. It's Sunday. Poetry is for Fridays. Yet here it is....

A fraudulent life

I have invented myself. A Frankenstein,
full of envy and dark fantasy.

Readily hurt—dismayed when people don’t see me—
and so I build more subterfuge. More make up.
Clothes that hide the lack of symmetry underneath.
Careful tailor.

Yet the music still reaches my soul, even when I
look into the mirror and see who I am with
Dread-full clarity: fearful lack of symmetry.

still I hear the music. Sometimes loud, clear, and
other times faint, mere Echo.
The music of the real me, still alive beneath
the awkward limbs and odd scars of self-construction.

Hamlet like, I scurry among
the voices uncertain of the
truth though it be plain as the nose…

And I, like Hamlet, will also be dead at the end of my play.
And will all be set right (symmetrical) though bloodily

—amk (9/10/13)

Friday, August 30, 2013

First Cup—Poetry Friday

Similar yet …

Jeremiah believes that God is able to do an utterly new thing
which violates our reason, our control, and our despair.×

God is rarely redundant.
Infinite variety:
Not one tree but trees
Not one wing but wings
Not one blue but blues

Oak. Birch. Aspen. Magnolia. Pines of startling array.
Plum and peach; Sequoia.
All wings but not the same: butterfly wing, sparrow wing,
Eagle wing, bumblebee wing, dragonfly wing;

Not only the color blue, also Miles Davis blue;
Birdland. Bessie and Billie and Lead Belly.
Mahalia. Ella. “I got a right to sing the blues.”
And cobalt and robin egg and sky and royal and cerulean.

Not only Adam but also Eve and then all the rest of us,
down to you and me and Steve. The same yet utterly different.
Unique and utterly the same. An infinitesimal difference
in our genetic code—all the same except this little barely
noteworthy exception.

Even God’s Self—Trinity. No capturing this God; no
boxing this God up with bow and ribbon. This God breaks
out. Definitions fail. Finally. Awe.


× Walter Brueggemann, Hopeful Imagination

Monday, August 26, 2013

First Cup—And so it begins again…

Fall 1966 to Fall 2013—47 years minus a few during my Anderson years. So, perhaps, altogether I’ve been teaching 40 years. What else has lasted so long—my marriage is two years older; our children follow closely behind. If I add attending school into that, I’m talking about my entire life “in service” to the cause of learning. Not bad. From sophomore English classes at Red Bluff Union High School to senior adjunct at Warner Pacific College—a long and often fruitful journey. A journey of running from self to self-discovery. A journey away from God and of God-discovery. A journey of failure and regret and a journey of success and joy. A journey by myself, lonely, sometimes lost and fearful and a journey with others, significant others, pilgrims who helped each other along the way. A journey with students who become friends and friends who become my teachers.

Today, I begin three classes: EN 101, which I teach as part of the Freshman Year Learning Communities program. I’ve already met with these men and women and am already impressed. Smart. Thoughtful. Interested and interesting. I am eager to join them more explicitly on their journey—who knows what friendships may emerge? Who knows what truth will be revealed?

My prayer for this class: May they discover the wonderful gift they are; may they discover the beauty of learning and growing; may they discover the power of expression and thoughtful discourse; may they relax into the journey and learn to pay attention to the world around them and the God who loves them. May I be a good and thoughtful and caring guide for them—a guide who sheds enough light for them to find their way and stewards the darkness that they may understand the power of light and live in the mystery of life.

REL 320, Spirituality, Character and Service, which is a key course in the college core that invites us (students and teacher) on a journey of self-discovery: Who am I? Who am I in relationship to God and who am I in relationship to the other? Questions to love and live into.

My prayer for this class: Self-discovery is never easy; self-discovery and God-discovery, at the same time, is exciting and dangerous. May these students find the way challenging but not daunting; fearful and hopeful; thoughtful and reflective—may they see themselves more clearly and follow God more nearly. May they see this class as opportunity to discover and reflect on a greater and more compassionate and loving role in their world. May I be a wise guide. May I be a good companion—one who has traveled a road like theirs and can help them find their way.

HUM 410, Humanities Seminar, the capstone humanities course. These are students nearing the end of this stage of their academic journey. They are a bit weary; the end is near yet still so far off. In some ways, this is the last thing they want to be about, but what an opportunity—to take a deep breath and ask where am I? What have I learned? Does any of this make enough sense to put down on paper? What difference has these last years of study make in my life and what difference may they make in the world in which I move?

My prayer for this class: It is both a time of attraction and avoidance—happy to be coming to a place of stopping and rest and fearfulness of arriving at an end. It is an end and my prayer is that, together, we’ll make a good end of it. I pray that they will see the opportunity this presents and embrace it as a way to engage fully this time in their lives. I pray that this will be a time to stop and breath deeply, relax, and enjoy the opportunity, find their voice, and speak out into their world the wisdom of their journey. My prayer for me is simply that I will be a good, compassionate companion at this closure, helping them to value their years and speak their word.

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on us all.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Second Cup—Coming out of the closet....

This blog has been brewing for a long time. It grew out of my journey through Holy Week this year and a continuing reflection on Easter. Specifically, it is an outcome of time spent in contemplation of the Cross and the oppression of our Lord—and the profound injustice that characterizes his last days on earth. The ever-demanding crucifix refocused my soul's eyes both inwardly to the darkness that is too often there and outwardly toward the darkness that is too often a reflection of the darkness within. Here hangs the one who came to bring light and life abundant and who, too often, my fellow Christians and I seem intent on making into someone else.

I don’t want to live like that anymore. I don’t want to hide anymore. I don’t want to scurry behind the easy screen of careful, political correctness. I believe this is one clear message of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus: We are not called to hide; we are called to the ministry of reconciliation; we are called to be with people on a journey and to journey with all others in the direction of love as God is love.

So, it appears that I need to come out of the closet.

I am often disturbed by—and so often experience—a kind of oppression in the level of “conversation” on Facebook; so much so that I have come close several times to opting out of it. Yet, I am in meaningful FB contact with so many people I love around the world; I have resisted that decision. Yet, I am still disturbed; people seem more interested in making statements than seeking understanding, as if they have everything all worked out and the rest of us just need to listen.

Most recently and more specifically the disturbance in my soul of late has been about the level of discussion among Christians, many my friends, about the “sin” of homosexuality. It is the casualness of their conviction that bothers me—and its certainty. The stridency of the conversation and the clear tendency to stake out territory in non-negotiable ways and defend the territory through the use of biblical (and highly limited) proof texts is what disturbs me the most—except for the lack of compassion. Here we go again, beating each other and the rest of the world up with our Bibles. (I know; I know: The Bible defines the word of God as a sharp, two-edged and dangerous sword and I think that’s true. It has more than a few times cut deeply into my soul and painfully brought about healing. But what passes for a conversation about a fundamental reality—our sexuality—is really more often than not the Bible as a blunt weapon and I doubt—really doubt—that is our work.)

Now, to dispel any speculation about where I stand: I am going on record as being gay-friendly and, yes, some of my best and oldest friends are gay. I know what that statement makes me in some eyes; for others it makes me an ally. I understand that such a statement may even be in some way offensive to my gay friends, but the truth is that I’m much more interested in friendship and deep relationships than with labels. I do not run from, shun, or avoid the topic or the person if there is hope of thoughtful engagement, but I will run from anyone who is interested only in the defense of a position, especially if that position demeans and dehumanizes any other human.

I know: we all live in fear. There is much to fear; the world hardly ever feels safe. There is so much change around us and so much uncertainty nearly everywhere we turn that we desire someplace to stand that doesn’t feel like shifting sand. So we look for rocks to stand on so that our house won’t be washed away in the flood. Then, we build careful ramparts to keep any stranger off of our safe rock. I suggest, however, that the rock on which we are called to stand is Jesus, the cornerstone of our faith, and that, more often than not, paradoxically, we are called to walk faithfully where the sand seems most shifting, and walking faithfully is defined by Jesus as following him where he leads, a direction that is always defined by the Great Commandment: loving God and loving others. So, while I understand in very personal ways the fearsome fragility of life, I think we are called to walk on those shifting sands—especially if we desire to walk in the footsteps of the One who sacrificed all to go where no one wanted him; and we find ourselves back again at the Cross. (It seems impossible to live fully through Holy Week—unless we quickly jump ahead to the Resurrection—without realizing how dangerous it is to live faithful to the One who hung and in some sense still hangs on the cross.)

For me it has become painfully simple. We are called to live in the freedom made possible through the absolutely free, loving act of Jesus. We are called to be with others in honest and vulnerable relationship. So, I am simply unwilling to place any one in a box defined by any one particular part or aspect, particularly their sexuality, of all that contributes to who a person is as a whole. I want to live as one who is open to any other who wants to live honestly, transparently, openly, relationally, and faithfully. I want to stand with any oppressed people; I think that is what the God of scripture asks me.

But I also want to make this clear: I am not actually writing in defense of homosexuality. I am writing about those friends and acquaintances of mine who seem intent on living closed off to the other, especially to those who see it as their duty to keep others from living honestly, transparently, openly, relationally, lovingly, and faithfully. I know I’m not sharing anything new when I share that the picture of the church that the Barna Report presents is not the picture that God had in mind when he called people to become God’s people—as the Church:

Among young non-Christians, nine out of the top 12 perceptions were negative. Common negative perceptions include that present-day Christianity is judgmental (87%), hypocritical (85%), old-fashioned (78%), and too involved in politics (75%)—representing large proportions of young outsiders who attach these negative labels to Christians.

Interestingly, the study discovered a new image that has steadily grown in prominence over the last decade. Today, the most common perception is that present-day Christianity is "anti-homosexual." Overall, 91% of young non-Christians and 80% of young churchgoers say this phrase describes Christianity. As the research probed this perception, non-Christians and Christians explained that beyond their recognition that Christians oppose homosexuality, they believe that Christians show excessive contempt and unloving attitudes towards gays and lesbians. One of the most frequent criticisms of young Christians was that they believe the church has made homosexuality a "bigger sin" than anything else. Moreover, they claim that the church has not helped them apply the biblical teaching on homosexuality to their friendships with gays and lesbians.*

Now, I know, that many will immediately defend themselves (and, probably, attack or dismiss me) by declaring that they hate only the sin, not the sinner. But there is such deep confusion in that statement; does anyone else see that? I get what people are trying to mean by that, but I honestly don’t know how to do that. I certainly don’t understand the psychology or the anthropology in such a statement. Maybe I’m just not as spiritually mature as others (no one would be surprised by hearing a loud chorus of, “You got that right”).
Whatever else anyone may have to say or believe, I know this: In nearly every part of the Gospel, we are called to do two things: Love God and love others. (I think we are also called to love ourselves, but that is another matter for another time.) There is no box built around those words, especially on the word others. To make sure that we get that, we have only to turn to Jesus and his discussion about nearly anything, but especially about neighbors. Here’s an old familiar story that in the last couple of years has spoken to me in startling new ways.

I was teaching a class recently in which we were discussing the Parable of the Good Samaritan. We were reading it as closely as it is possible to read without the language that would make it even more accessible and as closely as it is possible in a class of 20 plus students from diverse backgrounds. We were trying to read it inductively, seeking to understand the story before we tried to figure out what Jesus meant by the story he chose to tell in answer to the lawyer’s ego and status and power-protecting question.

Suddenly, a student (bless their little hearts) said, I think it is more important what the story does NOT say. What? Huh? What do you mean—oh, right, of course (to self: why didn’t I think of that?!) OK, I said, what doesn’t it say? Well, for starters, it doesn’t say anything about who this one lying nearly dead on the road and, to the best of our ability, there is no way to tell. Check it out. He is a man. He has been robbed, beaten, left for dead, on the road from Jericho to Jerusalem. That’s it. We don’t know his name. We don’t know the state of his soul. We don’t know whether he is a good man or bad. We don’t even know which way he was going and we don’t know why he was on the road. And we certainly don’t know his sexuality. Yet, clearly, Jesus is responding to the lawyer’s request for a definition. We call it the parable of the Good Samaritan and so our focus is on him; perhaps, he is the definition. But Jesus doesn’t call him good. He just tells us he’s a Samaritan; he’s a definition, I guess, of neighborliness or humanness. The other guy, the one in the gutter, naked and dying, he’s the neighbor. Well, we know who is not good, right? The religious guys passing by—seeming to go out of their way to avoid the neighbor in the road.

Well, we could add to this the story of the prodigal. There’s another defining narrative. What are we to do with our unidentified by anything but needy neighbor? Take care of him. Take care of her. Take care of them. Celebrate. Welcome home. Welcome in. Spend money on care. Not judge. Not distance our selves. Not build boxes and exclude. Not make pronouncements about ritual cleanliness. NO. Mostly just take care of him/her. Pick him up. Put her on our donkey. Take him where he will be cared for. Get dirty. Set our own agendas aside. Take her in our arms. Love on him.

When the lawyer reluctantly answered Jesus’ question—“Which one was the neighbor?”—with “The one who showed mercy,” well, what are we to make of that? Mercy: Compassion, easing of distress, gratefulness, kindness, sympathy, humanity, understanding, generosity, leniency, benevolence, grace. Well, I want to take my stand with the outsider and the Samaritan (another maligned people) and opt for mercy. And, I believe, that even if I were to think that homosexuality is the greatest sin in the Bible, I do not have a choice about whether or how to show mercy.

Followers of Jesus were first called Christian in Antioch. If that was the judgment of the citizens of Antioch then, based on how they followed Jesus, I wonder what label do we earn today? I remember years ago standing around the campfire, singing (along with “Kumbaya”), “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.” Well, guess what? They know who we are and it is neither Christian nor loving. Now what are we going to do about it?

“Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” Can we find a better place to stand? Can we find a less inflammatory rhetoric—regardless of our convictions? How can we ever hope to be the church in this world if we do not get out of our familiar ways and learn to stand alongside all the peoples of the world and learn a new language? To be relationally connected, that is, vulnerable, available, compassionate, intimate, faithful, loving, is in nearly every way I can think of essential if we are indeed going to be the people of God in the world for the world.

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy.


Friday, July 26, 2013

First Cup—Sacred Space: Warner Pacific College

There are many events, persons, and places in my life that fit in a category named “sacred.” The word has many different meanings but key associations for me are words like holy (adjective—set aside); liminal (adjective—an opening, doorway, in between); pilgrim (both verb and adjective—a person on life journey); journey (both noun and verb—the way on which one pilgrims); and godly (adjective and adverb—of God, i.e., holy). In a sense, every entry in this ongoing blog reflection on my life is a reflection on sacredness. Sacramentalism is essentially a perspective that says that all of life is created—everything and everyone in life is created. And connected. By virtue of this understanding, all of life reflect its Creator. To live life sacramentally is to see all things and all persons as holy and connected—reflections of the One who created it all: trees, seas, whales, persons, ants, flowers, indeed, all.

sacred space—tangible or otherwise—a space/location/place that makes it more possible for those who acknowledge and accept it to feel reverence and connection with the spiritual

Some persons and places take on an even greater sense—an aura—because of the intentionality involved and the personal connection.

The persons I’ve written about (and those about whom I will write) in this on going reflection are persons who do not take their own godly worth for granted and seek in all they do and think—in all of their relationships—to live a holy life. This holiness is defined in various way, but at the heart of the definitions are some key biblical teachings: the mind of Christ and love God and love others. You see, there is a “set aside ness” (holy) that is characteristic of a sacramental perspective—set aside for a purpose (a purpose defined by these understandings).

For me, Warner Pacific College has been/still is such a holy place.

Set aside for a purpose—from its beginnings, designed for the wholeness of humans. Designed for intentional learning that recognizes no off bounds: faith, life, and learning. Not as separate, distinct silos—but as related, connected parts of integrated, mutual, interdisciplinary, relational, paradoxical conversation about what matters most: How then do I live?

Just as persons are holy, I believe that places can also be holy, that is, also set-aside for such purposes. Nearly anyone who has walked into one of the ancient cathedrals of Europe senses this sacred geography, sacred architecture; set aside to serve the purposes of God. A walk in a church cemetery. The Grotto in Portland. A labyrinth at St. Luke’s. For a while, the grounds of the Franciscan Renewal Center, Portland. The ruins at Cluny, France. The Pacific Ocean—the “end of the world” at Depoe Bay, Oregon. The choir at Mt. Angel Abbey. Around dinner tables with good friends around the world. The chapter house at Wells, England. The tomb of the Venerable Bede at Durham, England. Baalbek in Lebanon. Wittenberg in Germany. And, yes, Warner Pacific College, “nestled on Mt. Tabor’s bosom / Glorious Hood in view.”

As a student, I attended WPC from 1962–1965. I returned to join the faculty in 1972 and stayed until 1995. I returned after 15 years and now hang out in classrooms—always sacred spaces for me. This is a holy place and on these sacred grounds,

• I lost and then found Jesus all over again for the first time (with apologies to Marcus Borg’s one-of-the-best-book-titles of all time).
• I was called beyond myself to discover my self. Broken. Then started on a journey
to healing and wholeness.
• I discovered the joy and joys of learning and the life-changing powers of friendship.
• I discovered my gifts and my gifts were used and honored.
• I found the freedom of aligning my self with a person/idea/vision greater than my own needs or wants or dreams or self.
• I found my wants refined, my needs fulfilled, and my dreams enlarged.
• I found the love of a lifetime who shattered in all the best ways the sorry ego of my life.

On those grounds. Walking between those buildings, sitting in those classrooms, coffee here and there, classrooms, those faculty offices, even the meetings, hallways, gardens, with my teachers, my peers, my students (all of whom carry these roles interchangeably and mutually)—I found a faith that lives and grows and changes, is challenged, questioned, and mangled, is hopeful and fearful and stretching. I began a journey that I’d been on all my life without knowing and a journey I’m still walking—I hope, now, with greater intention.

I am grateful for this space—this holy space made sacred by the prayers and thoughts and conversations and ideas and lives of holy people—teachers, administrators, presidents and deans, and students—the latter most likely the most influential through their own struggles, demands, fears, and friendships. And their willingness to invite me into their lives at significant times as if I had something to offer and, together, we learned so much. So many former students—now friends. This place and these people, God and me—we made a life I might not even dream of possible….

Thanks be to God!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

First Cup—"Interregnum"

Yes, I know: it’s been a long time. Over a month since I last wrote. I’ve titled this entry “Interregnum,” which, defined, means the time between two governments or, simply, a more than usual interruption. I use this big word as a way of saying, No, I wasn’t only being lazy. A great deal has been packed into that month, not the least of which were the two trips.

Judy and I traveled to Anderson for the Global Gathering and, then, I traveled on to Points East to meet up with Joel and head to Points West—as child number one pulled up stakes, packed most of his life up, and headed back home to Portland. I’m fairly certain that there will be some reflection down the road about those trips and all that they entailed. It is enough to say, for now, that the trips were well worth the time and effort.

It was good, so good, to see so many old friends—from all over the world, even though, I qualify, the stated purposes of the Global Gathering left me fairly cold. From my journal:

Oh well, as in nearly every other aspect, no one wants my opinion. These notes will never see the light of day. But the church has gone so wrong in listening to the stories of others rather than its own that I doubt it will ever find its way back to distinctive mission and purpose. We are lost in a thick wood. (Using that metaphor a great deal lately: I said that to Jael the other day talking of American public education.) Yet, it is apt. Something more like Arnold’s view of the world standing at “Dover Beach”:

…for the world, which seems

To lie before us like a land of dreams,

So various, so beautiful, so new,

Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,

Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;

And we are here as on a darkling plain

Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,

Where ignorant armies clash by night.

And rather than give ourselves to process that God calls us to—discernment—we trust in the wisdom (glibness) of men. Arnold says, “Ah love, let us be true to one another….” Good, but I would write it more like this, Ah love, let us be true to God. The sovereign God who invites us, at great peril and often foolishness, into working out a Plan for the redemption of the world…".

When the appropriate distance has been achieved and the time for more thoughtful entry arrives, I think I’ll title that blog entry “A long, good conversation….” That is the way I characterize these trips. I wrote to someone recently that it felt as if I sat down and people just kept coming by to talk. From my journal:

I have to say, as I have so often in these pages, how fortunate I am to have so many friends. I say honestly I don’t know why I do. I don’t think that I’m a good friend—or not often enough. But I am grateful and, to use the much overused phrase, blessed.

And, a bit further on:

In fact, one way that I’ve described this week: “one long, amazing connected conversation about life, the church, the world, meaning and purpose.” Overall, I’m very, very glad I went. It will not happen again for us, I suspect. In fact, one wonders why it happens at all. Some last vestige, a remnant, maybe, a hope, a stone of remembrance?

And, finally:

Wednesday, July 10, 2013 • Troutdale, OR • Home a couple of days, catching up, recuperating. Have already started on class for next Tuesday night—a first for me: Introduction to Literature. Not sure how I might adjust it if I teach it again but, for now, will just follow the syllabus. It will be fun, I hope, to once again engage others about literature….

Well, the details escape me, but the experience will linger on as one of the seriously joyful ones of my long life—to spend such concentrated time with one on my children! Great gift! We traveled by I-70 from Delaware to Pittsburg to Indiana to Illinois to Missouri to Kansas to Colorado to Wyoming to Utah to Idaho and, yes, finally, Oregon. We visited the Warhol Museum in Pitt (a city that turned out to be quite more than I thought); ate well, drank well, slept well; talked and talked and talked; stared at the unrolling beauty of the country, marveling especially at Wyoming and the entry into Utah! Had one of the best breakfasts of my life in Baker City, OR, remembering the joyfulness of an earlier trip and stay in that city with Terry—and the subsequent sorrow. Fort Fred Steele on the North Platte. Microbreweries here and there. Listening to Brubeck. Talking and talking and talking. Really, an amazing journey—a great road trip. Deo gratias!

I have to end this. There is no way, finally, to capture any of this. Just feeling very grateful. Very!

So, I bring this interruption to a close. It is enough for now. My next entry will be back on the 70s reflection track and focus on Warner Pacific College, one of the vibrant holy place of my life.

Veni, Sophia, veni…

Sunday, June 16, 2013

First Cup—Lectionary Sunday

Beware stories!

It’s no secret that I love a good story—in any form. Tuesday of this week, I sat with three good friends at The Horse Brass Pub in Portland, sharing stories. These are good friends; three of us are long time friends who know each other well—decades of friendship. One is a “newbie” but already more like a decades old friend. We are bound together by stories. Stories of our separate lives and our lives together. Stories of our children and marriages. Stories of our loves and fears. Stories of Warner Pacific—stories of its light and the darker stories as well. We know the stories well—many of them we can talk about in code; remember that old joke when someone shouts out a number and everyone laughs? Yet, we can still be surprised by those stories. It is not unusual to hear one of us say, “I’d forgotten that.” “I always wondered about that.” “Oh, I didn’t know….”

So, we sat around this table in The Horse Brass Pub and we laughed and grew serious and laughed again. We toasted one of us. We mentioned the names of other friends who were not at this table. We lamented and we celebrated and we laughed and we told stories.

We were at Horse Brass because one of us was just accepted into a doctoral program; he wanted to thank us for our part in the journey to date, and we wanted to celebrate him and this new chapter in his life. Two of the four have completed that doctoral journey and shared stories of their time and raised thoughtful questions—wisdom questions based on those stories. I might even say warning stories. Be careful stories. Don't forget your relationships and priority stories. Our stories and our mutual story gave us permission to speak thus to each other. In Palmer’s words, over the years we had entered “troth” with each other. We are covenanted within one of the oldest guilds—we are teachers—but more even than that we are bound to each other by our truthful stories—our personal stories to which we have each contributed: co-authors.

Another good old friend likes to talk about how we are all story-formed. We are who we are because of the stories we inhabit—and the stories that inhabit us.

This morning the lectionary contains two truthful stories about persons who broke their troth. They are, actually, like all biblical narratives, stories within stories: Nathan’s powerful story of theft and power and wealth and judgment that traps David and Jesus’ simple story of debt and forgiveness and hospitality that traps Simon in his deceit.

Beware stories!

Nathan tells David a story that angers David. It is a story of deceit; it is a story of the abuse of power—the rich owner of a great flock simply takes what doesn’t belong to him; he takes what is precious to another simply because he can. This story parallels the story of David’s own exercise of power through lust and deceit and treachery and murder. David can take what he wants and so David takes what he wants. “It’s good to be king.” In the other story, Jesus is a poorly treated guest in a house of power, the home of Simon the Pharisee. The ancient, simple rites of hospitality are not honored. A woman shows up and treats Jesus as Simon should have—out of her own narrative of disenfranchisement; like many the stories of many women in the Bible, it is a narrative of abusive power. But because Jesus tells it, it is also a story of redemption. Jesus tells a simple story of forgiveness and gratitude, highlighting and trapping Simon in his own abuse.

Speaking truth to power is the way the Quakers talk of this. More often than not such truth speaking is storytelling. Again and again, Jesus answers his accusers, those seeking to entrap him, with words like these: “There was a man who had two sons.” “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep….” “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins….” “A man was going down from Jerusalem….”

Each time, just as in the story David and Nathan and Bathsheba and Uriah, the stories of Jesus are simple and direct, not open to much interpretation, although open to wide application. There is edginess to these stories: “double-edged” stories.

They are stories of judgment. They are stories of redemption. They shut doors and they open doors. They are stories that open doors of possibilities—conversion. David sees that and confesses and is forgiven (although the consequences continue). Simon? Well, we don’t know Simon’s response, but for the woman, there is new hope. Is it too great a stretch to include her among those women who become Jesus’ disciples? I don’t think so. The younger son is welcomed home; we don’t know about the older brother. The lost sheep is back in the fold and the woman finds her coin. The man by the side of the road is cared for and, likely, restored to health.

And, of course, we, too, are in these stories. As we sat in The Horse Brass, our lives and stories are encompassed by these old, ever new, stories. They are also our stories; they are my stores. I am in these stories. The times I was tempted and yielded to the lust of petty power and self-promotion. The times I wanted and took what wasn’t mine to take—simply because I could. The times I hurt others in order to make myself appear greater or better—or just superior. The times I broke troth and was more David than Uriah and more Simon than the woman. But restoration is also part of these stories; judgment in scripture, I think, is nearly always about hope and redemption. Confession brings forgiveness. Forgiveness restores relationship. Relationship produces health and growth “so that I might live to God.”

The psalmist says,

Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did
Not hide my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my
Transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the
Guilt of my sin.

Thank God for the Story that forms us in ways that allow us to hope—that stories that somehow make it possible to say that it is not I “but Christ who lives in me.”

Beware stories—and be grateful.

Friday, June 14, 2013

First Cup—Poetry Friday

I am reflecting on birds, specifically sea birds, and

how, for the most part, with some lovely variations, they all look the same.
(A few browns ones stuck here and there in the midst of all
the black, gray and white plumage.)
Even so, large and small, pretty much the same.
I’ve noticed how, for the most part, they stay fairly close together,
allowing for some space and, for the most part,
seem to ignore the other birds around them;
perhaps, it is pretty congenial—
although this morning I watched one work hard and nasty
at staking out territory.

I notice that, for the most part, they are pretty quiet
—a few screeches—
unless something riles them; it stays pretty solemn.
They also don’t move out of the shallows—
running in and out according to the tide and surf,
not really going anywhere;
a few venture out in the deep, but not for long;
(The pelicans don’t hang around the others, spending
their time floating effortlessly just above the contours of the sea.)
For the most part, the gulls keep their asses dry.

Most impressive, to me, is
how these birds stand pretty much facing the land,
looking away from the dangerous beauty of the ocean behind them,
away from the deep.
Diagonal to the sun.

I have been reflecting on congregations this morning.

—amk 2013

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Second Cup—the journey continues....

Continuing to read Palmer’s Spirituality of Education. Continuing to think that this is one of the most important books I’ve ever read. Thinking today that I am getting more out of it this time than ever before. This morning I noted that a particular section of the book, titled “Education as Spiritual Formation,” is a chapter I’d never really read before. Oddly enough, it is the one section of the book that had no underlining. I’ve read this book more than a few times since 1989, which is the first time I read it. The rest of the book has been underlined in multiple colors of ink and pencil; yet, this one chapter, the chapter I now think of as the key, had nary a line marked. I guess I wasn’t ready to hear it;

but I hear it now.

This morning I read this:

“Our persistent attraction to objectivist teaching and learning is the saga of Adam and Eve in history, not myth. We want a kind of knowledge that eliminates mystery and puts us in charge of an object-world. Above all, we want to avoid a knowledge that calls for our own conversion. We want to know in ways that allow us to convert the world—but we do not want to be known in ways that require us to change as well.

“To learn is to face transformation. To learn the truth is to enter into relationships requiring us to respond as well as initiate, to give as well as to take. If we become vulnerable to the communal claims of truth, conversion would be required. Our knowledge of the atom would call us to the patient work of peacemaking, not mindless acts of war; our knowledge of nature would call us into careful nurturing, not careless exploitation, of the earth. But we find it safer to seek facts that keep us in power rather than truths that require us to submit. Objectivist education is a strategy for avoiding our own conversion. If we can keep reality ‘out there,’ we can avoid, for a while, the truth that lays the claim of community on our individual and collective lives.” (Palmer, 39-40)

As I read this, the story of Warner Pacific runs as a quiet motif just below my consciousness. I think this is the mission of WPC—a mission not always lived up to or, sometimes, not given anything but lip service. But “teaching to conversion” is exactly why WPC and its sister schools exist. At least, I think so.

More than a few times this year, as I teach, I find myself talking about this aloud. I find myself engaging (with some reluctance) that old Francis Schaeffer question, “How then shall we live?” This is, finally, what it is all about. Teaching and learning are, finally, about our answer to that question. During a recent evening class, we worked our way through the three questions of one of our texts—Why do I serve? Whom do I serve? How do I serve? Each of these questions is a “teaching to conversion” question. The students reported on their involvement with agencies that are working to address hunger in our neighborhood. That, too, is a teaching to conversion question. Even when I teach EN 200, Argument, I ask them to write about a pressing and difficult reality of their world—their urban world. We look into public school education in Portland; we consider the sex trafficking industry of SE Portland; we think about the value of public art—and then we ask, What does this teach me about who I am? Where I am? How I live?

I think that teaching that does not work out of, through, and toward these kinds of questions is something other than teaching.

(I think there is a great deal of “something else” going on in the world of education today. I think we’ve lost our way in a thickening and darkening wood of standardized testing, calculation of minutes in seat and minutes out of seat, and measurable learning outcomes, minutes to complete assignments— losing our way, our mission, and our purpose.)

All of the important questions and all of the tentative answers we float lead to this point of diverging roads (thanks, Robert Frost):

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

So, as I continue this journey with Palmer—a journey that requires me to think about who I am, what I am doing, and how I am doing it—I am living with these questions: How, then, shall I live? How, then, shall I teach? And I am hoping that my students and I will “somewhere ages and ages hence,” having taken the way “less traveled by,” will look back and know “that has made all the difference.”

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy.