Monday, December 8, 2014

First Cup: Last entry: Thinking theologically

Second steps: Theologically informed—

For me, the truth is that we need to think carefully and theologically about all this. In fact, I think the task I am really talking about is a theological task. It is a task that assumes something about who we are as persons, who our students are as persons, the imago dei, the Trinity, relationships, sacred text, the role of the Spirit—all of which we often bundle in the phrases Christian and Christ-centered. Personally, I think it is the operative qualifier; it qualifies each of the following statements of the mission: Christ centered is a discrete and a pervasive description: Not only one but also all; not only liberal arts but also Christian or Christ centered liberal arts…. What in the heck does that any of that actually mean?

• In one of the most thoughtful, troubling, and hopeful books I’ve ever read (Brueggeman, Walter. (1986). Hopeful imagination. Prophetic voices in exile. Philadelphia: Fortress Press), Walter Brueggeman invites us to think about re-imagination. He’s talking about prophets, truth, and the people of God and asking how hope returns. I think what he writes relates to the time in which we live and work and move and have our being. As I said, I think our task, together, is finally a theological one.

Brueggeman invites us to remember that [biblically, newness always] “grows out of the memory of Israel…not [out of] personal invention. Rather these poets probe and mine the tradition in ways that cause the old tradition to articulate a newness…” (p 2). I think this defines our task.

“These poets [prophets] not only discerned the new actions of God that others did not discern, but they wrought the new actions of God by the power of their imagination, their tongue, their words. New poetic imagination evoked new realities in the community…” (p 2). I think this defines our task.

“…[creating] hope for a community so deeply in crisis that it might have abandoned the entire enterprise of faith” (p 3). I think this defines our task.

He believes that “The reception of a new world from God is also under way in our time.… It is apparent in the staggering, frightening emergence of new communities, which we experience as revolutionary, with dreams of justice and equity. Those dangerous emergences are paralleled by dreams of justice and mercy in our culture that dare to affirm that old structures may be transformed to be vehicles for the new gifts of God. Thus we are at the risky point of receiving from God what we thought God would not give, namely a new way to be human in the world” (p 6). I think this defines our task--and our hope.

[But] “Our vocation is to relinquish and receive [that which] cut through every dimension of life, for such moves entail nothing less than dying in order to be raised to new life” (p 7). I think this defines our task.

[And, finally,] “My sense is that the ministry of the American church [read, Christian higher education; read the name of your own school] is in many ways fatigued and close to despair. That is so because we are double-minded. On the one hand, we have some glimpses of the truth of God’s gospel of relinquishment and reception, and we see where it may lead us in terms of social reality. On the other hand, the church [read, Christian higher education; read the name of your own school] is so fully enmeshed in the dominant values of our culture that freedom of action is difficult. In any case, it is evident that ministry [read, Christian higher education; read the name of your own school] will be freed of fatigue, despair, and cynicism only as we [read the name of your own school] are able to see clearly what we are up to, and then perhaps able to act intentionally. Such intentionality is dangerous and problematic, but when and where the church [read, Christian higher education; read the name of your own school] acts with such freedom and courage, it finds the gift of new life is surprisingly given…” (7). I think that could define our outcome.

Can we do this? If you’ll pardon my intentional plagiarism, “Yes, we can.” I’ve seen it before; there is no reason to think that it cannot happen again. If we care enough, we can. If not—well, we won’t.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

First cup: First steps: questions

This conversation needs to start somewhere; I know there are more questions, but these are, I think, a pretty good start:

• Institutions need to revisit their missions and strategic plans, looking carefully at the words written there and the assumptions, aspirations, and goals contained in them. But we also need to evaluate those plans with these kinds of questions: Where are the hard connects? What difference does this make and where does the difference show up in my place of work, in my course, in my class, in my syllabus, with my students? Where? Specifically?

• What are the non-negotiables? What is? What must be defended, so to speak, with “our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor” against all of the forces that seek to normalize and destroy difference?

• What do we mean when we say Christian (or Christ-centered)? Liberal arts? Diverse? Or any of the other words that populate our mission statements and are intended to be defining and box-creating either because we think they matter or someone else does? What does it look like? What does it sound like? Taste like? Smell? What metaphors may help it be clearer?

• I think, for us who live in that universe, the key word is Christian or Christ-centered. We need to struggle with that descriptor...modifier. What does Christian or Christ-centered mean—evangelism? discipling? conversion? following Jesus--and what in the heck does that mean? Its meaning, somehow, connects to "reign" language--what does that mean? What if it means “relational”--a flabby or profound word? What do those words mean about where I am in the classroom? Office hours? Who I eat with? How I develop my syllabi? How I steward my time and my own health? How I handle my complaints and how I treat my students? How administration treats/responds/cares for faculty and vice versa? Even, dare I ask, How I behave in faculty meetings?

Friday, December 5, 2014

First cup—continuing thoughts on Christian higher education


• I don’t think Christian higher education is invited to out of the box thinking because, well, you know, the risk is too great to say "anything goes." We have a box—usually defined in terms of mission, vision, values. That is our box. And unless and until that is gone or changed, Christian higher education doesn’t really have that choice—we have a box. We need to understand that box well. We need to live out of that box; we need to be the box.

• I don’t think Christian higher education needs to buy into the normal dualism of higher education stereotyped as choosing between head and heart; it’s not where we should start. Can we imagine a third way? Somewhere in between—a place where, to use Nouwen’s imagery, we allow the head to descend into the heart creating something more unitive and balancing?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Morning Joe—rather late in the afternoon: Re-imagination

The following is the first of three entries--three parts of a reflection on the state of Christian higher education as well as some ideas about next steps. This first entry is a kind of prologue to what follows.

Prologue: Thinking out loud about the state of Christian higher education:

I’ve been passionately involved in the “business” of Christian (and church-related) higher education as student, full time and adjunct professor, and administrator since 1962. The best years of my life and a considerable amount of my energy have been given to this good and worthy cause. I think about education in general and Christian higher education a great deal. I want to write about it now. I hope that persons reading this—who might share my passion—will allow an older (although questionably wiser) colleague to speak a little more into the ongoing discussion around the future of the family business. For those of you who know me, you know how much I love this calling and how powerful it has been in my formation as a human and a teacher who aspires to follow of Jesus. I don’t even want to think how different my life might have been without Christian higher education—and the people who radically changed my life, again and again. I care about it and I think we are at a place of hope and danger, a place of rich and wondrous paradox: a place that has may be perilously close to losing its potential.

(I think I need to say in way of disclaimer that most of those years have been spent in one place—Warner Pacific College, Portland, Oregon. I’m an alumnus and have served WPC as teacher, dean of students, and provost, among other roles. I am retired now but continuing to work as an adjunct professor in the humanities—in traditional as well as on ground and on line adult degree programs. But I have not served only there and have had occasion to teach or consult at other places, principally the other colleges, universities, and seminary of the Church of God, Anderson, Indiana—the movement that has had a long and suspicious relationship with its churches. I have colleagues at each of them and others.)

What I want to speak into is potential. I have a deep and abiding faith in the ability of caring, thoughtful and committed persons to address, resolve, and rebuild. When we don’t, it is not because of inability; it is because of a lack of imagination and hope. Not too long ago in a faculty meeting, the word “re-imagine” popped out of my mouth. It suddenly seemed the right word, so I said it. Then, I asked myself, what in the heck does that mean? I’ve been ruminating on that since. Here are some Random Observations and Questions about re-imagining the future of Christian higher education.

• Before that question about re-imagining can be answered, I think we need to think about the context in which it can take place. I suppose if there’s any significant way my years of teaching and working in the life of the church have changed me, it is that I have become even more committed to the essential truth of relationships—that is, relationships in which we grow ever more into knowing each other. I don’t think we can really re-imagine anything, at least not well, if we don’t know each other and, I suspect, in Christian higher education, in general, we know each other not well, certainly less well than we might. Certainly, not well enough to trust each other with our deepest thoughts and fears and loves. Certainly, not well enough to abandon our passive aggressiveness. Without that trust, hope is hard and the possibility that our hopes, thoughts and dreams will be realized or our fears lessened is diminished.

• When I teach the humanities courses I am assigned from time to time, I ask my students, “What kind of a world do you want to live in—and what are you willing to do/be to make it happen?” I think we need to be willing to ask that kind of question about Christian higher education—I think that is the door-opening question to re-imagination: What kind of community of learning do we want to teach in and what are we willing to do/be to make it happen? Can we create not only a community of learning but also a community of trust?

• At the heart of the mission of most schools in Christian higher education is an unstated assumption about what we teach and why we teach it. I think we often get stuck at some pretty superficial discussions about these questions simply because we don’t engage the unstated assumptions. We fall easily into discussions about what constitutes the right number of hours or how to divide the core or how many seat hours equal how many credits or how we fulfill national normalizing outcomes. While we can’t avoid those tasks, they should not define us. Instead I think we need to ask, in light of our missions, what do we really teach? Well, subjects, I guess; but certainly subjects are not the heart of it, are they? And, yes, we teach students—and we mustn’t forget them.

• But I don’t think it is about the courses or the majors; it’s more fundamental than either of those—as important as they are. It seems to me that an assumption of our mission statements and the way we talk about them is that what we are about is teaching how to live in the world. Subjects are finally a means to an end, right? In the context of our mission statements, especially those of who define ourselves as Christian and liberal arts colleges, can they ever be ends? If we can’t agree on this, there is no point in even beginning to consider how to re-imagine….

• The world of higher education is worried about mandates. We ask, “Whose mandates are these?” We ask, “Who says they are mandates?” We ask, “What makes them mandates?” We ask, “Are we being told, again, that this is what defines what I do in my classroom?” Frankly, I think that’s the fear factor at work. The truth, from my perspective, is that the reality of the world is our mandate—and our students’ need to live well in a world that seems more often against them than for them. Increasingly, it seems to me, our students aren’t getting it. I think they are so gobsmacked by the challenges of their lives that they often look more like deers in headlights than students. Of course there are exceptions and we all work so hard to light the light—and nothing is ever more satisfying or exciting than when a student lights up—but on some strategic level, many (most?) of our students really don’t know, on a personally meaningful level, why they are here—and ever fewer seem to care.

The certainty of the world I graduated into is gone and they know it. They are here often because they don’t know what else to do, where else to go, or because someone told them this is The Plan. It doesn’t seem really important to many of them and more than half doubt it value; our effort to reach out to them is valued but not always trusted. Leonard Cohen sings, “The blizzard of the world has crossed the threshold and it’s overturned the order of the soul.” I think Yeats said it also when he said, “The center does not hold.” An old word—anomie—might be the right word.

You see, I think, the mandate is to re-imagine what we do, why we do it, and how—it is the mandate of the world and it is our mandate. The world demands it of us; the future is bleak without what we do. And I think that our students deserve it. We usually engage the challenge of our task with thoughtfulness, resolve, relationally, with love and imagination. The strategic planning documents that so dominate our lives and work often demonstrate our ability to rise to the occasion and the challenge. But I wonder how many of those plans are taken to heart and into our course and departmental planning—even into our classrooms and onto our syllabi?

• We need to answer these questions—“Who are our students?” “Why are they here?” We need to know them—not as numbers or scores or grades but as persons who actually, on some level, look to us with some glimmer of hope that we can help them make sense when there seems so little sense. How can we ever hope to light the fire if we have no sense of the kindling with which we work? (I think we also need to ask those same questions of ourselves.)

Monday, August 11, 2014

Second cup of coffee--this time iced

Textbooks: Fall 2014

I noticed that Kimberly Majeski posted the texts she is using this fall for her classes. What a great idea. I’m a book nerd, as most of you know, so I love choosing texts. In the selection of texts, I keep a few criteria in mind: Relevance to the course, which is obvious. It would be pretty silly to choose a science text on quantum physics for a class on the American novel—I think. Accessibility for students—it will engage them and stretch them and approachable for a generation of non-reader students. Price—textbooks are spendy—way more than when I was a student. (That’s why you see the ISBN numbers; students can buy their texts anywhere.) I guess I also choose texts that are appealing to me--texts that challenge me and unsettle me and help me to grow as a person who follows Jesus.

I’m teaching three courses in the traditional program this fall: CM 140, Exploring God’s Calling and REL 320, Spirituality, Character and Service. I’m co-teaching a Freshman Year Learning Community (FYLC) combined course with Prof. Stephanie Mathis: REL 160x, Faith, Justice, and Portland: Advocating for Social Change, and EN 101 College Composition. I’ll list the texts for the REL 160 course as well. These are all really great courses—even if I do say so myself! I’m including the catalog descriptions to give you a taste of what’s going on, but you only get a taste. The texts are ALL wonderful. I heartily recommend them all.

CM 140 Exploring God’s Calling. Course description: "The first of a series of five courses designed to prepare students for entry into Christian ministry. The course will focus on the person, character, spirituality, and role of the minister. Key topics include the nature of the call to ministry, spiritual gifts, ordination, and scripture in the life of the minister. We will consider a variety of expressions of Christian ministry."

Feiler, Bruce. (2002). Abraham, A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths. New York:
William Morrow/Harper/Collins. ISBN: 0380977761.

Markle, David, ed. (2001). First Steps to Ministry, A Primer on a Life in Christian
Anderson, IN: Warner Press. ISBN: 0871628990.

The New Oxford Annotated Bible. (1994). New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN:

Norris, Kathleen. (1996). The Cloister Walk. New York: Riverhead Books. ISBN:

REL 160X Faith, Justice, and Portland: Advocating for Social Change. Course description: "How can your personal story be used to promote social change? What do the ancient Scriptures say about the injustice we see in our community today? What does it mean and look like to be a Christ-centered, responsible, engaged citizen? Paying careful attention to the Biblical narrative, this class develops a rich Biblical definition of “justice” that is rigorously tied into examples from the city of Portland. In addition, by drawing from self-reflective writing, experiential exploration of social issues in Portland and Oregon, community organizing training, sharing life stories, navigating the political process, and reflective discourse, students will be expected to educate and engage the campus around current injustices and its legislation. This course will analyze the holistic implications of systemic social concerns, develop an understanding of Scriptural, systemic response to those issues, and develop critical and creative thinking to produce ethical, realistic, and respectful stewardship through advocacy. This is not just a class but also an opportunity to “seek the peace for the city” (Jeremiah 29:7) and offer opportunities for young advocates for real-life, hands-on social change."

Gutenson, Charles and Jim Wallis. (2011). Christians and the Common Good: How Faith
Intersects with Public Life
. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press. ISBN#978-1-58743-

Marshall, Chris. (2005). The Little Book of Biblical Justice. Intercourse: Good Books.

REL 320 Spirituality, Character and Service. Course description: "This is a course that invites and facilitates personal discernment about vocation (understood as finding purpose, meaning, and direction in life) within a framework of spirituality, character, care for one’s neighbor—and the interconnectedness of each. It offers students opportunities and experiences that invite critical self-reflection in the context of writings, beliefs, and practices of diverse views and contexts and participation in service-learning in the city."

Bass, Dorothy C. and Susan R. Briehl. (2010). On Our Way, Christian Practices
for Living a Whole Life.
Nashville, TN: Upper Room Books. (ISBN:

Davis, Adam, editor. (2009). Hearing the Call Across Traditions: Readings on
Faith and Service.
Woodstock, VT: Skylight Paths Publishing. (ISBN:

Nerburn, Kent. (1994). Neither Wolf Nor Dog, On Forgotten Roads with an
Indian Elder.
San Rafael, CA: New World Library. (ISBN: 1880032376)

Nouwen, Henri J. M. (1992). The Return of the Prodigal, A Story of
NY: Doubleday Image Books. (ISBN: 0385473079)

Friday, August 1, 2014

First Cup--Friday Poetry

I stood this morning in the bathroom before
a three-panel mirror: I saw myself three times
and wondered who are you? who are you?
who are you?

There was no answer.

Only a suspicion: I am not one of these three.
I am a fourth, another one behind the mirror. Hidden.
A shy soul fearing discovery.

One is my public self.
One is the self others want me to be—or think I am.
The other one is my wannabe self—my jealous self.
These three are not who I am. There is another.
But who is that fourth one hidden behind the other three
now only peripherally visible to me?
A composite of the three? A trinity. No.
Each of the others is a false self.

I have lived a life in four stages:
The open self of childhood; the closing
self of adolescence; the closed self
of adulthood; the aging self of new discovery.

There is a moment with Yorick when Hamlet
Considers a skull and, doing so, considers himself.
It is a momento mori—a key sea change. I have
No naked skull buried for years, yet

I stand before these mirrors, a momento
mori of another kind, naked, and look
into the eyes of each false self; each looked
side-eyed as I did this—what were they thinking?
Fearful, perhaps, that I might shut one down
in favor of the other—or break each into shards
so that the other one can stretch out. Or
the real one may emerge.

—amk, 8/1/2014

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

First Cup—"The None Zone"

It’s been over a year since Judy and I have been regularly in church. With the exception of a few trips to River Street Church of God in Newburg and visits to Park Place in Anderson, we have been trying to sort out what our relationship to the church is. It’s an odd place to be; I tell friends that “We’ve joined the ‘None-zone,’" which for those who don’t know is a peculiarly Northwestern state of mind: there are more folks who check the none box on surveys about religious affiliation in the northwest than folks who check one of the usual boxes.

In an article in The Christian Century, dated 12/2/08, Amy Frykholm noted: “The region is sometimes called the None Zone, based on the fact that in a 2001 poll (the American Religious Identification Survey) 63 percent of Northwesterners said that they were not affiliated with a religious group—compared to 41 percent of Americans as a whole who made that statement. And 25 percent of Northwesterners claimed to have no religious identity—compared to a national figure of 14 percent.”

Now, this is an odd place to be. After all, I am a child of the church; for better and worse, the church has been my mother. Significantly more often than not, I’ve been in church on Sunday mornings. In my childhood, way more often than that since I grew up in a home where the church was our primary gathering place—our social as well as our religious life. I often heard my father say that when the doors of the church are open, we are there. Only once before, intentionally, did we absent ourselves from church, but that was years ago and under largely different circumstances.

Furthermore, I am a churchman. Most of my adult life I’ve worked in and for an agency of the church—Warner Pacific College, Warner Press, the Board of Christian Education, and Church of God Ministries. Not only has the church been crucial in my development as a follower of Jesus, it has given me most of my important relationships—and it has given me a paycheck.

Because of a difference in how we were responding to a particular situation in a particular place, Judy and I decided to take the summer off—last summer, that is. We were going to be traveling a great deal that summer and because we had seriously different answers to what we should do about it, a Sabbath from Sabbath seemed appropriate. Well, as I said, that was a year ago. We are still in the “none zone.” And still uncertain of what to do.

I can’t go into much detail about what brought about the change because I don’t want to hurt friends and colleagues who might read this, but our struggle seems to revolve finding a home. It may be helpful to put this in the larger context of our move back home where, for the most part, we continue to feel displaced. Displaced is a good word; outsider is another. Sometimes we think it was a mistake to return to Portland; for me, that feeling goes away when I am with my great grandson, hiking along a trail on our way to Larch Mountain or cuddling, cuddling on the couch, or exploring the nearby pond. But it doesn’t go away for good.

It is not a bad place to be, this “none zone.” I’m not sure how I would have survived last year if I’d not had Sunday mornings to recharge and, yes, work on the Sabbath, grading papers and so forth. When church leaves you frustrated or angry or saddened, it is probably better to be away. (As I wrote that last sentence, I thought—no, Arthur, you know that’s not true.) Yet, Judy and I continue to be in a place where we cannot agree. Part of the struggle is that our own spiritual journeys took us to different answers—neither is wrong and both are good. What is good for the goose is not good for the gander.

So, what now? In Let Your Life Speak, Palmer writes about waiting for "way to open." I like that. It makes sense and seems to fit with the space we are in. Our “none zone” space is not empty or mindless space; it is open and active space. It is anticipatory space. My friend, Lori Taylor, might describe it as liminal space—threshold space. We are neither here nor there. We are in between and that is a comfortable, uncomfortable, and discomforting place to be—it is a place of discernment.

On Sunday mornings, you’ll find me with the lectionary. On some Sunday mornings, you’ll find us watching a DVD of worship at Park Place. Often you’ll find us yearning for fellowship with other Jesus followers. I have not abandoned the church; I have not given up on God; I hope for way through this and, therefore, continue to wait of way to open. It seems that way has closed. I do not struggle with guilt about this; I do not feel it is a faithless place to be—quite the opposite of that. Yet, still, on tiptoes, waiting to see what opens—this is, I think, finally a most faithful place to be (even if I do say so myself).

Monday, June 2, 2014

Morning Joe--very late at night

A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson—

There was an older English couple, the Claytons, who lived around the corner from us in Santa Ana. I don’t actually know how old they were; as a child, I thought of them as very, very old. She was deaf and very kind. He was big and gruff; I think I was afraid of him, although I had little to do with him. They had a kumquat tree at the back of the house on the side, and I loved to eat kumquats. There was an old car parked in the backyard; it was her knitting room and, I suppose, didn't run. But it had a roomy back seat and she and I often were there.

I didn’t do much talking; she couldn’t hear me. (I think it had something to do with bombs and England.) But she was a talker and I was always a good listener. She loved the poetry in A Child’s Garden of Verses. She knew many—perhaps most of them—by heart and would recite them from memory. I loved the Englishness of her voice and the Englishness of the verses. Sitting in the backseat of that old touring car was like sitting in an English garden. Quiet, the clicking of her needles, surrounded by lovely flowers, the kumquat tree, and Mrs. Clayton. And her soft voice. That’s all she ever was to me—Mrs. Clayton; I remember his name was Harry. I knew that because that’s what my dad called him when he would bring the over or under filled five gallon containers of ice cream to our huge garage freezer.

One day she gave me a copy of it. I had it for years and don’t know what happened to it. It was a birthday present, I think. She inscribed it. I don’t know what happened to the Claytons either. The cover pictured here is, I’m pretty sure, the cover of my book. The illustration is the lovely art of another child’s world by Jessie Wilcox Smith. I loved that world and wanted to live there.
But it was my first real introduction to poetry. This poem in particular—"Foreign Lands." There is a larger world; someday I'll see it; perhaps, someday I'll live in such places. The poems, the art work, the Clayton’s garden, the old car and Mrs. Clayton’s voice—magical and never forgotten. Something inside awoke there, and I am ever grateful for it.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

First Cup: Easter 2014

A Song in Two Parts

Part 1: “Behind locked doors for fear…”

It was a day like any other day:
The sun rose; the sky turned blue and
The day hot. What little breeze there was
Was too little, not enough. Except:
He was gone. A great void opened up
Underneath and within and there were
No longer words to speak. The one
So at the heart of their lives, the one around
Whom all they did and thought and said
Revolved was dead and buried.
Their center gone. It was
A day like any other but a day so dark and
Empty that it was a day unlike any day.
No one noticed that the sun rose:
Their darkness profound. All his words
Forgotten. No one noticed the risen sun,
The blue sky or the heat for all had gone
Dark and cold. No one noticed the breeze
So adrift were they in the desert of their loss.

Part 2: “Two of them were on their way….”

It was a day like any other day:
The sun rose; the sky turned blue and
The day hot. What little breeze there was
Was too little, not enough. Except:
He walked along side them, although
So lost in their loss they did not see.
They found words for their pain; they
Found words for the void that encompassed
Their profoundly shifting ground. They were
Headed out, away, uncertain.
It was a day like any other day:
The sun rose; the sky turned blue and
The day hot. What little breeze there was
Was too little, not enough. Except: there
He was, breaking bread, opening eyes.

—Easter 2014, amk

Friday, April 18, 2014

First Cup: Poetry Friday


Stunted. Branches gnarled
like an old man’s arthritic fingers.
Exposed to gorge winds. Dead.
It sounds dead: Dried needles rasp
against each other.

Yet, at the tips: green.

—amk, 2014

Sunday, March 30, 2014

First Cup—Evangelicals, Bullies, and Swirlies…

This blog began a few days ago right after discovering the ongoing Facebook discussion about World Vision’s decision to not discriminate against Christian same sex married employees—and, then, sadly, its decision to run away from that cliff. My initial thought was this: I’m getting one step closer to completely disassociating myself from the label Christian. (I gave up on evangelical a long time ago because of its rampant, ahistorical misuse.) I know there are some who already think I have abandoned the faith and are neither surprised nor shocked by such a decision. There may be a few out there who are thinking—well, good riddance; he’s been messing up the purity of the faith for years.

Why might I do this? Well, some of the reasons:

The continuing confusion between faith and politics. I grew up relatively apolitical; my church was never sure how to be involved in politics. It was, I think, for us more personal and less political—we voted our conscience. We thought politics a necessary evil, at best, because it tended to subvert the gospel, tending to create division rather than unity. Now, apparently, Christians think it is the primary forum for communicating the Good News.

The continuing confusion about how what matters to us gets turned into what matters to Jesus and not the other way around. In the lectionary this week, the Gospel reading shows Jesus criticized for working (aka healing) on the Sabbath. He cannot be from God because he broke the Sabbath by forming dirt into mud and giving sight to a blind man. All Christians are more or less guilty of proof texting—that is, reading texts from our own perspective—and we tend to think that the way I read the text is, in fact, the biblically correct one. I’m honest enough to confess that I struggle with this. Yet, this biblically based certainty about so many things that Jesus is silent about—and our apparent inability to consider our lives in the world in the context of how Jesus lived in the world, reducing it to, well, what follows...

The continuing confusion that insists that the USA is a Christian nation, founded on Christian principles, by Christian founding fathers. I’ll not say more here except, well, only if one puts a fairly broadly Enlightenment spin on the label Christian.

The continuing confusion about replacing serious theological discourse with sloganeering and jingoism and blame. Intelligent, thoughtful discourse (the kind we see throughout the Christian scriptures) about what matters is very nearly a lost art.

The continuing and confusing ways we make decisions that protect us while damaging and disrupting others—even society in general. One has only to consider the vast exodus of Christians from public schools over the last decades for one (not so) pretty devastating example of this.

For the record, Judy and I are not contributors to World Vision; we do support Children of Promise, the child sponsorship program of the Church of God (Anderson, IN), our denomination. But I think the decision that the first WV made was reasonable and thoughtful and clearly in keeping with their mission. I wonder how many people read the carefully reasoned statement about why they were doing this—as an expression of their mission and their historical relationship with a variety of denominations and communions. I think the decision to take money away from children in the name of Jesus is, well, simply wrong. Jesus said something about hurting children, millstones, and drowning. (And I do hope that those now offended, angry, or saddened about its reversal will not choose to behave in the same ways that its attackers did.)

And, now, we’re going viral about a movie—Noah!

If I remember correctly Christians were first named Christian by the people who watched them (Acts 11:26); apparently their behavior was such that others associated their compassionate and generous behavior with Jesus.

Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. (Acts 2:43-47 NRSV)

In this narrative, Christian is not a political label, and I don’t think it was meant to be derisive. I think it was a response to how these followers of Jesus lived: "These people are apparently not going away; what shall we call them?" In that spirit, therefore, I choose to label the current crop of “evangelicals” (which, last time I checked, has something to do with Good News) “bullyvangelicals” in keeping with their behavior, which I see as bullying, threatening, intimidating, crass, and finger pointing—the ecclesiastical equivalent of “swirlies.” Somewhere the Good News is lost in favor of some new kind of religio-political correctness.

This leaves me with a problem, however: What will I call myself? I’m not sure. Some now like to say, “I’m a follower of Jesus.” I think I understand why they say that, and I’d like to say that, but it seems presumptuous. I’ve said that; I want to be that but am not sure that I have the ethos to do so. I’ve always thought of myself as a pilgrim, trying to live on a journey of discovery open to the call of God in Christ in my life—waiting for way to close and way to open. Perhaps that’s it—pilgrim. But I guess it finally doesn’t matter what I call myself; it is about what others see in me and my living and loving (a scary proposition), and, finally, God’s grace.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Second cup—Poetry Friday

It's been a while since I've posted any of my poetic musings; it's been a dry spell brought on by too much of nearly everything. Lately, I've been thinking a great deal about what I do in the classroom--what am I really doing there.

Liberating Professors

“If you are not here faithfully among us,
you are causing terrible damage.”

Where are you? How did you get here?
On whose back? On whose shoulders?
Did you get here playing by the rules?
Subverting the rules? Bending the rules?

Did you arrive by bus, train, by straight road or
mountain path or, trackless, cross-country?
Did you arrive by grabbing hold and
refusing to let go or by letting go, fearful,
of the fall? Did you arrive alone
or in the company of a friend or teacher.
Perhaps a company of pilgrims?

I suspect no one who traveled well traveled here alone.
My guess is we’ve traveled with companions
more than by ourselves. My guess is no one would
or could arrive here alone. My story clearly suggests
this. However tall I may stand, it is always on the shoulders
of giants, Christophers, who carried me across rivers.

If not well, that is, alone, something
is wrong, something stunted. Deformed. We are
not simply alone but lonely. Maybe frightened.
Imposing our loneliness and pain on others
we bang into, accidentally or on
purpose, damaging others in our care.

Remaking others in our image more than,
Virgil like, guiding persons out of their personal
hell through purgatory to their own Beatrice.

We have a language; it defines us as greater than,
more authoritative. Our jargon—insider language—
and the assumptions/attitudes that say clearly
but without words: be like me.
Use my language (for Christianizing Indians.
For uninvited immigrants.) My language.
My vocabulary. My tone.

I wonder. What do we really teach?

—amk (3/28/14)

Saturday, March 8, 2014

A late afternoon post--several cups gone...

Mary and the Franciscan Renewal Center—

In the mid-90s my life seemed to be spiraling out of control. I was at the top of my game; I was asked to lead the operational life of the College in a time of great risk; I was emotionally on edge and physically not well. The job was demanding but not impossible, but my health complicated my ability to sustain its demands.

The deeper struggles were spiritual. I was out of sorts and my journey with God had grown cold in face of the challenges of my life—it seemed to me that God was on sabbatical. (Yes, I know, and knew then, God doesn’t do that; but it is one way to characterize my state of being. It is how it felt.) But, like so many of us, I chose to address a deeper spiritual problem by ignoring it and pretending it was something else. So off to the medical doctor. I spent a great deal of time at Kaiser with a Dr. Kono who was a very good and caring doctor—he took me seriously and resolved to find out what was wrong and fix it. Just the kind of doctor we all want. His methods were exhaustive and exhausting. I’m fairly confident that all orifices of my body were probed, every piece of equipment available to him was used, and every possible kind of test was administered. (He did find an insufficiency of thyroid and did correct that.)

The wake up call began about the third of my on going weekly visits when the good doctor asked me a set of questions; he asked the same questions again the next visit; then, the next. I admit I am slow on the uptake and finally asked why these same questions week after week? His initial response was “hospital protocol.” “Protocol?” “Yes.” “Protocol for what and why now?” Here’s the alarum bell: “Protocol for persons who might be suicidal.”


I don’t think I was; I think I’m too much of a coward. But it was a very loud alarm. What to do? Clearly I needed help; where was I to go? I needed someone and I was pretty clear that it needed to be someone who did not know me, know about me—and did not know the Church of God or Warner Pacific College. I won’t go into all of that except to say that I had a fairly profound sense that if I were clinically depressed—and I’m pretty sure I was—that some (or a great deal) of the cause of that was tied up in all of above.

I remembered a colleague in chapel at WPC talking about his own journey with spiritual direction; I thought my problem was spiritual—or at least had deep spiritual roots. I had some limited—and as it turned out narrow—understanding of direction. It fit my sense of what I didn’t want and had the lure of something new. So I called and asked to speak to the spiritual director at the Franciscan Renewal Center, in the West Hills of Portland, near Lewis and Clark College.

One of the most important phone calls I have ever made. It saved me.

As a result of that call, I met Sister Mary Smith, a diminutive, tough, feisty, and lovely “Clare”—a Franciscan sister. Mary was a trained and gifted director. I wrote a poem about her that hints at who she was to me:


she walks within a light
from within, without;
inviting others to the Light
and their light
from within, without.

a gentle light, soft, hinted at
playful light, daring across and
around, highlight

she treads lightly along
the darkling paths—
a companion of seekers and
journeyers lost among mazes
of their own construction,
hidden from others
hidden from self,

and provides a threaded way
out of worn and weary
torturous labyrinth
like another Mary she
opens wide a heart light to
the mysterious God whose
darkness is light
births new life
where sterility and formless
chaos holds sway:

let it be
to me
according to your word.

—Advent, 1993

For nearly a year and a half, I met with Mary in her cozy, private, relaxing, incensed space with a view of hydrangea and trees and grass. It was a holy space. She asked me what I hoped for; I told her about the genuine, loving little boy I was before the “prison house” of my own egotisticdefensiveintentionalharmful choices closed about me. I told her about the boy who knew no strangers but who chose to become an alien. I told her about the boy who, for all kinds of reasons, grew into an adolescent who never felt he belonged anywhere and, upon reflection, never had anyone around to help him find his own way. The boy who chose the wrong path to individuation and, now, ironically, felt trapped in every other person’s expectations. I said, I want to get back to that boy. The journey took a long time. Honestly, it is still not over—I still struggle with the who am I question and still seek recognition and reward in unhealthy ways.

But, I am no longer determined by those desires. I know what they are and can name them, call them out, and dismiss them (well, usually, dismiss them). Mary’s tender loving companionship, her “simple” questions—and her willingness to simply let me sit and cry, sometimes she just held me as I sobbed unable to put feelings into any other kind of “words.”

Few days go by that I do not remember Mary, think of her fondly, miss the visits, and pray for her. I do not know where she is, but wherever--and I do mean wherever--she is changing life for the better.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

SECOND CUP—SHAPE-ing a life....

Continuing my ongoing reflection on my life. In a recent conversation with a good friend, I was asked "Where is Arthur?" Not in a location or geographical sense but in the sense of spiritual journey. Since my life is so often bounded by the classroom, my response took me there and the ongoing journey of life as a teacher. I began to reflect on a particularly powerful formational time in my more recent past. As I begin to re-engage my Blog, I thought, I should share about SHAPE.

It seems odd to me that one of the most foundation shaking and formational events of my life should be so, suddenly, not a part of my life. There is a “before SHAPE” and an “after SHAPE” divide in my life. For those who may not know what it is, SHAPE (an acronym for Sustaining Health and Pastoral Excellence) is a national ministry of the Church of God, born out of a Lilly Foundation program called Sustaining Pastoral Excellence. (I could also include the Lilly Endowment in my list of amazing life changing entities; between the Continuing Conference on the Liberals, the Conference on Illuminative Evaluation, the Gathering Storm Initiative, and Sustaining Pastoral Excellence, they have afforded deep life change, growth, and learning opportunities for me that have initiated new formation in my journey.)

SHAPE is another of those times in my life when everything came together—work, ministry, relationships, gifts, money, intentionality—to address a very real problem in the church: the loneliness of ministry and its debilitating impact on pastors, their spouses, their families, and the church. I am grateful, truly so, to have served in the development and implementation of this far reaching and life changing ministry. The amazing thing is that it worked. It was actually a “service of Anderson” that changed lives and ministry in significantly healthy ways.

As significant as it was/is in the life of pastors in the church, it was also in my own. It’s a long story and I think I won’t tell it in detail. But the essence is this: as it became clear to us that a trained coach was the key to successful life and ministry change through SHAPE, an exceptional leader in the life of the church, Jeannette Flynn, made a far reaching decision—those of us on the national staff, involved in and committed to SHAPE, were to be trained in order to be the coach trainers as SHAPE spread out across the US. I can’t explain what a far-reaching decision this was—for all of us. It encompassed a significant commitment of dollars and time and energy AND transparency and vulnerability and pain and joy—the proverbial “tears and laughter.” But we walked this road together. It was a challenging road—pleasurable and painful—but so deeply worth it. I can’t speak for the others, although I believe their stories parallel my own, but through the experiential training, lead by the amazing David Ferguson and his staff at Great Commandment Ministries, SHAPE took me into myself, my faith, my relationships, my gifts, my inadequacies and vulnerabilities. Tears and laughter. Laughter and tears. Honesty and fear. Abundances of both. Deepening relationships. Honesty to the point of discomfort and, nearly always, joy. Assessment. Affirmation. Probing. Coaching.

I am changed forever by this experience. My work in the classroom is changed forever by this experience. My relationships are changed forever—as is my marriage. SHAPE is one of the hardest best things in my life. I carry it with me as I walk into the classroom; as I enter into conversations with friends and colleagues and students. It is no longer, formally, part of my life. For some reason that I don’t know, my work with SHAPE is not needed here in the Northwest—neither by the national work nor by the district. Actually, since I offered it to the WPC and the religion department here, I guess it is not needed there either. But I carry it with me. It is in my heart and, I hope, in my life and relationships. SHAPE was and is a great grace in my life.