Thursday, March 31, 2016

What the Monks Know: "Horarium"

We only have a few more weeks to go in the pre-publication order time for my forthcoming chapbook.  Have you ordered yours yet?

You may ask, why not wait to order until it's ready?  Because the press run is determined by how many books are ordered in this time period.  If the sales reach certain levels, more books are published, and since a second printing is unlikely, it would be great to make it to some of those higher levels.

Here's a poem to whet your appetite.  I first got the idea for it while I was at Mepkin Abbey, so this week, while I'm there, it pleases me to post this poem which was first published in Poetry East:

Horarium The monks get their morning
news from the Psalms. We brew
coffee and scan the TV stations
for news we can use:
diet tips, a weather report,
the quickest way around the traffic jams.

We sit in our coffin
like cars and watch the sun rise
across sluggish traffic. The monks chant
to each other across the chancel
as the morning light shifts
across the sanctuary.

Chained to our computers,
we undo the work of past days
and create documents to be dismantled
tomorrow. The monks tend
the chickens and mulch
the seedlings. We shred
documents while the monks
welcome visitors to a meal.

At night, we click through cable
channels, our glazed eyes focusing on nothing.
The monks light candles
in a darkened chapel and wait
for the final blessing
of the day, a splash
of holy water and a benediction.

To see how this poem interacts with others, order my forthcoming chapbook, Life in the Holocene Extinction here.  You'll find other poems of consolation and hope, poems that explore what elements of modern life give us hope in the face of all the stresses and calamities we face both individually, as a culture, and as a planet.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The Readings for Sunday, April 3, 2016:

First Reading: Acts 5:27-32

Psalm: Psalm 118:14-29

Psalm (Alt.): Psalm 150

Second Reading: Revelation 1:4-8

Gospel: John 20:19-31

I think of these post-Easter, pre-Ascension stories as second chance stories (or tenth or thirtieth or forty-seventh chances, depending on how you're counting). Notice that Jesus appears to them and offers peace. He doesn't show up to castigate the disciples for how they behaved badly during his hours of need. He doesn't say to Peter, "See, I told you that you would betray me." He doesn't say, "You big bunch of cowards, running away from the Romans." He breathes on them to give them the Holy Spirit (and if you read the Bible from the beginning, you'll be noticing a theme here; God breathes creation into existence, and much of the power of God is described throughout Scripture in terms of breath and/or wind).

Jesus offers forgiveness and peace again and again. Thomas has come under fire through the centuries for his doubt--but really, who can blame him? Even some of our more prominent theologians today (like Marcus Borg) seem to doubt the physical resurrection of Jesus. Our rational brains just can't wrap themselves around a mystery of this magnitude.

Thomas, too, gets second chances. Just because he wasn't in the locked room when Jesus appeared, that doesn't mean he's doomed to doubt forever. He gets to touch the wounds of Jesus.

Notice how physical these descriptions are: Jesus breathes on them, and death hasn't healed his mortal wounds. He's recognizable. And he seems to carry on with his life's work, at least for a little bit more time: the last verses of today's Gospel refer to many more signs, but the writer John won't burden us with them all. We get a select few to help us believe.

And then Jesus is gone. But we've been left with a mission. We're to spread the good news. We are not to remain in our locked rooms, keeping company only with each other as we eat the last of the bunny cake. We're to go out and be the light of the world. We are entrusted with the mission of helping to create the Kingdom where peace reigns, where death doesn't have the last word, where everyone has enough to keep their bodies alive and their souls fed.

Evaluate your daily life with that vision of your call always before you. See what you can do to move towards that vision. Each day, every day.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Easter Monday Reckonings

Here we are at Easter Monday, the day of exhaling for many of us, after an intense week of many religious services.  My thoughts have swirled with all the images of the religious observances this week, and I've thought of these lessons for all of us.

--Palm Sunday reminds us that the crowd that cheers for us on Sunday may be crying out for Crucifixion by Friday.

In what ways are we too invested in the way the world thinks of us?  How can we differentiate between fake cheer and genuine support?

--Some of our Maundy Thursday services mention Passover, which some traditions tell us Jesus was celebrating when he ate the last supper.  Passover reminds us that when deliverance comes, it may come quickly and we should be ready, with our sandals laced and our lunches ready.

What would you take with you if you had to leave quickly?  Do you know where your important documents are?  Do you have your writing projects in a portable format?  What are your most important pictures?  Where are they?

--Maundy Thursday shows us how to build community:  share a meal together.  How can we do more of that?

--Good Friday reminds us of all the ways we can betray the ones we love.  The Easter season tells us what to do when we have betrayed our loved ones:  apologize and try to love better. Peter's approach of apology is much better than Judas Iscariot's, the suicide route.

--I'm remembering the year we gave my nephew Easter stickers, which he loved and took great joy in sticking everywhere.  Each packet of stickers  only cost a few dollars, yet they brought more joy than an expensive present would have brought.

What inexpensive joys can we add to our lives with more regularity?

--Easter Sunday, the empty tomb, the followers looking for the living amongst the dead.  Where are we doing the same things?  Which practices give health and wholeness to our lives?  What entombs us?

--These holidays point to the possibility of renewal.  We might think of our own lives--where would we like to see a resurrection?  Are there projects that we've left for dead that we should revisit?  Are there dreams that have been enslaved that we should set free? What relationships might yet be revived?

Sunday, March 27, 2016

A Poem for Easter Morning

In earlier years, I might have gotten in an Easter run at the beach.  In even earlier years, my dad and I would have gone for our Easter run in the afternoon.  Easter has often involved a cake in the shape of a bunny face, and more often church, often in multiple services.

A year ago, my family would have been in Hawaii.  We had no bunny cake, but we did hike to a part of the beach that was deserted, and we did a brief Easter service that my mother wrote.

The day before that, we were at a military base, and I was struck by their Easter displays which enchanted the children that walked through.

Not every Easter can be so spectacular, but every Easter can have a poem.  Here's one I like, although I suspect that poetry purists would find it too narrative, too much like prose with line breaks.  Other poetry purists won't like it for its religious themes.  So be it.

Good News

Awash in Paschal mysteries, I awaken early
Easter morning and run to the beach to watch the sun
rise. I know what to watch
for, the luminous presence, the one to call Rabboni.
Instead, I see the usual assortment of homeless
folks, the crazed newspaper carriers, people just off
work from the extremely early or really late
shifts, and me.

My father and I used to run every holiday, hollering
good wishes to everyone who could hear. But this morning,
I find myself mute as Peter, unable to proclaim
a simple Easter greeting. Like Jesus’
Jerusalem, my city situates itself at a distant edge
of a great empire, a crossroads of continents.
What if I, in shouting “Happy Easter!” offend
a Muslim or a Jew? Chances are good that my language
would be incomprehensible anyway. I sit
on the beach, watching the sun struggle
through the clouds, sketching fish in the sand.

On the Intracoastal Waterway bridge, I muster
my courage. This man looks like he could use a friendly
greeting. He has that downtrodden look that could have
a number of causes: chemotherapy? Homelessness? Aging badly?
I smile and say, “Happy Easter!” His face glows
as he returns my greeting, “The Lord is risen.”
I expected, at most, a “Happy Easter” in reply,
but he bestow this great gift,
a reminder of the reason I’ve risen
early. And like any gift of grace, this one multiplies.

Now, like a woman who has returned from an empty
tomb, I race through my neighborhood streets.
Every pedestrian, every driver with an open window,
gets my greeting and a silent benediction,
along with a smile, that universal sign.
I have a second chance—the essential
Easter message. We have as many chances as we need.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

A Poem for the Time between Good Friday and Easter

We are deep into the liturgical time period of Holy Triduum, or The Three Days, which begins with Maundy Thursday night services and lasts until Easter morning. Some churches will hold an Easter vigil for all of today and through the night. Some will do a shorter version. Some churches depart in silence on Good Friday night and return again on Easter (not counting the gatherings for rehearsals, decorating, cleaning, and food prep that may be happening today).

I've never been part of a church that holds an Easter vigil, so the poem below is based on what I think could happen.

For those of you in the mood for a poem, here's one I wrote years ago. It's only been published in this blog.


We thought we had you safely buried,
or at least confined to little cages
where we could consider you contained.

“God is dead,” Nietzche declared,
and we all nailed shut the coffin.

So now this Easter Eve,
we spend the night awakening to the sound of knocking.
Doorbells ring across the nocturnal
landscape, but no one stands
at the portal.

No one but a shivering mortal
with the sound of angels in her ears,
the urgings of mystics at her back.
She stretches out her hands to sunrise.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Maundy Thursday Prayer Loom

Today is Good Friday, the day no bread can be consecrated.  My mind is full of past Good Fridays--the day that our church's labyrinth was vandalized, and I spent Good Friday helping to clean up and lay new roof tiles along the outline.  I think of the times that we got the grounds spruced up for Easter.  Last year we were on a plane to Hawaii, flying backwards across Good Friday.

This morning I'm feeling an interesting mix of contentment and anxiety.  I'm travelling tomorrow, off to two retreats, including one with Kathleen Norris at Mepkin Abbey.  My spouse stays home to take care of his teaching duties.  I will go to Good Friday service, sleep for a bit, and get up in the wee, small hours of the morning to blaze north.  I will see grad school friends, one of my best undergrad mentors, retreat friends, and 2 of my favorite locations on earth (Mepkin Abbey and Lutheridge).  I have a lot to do today to get ready.

But it will get done.  Today my heart is also happy.  Last night during our Maundy Thursday meal and service, I thought, this may be may favorite service.  Of course, I think that about many a service that's out of the ordinary.  I had similar thoughts about Ash Wednesday.

Oddly, I rarely feel that way about Easter.  As a Christian, Easter should be my favorite.  But it's not.

I like the non-Easter, non-Christmas services because they give us room to experiment.  Last night was amazing.  We've developed a service that incorporates a true dinner.  Not much experiment there.  No, last night's experiment was the prayer loom.

I wasn't sure if anyone would actually use it, and it was slow at first.  But eventually, everyone joined in the fun:

We had a variety of yarns, and I encouraged people to choose a yarn or texture that would represent their prayer.  I said that we would weave our individual prayers together into a tapestry.

We don't quite have a tapestry yet.  We will leave the loom up to see what happens.  I know that some people will return to weave some more.  And I plan to use it for Vacation Bible School.

I'm intrigued by smaller scale prayer looms, as well as this group project.  But more than that, I continue to be intrigued by prayer practices that incorporate some sort of physicality beyond speech and folded hands and kneeling.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Maundy Thursday and Romero's Martyrdom

I anticipated the interesting juxtaposition that comes tomorrow:  Good Friday and the Feast of the Annunciation.  I didn't realize that this year's Holy Week would bring us Maundy Thursday and the anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Romero.

I've written about the struggles in Central America that provided a backdrop to my college years, how we spent time thinking about what we would do if our compatriots were drafted and sent south to war.  I've written about Archbishop Romero and the struggle for social justice--and the film depictions of him.

Lately, I've been thinking about Romero as a bureaucrat, as a middle manager in the church.  We might say, "Wait, he was an archbishop--that's not so middle management!"  In a way, yes.  But in a way, Romero reminds me of a department chair in charge of a department of priests.  In my school structure, there's not a lot of upper management--and maybe that's why I see him as a middle manager.

I also see his story as similar to many of us--we go into our careers dreaming of ways we'll set our various industries on fire and change them.  And then we might find ourselves in various Siberias, toiling away, wondering how our bright futures came to this.

I've been thinking about the fact that Romero came into greatness late in his life; he was born in 1917, and I don't think he did his best work until the 1970's,, in his late 50's/early 60's.  Looking at the trajectory of his life from the middle years of the century, one would not have predicted that he would speak so eloquently about injustice and the need to fight against it.

In fact, many scholars believe that he was chosen to be Archbishop precisely because he was expected not to make trouble.  All that changed when one of his good friends, an activist Jesuit priest, was assassinated by one of the death squads roaming the country. Romero became increasingly political, increasingly concerned about the poor who were being oppressed by the tiny minority of rich people in the country. He called for reform. He called on the police and the soldiers to stop killing their brethren. And for his vision, he was killed as he consecrated the bread for Mass.
During Holy Week, I think of Christ's story too--far away from the power structures of the day, he changed the world.  And he changed the world by challenging the power structures--and for this, the forces of empire killed him.

I see a similar story in Archbishop Romero's life.  And I see similar stories all around me--the powers and principalities of the world do not like the threats contained in Christ's message of love and radical hospitality.  We should not underestimate the forces of darkness.

I wish I could end with a reassurance that the system will be changed if we just take action--but Holy Week takes us in a different direction.

Romero's life story shows that the system will resist change violently.  But the Passion story shows us that even the violence wrought by unjust earthly systems can be changed into a force for redemption and resurrection.  Humans may not be able to force that change--but God can.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016:

First Reading: Acts 10:34-43

First Reading (Alt.): Isaiah 65:17-25

Psalm: Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:19-26

Second Reading (Alt.): Acts 10:34-43

Gospel: Luke 24:1-12

Gospel (Alt.): John 20:1-18

I've talked to many people who seem a bit amazed at how fast this season of Lent has zoomed by us. I've talked to several people who don't feel ready for Easter at all. Are we ever ready for Easter?

Some years feel more difficult than others. I must confess that the older I get, the more I see the same difficulties.  A few years ago, I had just gotten news of one of my dearest high school friend's cancer.  Now, more and more people seem afflicted.

If we're lucky enough to have been spared from natural disaster ourselves, we've likely looked on in horror as other parts of our world have suffered horribly.  There are natural disasters and this week, the terrorism in Brussels.   If we're thinking people at all, we have to realize how precarious is our existence on the surface of our planet.

Maybe you say to yourself that you're still in that Ash Wednesday space. Maybe you ask, "How can we celebrate Easter with the taste of ashes still in our mouths?"

Hear that Easter message again. Know that God is working to redeem creation in ways that we can't always see and don't often understand. But we get glimpses of it.

The earth commits to resurrection this time of year. Green sprouts shoot out from hard earth everywhere.  Even for those of us further to the south who have no real winter, this time of year brings new blooms, as the yellow tab tree blooms burst forth and the bougainvillea seems more vivid.   Each spring, we are reminded of the cyclical nature of the world, which can bring us hope in the times in which we suffer. This, too, shall pass.

The social justice goals of past generations have come to fruition. We may be seeing ravaged populations today, but in a decade or two, we may see healing. Imagine going back to 1987 and telling everyone you saw that the Wall would soon come down, that the Soviet Union would soon be no more, and the world's stockpile of nuclear weapons would soon be reduced. No one would believe you. And yet we know it happened. We can pray for a similar outcome in Syria and other places decimated by war.

We know that sometimes our bodies can produce miracles. We convince the cancer not to kill us this year. Damaged wombs can bring forth children. We abuse our physical selves with too much exercise or too much drink or too much smoke, but to our surprise, our bodies can heal.

But maybe we see those examples of resurrection as random and capricious. We taste the ash in our mouths. If we've heard the Easter story (and the Holy Week stories) again and again, we tend to forget the miraculous nature of them. Maybe we're tempted to downplay them even. Maybe we're beaten down and tired (tired of praying that the insurance company gets its act together before the next hurricane season starts, tired of praying for health and people getting sicker, tired of praying for peace in the world which never seems to come), too beaten down and tired to believe in miracles anymore.

Resist that pull towards despair, which some have called the deadliest sin, even worse than pride. We have seen miracles with our own eyes: Nelson Mandela walks out of jail to claim his place as president, for example; peace in Northern Ireland; peace in some parts of Eastern Europe. We're often too shy or scared to run out of our gardens to tell everyone else what we've seen, what we know.

But we must remember we are a Resurrection People. Commit yourself to new life. Rinse the ashes out of your mouth with the Eucharist bread and wine. Celebrate the miracles.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Poetry Tuesday: "Safety Pin Sisterhood"

We are midway through the pre-order period for my forthcoming chapbook, Life in the Holocene Extinction--you have until April 22 to order during this very important time.  Go here to order your copy.  It will ship in June, and you'll have a lovely summer treat. 

You may ask, why not wait to order until it's ready?  Because the press run is determined by how many books are ordered in this time period.  If the sales reach certain levels, more books are published, and since a second printing is unlikely, it would be great to make it to some of those higher levels.

Here's a poem to whet your appetite.  I have been needing a poem that reminds me that all will be O.K., and so, I offer "Safety Pin Sisterhood."  It's based on a true story:  a young, female student appeared in my office with a broken shoe.  She said she would need to go home to get a new pair of shoes and could I please tell her Math teacher.  I thought that missing a class to go get replacement shoes was a mistake, and so I looked for a way to salvage her shoe so that she could get to class.

The experience showed me that I could stock some materials for future events:  safety pins and duct tape, neither of which I had.  Happily, my friend who was working nearby had a safety pin in her purse.

I saw the student later in the day, and our safety pin solution had held together.  Hurrah!
This poem first appeared in The South Carolina Review.

Safety Pin Sisterhood
I pin a student’s sandal
back together again and think
of graduate school.

I could tell this student
about the meaning of a broken strap
in fairy tales. In a novel,
this broken sandal would have semiotic
meanings that we could deconstruct.

But in real life, this student simply
needs her shoe fixed so she can slip
down the hallways to get to class.
I am a woman of safety pins and staples,
a spare pen, and the schedule that shows
where everyone should be.

What would Wordsworth say?
I already know: the world
is too much with us.
Keats would not see the beauty
in a broken sandal made of cheap
materials from China.

But Christina Rossetti would offer
a secret smile, as would Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
They, too, were women
with a safety pin or a spare set of socks,
women who ignored the theories
about poetics that swirled
around them while quietly
repairing the world with needles
and bandages and great poems
scribbled in the margins.

To see how this poem interacts with others, order my forthcoming chapbook, Life in the Holocene Extinction here.  You'll find other poems of consolation and hope, despite what the title might lead you to expect.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Prayer Loom in Progress Part 2

On Saturday, we put some feet on the prayer loom and assembled it, just to be sure it could be done.  Here's a shot of the feet, but it's at the church. 

I wanted to transport it in its assembled state, but it wouldn't fit in the car.  So, we transported it in 4 pieces and put it together at church:

We decided to have it sit with its longer edge along the floor.  My spouse thought it would be easier for children to use it that way, and I think he's right.  But it's light enough that it could be put on a table, if we wanted.

It's attached with wing nuts at each corner.  Each corner is notched and designed to fit specific piece of wood to specific piece of wood.  But the last corner is always difficult.

So now, the prayer loom sits empty, waiting for the yarn that we bought on our way home from church.  The plan is to use it as part of our Maundy Thursday service.  I look forward to being part of the service and seeing how it all comes together.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

At the Start of Holy Week

How can it be Holy Week again?  It seems just yesterday we took that journey from palms to grief to grave to joy.

The expected disjunctions will be there:  the crowd that cheers one day, but sours with disappointment in less than a week.

What surprises will we see?  How can we make the story new?

Can we set the Maundy Thursday table differently?

What needs to die so that resurrection can be possible?

Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Feast Day of St. Joseph

Today is the feast day of St. Joseph, Mary's husband, the earthly father of Jesus.  Here are the readings for today:

2 Samuel 7:4, 8-16

Psalm 89:1-29 (2)
Romans 4:13-18
Matthew 1:16, 18-21, 24a

I have done some thinking of Joseph, as many of us do, in the Advent season, when occasionally, we get to hear about Joseph.  He thinks of quietly unweaving himself from Mary, who is pregnant.  This behavior is our first indication of his character.  Under ancient law, he could have had Mary stoned to death, but he takes a gentler path.

And then, he follows the instructions of the angel who tells him of God's plan.  He could have turned away.  He could have said, "I did not sign up for this!"  He could have said, "No thanks.  I want a normal wife and a regular life."

Instead, he turned towards Mary and accepted God's vision.  He's there when the family needs to flee to Egypt.  He's there when the older Jesus is lost and found in the temple.  We assume that he has died by the time Christ is crucified, since he's not at the cross.

Some of us today will spend the day celebrating fathers, which is a great way to celebrate the feast day of St. Joseph.  Lately, I've been thinking of his feast day and what it means for administrators and others who are not the stars, but who make it possible for stars to step into the spotlight.

Let us today praise the support teams, the people in the background, the people who step back to allow others to shine. Let us praise the people who do the drudgery work which makes it possible for others to succeed.

For example, I am not the kind of person who immediately decides what to do with each piece of e-mail.  Consequently, once every few weeks, I have to do that work all at once, since my e-mail system threatens to crash.  I am amazed at how many e-mails I send and receive in any given day.  And yes, much of it is not that important.

But occasionally, an e-mail exchange can quickly settle a problem.  Some times, it's good to have an e-mail chain for reference. 

I do other important work too.  I help students who need help with the transfer credit process.  I help students with registration issues.  I help with the grade dispute process.  Occasionally, I get the chance to participate in something greater.  My great joy this term has been helping a student with her portfolio; long ago, she was part of my Composition class, and now she's graduating.  It's good to remember that a lot of these stories have happy endings.

Many of us grow up internalizing the message that if we're not changing the world in some sort of spectacular way, we're failures.  Those of us who are Christians may have those early disciples as our role models, those hard-core believers who brought the Good News to the ancient world by going out in pairs. 

But Joseph shows us a different reality.  It's quite enough to be a good parent.  It's quite enough to have an ordinary job.  It's quite enough to show up, day after day, dealing with both the crises and the opportunities.

Joseph reminds us that even the ones born into the spotlight need people in the background who are tending to the details.  When we think about those early disciples and apostles, we often forget that they stayed in people's houses, people who fed them and arranged speaking opportunities for them, people who gave them encouragement when their task seemed too huge.

I imagine Joseph doing much the same thing, as he helped Jesus become a man.  I imagine the life lessons that Joseph administered as he gave Jesus carpentry lessons.  I imagine that he helped Jesus understand human nature, in all the ways that parents have helped their offspring understand human nature throughout history.

Let us not be so quick to discount this kind of work.  Let us praise the support teams that make the way possible for the people who will change the world.

Here is a prayer that I wrote for today:

Creator God, thank you for your servant Joseph.  Help us to remember his lessons for us.  Help us look for ways to shepherd your Good News into the world in ways that only we can.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Book Ends: The Feast of the Annunciation and Good Friday

It's hard to believe that a week from today will be Good Friday.  In an interesting juxtaposition, the kind that Holy Week often brings us, it will also be the Feast of the Annunciation. 

My latest piece at the Living Lutheran site explores this juxtaposition.  Here are some quotes to whet your appetite:

"I realize that churches that celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation will move the feast day if it falls in or near Holy Week. But as Holy Week approaches, let’s think about how these days are more similar than different – even if they seem like book-ends to the incarnate life of Jesus."

"You may or may not remember that the feast day of the Annunciation celebrates the appearance of the angel Gabriel who tells Mary of her opportunity to be part of God's mission of redemption."

"In many ways Jesus has an experience similar to Mary’s. He, too, must wait for the time to be right for his part in the story. He, too, has a relationship with God that most of us will never have. Most of us are just too busy."

"God chooses the least likely for the greatest tasks, as the Feast of the Annunciation celebrates. Good Friday, on the other hand, reminds us of all the ways our hopes can be dashed, the ways we can be betrayed and abandoned, and the ways that it can all go so terribly wrong."

Read the whole piece here.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Meditation on this Sunday's Gospel

The Readings for Palm Sunday, March 20, 2016:

Liturgy of the Palms     
  • Psalm
    • Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
  • Gospel
    • Luke 19:28-40
Liturgy of the Passion   
  • First reading
    • Isaiah 50:4-9a
  • Psalm
    • Psalm 31:9-16
  • Second reading
    • Philippians 2:5-11
  • Gospel
    • Luke 22:14-23:56 or Luke 23:1-49

We get the whole Passion Week story in Sunday's readings. It's tempting to drift off, especially for those of us who will return to church on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. But stay awake. Pay attention. Try to hear it again, as if for the first time.

Jesus continues to teach the same lesson as he has been teaching his whole life: it is better to serve. If we weren't familiar with the story, we might wonder at its strangeness. We make ourselves better by humbling ourselves? We might hear the echo of other Gospels: Jesus washing the feet of the disciples, Jesus riding through Jerusalem on a donkey. Jesus has sent out the disciples with nothing--and they want for nothing. There's a lesson here for our possession-crazed culture. Empty yourself, so you can find what's essential.

Here we see Jesus moving through varying ruling branches of his society: the church, the government, the masses of people. One day they're on your side, the next day they're not. Things haven't really changed all that much, have they?

Here, too, Jesus makes it clear what following him will mean for our earthly life. Jesus shows us our highest potential as humans, what we can strive for, what we can reasonably expect to accomplish in our own lives--and it won't necessarily be greatness in the way that earthly life defines greatness: who gets to sit at which position of power and authority. According to this way of thinking, we can't let ourselves off the hook by saying, "Oh, but Jesus was divine, so what was expected of him would be different than what would be expected of me."

No, Jesus came to show us how to live a life for which we yearn. And how do we do that? By serving others. By sacrifice, perhaps the ultimate sacrifice of our lives, but certainly of our time and our treasure.

Sacrifice. It's such a grim sounding word. And yet, think of the times when you've felt most at peace, most like you were fulfilling your destiny. Those were probably some times of sacrifice. We finish an academic degree, which requires much sacrifice of time and money, and we get an incredible amount of joy. We weather tough times in our personal relationships. Any long-term relationship demands some sacrifice of ourselves. We can't always put ourselves first and expect people to stick around for that.  But with the sacrifice, if we're lucky, comes the reward of a richer relationship.

I've met (or read the books of) people who have made even deeper sacrifices, people who have formed intentional communities to better serve the poor and outcast. Those communities have made a deep and lasting impression on me, so much so that I spend a great deal of time yearning to return, wondering if I, too, could make that commitment. Those communities seem filled with peace and purpose. One senses God's presence there, in a way that one doesn't ordinarily in regular life, like, say, when stuck in rush hour traffic. These people in intentional Christian communities seem to be living a life most like Christ's. And though they may lack for things that our Capitalist culture tells us we NEED to have, like the latest electronic gizmos or speedy Internet access or health insurance or meat on the table for every meal, they seem to have found a way to fill the yearnings that many of us feel in our souls.

When we feel these yearnings for something more, many of us turn to food or exercise of Internet wanderings or alcohol. What would happen if we turned towards God?

Soon Easter will be just a hazy dream, and we'll have to return to life in ordinary time. We'll have forgotten about the story of Christ's passion and returned to focus on our own passions. But Christ calls us out of ourselves, to focus on the suffering of others. Paradoxically, here is where we will find our deepest joy, by serving others.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

When Trump Came to Town

Depending on your mood this week, you may need some uplifting news.  Let me offer the story of Trump at the Lutheran, liberal arts college on Monday.

From the Bishop of the NC Synod (written Tuesday and posted to Facebook):

Allow me to catch you up on Trump's visit to Lenoir-Rhyne (ELCA) University in Hickory, NC yesterday. We had about 100 clergy and at least that many more lay people from as far away as Atlanta and Nashville who came to join us. It was less a "protest," really not a protest at all, and more of a "demonstration," a demonstration of the love and peace of Christ. 
There were about 5,000 people lined up to get into the auditorium which seats only 1400, and Trump was almost 2 hours late due to fog. In addition to ELCA groups, there were groups of students (it was spring break on campus), a faculty demonstration group, a Latino group waving Mexican flags, and a large African American group that for unknown reasons was denied entrance to the auditorium even though they had tickets. The Lutheran group, by choice, did not try to go inside the rally.

Because we got there about 8 a.m. and Trump didn't speak until almost noon, there was a 4-hour period with thousands of people standing together. The Lutherans sang hymns constantly, and at one point when one group of protesters and a pod of Trump supporters started screaming, shouting obscenities, and making obscene gestures and finally rushing toward each other, spontaneously the Lutheran clergy linked arms and got between the screaming groups and sang "Jesus Loves Me...second verse, "Jesus loves you." It was a sight to behold. Clearly, our presence, at least in that moment, kept things civil. One reporter near me who was running with a camera to film the altercation was clearly disappointed. Thwarted violence and "Jesus Loves Me" are not news. I'm pretty sure she was miffed that we had spoiled her "scoop" sensationalist story.

There are, understandably and justifiably in a "separation of church and state" perspective, many who are upset with me for speaking out. So why did I do this? Given that on Friday it was announced that he was coming, a done deal, and L-R is our synod's affiliated institution, suddenly ignoring the event or the candidate's controversial platform didn't seem an option to me any longer, or at least the less desirable of the options. To say nothing would have been interpreted by the public as assent to Trump's candidacy or, even worse, endorsement. (This is what happened at Liberty University when Trump attended and Falwell, Jr. endorsed him.)

My initial FB post, which surprisingly went viral with over 1500 shares, was admittedly more scathing and personally attacking of the person than befits this office, and for that I apologized both in my second FB post and at the event Monday. I also invited people who wanted to "protest" at L-R to join me not in attacking a candidate or even a platform but in lifting up the values that we believe are the core values of living as disciples of Jesus in response to God's grace: peace, love, justice, welcoming the stranger, non-violence, and so on. That is what we did.

At the end, we gathered in Grace Chapel for worship, prayer, laying at the foot
 of the cross the deep polarizations that seem to have a grip on our country, our culture, and our church. We prayed that we might be vessels of the values to which the Gospel calls us: that same peace, love, justice, welcome. I was extremely moved by the number of people who came and how they provided a peaceful, calming witness to the love of Jesus to and for all."

--End of Bishop's Facebook post--

Go here to read an account from a local newspaper.

A great blog post is here; another one is here.

On this day, on every day, it's good to remember that love can conquer the forces of darkness.  We have seen it with our own eyes.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

A Poem for a Later Super Tuesday

We are close to the midpoint time of the ordering period for my chapbook; you have until April 22 to order during this very important time.  Go here to order your copy.  It will ship in June, and you'll have a lovely summer treat. 

You may ask, why not wait to order until it's ready?  Because the press run is determined by how many books are ordered in this time period.  If the sales reach certain levels, more books are published, and since a second printing is unlikely, it would be great to make it to some of those higher levels.

Here's a poem to whet your appetite; it seems a good choice for this day when many of us head to the polls, an additional Super Tuesday which may determine political fortunes and which may scare/sadden/anger many of us:

Restoring the Seams

She used to count every rib,
a loom around her heart,
like the Appalachian tool
that spools honey into her tea.

But years of good food and wine
now hide her ribcage.
She lets the seams
out of the side of her favorite
dress, a dress bought long ago,
a dress stitched by a distant
woman in Afghanistan in a different decade.

She thinks of that country
come undone, torn and shredded.
She slides the seam ripper
under threads made softer
by the humidity of many Southern summers.

She thinks of distant graveyards,
young men buried in alien
landscapes. She thinks of English ivy,
that invasive immigrant, clinging
to the marble markers,
obscuring the names beneath.

Hours later, half blind from restoring
seams, she walks the woods
of a neighboring monastery.

The monks have reclaimed
an old slave cemetery, but a toppled
angel lies face down in the rich dirt.
She sets the angel upright
and brushes soil off her half-eroded features.

This poem was published in Adanna.  It's a poem that wouldn't exist without a variety of other people's thoughts and pictures on their blogs.  For more on that process, head on over to this post I wrote when I first wrote the poem.

To see how this poem interacts with others, order my forthcoming chapbook, Life in the Holocene Extinction here.

Monday, March 14, 2016

If Trump Came to Your School

Over the week-end, I learned that Donald Trump would speak at Lenoir-Rhyne, a small, liberal arts Lutheran college very much like Newberry College, my undergraduate school.  I have many thoughts about this, but the Bishop of the North Carolina Synod says it better than I can, with great eloquence, in his recent Facebook Post:

"The disclaimer: I have never posted anything about a political candidate on FB before. I feel compelled to now.

The news: Donald Trump is scheduled to speak at Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, NC on Monday at 10 a.m. L-R is a liberal arts institution begun by and affiliated with the NC Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, to which I was elected bishop last May.

Fact check: Many, if not most, liberal arts institutions issue all candidates for president who make it to the televised debate level an open invitation to speak at their university. Usually Duke or Wake gets the nod in NC, but the Trump campaign said yes to L-R. All candidates were invited. Other ELCA-affiliated colleges in other synods issued similar invitations. L-R's administration was just contacted late this morning by Trump's campaign to say they were accepting the invitation, and it was announced this afternoon. It's spring break at L-R next week, so students won't be around.

The stakes: A liberal arts institution, especially in a democracy and even affiliated with the Church, exists for the free exchange of ideas. No matter how viscerally distasteful any particular candidate might be to any individual or even to what the Church itself stands for, to deny any particular candidate (and especially the Republican front-runner) the opportunity to speak is to fall prey to the very principle that outrages us, i.e, "denying basic human rights to others." Free speech, particularly in a presidential election year, is a most basic democratic right.

My position: This candidate, in my opinion not only as a private citizen but as a bishop in this Church, is a farce, an embarrassment, and a danger to nearly everything I hold dear. That he this late in the game is still leading one of our major political parties with his rhetoric fueled by fear and anger is diametrically opposed to any reckoning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ I can imagine. Even leading "Evangelicals" have said as much.

My plan: Assuming he indeed shows up, I plan to be there, clerical collar and bishop's cross on, to protest NOT the fact that he's there but his platform that would deny refugees access, that would invoke violence at every turn, and that would stir up bigotry and hatred. I could go on, but you get the point. I would be deeply honored to be the one escorted out or even punched out as the heckler that Trump so condescendingly points out at each rally. But I won't try to drive out hate with more hate and anger. I will stand there, pray, sing, march, chant, wave signs, whatever I need to do and with whatever consequence to say, "This is not who we are, America. This is not who we are, North Carolina. This is not who we are, Church." And I hope the reporters and the cameras are there, and I hope they might care what I/we have to say in the name of Jesus.

So what?: Stay tuned for more details if you might like to stand with me, Republicans, Democrats, Christian, other faiths, and unaffiliated, either in Spirit or in person on Monday morning."

Back to me, Kristin:  I can't be there, but I will be praying for them and with them.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Vocations, Christian and Secular

I have finally finished reading The Fellowship:  The Literary Lives of the Inklings, by Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski.  It looks at the literary and spiritual lives of the intellectual group, The Inklings, which included J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis.
The book returns many times to the idea of how these writers could best serve God, best serve their art, best serve their fellow citizens. During times of war, these questions took on poignancy, especially during World War II, when any projects undertaken might not be finished--and there was the larger question of why do any of it, when one's fellow citizens were being slaughtered.

Here's how C.S. Lewis reconciled these issues:

"The answer, for Lewis, has to do with the nature of Christian vocation.  A Christian may be called to heroic exertion or sacrifice or to more humble tasks.  The main thing is to stay at one's post.  If the life of a scholar is good in ordinary times, Lewis maintains, it remains good during war; if it is a frivolity during war, it has no place in a world at peace" (p.286-287).

I like this idea of staying at one's post.  I know that the danger is that we never realize when it's time to leave the post, but for people like me, who are convinced that the answer to all problems involves a move, I need this reminder of the value of stability, the commitment to place.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Passiontide Approaches

We used to call the last two weeks of Lent Passiontide--tomorrow, the 5th Sunday in Lent, would mark the beginning of Passiontide, which would last through Holy Saturday.

In these days of compression and short attention spans, many churches celebrate all of Holy Week on what once would be called Palm Sunday.

I yearn for a return to the old ways, when crosses would be draped in black or purple for these last two weeks of Lent.

I want to slow down, to savor this season, the last time we will see the purple paraments for many months.

I want to take time to ponder this Lenten journey from ash

to resurrection.

I want to take my lesson from the monks and others who call us to the old ways, who remind us that those ways still have much to teach us.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Prayer Loom in Progress

We are in the process of creating a prayer loom.  It began when I saw a link to this article on Facebook.  I thought, that could be neat for Vacation Bible School.  A few days later, my pastor wrote to ask if I thought my spouse could create a prayer loom and sent the same link.

I can tell when the Holy Spirit is trying to get my attention.

Here, as in many places where God beckons, my first response was, "I don't have enough time."

But of course there is time.  My spouse had this week off for Spring Break, and his dad and step-mom came for a visit.  His dad is very handy, and my hope was that they'd construct it during their time together.

On Wed. night, I came home to this sight:

Some women rejoice in flowers, but I rejoice in a prayer loom in progress.

These four sides will eventually be made into a square, a 4 x 6 foot square.  I still need to figure out a way to make it stable and able to stand by itself--a project for next week-end.

I am struck by the nails protruding from wood.  I like its Good Friday feel, this reminder that Holy Week will soon be upon us.

I like the way these ideas travel.  My in-laws will now take this idea back with them to their small church outside of Memphis.

I like the simplicity of this project.  Most of us can hammer a nail into wood.  And all sorts of wood would be suitable for this project.  We could reclaim wood from other projects.  And if we have anyone in our congregation who knits or crochets, we will have an abundance of yarn for the loom.

I look forward to seeing what my congregation does with this prayer loom, and of course, I will report back.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Dreaming New Dreams with Harriet Tubman

Today, Harriet Tubman died in 1913 and Sojourner Truth in died 1883. Think about that for a minute.  What long lives they both had--Tubman in particular.

Think about how much change Harriet Tubman saw. She was born around 1820 and spent her early years as a slave in Maryland. The next part of the story is probably most familiar, the part where she makes her escape to freedom, and she goes back to rescue others, not once, but at least 13 times.

Harriet Tubman has been one of my heroes since I was a little girl and first read about her. My school library had a biography section, with that series about notable Americans, each book bound in orange. I read my way through the whole series and returned to ones I loved. Did I learn about Harriet Tubman there or elsewhere? No matter.

I've written about Tubman before, most notably about my view of her as a model for managers here and in some of the ways that Tubman and Southern history haunt my poems here. But today, as I again read about her at The Writer's Almanac site, I learned about the ways that she avoided capture: "She used ingenious diversions to avoid being caught, like carrying two live chickens with her so that she appeared to be going on an errand. She worked coded messages into spirituals and hymns, and the singing of them spread her instructions from slave to slave. Once she evaded capture by simply pretending to read a newspaper — since it was well known that Harriet Tubman was illiterate. She traveled in winter, when folks who had homes were usually inclined to stay in them, and she scheduled departures for Friday nights because "escaped slave" notices couldn't be published until the following Monday."

What creativity! It makes me think about our own time, about our own approaches.

I hesitate to move in this direction, since I don't want anyone to accuse me of trivializing slavery. But this morning, as I'm reading about Harriet Tubman and her can-do attitude, I'm thinking about conversations that I've had over the past several weeks. It's an interesting time to be working in the field of education, and as you can imagine, many of us have been talking about the future of education. Some people I've talked to have become completely demoralized and defeated and just hope to hold on until retirement. I've talked to some people who are energized by recent developments in technology and can hardly wait to see what the future brings--and if there are some scoffers and doubters who would like to strip us all of our paychecks and benefits, these enthusiastic types just dismiss them by reminding us that there have always been scoffers. I've talked to several people who say, "Well, what else is there to do? How shall we get our health insurance?"

I want to get back to thinking about the future in these terms: what would I do, if I believed that anything was possible? What do I enjoy doing? To put it in theological terms I want to structure my future in the way that Frederick Buechner would advise in his book Wishful Thinking: "The place God calls you to is where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet."

What is the world's deep hunger? What are my deep gladnessess? Blogging brings me deep gladness these days. So does the writing of poetry. What are the world's deep hungers that my blogging and poems could meet?

The cynic would now sneer, "Yeah, this is all very well and good, but back to that issue of health insurance--how will you pay for all the insurances you require as a woman at mid-life, not to mention how you'll put bread on the table."

To which, on this Spring morning when the gusty winds seem to sweep away all doubts, I would say, "Shut up, cynic." My life has taught me that there are more pathways out there than I can comprehend. I've had nice, comfortable jobs, and I've had times in my life where I relied on synchronicity and good luck and a benevolent universe (and to return to theology, on God). And guess what? I didn't go bankrupt and I didn't lose my house. I got to have marvelous adventures when I was in the synchronicity period that I wouldn't have had if I had remained shackled to my decent job with a good retirement package and health insurance.

Let me have the spirit of Sojourner Truth, who worked tirelessly for social justice, even when she envisioned a better world that many of her contemporaries couldn't see as possible. Let me have the courage of Harriet Tubman, who led so many to freedom. Let me look up from my safe life to see the revelations that are all around me.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, March 13, 2016:

First Reading: Isaiah 43:16-21

Psalm: Psalm 126

Second Reading: Philippians 3:4b-14

Gospel: John 12:1-8

I've always had some amount of trouble with this Gospel; I suspect it's because I would have been that disciple who said, "Just think what we could have done with the money that went to buy that expensive oil. Doesn't Jesus know the electric bill is due? We could have helped the poor. And she went and poured it all over his feet!"

I know that traditionally we use this Gospel lesson to make us think forward a few weeks to Good Friday, when Jesus' dead body will be anointed with funeral oils.  But there's still something about this Gospel that makes me restless.

Perhaps it is Jesus saying, "The poor you will always have with you." I'm uneasy with the way so many people through the centuries have used this line to justify their unwillingness to work to eradicate poverty. A shrug of the shoulders, that verse out of context, and poof, we don't have to worry about our riches.

I've been trying to sit with this passage in a different context, in the context of the whole Gospel of John. Jesus says that the poor we'll always have with us, but we won't always have Jesus (at least not in human form). I'm trying to see it as Jesus telling us that we must treasure the moments in life that are sweet. Did Jesus know what was about to happen to him? Different theologians would give you different answers, but even if Jesus didn't know all the particulars of his upcoming execution, he must have known that he was stirring up all sorts of worldly trouble for himself. He must have known that he wouldn't have had many more of these occasions to sit and savor a meal.

I'm sure he's also speaking towards our impulse towards anger and self-righteousness. I can criticize the decisions of others in how they spend their money and what they should be spending their money on ("Imagine. She calls herself a Christian and she goes to get her nails done. She could do them herself at home and send the money she would have spent to Habitat for Humanity"). It's not always easy for me to know how to allocate my resources of time, treasure, and energy.

Truth be told, I find it easier to work on many a spiritual discipline than to sit and savor a meal with those whom I love, the ones, whom, like Jesus, I won't always have with me.  I find it frighteningly easy to slide into the behavior of the disciples, that self-righteousness which precludes being able to enjoy a meal together.

In these days that feel increasingly hectic, let us remember to take time to focus on what's truly important.  Let us put aside the anger and judgment that can make it so hard to live in community.  Let us take the time that it takes to break bread together.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

A Poem for International Women's Day

Today is International Women's Day.  It's intriguing to me that this day was started by various socialist and communist groups--and now we have our first mainstream, female candidate for president running against a socialist--and the fact that he's a socialist doesn't seem to bother people the way it might 40 years ago.

After all, these days, when one says "socialist," most of us think of Scandinavia, not the Communist re-education camps of the 20th century.

Let us also take a minute to consider how amazing it is that the most qualified candidate in this campaign season, in terms of experience, is a woman.  In the past, it wouldn't have been possible for a woman to accumulate enough years of service to make that claim.  Now, even if other candidates had been running, candidates with more years of public service or military service, Clinton's years of service might actually be more impressive.

We see a similar situation in many of our mainstream churches.  When I was young, women were just beginning to be ordained--it would be many years before I saw a woman as the minister in charge, not the youth minister, not the assistant minister.  We still may not have many women as head pastor over a large staff--but in my Lutheran variation of the mainstream church (the ELCA), we don't have many churches with large staffs at all.

We have seen women in charge of whole church denominations, something that I wouldn't have thought would be possible for many decades to come.  And now, ELCA Lutherans have a female bishop who is in charge of the national church.

But my inner sociologist also insists that we note that many of these gains are available only to those of us in certain countries.  Throughout much of the world, women live very circumscribed lives.  In some cases, that might not be bad--but it's not like women have a choice in the matter.

Here's a poem that addresses this reality.  It's from my forthcoming chapbook, Life in the Holocene Extinction, which you can order here.

Vast Incarnations of Violence

We are the hollow women,
the ones of perilous
journeys: the dash through deserts
of all sorts, across turbulent seas,
always moving from south to north.

We are the hollow women,
the ones who care for your domicile
while elsewhere, you labor
guided by charts that show earnings,
expenses, the sorts of potential
that matter in the modern office.

We are the hollow women,
the ones who leave our children
behind to care for yours.
We agree never to speak
of this bargain. You imagine
that the desert colors of our skin
buy us some sort of emotional protection.

At night we dream of death’s other kingdom:
the militias and rebels,
the vast incarnations of violence.

To see how this poem interacts with others, order my forthcoming chapbook, Life in the Holocene Extinction here.  It will ship in June, and you'll have a lovely summer treat. 

You may ask, why not wait to order until it's ready?  Because the press run is determined by how many books are ordered in this time period.

So, celebrate this International Women's Day by ordering a book that will address themes of what it's like to be a woman now.  Or support your favorite women artists in some other way. 

And if you decide to celebrate by giving money to a group that helps women across the globe, that would be a great approach too.

Monday, March 7, 2016

The Mourning Habits of God

One morning last week, I did my creative writing first, before I got lost in e-mails or Facebook or research.  I wanted to write about the mourning habits of God, part of the Purgatory project, which you can read about here.

But first, some background.  On Tuesday, as I talked with one of my Purgatory co-creators, I made a casual comment about the mourning habits of God--and then I couldn't get it out of my mind.

I thought of Victorian mourning customs, the way people were expected to dress, the two year process moving from blackest black to lighter lavender to signal to others where they were in the mourning process.

I also can't get the John Donne line out of my head, "A bracelet of bright hair about the bone," from "The Relic."  I love, love, love the repetition of b.  I love that image.

And so, in the voice of God, I talked about God's creative practice: 

"I wonder if any of my creatures ever give consideration to my mourning practices. As one who has been creating a long time, I’ve had to suffer a lot of loss too.

I know that some would say, 'Well, aren’t you God? All powerful? Why not just create another creature like the one you’ve lost.'

As I’ve pointed out before, my creative powers do not work like that. I don’t have a magic wand that I can spin and then see in a physical form what I was only able to visualize minutes before. My creative powers take time. I’m the ultimate outsourcer, letting evolution do much of the creative work for me."

In the voice of God, I talked about quilting as metaphor for short-circuiting evolution to bring back a favorite species:

"It’s as if you made a quilt and then, years later, you needed to repair it. You might not be able to find the exact same cloth, so you’d have to make a judicious substitution. And even if you could find the exact same cloth, you alter the quilt by the very act of trying to repair it. Maybe you can love the quilt just the same. But you’ll always realize the difference."

And then I ended this way:

"I engage in a much older mourning custom, designed to keep my lost ones close. I make jewelry out of their DNA, like those Elizabethans with their bracelets made out of the hair of lost loved ones.

No one knows about my mourning jewelry—they might find it morbid. But I like weaving the patterns of DNA to try to capture the essence of the creature left. Some of my bracelets are chunky and textured. Some are wisps, like the most delicate spiderwebs."

Back to me and my every day, writing/blogging voice.

It was a good morning, working through the tiredness, following through on an idea.  I'm still finding it intriguing how easy this writing feels.  I'm taking the ease as a good sign.  And it's energizing my co-creators too.  We're having great conversations, and we're inspiring each other--a lake district of our very own!

I'm thinking about God in different ways.  I know that we could get lost in a conversation of whether or not those ways are accurate--but this post is getting long, so I'll wait on that.  It's an interesting spiritual practice--or at least, it's turning into a spiritual practice.  More on that, too, later.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Living in the Ruins

Today my church will be exploring this text:

1 Kings 11:  26-40

How interesting to read this passage in the middle of a political season where it seems that all is being torn to pieces.  All the political truths we thought we knew have been turned on their heads.  The mood of the country grows increasingly frustrated and fed up.  Each week brings us more negativity.  Those of us who have a wider sense of history feel more and more fretful and panicked.  The cycle feeds on itself, increasing the volume of panic.

We read the Old Testament passage, and we realize that this story, this downward spiral, is very, very old.  We have seen the people of Israel clamor for a king--they think that all of their problems will be solved if only they had a proper king.  The prophet warns them of the various costs of having a king, but they don't care.  They want a king.

From a distance of centuries, we can be judgmental:  stupid Israelites, bringing this fate upon themselves.  But then we look at our own headlines and realize that we, too, pin our hopes on earthly messiahs, those who would promise much.  How we want to believe!  How little will be delivered to us from those earthly saviors.

In the midst of this passage, the good news:  God remembers God's promises.  The earthly kingdom may be ripped apart, but God will be there in the wreckage. 

It may not be much comfort for those of us who have to live in the wreckage.  Perhaps we will spend our days yearning for the past days of glory, in danger of drowning in our tears we cry when we realize that what we hoped for is not to be. 

But God will be there, living with us, pointing us towards ways of rebuilding.  Out of the ruins of the life we thought we might have come new neighborhoods of hope, new gardens of possibility.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Words of Inspiration for Early March

Since 2002 or 2003, I have been used Show Me the Way: Readings for Each Day of Lent as part of my morning devotion/prayer for Lent. It's a devotional book that takes passages from Henri Nouwen's work and weaves them together.  What's interesting is that I have underlined passages through the years.  Those passages still speak to me.

But what's more interesting:  the new passages that leap out at me.  Here's what I underlined this morning:  "Our conflicts and pains, our tasks and promises, our families and friends, our activities and projects, our hopes and aspirations, no longer appear to us as a fatiguing variety of things which we can barely keep together rather as affirmations and revelations of the new life of the Spirit in us.  'All these other things,' which so occupied and preoccupied us, now come as gifts or challenges that strengthen and deepen the new life which we have discovered" (p. 78).

Nouwen goes on to stress that our new life doesn't mean that we have no problems, no pain.  Indeed, we may have more.  But our outlook is different.
I also have to record a Facebook post from my pastor, Pastor Keith Spencer, another inspiration this morning:

"The end does not justify the means for Christians - for those who follow in the way of Jesus, the means are everything for the end is always in Christ and through Christ and leads us to the cross. The Way of Jesus is the way of the soft and humble heart, the servant heart, the hopeful heart.
We can always navigate the fear and hate that surround us as they attempt to blind us to the Way of Jesus by holding fast to the one who calls us to love those we hate. Once love has left the conversation, so has Jesus."

That last sentence took my breath away--what a great way to remember what our priorities should be, especially in a political season.

My pastor wrote that passage as part of his sermon prep for tomorrow.  We'll be exploring 1 Kings 11:  26-40.  If you'd like to join us, we have services with a traditional sermon time at 8:30 and 11:00, plus an interactive service at 9:45:  Trinity Lutheran Church at 72nd and Pines Blvd. in Pembroke Pines, FL.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Ministry of Reconciliation and Living in Community

I read this post that talks about ministries of reconciliation and making all things new.  I would love to find a ministry of reconciliation that makes everything stable.

There was a moment yesterday during a flurry of e-mails when I stopped to consider how difficult the work of community building is.  Or maybe difficult is the wrong word.  Time consuming comes to mind.  Cyclical also comes to mind.

It's something they don't teach in youth groups or other leadership training groups.  No one ever says, "You will have difficult conversations and move to stages where community is stronger.  And then, 2 months later, you will again have to have difficult conversations which will strengthen your community.  Some of those conversations will be exactly the same two months later or six months later or three years later."

I understand why people decide that community building is just too hard.  I have more sympathy for the U.S. Congress than most people might have.  I understand the frustration of having to get along with all those people and how many of them must have decided to just be done with it.  I also understand why no leader has emerged who can do or even wants to do the work of bringing that particular community together.

I understand why people want to leave their jobs, their families, their churches--the work of reconciliation is so cyclical that it's easy to believe we're making no progress, that life would be better elsewhere.  Some times, of course, that's true.  But we often forget that we will be taking ourselves with us wherever we go.  We will be building community with quirky humans no matter the setting.

I've written before about the variety of spiritual gifts we see, and how we value some more than others.  Clearly we live in a society where we desperately need more people who can do the hard work of reconciliation and then stay rooted to keep doing that work.

I wonder if there's a way to train more of us to be ministers of reconciliation.  I predict we will need much reconciliation in the months and years to come.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Society: Transform It or Explode It?

I've been reading two 500 page books at the same time, always an interesting experience.  What makes it even more interesting is that each book explores the lives and times of a group of idealists.

I first began reading The Fellowship:  The Literary Lives of the Inklings, by Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski.  It looks at the literary and spiritual lives of the intellectual group, The Inklings, which included J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis.

Then I needed more time to finish it--because it is a big book, after all.  I was at the end of the allowed renewals.  So on Feb.19, I went to the library to turn it in and then check it back out again.

While I was there, I also got Bryan Burrough’s Days of Rage, about the explosive activism of the 70's.  The author's thesis says that most Americans don't know about these groups, but I did, good Sociology major and social justice activist that I am.  Still, it's been interesting, although I'm learning more about bomb locations than I really care about.

I'll pick up one and then the other.  And lately, I've been thinking about the contrast between the two groups that each book explores.

Much of the explosive anger that Burrough describes is rooted in a vision for a different America, a vision that is thwarted in so many ways.  For some groups, it seems tantalizingly close.  Other groups never have a chance at the societal--or personal--transformations which they crave.

If any of these groups have a spiritual grounding, Burrough doesn't explore it.  My research has told me that these groups did not.  Other groups that emerged out of the various movements of the 60's did have a spiritual base, and many of them are still active and transformative.

And then you have the Inklings, who envisioned a variety of different worlds, and who were very rooted in Christian disciplines.  These were men who many of them suffered losses far more severe than those suffered by the people whom Burrough describes--and they don't turn to incendiary devices.

Why do some people abandon their social justice work altogether?  Why do some turn to destruction when transformation seems impossible?  What keeps some of us working quietly towards the vision described by the most eloquent prophets?

Those are questions that have haunted me for much of my life, and I don't expect to settle them fully.  I do suspect that the answer lies in the spiritual life and disciplines of each person and group.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, March 6, 2016:

First Reading: Joshua 5:9-12

Psalm: Psalm 32

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

Gospel: Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Ah, the Parable of the Prodigal Son. We've heard it so many times that we may have forgotten pertinent details. We remember clearly the younger son, the one who squanders his fortune in a foreign land and becomes so hungry and desperate that he yearns for swine food. We understand this part of the parable. Even if we haven't been the wastrel child, who among us has not occasionally envied the ease with which some of our society just do their own thing and give themselves to riotous living. We assume the younger son represents us as our worst sinner selves.

We forget that this story has two lost sons.

Yes, the older son is just as lost as the younger. Perhaps more so.

Look at his behavior and see if you recognize yourself. He has to find out from the servants what is going on. He hasn't been invited to the party. He has done all the right things, been steadfast, honored his father and society, and what does he get? Does he get a party? No!

Which child is more lost? The one who gives into his animal nature, who indulges in carnal pleasures? Or the one who shows himself to have all sorts of repressed anger, a well of resentment that erupts all over his poor father?

In his book, The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen says, "Looking deeply into myself and then around me at the lives of other people, I wonder which does more damage, lust or resentment?" (71). What a powerful question!

Nouwen sees this parable as being about love and how we're loved and how we're afraid that we won't be loved. We spend a lot of time looking for the approval of others. Nouwen says, "As long as I keep running about asking: 'Do you love me? Do you really love me?' I give all power to the voices of the world and put myself in bondage because the world is filled with 'ifs.' The world says: 'Yes I love you if you are good-looking, intelligent, and wealthy. I love you if you have a good education, a good job, and good connections. I love you if you produce much, sell much, and buy much'" (42). Obviously, we can't win this game.

Luckily, we don't have to win. God loves us regardless. Of course, learning this lesson of love may take us a lifetime. We have to force ourselves to the disciplines that will thaw our frozen hearts. Nouwen suggests, "Although we are incapable of liberating ourselves from our frozen anger, we can allow ourselves to be found by God and healed by his love through the concrete and daily practice of trust and gratitude" (84).

He goes on to say, "There is a very strong, dark voice in me that says the opposite: 'God isn't really interested in me, he prefers the repentant sinner who comes home after his wild escapades. He doesn't pay attention to me who has never left the house. He takes me for granted. I am not his favorite son. I don't expect him to give me what I really want" (84).

Yes, trust and gratitude can be difficult moods to sustain. But we're called to do that. And then we're called to work on a deeper transformation. We must become as full of love as the father in the parable.

The traditional approach to this parable is to see the Father character representing God, which is certainly true. But many of us assume we cannot love the way God can. Maybe not. But we have to try. Nouwen says, "Perhaps the most radical statement Jesus ever made is: 'Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate.' . . . "what I am called to make true is that whether I am the younger or the elder son, I am the son of my compassionate Father. I am an heir. . . . The return to the Father is ultimately the challenge to become the Father" (123).

How on earth can we accomplish this? Nouwen suggests that we cultivate these three traits: "grief, forgiveness, and generosity" (128). To those I would add that we should commit ourselves to believing in resurrection. Believe in the possibility of second (and third and fourth and fifth) chances. Believe that the lost will be found. Believe that the Prodigal will return. Throw a fabulous party. And when you notice that someone is missing from the party, someone is standing in the shadows, stewing in resentment, anger, grief, envy--go get that person and invite them to the party. Remember that we are children of a God whose love we cannot begin to comprehend.

Model that behavior.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Second Week of Chapbook Sales: Order Now

We are now in the second week of a 8 week pre-publication sales period for my forthcoming chapbook, Life in the Holocene Extinction.  To order, go here.

If you are thinking of buying this book, it's important to order it during this 8 week period, as Finishing Line Press determines how many copies to print based on how many copies are sold during the pre-publication time.

To whet your appetite, here's the title poem:

Life in the Holocene Extinction

I complete the day’s tasks
of e-mails and reports and other paperwork.
I think about which species
have gone extinct
in the amount of time it takes
to troll the Internet.
I squash a mosquito.

He drives to the grocery store
to pick up the few items he needs
for dinner: shark from a distant
sea, wine redolent of minerals from a foreign
soil. He avoids the berries
from a tropical country with lax
control of chemicals.

As she packs up her office,
she thinks about habitat loss,
those orphaned animals stranded
in a world of heat and pavement.
She wishes she had saved
more money while she had a job.
She knows she will lose the house.
She wonders what possessions
will fit into her car.

This poem first appeared at the wonderful online journal, Escape Into Life.  I encourage you to go here to see the wonderful image of a fiber collage that's paired with the poem.

In many ways, this poem encapsulates all the themes of the book, as a title poem should do.  But it leaves out a key element:  this collection also explores what elements of modern life give us hope in the face of all the stresses and calamities we face both individually, as a culture, and as a planet.

It will probably come as no surprise that the poems explore spirituality as one of those elements that helps us hope and helps us cope.

So, order now, while it's on your mind--avoid the last minute rush!  And order some extra copies--poetry makes a great gift!

To order, go here.