Thursday, October 29, 2009

a word from wallace

This came into my field of vision this morning and I thought it too good to keep to myself.

From Wallace Stevens -- "Ask Me"

Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made. Aske me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.

I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.

Monday, October 26, 2009

show time

I stood one brilliant autumn afternoon
at Quincy Market and watched a man
juggle a bowling ball, a tennis racquet,
and a chainsaw with the same ease as
those of us who watched drank our
lattes and ate our cannolis; I wondered
how he practiced – what was it like
the first time he revved the engine
and threw the saw into the air?

If I could go back and find him, I would
say, “I know now.” I know you don’t
intend, you just juggle. When the
phone rings and says, “You must come,”
and the menus are due, and there are
friends to call and prescriptions to fill,
followed by the long plane ride home,
you just keep juggling; it’s what life is –
and everyday is show time.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

one more song

Years ago, I wrote a lyric for a Communion song called "Here's to the Day" and the last verse says

gather in close cling to each other
sing to the night you don't sing alone

This has been a day when I have been reminded, again, that life and faith are both team sports. We are not alone; we are all in this together, whatever the day brings. And so, as this day closes, I offer another familiar hymn, if you will, which holds as good a definition of love as I can find:

if you break down, I'll drive out and find you

Patty Griffin wrote "When It Don't Come Easy," Justin McRoberts covers it (well) in the video below, and I offer it tonight as both an affirmation of what I learned again today and a word of thanks for all those who keep driving out for me.

Red lights are flashing on the highway
I wonder if we're gonna ever get home
I wonder if we're gonna ever get home tonight
Everywhere the waters getting rough
Your best intentions may not be enough
I wonder if we're gonna ever get home tonight

But if you break down
I'll drive out and find you
If you forget my love
I'll try to remind you
And stay by you when it don't come easy

I don't know nothing except change will come
Year after year what we do is undone
Time keeps moving from a crawl to a run
I wonder if we're gonna ever get home

You're out there walking down a highway
And all of the signs got blown away
Sometimes you wonder if you're walking in the wrong direction

But if you break down
I'll drive out and find you
If you forget my love
I'll try to remind you
And stay by you when it don't come easy

So many things that I had before
That don't matter to me now
Tonight I cry for the love that I've lost
And the love I've never found
When the last bird falls
And the last siren sounds
Someone will say what's been said before
Some love we were looking for

But if you break down
I'll drive out and find you
If you forget my love
I'll try to remind you
And stay by you when it don't come easy



hymn sing

Dad and I sat at breakfast yesterday and talked about the old hymns that fed our hope and faith in these days. This is the one I have been singing tonight, though not quite David Phelps.

O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O light that foll’west all my way,
I yield my flick’ring torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.
We have felt held by Love today. Mom had a long, hard day and also made progress. I feel both loved and grateful.


Monday, October 19, 2009


it’s not what you know it’s what you don’t know
or what you’ll ever figure out
that takes you out where the wild things grow

and makes you wonder what you’ll have to show
for all the days of being devout
it’s not what you know it’s what you don’t know

that hints at what grace can bestow
as love demands a different route
and takes you out where the wild things grow

beyond what feels safe or apropos
where you feel less “with” and more “without”
it’s not what you know it’s what you don’t know

that pulls at your heart like an undertow
and smells of rain in the dust of drought
that calls you out where the wild things grow

beyond what feels safe or apropos
in the daily mix of faith and doubt
it’s not what you know it’s what you don’t know
that takes you out where the wild things grow

Friday, October 16, 2009


I have a love-loathe relationship with much of the technology that gets thrown at us. I love my laptop and I wish the manufacturers had chosen to make sure they were making a great mobile phone before they added all the un-phone features to it. And I don’t really get the whole Twitter thing. Those of you who know me will understand. When have I ever been able to express myself in under one hundred and forty words? Tonight, however, I am thankful for the technology that makes Facebook possible because I have found great comfort there.

My mother had surgery on Thursday. The sentence in itself is not remarkable; my mother has had more surgeries than I can count. When we lived in Boston, I used to tease that she was much like the USS Constitution: still in commission and only about twenty percent original material. My mother is also the most tenacious person I know. She is undaunted by difficulty and determined to push through and keep going. So when the call came last night that the surgery itself was successful, in that they were able to do the necessary repair, but her heart was not keeping a normal rhythm, the news landed hard here at our house. I sat down and posted a few sentences on Facebook asking for prayer and within minutes – literally – the responses began to come. By this morning there were over forty, words of hope and solidarity from most every chapter of my life:

high school friends from Nairobi, Fort Worth, and Houston;
childhood friends;
church folks from Westbury Baptist, where Dad pastored;
folks from the youth and college groups at University Baptist;
friends from Dallas days;
Baylor friends;
seminary friends;
Boston and Winchester and Marshfield and Hanover friends;
Durham friends;
and blog friends,
to name a few.

Reflecting on a youth camp experience, my friend Billy Crockett wrote a song years ago called, “Lines,” that sets to music what I saw happening on my screen and in my heart over the last twenty-four hours:

A spider spins the lines from leaf to ladder
A trellis spans the canyon to Katmandu
A transatlantic cable carries transatlantic chatter
And there are lines that run from me to you

Lines that run from vine to branches
Lines that carry love's advances
For those who try
To find their place in time
There are lines ... lines
There are lines and I can see them. I am trusting they are strong as we head for Texas in the morning to be with my mother and my family. Some of you I may get to see face to face over the next few days; most of you I will not. But I am leaning hard on the promise that life and faith are team sports, that we are in this together, and that nothing – NOTHING – separates us from Love.
Lines that run from vine to branches
Lines that carry love's advances
For those who try
To find their place in time
And for those who long
To know that they belong
For those who pray
And those who up and walk away
There are lines ... lines
I feel loved. I feel connected. I feel grateful.


P.S. -- This is a link to an old recipe, but it is one that we had for lunch today in honor of my mother.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

weighting room

it’s not the same you know

waiting in line
waiting for the phone to ring
waiting (waiting) for the world to change

tonight I am not passing time
or fostering impatience
I am waiting for news
No – I am weighting for news
time is not passing
time is falling in layers
each one heavier than the last
each one heavy with hope
and uncertainty

I am weighting for the phone to ring
and, yes, for the world to change


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

sailing around the kitchen

Tonight was a night to remember in the kitchen because nothing really happened. And it was a night I learned from my coworkers.

I shared the evening with Mitch, our line cook (and among the best read line cooks with whom I’ve had the privilege of working), and Arnaldo, our dish washer (whom I have written about before). Both of them are at stations in their lives where working part-time in our little kitchen is what they need to do. It was an average evening from a business standpoint, which meant we had time to talk as we worked, and time to get to know one another better.

Mitch is an avowed Bob Dylan fan and brought a CD of John Wesley Harding in for us to listen to as we prepped for dinner. In the process of the rambling discussion that followed about favorite Dylan songs, I learned that he sang at the March on Washington. Right after Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered “I Have a Dream,” he sang “When the Ship Comes In.”

A song will lift
As the mainsail shifts
And the boat drifts on to the shoreline
And the sun will respect
Every face on the deck
The hour that the ship comes in
We got off to a slow start, which meant Arnaldo had finished the pots and pans left from the afternoon prep and was with us on the line, because he makes the salads and desserts. I knew from talking with him before that he had some ship stories of his own, and that he had been in the Cuban Army and had been sent as a solider to fight in Angola back in the Seventies. He also had told me the reason he left Cuba was they wanted him to go and fight in Ethiopia, but he refused. Tonight, he was telling Mitch the story and he responded to Arnaldo by saying, “You were a part of the Mariel Boatlift?” (Like I said, Mitch is one well-read line cook.)

Arnaldo smiled. “You’re a smart guy, he said. I tell my story all the time and nobody in America knows about Mariel.” Between April and September, 1980, Cuba allowed people to come to the United States. (This is a really simplified telling.) One of the controversies was some of the folks Cuba sent our way were prisoners they wanted to get rid of. Arnaldo chose to come because they said they would imprison him for life for not being willing to fight if he didn’t leave. He knew nobody here, spoke no English, and came to Durham because of a sponsorship through a Presbyterian church. After a year, the sponsorship dried up and he was on his own. Now, almost thirty years later, he is washing dishes in our kitchen, showering us all with his indefatigable kindness, and singing Cuban songs as he goes about his work.

Earlier this week, my friend, Gordon posted a wonderful article on the essential impact of individual relational encounters. He words have hung on to me since I read them:
I tend to be a little suspicious when I hear someone refer to large, vague categories of people. We often speak of “the poor” and “the rich,” as though those groups had unionized and were meeting regularly to decide policy and organize action committees. “If only the rich would be more generous,” one person bemoans, while a another says, “If only the poor would take advantage of their opportunities.” I’ve got news for you. The rich and the poor will never act in one accord because there are no such groups. There are only people. Some are rich, some are poor, most are in between, and all of them are individuals. And in the end, I believe that loving individual people is our first and highest calling.
I came home tonight to words my blogging friend, Simon, shared as a part of his latest blog post, quoting Jurgen Moltmann “on the contemporary ‘distress of time’ and the advent of ‘homo accelerandus’”:
He has a great many encounters, but does not really experience anything, since although he wants to see everything, he internalizes nothing and reflects upon nothing. He has a great many contacts but no relationships, since he is unable to linger because he is always ‘in a hurry’. He devours ‘fast food’, preferably while standing, because he is no longer able to enjoy anything; after all, a person needs time for enjoyment, and time is precisely what he does not have.
I can recognize the accelerated being in myself far more quickly than I would like. My days fill up and drag on at a pace that make both my knees and my heart ache. With that in mind, I can do nothing better tonight than to make time for thanks. I am deeply grateful for an evening of discovery, sailing with the two of my crew around the room on the sea of conversation, fueled by the winds of music and memory, and the reminder that what truly saves us is sailing together.


P. S. -- Here's Bob.

Monday, October 12, 2009

prize musings

In the fall of 2000, my friend Jack and I drove from Boston to Stanhope, New Jersey for the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival. It was one of my favorite experiences, and I was reminded of it when I came across the poster I bought (and never framed) cleaning up our office/studio here in Durham. I bought the poster because of the quote from a Rumi poem:

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
Tonight, as I’ve been sitting here trying to find a way to phrase what is going on in my head and heart around the responses to President Obama being a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, I came across a link to an article written by J. Parker Palmer while I was trolling my Facebook. Palmer’s The Courage to Teach and Listening to Your Life have been pivotal books in my life, so I followed the link to “The Politics of the Brokenhearted: Opening the Heart of American Democracy,” and found:
There are two ways for the heart to break. The brittle heart will shatter into a thousand pieces that are very nearly impossible to retrieve and reassemble. But if the heart is a supple, well-exercised muscle, it can be broken open rather than apart, giving us a larger capacity for both suffering and hope.

The broken-open heart is not the gift of a special few; life gives us many opportunities to exercise our hearts. I know many people whose hearts have been broken by the loss of something or someone they deeply love. They have lost jobs in a heartless market, homes in a corrupt economy, children to their own bad choices, elders to death. And yet many of these people, in the wake of their losses, have not become bitter and withdrawn. They have become more compassionate, extending their hearts to other sufferers and reaching out with forgiveness to the people who caused their pain.

If we can learn from such losses in our lives, the broken-open heart can become the source of what Lincoln called “the bonds of affection,” a sense of unity amid diversity. And that, in turn, will allow us to do what citizens of a democracy must do: engage with issues of great moment that require a collective and creative response.
The recent history of American political discourse (and by recent, I’m speaking particularly to the environment exemplified by the twenty-four hour news channels over the last several years)is not of creativity, or collectivity for that matter, but one centered around fear. For a people who consider themselves to be the most powerful nation on earth, we live frightened lives. And I don’t mean just because of September 11, 2001. On almost any issue, what we accept as discussion is for people to run to their opposite poles and take shots at each other, each of us bent on defending our position as though we are under attack. We don’t want to lose power, lose control, or just lose, period. There is no field in which to meet, only fox holes from which to fire.

I honestly didn’t know much about the Nobel Prize until I started reading tonight. I still don’t know much, but what I do know is the prize, in it’s hundred and eight year history has been influenced by politics (mostly local Norwegian ones, because Norwegians make up the committee), economics, humanitarian values, and personalities. It’s had its hits and misses. In its most recent history, it has given the award as a way of making a statement about what it hopes will happen (and hoping to influence outcomes) as much as rewarding accomplishment. By the time I got through with the article, I could see that their choice of our President fit their pattern over the years. That said, and even though I think the award is pretty cool, I thought they were a little premature in their choice.

Then I remembered being in Turkey a few years back. The very same CNN company that fills our screens with celebrity news anchors who love a good tirade had an international channel full of news: an hour on Asia, then Africa, then Europe, the South America . . . . Ginger and I were flabbergasted. The next day, we were on a bus tour with a group of international tourists and an Australian guy asked me why Americans didn’t seemed bothered by what was going on in the rest of the world and I said, based on the different news feeds I had seen, “They don’t know; our media chooses not to tell us.”

And so I wonder (I don’t know, but I wonder) if the Nobel Committee was offering an invitation in a way, or at least expressing hope that our willingness to elect Obama might mean we were willing to be a part of the world community and not determined to see ourselves as the exception. All the fray over this makes me think we don’t have a real sense of how the rest of the world sees us. We write off hostilities aimed our way by saying those people are jealous, or crazy. We often play the stereotype of the popular high school kid in most any high school movie who thinks everyone wishes they could be in their shoes. We are the country with the mot nuclear weapons who is determined for no one else to get them. (Yes, I understand why we don’t want Iran to have a bomb, and we have to come clean about the double-standard.) We would never think of letting anyone build a military base on our soil and yet we are quite comfortable building them all around the world. (Yes, I understand we feel we need to in order to protect our national interests, and we have to come clean about the double standard.) I’m guessing the rest of the world enjoys our continued emphasis that we are the most powerful nation on earth and they can’t live without us about as much as I would enjoy a Yankee fan getting in my face and yelling, “We’re Number One!”

I have to quote Palmer one more time:
The current sources of democracy’s danger are many and complex, and not directly traceable to one political party. They range from the dominance of big money to the divisiveness of religious fundamentalism; from the failures of mass journalism to the undemocratic dynamics of capitalism; from schools that ignore citizen education to political parties more concerned with their own survival than the survival of democracy.

But the root cause of democracy’s peril is that we, the people, fail to understand the meaning of our citizenship—and fail to use the means at our disposal when threats to democracy arise. Democracy fails when we withdraw from the fray, or stay in it while trusting and talking with only the people who hate what we hate. Democracy fails when we allow the differences between us to loose the irrational and violent angels of our nature, having never called upon the “better angels” that Lincoln tried to evoke in his First Inaugural Address a month before the Civil War began.

And yet the better angels have not abandoned us, and there are ways to call them out. When we are able to meet each other at the level of heart, of soul, of human identity and integrity, the barriers that blind us to each other’s humanity become thinner and the gaps that divide us become smaller. Heart, soul, identity and integrity, call it what you will: it is the “being” in human being, and it has no race or ethnicity, no creed or doctrine, no philosophical, ideological or political commitments.
We are bigger than our fear. We are more than our party affiliations. We are not Number One, but rather one of many. Let’s break our hearts open together.


Sunday, October 11, 2009

worth passing along

It's not often I quote something without a post to go with it, but time is short today and this is worth passing along.

From Pedro Arrupe:

Nothing is more practical than finding God,
that is, than falling in love
in a quite absolute, final way

What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination,
will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you will do with your evenings,
how you will spend your weekends,
what you read,
who you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.

Fall in love,
stay in love,
and it will decide everything.

Yes. Yes. Yes.


Wednesday, October 07, 2009

photo + graphy

the word holds it’s own image
photo (light) – graphy (writing)
rays as old as the universe
captured on paper, looking
like you and me one past
afternoon, another at sunset,
and on through the stack of
time that stays in the old
shoebox, waiting to be seen
again, to let the years’ light
catch up like stars we can
finally see, the click of the
camera writing the light
like an icon, a window to
heaven, and I find, again,
I can stare into your eyes
and find the light never
goes out, no matter
how deep the darkness.


Monday, October 05, 2009

straight talk

When I taught in the Boston Public Schools, one of my colleagues who became a friend was a man named Ed, who was a good eight inches taller than I was, in much better shape, and always had on a coat and tie. He is also African-American He told me a story of driving his friend’s BMW on the Southeast Expressway and being pulled over by a white cop who approached the car with his gun drawn and yelled, “What’s a n-----r like you doing driving a car like that?”

That has never happened to me, and the reason is because I’m white. In fact, I’m white and male and straight – the trifecta that means I know way more about privilege and access than I do about exclusion.

I have never had someone follow me around in a store because they were convinced I was going to shop lift just because of my skin color or appearance. I never had anyone write hate slogan on my school locker or trash my house because of who I was. I’ve never walked into a church and worried about whether or not I was welcome to worship. When Ginger and I married, we didn’t have to worry about the legality of our choice.

I mention all those things because they came to my mind as I sat at church Saturday afternoon in the middle of our church’s marking of our tenth anniversary as an Open and Affirming congregation, which means everyone is welcome regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation. And they all came to mind when our speaker, Yvette Flunder, asked, “How do we include those who can’t hide the essence of their marginalities?” I thought about them as I talked to one of the members of the Common Woman Chorus, who sang as a part of the celebration, who grew up in church as a child but had not been in years because of the rejection she had experienced once she disclosed who she was. I watched as she tried to take in that church could actually be a loving and accepting place.

I spend a fair amount of time reading blogs and articles about the church, and I work hard to read across the spectrum that is Christianity. I have to say I think I am more discouraged than comforted by what I read because so much of what is written and said comes from a defensive posture, as though we need to stack sandbags around us to protect all that is good and right and true from the flood of all the things we have chosen to fear. I keep thinking about one of the first verses I ever remember learning in Sunday School: “Perfect love casts out fear.” (Right along with “God is Love” and “Love everyone as I have loved you.”)

I keep thinking about Jesus’ parable of the banquet where the invitations go out and all those who normally are included and used to seeing their pictures on the Society Page beg off with I-have-t0-polish-my-bowling-ball kinds of excuses. When the servants come back and the one throwing the party sees all the empty seats, he tells them to go out and invite any and everyone, to out “into the highways and the hedges and compel them to come in.” They fill up the room with those who reek of the essence of their marginalities, and a good time was had by all.

I have always imagined Jesus finishing the story and yelling, “All ye, all ye ox in free,” with a big grin on his face. The church Jesus imagined was one that made room for everyone, regardless. Everyone. The power of love that broke down barriers between Jews and Greeks in the early church; that saw a church in Jackson, Mississippi go from one that hired armed guards to keep black people out in the Sixties grow into a multiethnic congregation today; the power of love that fueled the passion of Martin Luther King, Jr. to say we could not afford to wait anymore for change to come; that called our congregation – along with many others -- to be Open and Affirming; and that drives Amar, a man we met last Friday, to work to find work and housing for Nepalese refugees who are coming to Durham; is the same love that casts out fear, foments hope, and issues audacious invitations.

It was the love that was alive and well in our church this weekend. My heart is still full of the hope and joy I felt in that service, and in the one that followed on Sunday morning. And I have had a hard time finding words to write about it because I keep looking for words that build a bridge between the Baptist world that led me to faith in Christ and my home in the UCC, where that faith led me, words that would incite inclusion all around in Jesus’ name. I think back to my days as a youth minister and wonder who we might have reached had our youth group been decidedly open and affirming. We were a welcoming bunch, for sure, yet I still wonder.

What I heard again this weekend was if those at the margins are going to find their way into the circle it will be because those of us on the inside decided to make room. And I, the straight white Christian male, am about as inside as it gets. I am called to go out into the highways and the hedges, to make room for everyone I can, to love and love and love, to listen and not to judge.

One of the songs the Common Woman Chorus sang was a Holly Near chorus that has stayed with me. I think we are going to make it our new benediction at church:

I am open and I am willing
for to be hopeless would seem so strange
it dishonors those who go before us
so lift me up to the light of change
I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: when I stand before God to account for my life, if God says, "Why did you let so many people in?" I'll take the hit. I can live with that. If God were to say, "Why did you keep closing the door when I intended there to be room for everyone?" I couldn't take it.