Monday, January 31, 2011

thanku haiku

today I am reminded
life’s a poem and
everything rhymes with thank you


Sunday, January 30, 2011

the return of the sunday sonnet (#15)

After reading the Beatitudes and hearing Ginger’s sermon this morning, I’m reminded that “happy” and “blessed” are not synonyms.

Blessed are the protesters that fill Egyptian streets,
for soon they’ll know whose promise they can trust;
blessed are the shelterless who stand in line to eat
.and are told to make a meal of a crust.

Blessed are the broken who live with hidden shame,
for healing means it all must come to light;
blessed are the immigrants whom no one knows by name,
whose only chance is to stay out of sight.

Blessed are the beaten, the wasted, and the worn,
for rest they only carry in their dreams;
blessed those acquainted with sorrow and with scorn,
for they will understand what suffering means.

To be blessed means more than putting on a smiling face;
Wounded walks with wonder on this journey fraught with grace.

Friday, January 28, 2011

sign language

I'm teaching a documentary studies elective this term and came across this little gem that is definitely worth sharing.

Now go hug somebody.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

watch your language

I was looking through some old books and found a couple of pages of songwriting notes from many years ago. As I read over them, I was taken by this phrase: the syntax of the cynic. I picked up the phrase and here is what I found.

watch your language

In the grammar of grace,
Love rules as a run-on sentence,
filled with particles by peace
semi-colons of hope,
clauses of community,
and fundaments of forgiveness.

While the syntax of the cynic
depends on dangling doubt off
of fragments of falsehood,
sight lines modified by sarcasm,
and phrases fraught with ruin
and interjections of judgment.

There is little benefit
in being bilingual.

P. S. – There’s a new recipe.

Monday, January 24, 2011

catching a glimpse

Early Saturday afternoon, after we had spent the morning unpacking the last of the boxes from our move (last August), Ginger and I slipped out of the house for lunch together at a new Cuban sandwich shop that opened only last Thursday in downtown Durham called Old Havana. I had scouted it out on opening day and was ready to return. It was about one-thirty when we walked into a full restaurant. We ordered and found two seats on a couch at the far end of the place that shared a table with two chairs already occupied by a young couple. After a few minutes, we began talking to one another only to find out the woman was in a M. Div/MSW program and the man was a teacher. The commonalties were comforting.

After they left, our order came up and we dove into our sandwiches and the side of roasted plantains, which were worth the trip on their own. As things slowed down in the restaurant, the owner made the rounds of the tables and stopped to see how we were doing. I was effusive about the plantains and he said, “You should try them with some black beans and rice.”

“You have those on the menu?” I asked.

“Oh, yes,” he said. “I’ll get you some.” He returned with a bowl of beans and a plate with more plantains. I wish I had the vocabulary to tell you how good the beans were and how much he was telling the truth about how they even tasted better with the plantains. In between yummy noises, we talked with our mouths full and kept asking questions. “Are you open everyday?”

“We are closed on Sunday,” Roberto said, “for church.” We asked where he went to church and then Ginger identified herself as the pastor at Pilgrim and Roberto smiled and said, kindly, “Welcome, my sister and brother in Christ.”
One of my favorite stories in the gospels the account of Jesus walking with the two men on the road to Emmaus and how they only recognize him after they have sat down to dinner and he breaks the bread. Last Saturday morning, I caught a glimpse of what they must have felt: caught by surprise at the table, overcome by the sacred ordinariness of the Spirit.

Open the eyes of my heart, Lord . . .


Sunday, January 23, 2011

words among friends

I was reading this morning in a small volume of poetry I have had for years called Poems to Live By: In Uncertain Times and found some words worth sharing today.

First, from Robert Bly:

Things to Think
Think in ways you've never thought before.
If the phone rings, think of it as carrying a message
Larger than anything you've ever heard,
Vaster than a hundred lines of Yeats.
Think that someone may bring a bear to your door,
Maybe wounded and deranged; or think that a moose
Has risen out of the lake, and he's carrying on his antlers
A child of your own whom you've never seen.
When someone knocks on the door,
Think that he's about
To give you something large: tell you you're forgiven,
Or that it's not necessary to work all the time,
Or that it's been decided that if you lie down no one will die.
And this one by W. H. Auden:
Leap Before You Look
The sense of danger must not disappear:
The way is certainly both short and steep,
However gradual it looks from here;
Look if you like, but you will have to leap.
Tough-minded men get mushy in their sleep
And break the by-laws any fool can keep;
It is not the convention but the fear
That has a tendency to disappear.
The worried efforts of the busy heap,
The dirt, the imprecision, and the beer
Produce a few smart wisecracks every year;
Laugh if you can, but you will have to leap.
The clothes that are considered right to wear
Will not be either sensible or cheap,
So long as we consent to live like sheep
And never mention those who disappear.
Much can be said for social savoir-faire,
But to rejoice when no one else is there
Is even harder than it is to weep;
No one is watching, but you have to leap.
A solitude ten thousand fathoms deep
Sustains the bed on which we lie, my dear;
Although I love you, you will have to leap;
Our dream of safety has to disappear.
And, lastly, from Naomi Shihab Nye:
So Much Happiness
It is difficult to know what to do with so much happiness.
With sadness there is something to rub against,
a wound to tend with lotion and cloth.
When the world falls in around you, you have pieces to pick up,
something to hold in your hands, like ticket stubs or change.
But happiness floats.
It doesn't need you to hold it down.
It doesn't need anything.
Happiness lands on the roof of the next house, singing,
and disappears when it wants to.
You are happy either way.
Even the fact that you once lived in a peaceful tree house
and now live over a quarry of noise and dust
cannot make you unhappy.
Everything has a life of its own,
it too could wake up filled with possibilities
of coffee cake and ripe peaches,
and love even the floor which needs to be swept,
the soiled linens and scratched records…..
Since there is no place large enough
to contain so much happiness,
you shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you
into everything you touch. You are not responsible.
You take no credit, as the night sky takes no credit
for the moon, but continues to hold it, and share it,
and in that way, be known.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

sharing the wealth

Over the past several weeks, I've accumulated some new music -- either in actuality or by listening and watching online -- so I thought I would pass a few of the gems along since I haven't done that in awhile. I'll start with the newest: The Decemberists and "Rise to Me" from their new CD, The King Is Dead.

Justin Townes Earle, who has the distinction of being both Steve Earle's son and Townes Van Zandt's namesake, has a great record called Harlem River Blues. This is the title track.

Sara Watkins was a member of Nickel Creek, plays a mean fiddle, and even hosted A Prairie Home Companion a couple of weeks ago. I don't own her new self-titled record, but here's "Too Much."

Another Sarah, whose last name is Jarosz, does some picking and singing of her own. Her new CD is called Song Up In Her Head. Here is her cover of Tom Waits' "Come On Up to the House."

Robert Plant's latest project is Band Of Joy, which was produced by Buddy Miller and has Patty Griffin singing in said band. Here is "Angel Dance."

Last, but not least, is a CD I know about because of Julie, our former foster daughter. Here is the Zac Brown Band with "Sic 'em on a Chicken" from The Foundation, which should keep your toes tapping and your face smiling for the rest of the day.


Friday, January 21, 2011


I talked to one guy today
who got tired of construction
and “making the wrong
people rich,” which was as
far as he got before another,
who used to work with an
autistic kid, asked for help –
we were cooking breakfast
together for folks at the shelter
who stood single file for
sausage, oatmeal, and eggs.

As they took their trays,
I wondered what stories
were passing by untold:
the dishwasher in shirt and tie;
the baby in the stroller;
the old man who could not
speak and only growled –
with a smile on his face;
the four men in the back
who ate and never spoke;
the woman serving coffee.

I stood in the middle of
the used book store of life,
where worn copies of great
works seem to be stacked
to go unnoticed that they
might remain unread
and remainders remain
because we’re serving lunch.
“The rice was a little undercooked,”
said one, kindly, “but I loved
the concept of the meal.”

Me, too. I love a table
big enough for food critics
and failures, architects and
addicts, teachers and
turncoats, homeless,
hopeful, left out, left over,
betrayers and betrayed,
where – for a few moments –
every book on the shelf
was dusted off long enough
to be recognized.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

to explore

The assignment for my kids yesterday was to write for ten minutes about the word "explore." I did the assignment as well.

to explore

-- to go where I
have not gone before --

is to follow the



of others who
dreamed before me
and wandered off . . .


. . . into their great unknown
only to see

                                       home fires
                                       already burning
                                       on the horizon

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

falling in love is like owning a dog

The title is not mine, nor is the poem that follows. A friend posted this video animation interpretation of a poem by a poet and teacher named Taylor Mali, which led me to his website and there I found this poem, which is one of those he-said-what-I-feel-and-I-want-to-give-him-credit-for-it kind of things. (An epithalamion, by the way, is a wedding song.)

Falling in love is like owning a dog
an epithalamion by Taylor Mali
First of all, it's a big responsibility,
especially in a city like New York.
So think long and hard before deciding on love.
On the other hand, love gives you a sense of security:
when you're walking down the street late at night
and you have a leash on love
ain't no one going to mess with you.
Because crooks and muggers think love is unpredictable.
Who knows what love could do in its own defense?
On cold winter nights, love is warm.
It lies between you and lives and breathes
and makes funny noises.
Love wakes you up all hours of the night with its needs.
It needs to be fed so it will grow and stay healthy.
Love doesn't like being left alone for long.
But come home and love is always happy to see you.
It may break a few things accidentally in its passion for life,
but you can never be mad at love for long.
Is love good all the time? No! No!
Love can be bad. Bad, love, bad! Very bad love.
Love makes messes.
Love leaves you little surprises here and there.
Love needs lots of cleaning up after.
Sometimes you just want to get love fixed.
Sometimes you want to roll up a piece of newspaper
and swat love on the nose,
not so much to cause pain,
just to let love know Don't you ever do that again!
Sometimes love just wants to go for a nice long walk.
Because love loves exercise.
It runs you around the block and leaves you panting.
It pulls you in several different directions at once,
or winds around and around you
until you're all wound up and can't move.
But love makes you meet people wherever you go.
People who have nothing in common but love
stop and talk to each other on the street.
Throw things away and love will bring them back,
again, and again, and again.
But most of all, love needs love, lots of it.
And in return, love loves you and never stops.
One other note. I've had a Stevie Wonder song in my head all day that makes for a good musical companion to Taylor's wonderful words. I close with a song.


Sunday, January 16, 2011

words from martin

This morning I went to Watts Street Baptist Church to hear Tim Tyson preach on "Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr: Black Power and the Religion of Jesus." He rocked and I will have more to say about what I learned in another post (or two). But tonight I want to share the MLK quotes included in "A Litany of Rededication" we said together at the close of the service.

"One of the tragedies of humanity's long trek has been the limiting of neighborly concern to tribe, race, class, or nation. . . . Our world is a neighborhood. We must learn to live together as brothers [and sisters], or we will perish as fools. For I submit, nothing will be done until people put their bodies and souls into this."
"I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a 'thing-oriented' society to a 'person-oriented' society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than peole, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered."
"There are some things in our society and in our world to which I'm proud to be maladjusted, to which I call upon all people of good will to be maladjusted, until the good society is realized. I never intend to become adjusted to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism and the self-defeating efforts of physical violence."
"I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. . . . Sooner or later, all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace. . . . [We] must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love."
"I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today -- my own government. . . . The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality, we will find ourselves organizing . . . for the next generation. They will be concerned about Guatemala and Peru. They will be concerned about Thailand and Cambodia. They will be concerned about Mozambique and South Africa. We will be marching for these and a dozen other names; and attending rallies without end unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy."
"A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."
I am saddened that these words spoken a half century ago sound as if they were uttered yesterday.


down with the ship

Many years ago, my friend Billy Crockett and I read an article about a ship captain who, with his crew, abandoned ship when it began to sink, leaving the passengers on board. The story led us to the song title, "Down With the Ship," which ended up being a song about Martin Luther King. Now that I have begun to learn how to use iMovie, I have been able to put pictures to the song. So I offer both lyrics and images as my way of giving thanks for Martin's life and legacy.

down with the ship

martin was ahead of his time
and time was so far behind
he had no eye for an eye
in his point of view
but what he could see
it was a beautiful dream
the trouble with dreaming things
is seeing them come true

when you set out on the high sea
when you set out on a hope trip
sometimes you get to your bright tomorrow
sometimes you’ve got to go down with the ship
sometimes you’ve got to go down with the ship

martin had the fight of his life
stared right into the enemies’ eyes
tried to wake them from their comfortable lie
that’s how ships go down
he wasn’t ready for a long white robe
he prayed for brave hearts and hands to hold
and people right here to sing and know
that we shall overcome

when you set out on the high sea
when you set out on a hope trip
sometimes you get to your bright tomorrow
sometimes you’ve got to go down with the ship
sometimes you’ve got to go down with the ship

the truth won’t die just because your heroes fall
someday all flesh will stand to see it all
see the mountains laid low
and the rough made plain . . .

and we’ll go sailing on the high sea
oh we’ll set out on a hope trip
set our eyes on a new horizon
and don’t look back
and we’ll go sailing on the high sea
believing love has got a firm grip
set our eyes on a new tomorrow
set our hearts to go down with the ship
set our hearts to go down with the ship
set our hearts to go down with the ship
sometimes you’ve got to go down with the ship


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

good words

The words on this blog tonight come from President Obama's speech at the memorial service in Tucson. They feel worth passing along.

To the families of those we've lost; to all who called them friends; to the students of this university, the public servants gathered tonight, and the people of Tucson and Arizona:  I have come here tonight as an American who, like all Americans, kneels to pray with you today, and will stand by you tomorrow.

There is nothing I can say that will fill the sudden hole torn in your hearts.  But know this: the hopes of a nation are here tonight.  We mourn with you for the fallen.  We join you in your grief.  And we add our faith to yours that Representative Gabrielle Giffords and the other living victims of this tragedy pull through.

As Scripture tells us:

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.

On Saturday morning, Gabby, her staff, and many of her constituents gathered outside a supermarket to exercise their right to peaceful assembly and free speech.  They were fulfilling a central tenet of the democracy envisioned by our founders - representatives of the people answering to their constituents, so as to carry their concerns to our nation's capital.  Gabby called it "Congress on Your Corner" - just an updated version of government of and by and for the people.
That is the quintessentially American scene that was shattered by a gunman's bullets.  And the six people who lost their lives on Saturday - they too represented what is best in America.

Judge John Roll served our legal system for nearly 40 years.  A graduate of this university and its law school, Judge Roll was recommended for the federal bench by John McCain twenty years ago, appointed by President George H.W. Bush, and rose to become Arizona's chief federal judge.  His colleagues described him as the hardest-working judge within the Ninth Circuit.  He was on his way back from attending Mass, as he did every day, when he decided to stop by and say hi to his Representative.  John is survived by his loving wife, Maureen, his three sons, and his five grandchildren.

George and Dorothy Morris - "Dot" to her friends - were high school sweethearts who got married and had two daughters.  They did everything together, traveling the open road in their RV, enjoying what their friends called a 50-year honeymoon.  Saturday morning, they went by the Safeway to hear what their Congresswoman had to say.  When gunfire rang out, George, a former Marine, instinctively tried to shield his wife.  Both were shot.  Dot passed away.

A New Jersey native, Phyllis Schneck retired to Tucson to beat the snow. But in the summer, she would return East, where her world revolved around her 3 children, 7 grandchildren, and 2 year-old great-granddaughter.  A gifted quilter, she'd often work under her favorite tree, or sometimes sew aprons with the logos of the Jets and the Giants to give out at the church where she volunteered.  A Republican, she took a liking to Gabby, and wanted to get to know her better.

Dorwan and Mavy Stoddard grew up in Tucson together - about seventy years ago. They moved apart and started their own respective families, but after both were widowed they found their way back here, to, as one of Mavy's daughters put it, "be boyfriend and girlfriend again." When they weren't out on the road in their motor home, you could find them just up the road, helping folks in need at the Mountain Avenue Church of Christ.  A retired construction worker, Dorwan spent his spare time fixing up the church along with their dog, Tux.  His final act of selflessness was to dive on top of his wife, sacrificing his life for hers.

Everything Gabe Zimmerman did, he did with passion - but his true passion was people.  As Gabby's outreach director, he made the cares of thousands of her constituents his own, seeing to it that seniors got the Medicare benefits they had earned, that veterans got the medals and care they deserved, that government was working for ordinary folks.  He died doing what he loved - talking with people and seeing how he could help.  Gabe is survived by his parents, Ross and Emily, his brother, Ben, and his fiancĂ©e, Kelly, who he planned to marry next year.

And then there is nine year-old Christina Taylor Green.  Christina was an A student, a dancer, a gymnast, and a swimmer.  She often proclaimed that she wanted to be the first woman to play in the major leagues, and as the only girl on her Little League team, no one put it past her.  She showed an appreciation for life uncommon for a girl her age, and would remind her mother, "We are so blessed.  We have the best life."  And she'd pay those blessings back by participating in a charity that helped children who were less fortunate.

Our hearts are broken by their sudden passing.  Our hearts are broken - and yet, our hearts also have reason for fullness.

Our hearts are full of hope and thanks for the 13 Americans who survived the shooting, including the congresswoman many of them went to see on Saturday.  I have just come from the University Medical Center, just a mile from here, where our friend Gabby courageously fights to recover even as we speak.  And I can tell you this - she knows we're here and she knows we love her and she knows that we will be rooting for her throughout what will be a difficult journey.

And our hearts are full of gratitude for those who saved others.  We are grateful for Daniel Hernandez, a volunteer in Gabby's office who ran through the chaos to minister to his boss, tending to her wounds to keep her alive.  We are grateful for the men who tackled the gunman as he stopped to reload.  We are grateful for a petite 61 year-old, Patricia Maisch, who wrestled away the killer's ammunition, undoubtedly saving some lives.  And we are grateful for the doctors and nurses and emergency medics who worked wonders to heal those who'd been hurt.

These men and women remind us that heroism is found not only on the fields of battle.  They remind us that heroism does not require special training or physical strength.  Heroism is here, all around us, in the hearts of so many of our fellow citizens, just waiting to be summoned - as it was on Saturday morning.

Their actions, their selflessness, also pose a challenge to each of us.  It raises the question of what, beyond the prayers and expressions of concern, is required of us going forward.  How can we honor the fallen?  How can we be true to their memory?

You see, when a tragedy like this strikes, it is part of our nature to demand explanations - to try to impose some order on the chaos, and make sense out of that which seems senseless.  Already we've seen a national conversation commence, not only about the motivations behind these killings, but about everything from the merits of gun safety laws to the adequacy of our mental health systems.  Much of this process, of debating what might be done to prevent such tragedies in the future, is an essential ingredient in our exercise of self-government.

But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized - at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do - it's important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.

Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world, and that terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding.  In the words of Job, "when I looked for light, then came darkness."  Bad things happen, and we must guard against simple explanations in the aftermath.

For the truth is that none of us can know exactly what triggered this vicious attack.  None of us can know with any certainty what might have stopped those shots from being fired, or what thoughts lurked in the inner recesses of a violent man's mind.

So yes, we must examine all the facts behind this tragedy.  We cannot and will not be passive in the face of such violence. We should be willing to challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of violence in the future.

But what we can't do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another.  As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility.  Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.

After all, that's what most of us do when we lose someone in our family - especially if the loss is unexpected.  We're shaken from our routines, and forced to look inward.  We reflect on the past.   Did we spend enough time with an aging parent, we wonder.  Did we express our gratitude for all the sacrifices they made for us?  Did we tell a spouse just how desperately we loved them, not just once in awhile but every single day?

So sudden loss causes us to look backward - but it also forces us to look forward, to reflect on the present and the future, on the manner in which we live our lives and nurture our relationships with those who are still with us.  We may ask ourselves if we've shown enough kindness and generosity and compassion to the people in our lives.  Perhaps we question whether we are doing right by our children, or our community, and whether our priorities are in order.  We recognize our own mortality, and are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame - but rather, how well we have loved, and what small part we have played in bettering the lives of others.

That process of reflection, of making sure we align our values with our actions - that, I believe, is what a tragedy like this requires.  For those who were harmed, those who were killed - they are part of our family, an American family 300 million strong.  We may not have known them personally, but we surely see ourselves in them.  In George and Dot, in Dorwan and Mavy, we sense the abiding love we have for our own husbands, our own wives, our own life partners.  Phyllis - she's our mom or grandma; Gabe our brother or son.  In Judge Roll, we recognize not only a man who prized his family and doing his job well, but also a man who embodied America's fidelity to the law.  In Gabby, we see a reflection of our public spiritedness, that desire to participate in that sometimes frustrating, sometimes contentious, but always necessary and never-ending process to form a more perfect union.

And in Christina we see all of our children.  So curious, so trusting, so energetic and full of magic.

So deserving of our love.

And so deserving of our good example.  If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let's make sure it's worthy of those we have lost.  Let's make sure it's not on the usual plane of politics and point scoring and pettiness that drifts away with the next news cycle.

The loss of these wonderful people should make every one of us strive to be better in our private lives - to be better friends and neighbors, co-workers and parents.  And if, as has been discussed in recent days, their deaths help usher in more civility in our public discourse, let's remember that it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy, but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation, in a way that would make them proud.  It should be because we want to live up to the example of public servants like John Roll and Gabby Giffords, who knew first and foremost that we are all Americans, and that we can question each other's ideas without questioning each other's love of country, and that our task, working together, is to constantly widen the circle of our concern so that we bequeath the American dream to future generations.

I believe we can be better.  Those who died here, those who saved lives here - they help me believe.  We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us.  I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.

That's what I believe, in part because that's what a child like Christina Taylor Green believed.  Imagine: here was a young girl who was just becoming aware of our democracy; just beginning to understand the obligations of citizenship; just starting to glimpse the fact that someday she too might play a part in shaping her nation's future.  She had been elected to her student council; she saw public service as something exciting, something hopeful.  She was off to meet her congresswoman, someone she was sure was good and important and might be a role model.  She saw all this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often just take for granted.

I want us to live up to her expectations.  I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it.  All of us - we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children's expectations.

Christina was given to us on September 11th, 2001, one of 50 babies born that day to be pictured in a book called "Faces of Hope."  On either side of her photo in that book were simple wishes for a child's life.  "I hope you help those in need," read one.  "I hope you know all of the words to the National Anthem and sing it with your hand over your heart.  I hope you jump in rain puddles."

If there are rain puddles in heaven, Christina is jumping in them today.  And here on Earth, we place our hands over our hearts, and commit ourselves as Americans to forging a country that is forever worthy of her gentle, happy spirit.

May God bless and keep those we've lost in restful and eternal peace.  May He love and watch over the survivors.  And may He bless the United States of America.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

of mushrooms and mayhem

A couple of weeks ago, I got to attend a mushroom workshop put on by my friends at Bountiful Backyards, our edible landscapers here in Durham. We were each given a freshly cut oak log. We drilled forty or fifty holes in it and then filled them with the mushroom spores, inoculating the log. We then sealed the holes with beeswax. What will happen over the next several months is the mycelia will grow out of the spores and take over the log, which is their nutrition. When the log is pretty well covered up the mycelia, they will start to fruit and I will get to harvest my home-grown shiitake mushrooms.

I thought about my mushroom logs this morning as more details came in about the shootings in Arizona yesterday. Actually, I should say I thought about the notion of the saturated log bearing fruit because that’s what I feel happened when the unstable young man opened fire. Violence is the primary working metaphor of American society and we are saturated such that we are bearing the fruit of our choices in language, attitude, and action.

In the first notes I wrote this morning, I said war was the working metaphor, and I could hear Edwin Starr singing, “War – what is it good for? Absolutely nothin’.” Yes, we are a nation who thrives on conquest on a number of levels and we’ve declared war on everything from countries to drugs, but what owns us like a cancer is more nuanced and more insidious. We thrive on violence:

  • the plethora of reality shows are centered around who can be goaded into fighting with one another;
  • the twenty-four news channels have the volume set on “Scream” and their focus on fighting because it brings the ratings;
  • the profit-at-all-costs business models of Wall Street and the like feed are predatory;
  • our national politicians rely on incendiary language to stay in the news and have reduced governing to a middle school playground fight.
Violence – what is it good for? Absolutely nothin’.

To be an American is to be locked and loaded and consumed with self-interest. Make sure you get your rights. Make sure you get your stuff. Make sure you protect yourself. And make sure you beat down (verbally, at least) anyone you consider to be a threat. Yes, I know those last sentences come across as overstatements, but look around. Listen to the political rhetoric. Listen to how our politicians and pundits lob violent words at one another day after day. Put anything on Facebook that is the least bit politically opinionated and watch the firestorm that erupts. We eat, sleep, and dream violence. Violence and fear.

These folks who incarnate the violence so publicly from Lee Harvey Oswald and James Earl Ray to Timothy McVeigh and down through all of the school shootings to Jared Loughner are us. They are the fruit of what has permeated our culture, our cities, our schools, and even our churches. They are not aberrations. They are a working metaphor for America.

They are us.

We are a week away from the twenty-fifth anniversary of the MLK holiday, honoring yet another who was a victim of the fruit of our violence. Yet, to the end, he chose to practice nonviolence faithfully – as Jesus taught. Faithfully means keeping our promises to God and to one another, being committed to a world that is larger and more profound than our own self-interest and national interest and more imaginative than our fear, and saturating ourselves with the Spirit of grace and forgiveness. Then we can bear different fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

I know I’m not saying anything new or original. Still, I don’t want to sit silently, even if the material has already been covered. Even before Jesus came, the prophet boiled it down: do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with our God.

Say it again, y’all . . .


Friday, January 07, 2011

dinner time

After another wonderful Friday Night Dinner, I offer these words of hope and thanks.

dinner time

at the end of the day
when the day’s had its way
and we sit at the table together
there is something profound
in being gathered around
to give thanks for both table and tether

bring your joy and your pain
and let’s gather again
our sustenance lies in our sharing
yes the rite of our meals
makes a thin place that’s real
and grows bonds quite resistant to tearing

Thursday, January 06, 2011

it's you


It’s one of our stained-glass words that catches lots of light. Perhaps because it’s not one we use that much, or at least it doesn’t always have to do with church when we use it. The dictionary gives us a few options:

1. a Christian festival, observed on January 6, commemorating the manifestation of Christ to the gentiles in the persons of the Magi; Twelfth-day.
2. an appearance or manifestation, esp. of a deity.
The Magi are some of the characters in the story that catch my imagination in particular for a couple of reasons. One, they don’t make it on opening night. Two, nobody knows they’re coming, or that they were even invited. And, three, somehow they know exactly on Whom the star they’ve been following is shining. We say there were three because there were three gifts, but we don’t know much about them at all other than they were from out of town, rather extravagant shoppers, a little uninformed on the local political scene, and didn’t really fit in the Nativity scene for several reasons.

And somehow they knew when they found Jesus that they could stop looking.

As the church turned story into ritual, their coming on the twelfth day of Christmas symbolized God’s manifestation to the Gentiles: here’s the Messiah you didn’t even know you were looking for, other than that existential longing you carry around inside. There’s a third definition in the dictionary that seems to fit them better than the liturgical one:
3. a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.
Who knows how long they walked – weeks, months. Yet, for some reason, they stopped at Mary and Joseph’s house, came up to the baby, who could have been close to toddling by then, and had the eyes of their hearts open enough to look at him and say, “It’s you!.”

The night I gave Ginger her engagement ring, I had a mix tape my friend Billy and I had meticulously planned for the evening, which was quite a production timed right down to Stephen Bishop singing, “It Might Be You” when I put the ring on her finger. Finding Ginger was a pivotal epiphany in my life, though there was nothing simple, homely, or commonplace about it. What it felt like that night was a feeling I never imagined I would get to feel. I didn’t know how to imagine it. It was beyond me, which is where I find the parallel to the peripatetic princes who finally stumbled into their own ecstasy.

If the parallel is indulgent, forgive me. Still, it seems to me good news that we think of epiphanies in the plural, particularly in a spiritual sense: we belong to a God who delights in surprise and paradox. We do well to keep asking one of the questions Stephen Bishop asks in his song:
if I found the place
would I recognize the face?
The history of all creation distills in the Incarnation and the Word becomes flesh in the person of a peasant boy born into a working-poor family in a region of no real consequence internationally, and he grows up and roams around the country side without much of an apparent plan other than to love and heal people and tell stories. The God who could imagine and breathe into being everything from helium isotopes to hippopotami, supernovas to centipedes, constellations to Cherokee purple heirloom tomatoes became human without fanfare or, for that matter, much efficiency. Though God would never have passed my church growth class in seminary, it was not a mistake. God inhabits the simple, the homely, or the commonplace waiting for those who know how to recognize the face, who can look and say, “It’s you.”


P. S. – I can’t pass up the song, man. She still catches me by surprise.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

what to expect

The world changed while I slept, and much to my surprise, no one had consulted me. That's how it would always be from that day forward. Of course, that's the way it had been all along. I just didn't know it until that morning. Surprise upon surprise: some good, some evil, most somewhere in between. And always without my consent.

Carlos Eire -- Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy
from The Writer’s Almanac on January 3, 2010

what to expect

I would love to tell you life is made
to order -- a sunny afternoon can be
summoned like a strawberry daiquiri
little darling the ice is slowly melting
here comes the sun I say it’s alright
you can always get what you want
one morning the phone will ring
and shatter your slumber into shards
one evening you will turn down
your street and not recognize
the place you call your home
though there is nowhere else to go
and then on some other morning
you will rise much earlier than usual
ahead of the sun so that it rises
as you drive into it turning the clouds
into sky-fires of hope and promise
and always without your consent

Monday, January 03, 2011

index of favorite lines

Here’s what happened Sunday.

Ginger had the congregation read John 1 in unison:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
The last line is one of my favorite in all of the gospels. I remember it the way I learned it years ago: the light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot put it out.

As we read, I was struck by the notion that John and his readers knew more about darkness than you or I do. Light, in John’s time, constituted of oil lamps and, well, starlight – the ones we can’t see much of anymore because of our manufactured illumination. In a world where lamps burned out nightly, John talked about what was inextinguishable: the same inexhaustible, ancient light the Magi followed was born into a baby boy who would become the Light of the World: light as old as creation, filled with the love of our inescapable God, found focus in the insignificance of an infant.

OK, I need to back up a bit. On the way to church on Sunday, as I was preparing to follow the Magi to the manger, this story was delivered without irony on NPR:
America's space program is scheduled to undergo a fundamental shift in 2011. Unless something changes by the end of the year, NASA will no longer have a rocket to send astronauts into space. The space shuttle program is being retired, and for the moment there is no American replacement rocket capable of sending people into orbit.
As we watched the wise men follow the star to the manger, the news came that we have quit chasing stars. (I know that’s not really what NASA was saying, but you have to give me a little poetic license.) In a year when we “discovered” more stars than we had previously imagined, we appear to have grown more provincial. The technological boom is in smart phones, not space craft. I have forty-seven ways to announce my every move to the world, yet, to borrow from my favorite F. Scott Fitzgerald line, our count of enchanted objects continues to be diminished. Are we are losing our capacity for wonder, and to wonder?

Now – back to church and the rest of the gospel reading from Sunday:
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
One last bit of time travel: on Friday, Talk of the Nation: Science Friday was going down their list of the top science stories of 2010 and one of the guests mentioned the discovery of extrasolar planets. Though we are not taking to flight very much, the Kepler spacecraft keeps looking for “dips in starlight”
that indicate the passage of planets, had found a whopping 706 candidate bodies by June, bringing the total of presumed extrasolar worlds to well over 1,000. One of Kepler’s discoveries, though much too close to its parent star to support life, has a diameter only about twice that of Earth. The finding demonstrates Kepler’s potential for finding Earth-sized planets.
What intrigued me most was the discussion about how the planets were discovered. The “dips in starlight” were the shadows cast by the small celestial bodies crossing in front of their larger and brighter partners. The planets were recognized by their insignificance – and the light to which they pointed, much like John and the star that led the wise men.

I got to sing in church on Sunday. I sang a duet of Steve Earle’s Christmas song, “Nothing But a Child.” The last verse says,
now all around the world, in every little town
everyday is heard a precious little sound
and every mother kind and every father proud
looks down in awe to find another chance allowed
The last line -- another favorite -- gets me, whether I’m listening to or singing the song. Earle wrote and recorded it as he was falling victim to his addictions and before he went to prison for his heroin habit. The light shines in the darkness . . . .

There is, as we say in the UCC, more light still to break forth. Let’s go out into the dark and wait for it.