Saturday, March 30, 2013

Saturday Respite

Between intensities
in this week we name holy

in the hell-gap
the in the meantime
measure of things
from a Friday named Good
with no irony intended
to a Sunday that promises
spring and springing
life and living

sits this day – Saturday

somber in the church calendar
I mark it in a different way

for this Saturday is a day
if not of rest, of breath
and breathing –
breathing in the possibility of
breathing out the ashy sorrow of

until it is reversed

until reversed again, it is neither
and Saturday stands on its own
with neither its reference point

and that is good

and so it is that the child’s entry
with laughter and running glee
hide-and-seek adventures
that turn an ordinary bush
into a massive jungle to be explored
that brings a woman old enough
to know better along for the ride

and it is good
and very good


Friday, March 29, 2013

Friday Silence

Friday Silence

It begins at 6 o’clock in the morning
for even frolicking Roman procurators
rise early when there is killing work to be done.

“Are you the king of the Jews?”
“You say so.”
“Have you no answer [to the charges against you]?”
His answer – silence

Pilate consults the crowd.
It is a joke between them, this consulting.
“What would you have me do with this man?”
“Crucify him!”
Barabbas we can imagine working the crowd,
but this man utters not a word.

Roman soldiers process him with his thorned crown and purple cloak
hailing him in cruel sarcasm, ‘king of the Jews’
and still he does not speak

they hit him on the head – more playful –
in the way of monsters –
than really hurtful
and they spit
and kneel to their prisoner king
And still he makes no sound.

They walk him to his own death
making him carry the burden of
his own electric chair –
a wooden cross
When it gets too heavy for his beaten back
a man named Simon is plucked from the
crowd to bear it for him
and we can imagine Simon trying to strike up conversation
that he might tell his friends and loved ones about it later

And still he says nothing

It is 9 o’clock in the morning
the day is turning to its brightness
and away from the dawning mists –
like the Galilee days of youth
and the Nazareth days of childhood
but not like them
for this is the day that will not pass him over
this is the day when the blood on his own
doorpost will not save him.

and within the vast silence that inhabits
his own soul, he says . . . he thinks . . . nothing

It is 9 o’clock in the morning
when they arrive at the Skull place

we can imagine the bird-picked bone-white bones
scattered like shining jewels all round,
some sticking up from the ground –
sign posts pointing to the sure destination
for those unfortunate enough to take their
rest there

And the cruel words of pseudo-hospitality
“Here.  Have some of this.”  The cup of
wine mixed with myrrh
a sedative to ease the passing begs the question:
can there ever be kindness from the executioner’s hand?

Whate’re the motive,
he refuses
mouth shut
no sound

If there be kindness in
your heart, executioner
you’ll get no credit for it here
There is no sop for your conscience
in the sop you seek to give a dying man
who would live but for your hand –
that pain, friend, you will have to bear alone
in the silent places of your own heart.

As he hangs dying
the representatives of the state sit unnoticing below
gambling for the privilege of his few clothes
while kind he makes no noise to disturb
them at their gaming

Passers by taunt and jeer
“temple-destroyer-rebuilder boy,
save yourself!  Jump down from that cross”
and even the ones who should know better
cannot contain their contagious cruelty
as the bitter herbs of their own mouths
pour forth venom for the one cheeky enough
to die in front of them . . .
“How about a saving miracle now?”
“Healed, did you?  How about a healing now?”
The schoolyard bullies have been loosed
and even those dying beside him taunt and jeer
as if their crosses were somehow higher, better,
than his, as if his dying made their less bad.

He?  He received their words into his own great silence
and still and yet, he said nothing,
thought . . . nothing.


It is noon
and this day
it is darkening time
as the shroud pall
of dying death
is pulled over the land
maybe this is his word?
No – silent he remains
as darkness claims
the frightened and the frightening
and still and yet he says nothing.


It is 3 o’clock in the afternoon
and the darkness ebbs away
like smoke from the chimneys
curling its way heavenward
leaving behind a light less bright
less sure of itself, its place in the midday world

It is 3 o’clock when he breaks his fast of silence
Eloi . . . Eloi . . . my God . . . my God . . .
Lema sabachthani?
Lema sabachthani?
Lema sabachthani?
Why have you forsaken me?

He calls for his God
Daddy, where are you?
Come get me, Dad.
I’m in trouble Pop.
Father, I need you.
Help me!

He calls to his father, his God –
they hear Elijah
even now they cannot understand him
even now his words are mysterious to their ears
even now they confuse life for death, death for life

putting the proverbial mirror under his nose to see if he still lives
they rush to place a sponge of drink before him –
if he lives, surely he will drink
they poke sponge sticks at his mouth
as he cries his death rattling cry
and breathes no more

and something,
about the way he dies
the way he cries
the way he looks
the way he sighs
moves the battle-hardened
centurion to see not a dead
carcass but a son . . .
The Son?

But he did not know him
not really
did not love him
for no one who loved him
could have so quickly relegated
him to the past
speak of what he was
instead of what he is
no, for those who love,
that takes days, weeks, months, years –
this moving of a dear one from present to past
from prologue
to postscript

no, the ones who loved him
merely stood – silent – witness
offering the solace of presence
knowing it was not enough –
it never is, is it?  This death bed
vigiling we do – no, it is never enough,
but it is all we have – and they gave it to him
their silence joined to his
providing for him in his dying as they had in his living
and the irony of killing the kind
of greeting lies with silence in the place with no need of words
continues as only those not allowed to speak are given witness
it is the women who stand with him at the end
those of no standing in any court, public or private
are left to watch the unfolding
never to be allowed to tell
to anyone but each other

but One Lover was not silent
sending a single sound into the cosmos
the sound of a curtain torn, rent,
from top to bottom
the sound of God’s own broken heart
flooding the world with its grief
and moving on to further reaches
no earth-small planet could contain
and the sound – that sound – the sound of tearing
echoes down the universe’s halls even now
stopping in the time of butterflies and babies and revolutions
to caress with the clawing tearing brokenness of a mother’s heart
that will not be comforted for a child who is no more

If God will hear our broken cries of pain and loss beyond bearing,
who will hear God’s?  Who will take on God’s pain and in the taking, lessen it?

It is 6 o’clock in the evening
it’s nighttime, really, for those who
work with their hands and live by
the sweat of their brow
sundowning time – the beginning of sacred rest

more words now . . . the words of the business of burial
every death has them – from friends and lovers or strangers
for something must be done with the body
and so it was with him, Our Silent One

we can imagine the women going to one who can help
one with standing with the powers-that-be
a fixer

and so the fixer goes to the Procurator
and utters the placating words of asking . . .
“Not too much trouble, surely?
Gesture of kindness appreciated . . .
perhaps a gift to grease the skids?”

And he, holder of power of life and death
the keys of empire securely in his hands,
his delicate palms no nails will ever pierce
marvels not at his own deed
not at the vagaries and cruelties and whims
that make him thus and the other so
nay – he wonders that the one he sent
died so fast – “dead already?”

That then, is the epitaph for The One
The One who lived among us for a time
and showed us another Way . . .

Dead already
dead already
dead already

and he . .
And all . . .
Is silence


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Thoughtful Thursdays

It’s the day of Passover.  Are the streets quiet with folks going about their tasks a little softer than usual and the women cooking inside or out back?  Or are they filled with the noise of time taken away from the usual work-a-day way of things?

Signs are understood best in hindsight, it seems.  Yet I wonder if there were portents and omens or was it just another Passover day to the observing eye?

Feet will be washed by a different hand this day – did the water know of its honor?  Did it cling a bit longer to the caressing palms so soon to be pierced?  Or did the droplets draw back in horror at what was to come?

Did the women creep in a little closer or wander away shaking their heads at the certain folly about to come?  Did they bring in the wash early against a coming storm they could sense but not see?

Did the taste of the bread on the tongue leave a taste bitter or sweet?

Did even the betrayer sip from the cup or did he just pretend?

Were they skittish like the proverbial cat on a hot tin roof?  Or were they languid, the others, the accompaniers who would so soon abandon their posts?

Did the day passing into evening rest lightly on their shoulders?  Or was there a whisper barely caught but unsettling in its passing that turned their heads to stare into a space they knew not?

It is Thursday.  The day when it all comes to a head, a day filled with meaning.

Did they know it?  Were they just a bit more thoughtful, more quiet, this Thursday?

Or did they think it was a day like any other – one bleeding into the next – barely noted in its passing – memorable only for what happens after?

Did they feel the storm coming?

I do.  It crawls along my skin and burrows its way into the itching underneath of things.

It is Thursday.

Just a day – like any other.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Worrisome, Woeful Wednesdays

Holy Week Wednesday in Mark’s gospel highlights the contrast between faithful following and falling away.  How ironic, how cruel, really, that centuries later, we claimed faithful followers take Jesus’ words to the very proto-betrayer Judas Iscariot (you will always have the poor with you. . .) and turn them into a command to ignore the needs of the poor, as if in that ignoring is found love rather than blind indifference, faithfulness rather than falling away.

So here is how I hear Jesus’ words to Judas that fateful Wednesday . . .

Really, Judas?  You’re going to throw up care for the poor to me?  Really?  You (of all people) are really going to chastize this woman for anticipating your deed, your betrayal?  Well, son, you’ve got the money purse in your hands – why don’t you take that money and provide for the poor?  Oh – we have need of it, do we?  Well, that’s different then, isn’t it?  Ah, Judas, how very sad you make me.  That bribe money you’re going to get?  It’ll burn a hole in your hand, you know.  Poor folk need you too, Judas.  They need you to be caring and providing, but they also need you to be humble and a little less sure that you’ve got the answers to their problems.  They and I need you to listen to us instead of the voice in your own head for a change.  Could you do that for us?  No?  I was afraid of that.  It – you – could have been so different, you know.  The poor you speak so passionately about?  They’ve been standing right in front of you your whole life.  Where was your concern for them yesterday?  Where will it be tomorrow?  No, Judas, this isn’t about the poor.  It’s about you.  You’re watching a funeral happen right in front of your own eyes and because we laugh and celebrate, you mistake it for a party.  Life is a celebrating thing, Judas.  Why can’t you see that?  Why can you not see that caring for each other – all of each other – is a blessing, not a burden?  Oh, Judas, I had such hopes for you.  It’s not too late – you know – for you.  You can still change your mind, change your course, change your destiny.  It’s possible.  And it’s up to you.  Just don’t throw the poor in my face.  This – her love and your betrayal – have nothing to do with the poor.  Stop blaming them and choose your own life.  I am begging you, Judas.  Do not do this.  And yes, Judas, you will always have poor folk among you – folks like you, sadly, will make sure of that.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Tutorial Tuesdays: Getting Schooled by Jesus

It’s Tuesday of Holy Week.  In the Gospel of Mark, it’s a busy day.  Jesus is spending a lot of time teaching, or more accurately, ‘schooling’* the powers-that-be.

The Pharisees come and it’s chatter about Caesar and taxes and such.  Flummoxed, the Sadducees are sent in next and it’s all about heaven and which husband does the woman married to seven of them on earth get in heaven (I’m left wondering if the gal gets any say in this and chortling over Jesus’ smack down).

Then it’s a scribe who starts out as a trickster too (you know it’s desperate when they send in the lawyer), but turns into a serious conversationalist as he and Jesus ponder together the greatest, the most important, thing to know, to do, when it comes to God.  Jesus’ answer is elegant simplicity itself: love God, love neighbor.  The scribe is moved to throw out all the observances and paperwork that had, no doubt, been his life’s work up to that point.  And Jesus rewards him with a blessing – the blessing of knowing he’s not far from God.

The ability of Jesus to see into hearts and minds, to understand the subtext and get at the real issue is a thing of beauty and humor, grace and challenge.

Some days we need the blessing.

Some days we need the conversation.

And some days, we just need schooling.

*school (verb - slang):  to strongly defeat during a competitive activity. Etymology: someone that was "schooled" has been "taken to school." That is, taught how to do something. And then they are badly beaten in the process. Tto tell one about. to try and teach or educate one about.   Online Slang Dictionary

Monday, March 25, 2013

MoneyChanger Mondays

Monday of what we Christians call Holy Week was a bad day for the moneychangers of Jesus’ time.  Turns out it’s the same for Wall Street.

In their book The Last Week, Marcus Borg and John Crossan make a compelling case that Jesus’ action at the temple on that fateful Monday was not so much a cleansing (making ritually pure) as it was a symbolic prediction of the destruction of the temple as fruitless (fruitless is worse than being useless, as the thing – fig tree or temple or society – projects itself as useful but isn’t – and the lie has dire and bitter consequences for those deceived, those who believed the lie that fruit could be found where, in fact, there was none).

Borg and Crossan quote from Jeremiah 7 for the phrase ‘den of robbers’, arguing from the linkage between Jeremiah and Mark 11.12-19 (the moneychanger temple incident), that God insists not merely on justice and worship, but that God prefers justice over worship.  I would disagree (it may be hairsplitting, but I don’t think so) and say that in fact, God would have us understand that acting justly is itself an act of worship, of lifting our voices in praise to God and all that God has created.  Borg and Crossan distinguish (rightly) between justice and the forms of worship in quoting from Hosea 6.6, I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.  

But sacrifice and burnt offerings are the external evidence, the forms, of worship and they may (or may not) evidence actual or genuine worship of God.  But we know this: in all facets of life, we often act contrary to our hearts.

Jesus’ emphasis throughout his ministry is to get our hearts and our hands acting in concert – with each other and most importantly, with the heart of the divine.

And that, I think, is the problem of Mondays for we Christians in our time: our Sunday hearts and our Monday hands so often find themselves at odds with each other.

Not always.

But often enough to make Mondays a real problem.

Borg and Crossan interpret the events at the Monday temple as underscoring that we human claimed believers and followers cannot run and hide in our Sunday temples from what we’ve done on Monday.

I’m with them on this: this is a social justice commentary by Jesus on what’s happening in his time and in ours.  It’s a matter of public morality, decency and politics.

But to turn it towards private piety for a moment, I am wondering who or what my Monday moneychangers are and where they’re hiding within the Sunday temple of my own heart.

What is it that I hope you don’t know about me, especially when it comes to how I treat others?

Is Jesus Christ really President* of all my Mondays?

I want to think so.  I want to believe that the Jesus moment I had in church yesterday is with me in all my todays.  I want to think to that I am not Wall Street and that I don’t succumb to the worries, fears and behaviors of the world whenever Monday comes around.

May the wish become prayer.
May the prayer become thought.
May the thought become reality.
May the reality become my wish.


*which is just another way of saying ‘Lord’.  Listen to Woody Guthrie’s Christ for President on the YouTube link below.


Christ for President – words by Woody Guthrie
& music by Jeff Tweedy & Jay Bennett
performed on YouTube by Billy Bragg and Wilco

Let's have Christ our President
Let us have him for our king
Cast your vote for the Carpenter
That you call the Nazarene

The only way we can ever beat
These crooked politician men
Is to run the money changers out of the temple
Put the Carpenter in

O It's Jesus Christ our President
God above our king
With a job and a pension for young and old
We will make hallelujah ring

Every year we waste enough
To feed the ones who starve
We build our civilization up
And we shoot it down with wars

But with the Carpenter on the seat
Way up in the Capital town
The USA would be on the way
Prosperity Bound!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Jesus Came to Church Today

Today leading worship at Headwaters, I and all the rest (all six of us, in fact), looked to see a fellow coming in and taking a seat at the back right at the end of my sermon.  A less charitable observer than I might think he came at just the right time.

I don’t wear my glasses when I preach, because I haven’t been able to make bifocals work for me and so the glasses have to come off in order for me to see the printed page, which leaves me virtually blind to anything further away.

So when I looked up, I recognized that it was a man and saw that he was a bit scruffy – not homeless scruffy – more just off the construction sight – like a carpenter scruffy.

And the unbidden thought that immediately arose within my consciousness was Wow.  Jesus just came to church.

It made me smile, this fancy.  And the feeling stayed with me – through the prayers and the singing and the blessings.

It’s Palm Sunday and we were full of palm waving, procession imagining, Pilate-to-Jesus contrasting.  Wondering what it would be like to join Jesus’ procession, I was given a tiny peek when I thought maybe, just maybe, Jesus had joined ours.

What would it be like if Jesus walked into church today?




Kent – that’s his name – Kent and I spoke briefly after church.  He apologized for not being better dressed.  While assuring him it was no problem, I wish I’d had the umph to tell him what a blessing his wardrobe was to me today, the day when I thought that maybe I was seeing Jesus.

And you know what?

I was.

Friday, March 22, 2013

A Toast to World Poetry Day

Langston Hughes . . . Yeats and Keats . . . Shakespeare and Wendell Berry each farming words in their own unique ways. . . Audin, ah, Audin . . . and a little-known poet from West Virginia* who writes of walking in a rain no one would be caught dead in without a Bible . . . Naomi Shahab Nye . . . Chesterton . . . Wordsworth (how could he have been anything but a poet?) . . . Rilke raining beauty within beauty upon all who care to know . . . Dylan and Baez and Simon and Byrne and Bowie – poets of my youth and age in a time when poetry is best (or at least most memorably) found in music . . .

I read on fb that it’s World Poetry Day today (well, actually, it was yesterday – my invite must have gotten lost in the mail).

Poetry has been, for me, an acquired taste come comparatively late in life.

If there must be favorite, I suppose today, this day (for it may be different tomorrow – it was yesterday), Leonard Cohen is the placeholder of my heart.  And so I leave you with Anthem . . .

The birds they sang 
at the break of day 
Start again 
I heard them say 
Don't dwell on what 
has passed away 
or what is yet to be. 
Ah the wars they will 
be fought again 
The holy dove 
She will be caught again 
bought and sold 
and bought again 
the dove is never free. 

Ring the bells that still can ring 
Forget your perfect offering 
There is a crack in everything 
That's how the light gets in. 

We asked for signs 
the signs were sent: 
the birth betrayed 
the marriage spent 
Yeah the widowhood 
of every government -- 
signs for all to see. 

I can't run no more 
with that lawless crowd 
while the killers in high places 
say their prayers out loud. 
But they've summoned, they've summoned up 
a thundercloud 
and they're going to hear from me. 

Ring the bells that still can ring ... 

You can add up the parts 
but you won't have the sum 
You can strike up the march, 
there is no drum 
Every heart, every heart 
to love will come 
but like a refugee. 

Ring the bells that still can ring 
Forget your perfect offering 
There is a crack, a crack in everything 
That's how the light gets in. 

Ring the bells that still can ring 
Forget your perfect offering 
There is a crack, a crack in everything 
That's how the light gets in. 
That's how the light gets in. 
That's how the light gets in.

*Llewellyn McKernan, My Own History, in Many Waters: Poems from West Virginia.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Gained in Translation

I don’t know why, but I’m often the one in the group who translates one person to another – only in English, as I have absolutely no facility at other languages.  But for some reason, I seem to be able to hear and understand different accents.  So it was that this week I found myself translating folks to each other.  It makes me smile.  Not (at least I hope) in a smug way.  But in a I’m-glad way.

I’m glad I have ears to hear.

I’m glad my hearing ears discern the differing cadences, rhythms and emphases of the human voice.

I’m glad I can flow with the current of conversation.

I’m glad to be a part of people hearing each other better.

Mostly, I’m just glad to be there, to be here, in the listening world.  It may not be forever.  Probably won’t be for always.  But for now, it’s nice.  And I am glad.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Forest & Trees: How Fareed Zakaria (and So Many Others) Missed Iraq’s Most Important Lesson

Fareed Zakaria writes at CNN on the (claimed) 5 Lessons of the Iraq War.  His list?  (1) bring enough troops; (2) don’t tear down the state; (3) don’t knock down doors; (4) make a deal to include all parties; and (5) write constitutions before holding elections.

Hear me sigh.  It is a time-worn thing, this sigh of mine.

While an interesting and perhaps even accurate list, Mr. Zakaria misses the most important and obvious answer to his own question – what lessons might be learned from the war? –

Don’t do it.

Simple, really.

Don’t do it.

Just say no.

Be suspicious.

Ask questions.

Demand the truth.

If my thesis is don’t do it, don’t do what, exactly?

1. Don’t devalue the lives of your [presumed] enemies.  They love their children as much as you love yours.  Value their very existence as much as you value your own.

2. If you’re a journalist (and Mr. Zakaria is just that), do not – ever – take the word of anyone at face value, especially when they’re (a) acting out of self-interest; and (b) proposing to kill people on a massive scale.

3. Do not adopt the propagandist language of those trying to sell you on an idea that will result in the deaths of millions (and yes, it was millions).

4. Do not be sidetracked by tactics.  Focus instead on the underlying idea or proposition, asking:  (a) is it a desirable goal?  (b) will the achieving of the goal make us better people?  ( c) is the goal so important, so necessary, that it will be worth the loss of everything else?  (d) what’s the rush?  When people try to hurry you into a costly decision, chances are there’s something behind the mirror they don’t want you to see or have the time to think too much about.  (e) are there alternatives?  There are always alternatives.  Why were they not explored?  Why were they so handily dismissed?  Perhaps Chris Hedges was right in his seminal work War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning: a war is just too good an opportunity to miss out on.  It’s exhilarating.  Here’s a thought: the next war we contemplate, you might consider: (a) the fact that it’s something that can be contemplated means that it is not necessary (a real emergency that requires an armed response does not provide a lot of time to think about it – as in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor); and (b) when it comes to truth claims from one’s own government, maybe you could have journalists who are not citizens of our country take a look at them – after all, objectivity is a benchmark of your profession – or it used to be.

Really, all of this boils down to one point, one lesson to be learned from our collective decision to invade Iraq.  It’s a simple lesson, really:

5. Do not go to war based on a lie.

The subsets of this lesson are legion: (a) do not go hastily to war – ever; (b) know the facts.  Demand them.  In the absence of verifiable facts, make no decision; ( c) Let no be our operating assumption, our first response, the objective which must be overcome by overwhelming evidence, when it comes to war; (d) always examine our own motives, for they are always suspect; (e) there are many aiders and abettors in any decision to go to war – don’t be one of them; (f) ask the real consequential questions out loud – publicly and often: is this so important that we are willing to kill children to achieve it?  Because we will; we do – whenever there is a war, we become the killers of children – our own and others; (g) make it a moral/ethical discussion, because waging war is a moral and ethical decision and abandoning ethics and morality in favor of discussing tactics is itself unethical.

As I said, these are but a few of the questions that might and, I think, should be asked in any decision about the waging of war against others.

And this, I think, is the largest gap in mainstream press coverage on our collective decision to invade Iraq, even 10 years later, when we should know better.

In 1999 (well before our invasion of Iraq), in his book Debating War and Peace: Media Coverage in the post-Viet Nam Era, Jonathan Mermin of Princeton University writes about the journalistic phenomena of taking the word of the powers-that-be inside Washington when it comes to matters of war and peace.  As the publisher’s review indicates, Mermin demonstrates that:
when it comes to military intervention, journalists over the past two decades have let the government itself set the terms and boundaries of foreign policy debate in the news. . . [showing] that if there is no debate over U.S. policy in Washington, there is no debate in the news, [further observing that] journalists often criticize the execution of U.S. policy, but fail to offer critical analysis of the policy itself if actors inside the government have not challenged it. . .Princeton University Press
Many in the press of these United States rushed to war right alongside President Bush and his administration when it came to Iraq.  Liberal and conservative, you were virtually all on board.  And you are our professional fact finders.  If I knew (and I did – from NPR’s reporting of UN sources) that the Niger yellow-cake claim was a forgery before the invasion (IAEA report on Iraq), why didn’t you?  It is your job to know.  Well, actually, you did know – since the IAEA report I heard on NPR was reported with transcript offered on CNN on March 7, 2003, 13 days before the invasion based (at least in part) on this allegation and others about Iraq’s purported (falsely) attempts to go nuclear, as the IAEA reports made clear at the time.

And ten years later, the best you have to offer us, Mr. Zakaria, is more of the same: more analysis on how we could have waged the war better and absolutely no analysis on why your own industry was so eager to facilitate the Administration’s rush to war in the first place; no reflection on how to avoid the rush to war in future; no questions or answers about the missing piece of moral and ethical reflection.

It is not enough to claim to be reporters of fact only, as you are an analyst and your piece proffers analysis.  How can you exclude from your proffered opinions so glibly any consideration about the question of whether to engage in such an exercise, restricting yourself to trying to figure out how to do it better next time?

Shame, Mr. Zakaria.

If the only lessons you learned are how to do it better as opposed to whether to do it at all, you really should be working for a defense-industry think tank.

Sadly, your five so-called lessons tell me that you’ve learned nothing at all in the last ten years.  That’s the best ‘spin’ I can put on your piece, for the alternative is truly too horrific to contemplate: that you yourself are part and parcel of the intentional misguiding of the American people on this travesty so tritely named Iraqi Freedom.

I expect more.

Nay, I demand it.

You, the press, are our only non-governmental constitutional organ of freedom.  Your job is much too important to be taken lightly.  The lessons to be learned from our invasion of Iraq are yours as much as our military’s.

No – the lessons to be learned are actually more yours than theirs.

They were being true to who they are.

Who or what were you being true to?

*Selecting a title for an essay on a subject I care deeply about is not as easy as one might think – especially if you want to make it tweetable.  And so, for whatever edification or amusement may result, I offer you the title rejects for this piece:  Why journalists have nothing to teach you about the lessons of war; Undoing Zakaria’s Lessons of War; Zakaria’s Box: His Lessons Aren’t Iraq’s Lessons; Zakaria’s Idol (idle?) Thinking?; What Mr. Zakaria Didn’t Learn from Iraq; Zakaria: Really?; I don’t know what school you went to. . .; War & Peace?  No: War & War; This isn’t your mama’s war sonny; Flag on the Play: Zakaria Misses the Mark – Again; Pressing the Press: Iraq, Journalism & Lost Lessons; Been There, Done That & I Don’t Want Your T-shirt; False Teaching; False Teaching/False Teachers: How Fareed Zakaria Missed the Mark on Iraq; Words of Mass Destruction: Zakaria’s “Lessons” on Iraq Still Killing After All These Years; The Killing Fields: Zakaria’s Word of Mass Destruction; Fareed Zakaria Thinking inside the box again; Still smug after all these years; History Writ Small: Why Journalists Make Bad Historians; History Writ Small:  Zakaria’s Iraq Lessons Need Schooling; History Writ Small: Five Lessons for Fareed Zakaria; History Writ Small: 5 Lessons I Wish Fareed Zakaria Knew about Iraq; 5 Paltry Lessons; Lessons from Iraq:  Zakaria Flunks the History Exam – Again; 5 Lessons Iraq Could Teach Fareed Zakaria; 5 Lessons Fareed Zakaria Didn’t Learn About Iraq; Lessons from Iraq: 5 Things Fareed Zakaria Didn’t Learn but Should Have; When It Comes to Iraq, Mr. Zakaria, There’s Only One Lesson to be Learned; Unfit to Print:  Zakaria’s Five Lessons Learned from the Iraq War.

**In the last week, 94 people (at a minimum) have been killed in violence across Iraq and 50+ injured. Al Jazeera in English and Washington Post

***Since the US invasion of Iraq, according to ORB, the UN, and others, more than 1 million civilians were killed and more than 4.5 million refugeed or internally displaced, many of whom have still not been able to return home or to anything resembling normal life.  That represents almost 20% of the population of Iraq.  Perhaps we might focus more on the place where we directly caused such whole-sale destruction before entertaining a reprise in neighboring Syria.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Murder in a Used Book Store

I love used book stores.  In fact, I love book stores of all kinds.  So it was with some sadness and frustration that I walked into a used book store in Chicago yesterday.  I was smitten with the retro post cards on offer and loved the variety of books and categories – until, that is, I came to the religion section, where in dusty aisles somewhere in Chicago, I met up with the cause of my sadness and frustration.

There were sections on Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism, but none on Christianity.


I forget how, in some circles, it’s ‘popular’ not only to not believe, but to act as if Christianity in fact does not exist.

Next to these stacks was a section entitled ‘theology’.  That’s where the Christian stuff was.

Fair enough, you might say.

But it was also the stack where the books on atheism were.

Christianity and atheism (should I capitalize that?  I really don’t know) side by side as differing ‘theologies’.

[Repeat sigh]

Book store owners should know better: after all, books – the cataloguing and organizing as well as the selling – are their business.

And atheism is not a theology – a ‘word about God’ – it is, if you will, a ‘word about not-God’ – hardly the same thing at all.

I guess I would have put the books on atheism in the adjacent philosophy category.

And isn’t it interesting that of all the faiths represented by the books in that store that Christianity would be present, but not by name?

We are a culture of many experts.

With our freedoms comes the belief that all opinions are equal.

Well, from where I’m standing, they’re not.

I am not, for example, an expert on atheism.

I have some opinions about the non-belief in a deity, but they aren’t particularly well-informed ones.  After all, it’s a view to which I do not subscribe, so there’s only so much I can know about it.

The not-so-veiled commentary on Christianity that the refusal to name it constitutes in that book store strikes me as an uninformed opinion, as does the inclusion of the atheist works among the Christian works.  After all, atheism books were not included among the Buddhist, Islam and Judaism works.

I argued a bit with myself, but ultimately, I put back the post cards and left the shop empty handed.  It just didn’t feel as if the owner and I should be doing business, even the anonymous business of buying a post card, together.  The fact was that I was just too sad to want to anymore, leaving a little of my love on the floor as I walked out.

All opinions are not created equal.

And neither are all book stores.

SIDE NOTE TO THE ATHEISTS AMONG YOU I am not one of those Christians who believe ‘Happy holidays’ greetings mean you’re trying to murder Jesus.  And when I consider the marginalization of Christianity within the American culture, I ponder it from the point of view of where I stand, as in ‘what are we doing wrong’ rather than in blaming others.  Moreover, the pastor in me took a walk yesterday in front of that store while waiting for my friends to conclude their business, during which I pondered on the failure of my own particular brand of faith to have much to offer others and wondered why.  I know there are a number of answers, all of which sadden me greatly, particularly because it (this faith I call my own) has been such a source of comfort and goodness, rescue and safe haven, for me.  But I daily accept that may not be true for you.  And I cringe probably as often as you do at the statements and behaviors of some of my brethren in the faith.  But even more, I suspect, to the secular humanists among you, truth and facts matter greatly.  And while it is a fact that Christianity has done great harm, it is also true that it has done great good.  Please don’t do the same history rewriting you see among some Christians to try to write out that faith from our shared past.  Please don’t confuse the facts with your opinions.  It’s neither attractive nor accurate on either side of that proverbial fence.  An example: in doing peace work among folk of no faith, MLK’s contributions are characterized entirely as a social (as opposed to a religious or faith) movement.  Omitting the faith element from that period in history creates a false narrative whereby Christian slave owners oppressed those they enslaved without the counter- (and also true) narrative of those oppressed claiming the same faith as their own and resurrecting its own peace, justice and freedom narratives.  If you don’t tell of the faith of many who participated in the Civil Rights movement, you recreate it into your own image, making it something it wasn’t.  Sorry to preach – occupational hazard, I guess.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Open Source Friendships

When I picture time with my friends, the visual usually has us sitting somewhere – probably on a front porch, given my love for the front porch (and weather permitting), sipping something, talking and laughing.

This trip has had its share of sitting, talking, sipping and laughing, but yesterday we had one of those ‘aren’t we ridiculous’ moments when we realized that each of us sat at the kitchen table with our noses in our respective lap tops, checking e-mail, FB, prepping to Skype, etc., etc., etc.

Alas, I am now forever banned (by a sense of fair play, if nothing else) from castigating my children and their generation for bringing all their equipment to the table instead of just talking to me.  My children have invaded and I are them.


But not too much.

For I find I’m actually okay with that.

They’re wonderful people, my children and their generation.  They care passionately – about each other, about their world.  They stay in touch – much better than I did or do.

In church yesterday we were challenged to shape our technology and its uses instead of letting it shape us.  I take Joy’s point and it’s an important one.

The junction of human and technology that I seek as I think on Joy’s words is the ‘and’ of things rather than the ‘but’.  I suppose that where I stand is actually at the corner of and & but – a place where my own usage of things technological is limited by the geography of where I live – the land of no cell towers.  So I hook up to my world with the lap top but do not own a cell phone and I can Skype friends across the globe but when the electricity goes out, I can’t fix a meal and . . . but . . . and . . .

Relationships and ways of relating to the world are changed as we source (whether open* or otherwise) and resource the world and our place in it.  As with many things, I suppose that’s both good and bad – depends on what we do with it, eh?

So yes, lots of folks I know are reading the latest idiocy online and calling it truth.  And so are they reading and consuming wisely and coming away far better informed than I could ever hope to be.  But many post nothing  more interesting or important than the latest cat video (what’s up with the passion for cat videos, anyhow?).  And they too find meaning and community and connection.  But it’s so shallow.  And deep.

Turns out we both shape and are shaped by all that we encounter in this world.

And so again today, I will probably sit beside a friend at the kitchen table and e-mail her a link to the latest funny cat video and we will remember it as part of our time together and smile.

*Open source – I take my definition not from the many online resources available to me, but from son Ben (forgive me, Ben, if I get it wrong – it’s the best your old ma could do): Open sourcing, the sharing of knowledge, skill, talent or information online, is a good thing.  It’s the opposite of the idea of intellectual property.  Think of it this way: Shakespeare’s work – all of it – is derivative – that is to say, Shakespeare took his ideas from other ideas already out there – and made them uniquely his own.  Had there been the intellectual property laws in his time that we have in ours, there would have been no Romeo & Juliet, no Henry IV, no ado about no thing.  Walt Disney, the man and the company, took another man’s work (Steamboat Willy) and created Mickey Mouse and then lobbied for extensions of intellectual property protections to keep the very character they had ‘borrowed’ all to themselves.  It’s not only ironic, it stultifies the very creativity it seeks to protect.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

ChicagoDiaryDay2 - The Zoo of My Mind

In keeping with the good food motif of this trip, we went to Manny’s Deli for a late breakfast where ChihChun and I had knishes (me with and ChihChun without gravy) and one of Anita’s cheese blintzes for good measure.  Dining with friends of Anita’s, a harangue against Northwestern and its lack of contribution to Evanston arose, in which I (the pacifist) ended up suggesting that Evanston ‘deannex’ the University.  Why did I suggest waging war on an enemy I do not  have?  I have no idea.

Then off to the Conservatory and Zoo at Lincoln Park – it was pretty cold, so a good many of the animals were caving out of sight, but we did see the lion and unbidden, thoughts of every ‘dumb blond’ joke I”ve ever heard came to mind.  Again I am left bemused by the vagaries and treacheries of my own brain.

Later, after our afternoon nap (I love vacation – that, at least, should evidence sound mind – shouldn’t it?) we headed out for tapas (lovely – shout out to Walt Auvil for introducing me to it lo those many years ago) and then to a church gymnasium to see an original musical.  I hardly know what to say.  I have myself appeared (yes, voluntarily) in a number of local ventures where my own startling lack of talent has shone for all to see.  I guess I raised the bar in my own head simply because we were in Chicago – because we were in a cosmopolitan setting, I expected excellence.  And I was, alas, disappointed.  And then amused.  And then ashamed of my own amusement at their expense.  And then confused.  Cos here’s the thing: when you write something for an audience, you’re doing just that: writing it with a particular group of folks in mind.  And I wasn’t one of them.  Thus I did not understand the moral of the story and was left with the zoo of my mind.  It wasn’t pretty.

I’m sorry I wasn’t a better audience member, but truthfully, not very sorry – not as sorry as I probably should be.

NOTE: We end our evening with me pulling up the famed Allen YouTube video to watch – now that’s some good theater.

Friday, March 15, 2013

ChicagoDiaryDay1 - This Ain’t Kansas, Dorothy

Walking the streets of Chicago today, I am struck by contrasts, obvious and not so obvious, between a living space shared by millions of people and a living space shared by millions of birds and squirrels with a few humans there on sufferance.

Hence my homage to Chicago (and it is an homage to Chicago, make no mistake):

1. Heard on the street – young man to young woman: Let’s go to the Feminist Bookstore.  Two points: Yes, Chicago has a feminist bookstore (Chicagoans will be bemused that I point out the obvious while those from whence I come will likely wonder just what a feminist bookstore is or how it differs from other bookstores.  Not to say we’re not savvy folk – but we don’t run into much feminist anything in my neck of the woods).

2. Contractors drink tea, not soda or coffee, and at least one of them recently saw The Book of Mormon.  I don’t know if he knows a thing about hunting or farming or the changing of the seasons or when the finches turn yellow or when lambing season comes, but Mike knows a thing or two about theater.

3. There are restaurants.  Lots of them.  Really good ones.  With lots of choices.  Did I mention that there are restaurants?  So Anita, my hostess on this journey, says to me: do you want to go to a play tomorrow night?  I, of course, am thrilled.  Then comes the bonus question: Where do you want to eat?  Anita, knowing how happy I am just to see these many choices in dining possibilities, told her friend who suggested the theater that the only condition is that I get to choose the restaurant because I so seldom get to.  Last night, it was Vietnamese Pho (like the rube I am, I thought it was ‘fo’, but Anita kindly corrected me) – a lovely simple soup from the restaurant (how many times can I use the word ‘restaurant’ in this paragraph, I wonder?).  Tomorrow night we (at my choosing) will enjoy some Spanish Tapas.  I knew I was forgetting something – did I mention that we began our day at Svea* (a Swedish restaurant) with Swedish pancakes (and yes, with lingonberries, for those of you in the know on such things) and yes, I also had a side of potato pancakes (don’t panic, I brought much of it home) with applesauce and sour cream.  Hard to know how, but we’ll try to top that tomorrow morning at the Jewish Deli with blintzes (and perhaps some latkes).  If this keeps up, I'll be bringing the Chicago pizza home in my purse.  Wonder what Homeland Security rules are on the importation of food from Chicago to the western Highlands of Virginia?

I am one happy girl.  If I had a cardiologist, she’d be weeping right about now.  Lucky for me, I don’t have one.

*"Lingonberry. Pancakes.  Go.  Now.  (Or at least go before their strange and interesting closing time of 2:45pm.)"  Yelp

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Three Points on a Map

ChihChun & Anita on far right, with CPT at our team home
in Sulimaniya - Lukasz, me, Peggy, Michele, ChihChun & Anita

I will soon to Chicago, where ChihChun will arrive shortly before me, she having traveled in real time more than a day, but actually arriving before she began as she crosses the international date line to come for a visit.  Anita will greet us and sweep us up in her love and warmth and the hospitality of her home.

We will visit and laugh.  We’ll catch up on all our news.  We’ll eat together and remember together and separately.  And it will be good.

That’s how it is with friends, isn’t it?

My joy is already overflowing, having received ChihChun’s text of her arrival in Tokyo for the next leg of her journey.  As we had previously communicated about the best way to meet up at the airport, I had to confess that I am (again) without cell phone.  So ChihChun texted that she and Anita will meet first and bring me their cell phones to borrow so I can call them.

I picture her giggle at the sending simultaneous with Anita’s and mine at the receiving.

From three points on a map, the laughter has begun and it is good.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The House at _____ & _______

I don’t know what this stretch of Rt. 42 is called - they can’t be routes anymore.  Not since 9/11.  Isn’t that odd?  Who would have thought of all the things that could and would change, that how we name our roads would be one of them?

But there’s a house on Rt. 42, just past Parnassas – you can’t find it on MapQuest, so don’t bother trying – not so sure about google earth.

The house is beautiful – white frame house with an almost-wraparound porch.

Of all the houses I’ve lived in, it’s the one thing I long for but have never had: a wraparound porch – an outside inside kind of place that goes clear around the house like a skirt – a place where kids and adults can run round in circles to their hearts’ content.

So whenever I pass this particular house, with the spectacular, but not quite wraparound porch, I always sigh just a bit with longing.  For in my imagining, somehow, the wraparound porch, evan an almost one,  is the embodiment of the perfect life.

Odd that I never see anyone on the porch.

Maybe I drive by at the wrong times.

Or maybe they’ve just forgotten what a magic place a porch really is.

I sure hope not.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

What is Peace?

We sit together, eating and laughing, sharing and disagreeing, nodding and exchanging, we preacher folk – and it is good.  Tonight we speak of peace.  One among us opines that it’s not a quality he pursues much and I being to wonder at what we each mean when we speak of peace.

Is it the absence of war?  That would be a nice start, but even better would be an end to the reasons for war.

Is it the absence of conflict?  I don’t think so – peace and conflict can exist together, at least so I think.

Is it that marvelous state of being that surpasses human understanding?  Maybe.

At the other end of the spectrum, I am beginning to think that it is chaos rather than the usual suspects which is the opposite of peace – the more-than-disorder absolute tyranny and terror of the not-knowing, not-known, not-knowable of that which is so much more than anarchy – that primordial before-there-was-even-nothingness thing –

In Genesis chaos is the very opposite of creating – structureless, orderless – and it is there, in the non-peace, that God acts.

But if chaos is not-peace, then what is peace?

Maybe it’s no more than strangers who might be friends sharing a meal, dipping invited into each other’s dishes,  with a little bit of conversation thrown in.

It sure felt like it.

Monday, March 11, 2013

When I Was Ten

The Beatles had already hit Ed Sullivan’s stage . . .
John F. Kennedy had already been assassinated . . .
Sputnik had already been launched . . .
The Civil Rights Act had already been passed . . .
War had already been declared on poverty . . .
Martin Luther King, Jr. had already given his I have a dream speech . . .
The Edsel had already come and gone . . .

Viet Nam was a place I knew from the nightly news . . .
and on the day I turned 10, July 30, 1965, President Johnson
signed legislation establishing Medicare and Medicaid

Memory is a fuzzy thing, so I think that was the year I visited my great aunt Vivian with my mother and grandmother, Vivian’s sister.  Vivian never married and lived in the family home until the brief time in the nursing home that preceded her death.

The house, as it was called, was a marvel of a place, filled with treasures of delight.  And because Vivian was a caretaker of the house and its contents for the generations that came after, she had devised a system to handle the desires of we younger folk: sticky tags were put on the underneath sides of everything in the house, bearing the name of the descendant who would get it on her death.

So it was a game, and one Vivian loved to be played, to go from room to room and look under every bit of furniture in search of something to be desired that was not yet claimed.  Because I was of the second generation, the pickings were slim.

I remember a beautiful silver tea service and its finely crafted wooden cart – claimed.

A small rocker – made by my great-grandfather for a child, but which petite Vivian used all her life, that delighted me because my own mother’s name was on it.

Tables and wooden love seats and apothecary cabinets and rocking chairs and so much more captivated my imagining.  But all I could find to lay claim to that day, all that did not already bear the evidence of someone other cousin’s stamp, mine!, was a candelabra on the dining room table (already claimed).

I liked it well enough, but I did not love it.  But I claimed it.  Vivian got out the sticky labels, I wrote my name, and we put the label on the base of the candelabra together, both smiling in pleasure at the gift given and received.

The candelabra was just a dime store kind of thing and when Aunt Vivian died years later, I didn’t keep it for long.

But because I had a large house suitable for antiques, other family gave me some of their things.  So today I have my great-grandfather’s hand-crafted wooden love seat with lion heads at the ends of the arms that aren’t identical and Aunt Vivian’s rocker and a table.

In my mind’s eye, the candelabra  reflects back Aunt Vivian’s smile to me across the years.  I wish I had kept it.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

This Praying With

I prayed with someone today.

It is a ginormous gift – this praying with.

Every now and then we’ll just sit in shared silence with only the offered prayer between us.

But most times the need is named, the hurt laid bare, hands are held, wounds described, silences shared, askings lifted.

It’s holy ground, this praying with.

Holy, hopeful ground, where two or more gather together and name the thing to God – the God who already knows – in the quietude of expectation – not of answers desired so much, but in the expectancy of being heard and being held.

It’s a waiting space, this praying with.

The prayer is offered, teary eyes are dried, life in the normal resumes – a little lighter as the prayer wends its way from our hearts to God’s.  But then begins the waiting – what will God’s answer will be and when will it come.  There is comfort that we wait together – I hope.

It’s meeting place, this praying with.

Masks come off when people pray together.  Hearts are laid bare.  Trust – tremulous or certain – enters in – and that trust – one in another as well as they together in God – is such an act of generosity.

I know God is worthy of it.

I hope I am.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Maple Festival Tastes of Communion

Taste this . . . have you tried this? . . . have a bite of this . . . do you want to take some of this home? . . .

Maple Festival in the Highlands is one big communion table where we’re feeding each other with offerings from hearts filled with the love we call neighborliness.

But make no mistake – it’s love.

Have a taste of this, says Bev, of the sample of butter-rich goodies from Pearl’s friend from Norfolk, who sent some batches of love for the Ladies’ Auxiliary.

Take home some sausage gravy, Patsy offers, her body bent and broken over in exhaustion from the making.

Have some sweet tea I made, Jean offers up, like shed blood, as she goes home to lie down, too sick to come, too determined to stay home.

John slips me an extra sausage pattie from his station at the serving line.

Tim bestows a free donut fresh from his hands to mine and I lick the maple glaze from my gloved fingers and proclaim it good and very good.

Gloria hoards the box of fresh donuts I bring her in the night on her lap, smiling with the glee of a child.

Francis and Kristie and Jessie generationally surround me, swooping a plate of buckwheat cakes with sausage gravy into my eager hands.

It is a time of abundance and superabundance.

It is a time of sacrifice as people gather and work hard, giving their time and their effort – and this from a people who already work hard – every day.

It is communion.

Broken bodies are given in service.

The blood sweat of earnest labor pours forth from them.

I stand back a bit and behold them all and know that I am in love with them.


Friday, March 8, 2013

Simple Pleasures

Towels warmed on the radiator embracing newly-washed skin

Being able to jump out of bed one more day

Clouds of night receding from the advancing morning sun

Laughing with friends at how our children see us

Being able to say yes to a friend

Planning a trip

Anticipating the glee of a grandchild cut loose in the country

Maple donuts warm and fresh from the making

Arms sore from shoveling snow – I can still do it!

Practice notes on the cello turning into music – magic

Love notes from children written during church and slipped into my pocket

The feel and smell of fresh linens

A warm bed on a cold winter’s night

Another day – alive on planet earth

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Thank You Rand Paul

I have long been disheartened by our failure as citizens in these United States (I include myself in this) to respond to attacks by our own government against the very things we say are most dear to our very identity – particularly the Bill of Rights.

Parts of the Patriot Act contain provisions that allow for the labeling as a terrorist activity actions by people like me who teach others the ways of non-violence, if those being taught are ‘terrorists’.  So to teach people who use violence to achieve their ends other ways, non-violent ways, to show ‘terrorists’ how not to be terrorists, it turns out, is actually terrorism.

Guantanamo Bay.



Suspension of due process of law.

Denial of the right to counsel.

Cruel and unusual punishment.

Denial of equal protection under the law.

Free speech turned into costly speech, even treasonous speech.

Assassination of American citizens.

And the press was largely silent on them all – even the drone program – until someone got ahold of a piece of paper, as if paper proved the reality more real than the bombs from the sky.

Democrats and Republicans alike are guilty of these massive infringements and fear is their weapon of choice to coerce our assent.

Filibuster scene from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
So yesterday, Rand Paul, Senator from Kentucky, did a rare and wonderful thing: he filibustered on principle, the daring principle, fundamental to our form of government, that no person, including a president, is above the laws of this nation, the most fundamental of which is our Constitution.

For those who claim it was pointless, consider:

1. Words are never ‘only’ words.  Words matter.  Words have power.  Words can and have changed a world.  If you doubt it, read Gandhi, Jesus, King.

2. People are paying attention to what we have so long ignored.  People across political divides are asking themselves and others if this is who we really are.

3. Journalists are being shaken from their power-bound lethargy to ask challenging questions of the powers that be.  Some have been all along (Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! and Al-Jazeera in English come to mind).  But finally, so-called mainstream media are asking too.

4. I’m glad it’s a Democrat this time.  That way, Republicans, formerly so loathe to question anything President Bush did along the same line are freed to challenge the political opposition for a just cause and Democrats are forced to think about whether their indictments of President Bush were merely political opposition or whether they’re actually questions of fundamental justice.

So hats off to Rand Paul.  As an American citizen, I thank you, sir, for your service.

Tomorrow we may and probably will disagree.  But yesterday, you stood for us all.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Snow Angels

I went to bed accompanied by
the soundless sound of snow falling
and awoke to more and more and more

Snow upon snow upon snow
dresses trees
blankets buildings
piles joyfully on fence posts

Winds blow unseen above
and branches respond
shaking off the weight
the sheer presence of
all that whiteness

Every snow day of my life
stands alongside me now

The kids making tunnels
and forts, frozen mouths
demanding hot chocolate

Sled riding and bon fires
huddled teens laughing
at the cold silliness and
joy of it all

Snow men and snow balls
and snow angels

ah, the snow angels
how bittersweet they are

the boyfriend heart of my youth
hailing from the Middle East
and never having seen snow
yet somehow knowing to make
a snowball and give it a toss
my way, wearing his joy for warmth

me showing him snow angels
a first time joy that led to
kisses wrapped in snow

I wonder if he’s seen any
angels since?  I hope so.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

SermonCliffNote: The Truth Isn't Finished with Us

Abridged sermon from Sunday, March 3 based on the text from Luke 13.1-9

Blood mingled with sacrifice – is this horror the act of God?  the people ask Jesus.  Apparently Pilate had ordered the slaughter of some Jewish people while they worshiped God.  It is monstrous.  And the people want to know why this happened?

Why did God allow the desecration of God’s own holy place?  Was it because those killed were somehow to blame?  Was this divine retribution?

Jesus’ answer is short and to the point, “No.”

No – the people who died at Pilate’s hand are no worse than anyone else.  No – the people who died in an accident when a tower collapsed were no worse than anyone else.  No – Jesus says elsewhere in the gospels, the man who was blind was no worse than anyone else – and neither were his parents.  No, says Jesus – this is not about just deserts.

This can seem quite far removed from us – in our time, surely no one suggests some sort of divine retribution as the cause of murder and mayhem . . . do we?

Well, actually, yes we do.  Twin towers fell literally from the sky on September 11, 2011 and religious leaders Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell blame homosexuals and me.  Well, they blamed feminists and I am a feminist, so there you have it – 9/11 was my fault.  More to the point, I’m sure there were some feminists and gay folk in those Towers.  Must have been their fault.

Children are murdered at their school desks and Mike Hukabee blames the absence of prayer in school.  He blames (at least implicitly) the victims.

When someone’s house burns down or is swept away in a flood, our response – whether we’re generous to help or not – is as much governed by our own assessment of their worthiness as by their need.

Jesus makes it clear to his listeners and to us: tragedy strikes where it strikes.  We are not to blame for being murdered; we are not to blame when a tower falls down on our heads.  And neither is God.

But, says Jesus, that is not to say that we are not to blame for anything.  For we are responsible for one thing, and one thing only: our own lives lived.

Jesus’ call to repent is heard by some as a warning about the waiting fires of hell: get busy or worse will happen to you!

Others hear a clarion call to life in all its fulness.

What I hear lies somewhere in between, perhaps.  I hear Jesus saying that all things, all creatures have their time.  And that time has a purpose: fruit bearing.  We’re an orchard and it’s our job to behave as the trees we are.  If we don’t, well, the fact is we’re no longer trees – we’re something, but not trees.

Jesus’ words are a reminder that so long as we live, choice remains before us.  And his challenge is that we choose well.  And if we choose well, if we ‘choose’ to inhabit God, the fruit, the evidence in lives changed, will come.

In effect, Jesus says, “It’s not such a mystery: just look at your own life.  If it’s looking pretty barren just now, why don’t you spend some time with me?  Why don’t you just relax into me?  Why don’t you quit worrying about what everyone else thinks?  Why don’t you stop worrying all together?  And instead of worrying, why not just chill out with me?  Instead of making all those vows to change, why don’t you just be with me – change will come – I promise.  Why not give God time a try?”

Jesus says explicitly elsewhere in Luke that God is the God of the living.  God is about the business of life.  It’s God’s very purpose, if you will.  And God focus is a force to be reckoned with.  So if our purpose centers on not-life, God will not be thwarted.  If we reject God-life, God-life will nevertheless flourish.

Be the tree or be the mulch.  Either way, life will come.

A character in the novel Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace, a wise man sought out by a young man for advice when the young man is suffering greatly, observes, “The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you.”

The Truth isn’t finished with us yet.  We are all works in progress.  So long as there is life in us, there is work to be done.  Our problem is that we think the work is ours.  Not so.  The work is God’s.  And it is mighty.

It is the work that can turn a tired back into a giant strong enough to walk a sick child into the night.  It can take a broken heart and turn it into an inspiration for another wounded soul.  It can take a selfish heathen like me and make a preacher.

The work of God in our lives is never finished.  There is always pruning and more pruning.  And pruning hurts like the dickens, because, you see, The Truth is far from finished with us.

And oh, what good news that is.

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Tree That Forgot Its Name

This parable is my weak attempt to make sense of Luke 13.6-9 (the parable of the fig tree that bore no fruit).

Long ago, there was a lone tree in the orchard.  It was very old and very tall.  Its branches were gnarled and its bark dark and weird looking.  The other trees gave it wide berth.  They were afraid of this tree, for it had been many years since it had born fruit – so many years, in fact, that neither it nor its fellow trees could even remember what kind of tree it was, for as everyone knows, trees are named for their fruit.

The tree was so great in size that its lowest branches could not be reached by even the tallest man or even the tallest man standing on the shoulders of the tallest man.  And so the tree, a little proud, it must be said, of its longevity and its great size, had stopped thinking long ago about fruit.  The tree hadn’t ever decided to stop being fruitful; it just forgot that it could.  It was a very tired tree and the work of being a tree just seemed too hard.

So when the sun shone, it seldom lifted its branches or turned its few leaves to the life-giving warmth.

When the rains came, it sipped from the surface, but didn’t bother to send its roots deep for the thirst-quenching drink it needed to badly.  It had been so long, in fact, that the tree forgot that it was even thirsty.

The tree didn’t know it, but it was slowly starving itself to death.

And its roots were so close to the surface that a slight wind would have toppled it easily.  If anyone tried to point that out to the tree, it just said oh well.

One day a master gardener came to tell the owner of the orchard what to do with all his trees.  When it came to the great tree in the middle, the owner wanted to cut it down to make room for more, for better, trees.  But the gardener said, “Give me a year and let’s see what I can do with her.”  The owner agreed.

So the gardener went and got a very tall ladder and some pruning shears.  But the first thing he did was soak the ground around the tree with water – so much water that the tree had to drink.  Then he mixed in some good soil and built up a mound around the tree; and the tree ate from the good dirt.  The tree felt better than she had in years.  She even lifted a branch or two towards the sun.  But the gardener knew he had more work to do and so he climbed the ladder with his shears and began to cut back the many dead and dying branches on the tree.  The tree did not like this one little bit: it hurt – a lot.  Every branch cut away caused her to shout out in pain.  But the gardener kept cutting and cutting and cutting.  By the time he was done, Tree looked like a little school boy with a bad haircut.

Fall and winter passed and finally, spring came again.  And a funny thing happened: leaves burst out from Tree’s trunk and from the few branches that gardener had left.

Tree didn’t decide to have new leaves.  They just came.  Because when a tree has water and good soil and good sun, leaves and branches grow.  It just happens, because that’s how Creator made it to happen.

And it didn’t happen right away, but Tree did finally bear fruit again – and no one in the orchard was more surprised than her when it happened.  One day there was a wind and with the wind, things began to drop from the tree – hard things – so hard that on their way down to the ground, they sometimes hit the other trees who shouted out hey!

The hard things that fell to the ground were mostly eaten by squirrels and deer and the other critters who lived in or visited the orchard.  But some of the hard things weren’t eaten.  Some of them buried themselves into the ground and then, when the sun and the rains came, they sprouted into (can you guess?) . . . little oak trees.

When Tree looked down and saw them, she was very pleased to have some company, for she had been alone for a very long time.  The first one she saw, in fact, made her cry, for she had forgotten what it was not to be alone in the orchard.

That was a very good day indeed, the day Tree again bore fruit and again knew itself to be oak.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Jesus Tasted of Olives Today

The communion bread today tastes of olives.

Literally the sensation on my tongue is the subtle olive brine of the very best olive you’ve ever eaten.

I sit, facing forward, put the bit of cracker/wafer-like bread in my mouth and almost draw back at the surprise of it.  I study it on my tongue.  I smile at the surprise.  And then I taste the sand – that tiny bit of grit . . . and the ever-present sunshine of the desert.

That’s what Jesus tasted like today – like olives and sand and desert sun.

I don’t think I was getting a secret message to decode.

I think I was getting a gift.  And it was just what I needed even though I didn’t know I needed it.  And I was grateful and glad – so, so glad.

For today, Jesus tastes of desert sun and sand and olives . . . and it is good.

Friday, March 1, 2013

I Am Gruntled

Today I have decided to be gruntled.

“What?” you ask, and rightly so.

There is no such word as ‘gruntled.’  There used to be.  We English speakers all know the grammar rule:

word + dis- = not the word

So if I can be disgruntled (displeased, upset, unhappy), surely I can be gruntled.

Turns out I used to could.  But not longer.  Back in the 1400's, I could gruntle (to utter a little or low grunt Entymology, which apparently indicated satisfaction or pleasure).  But no more, as the main word from which disgruntle was formed has fallen out of usage.  I guess with our many and pervasive civilizing influences, we no longer grunt our pleasure – or we shouldn’t, so best not to speak of such things.

But here’s the thing that captured my attention: googling for synonyms for the word happy, the first response that came up was synonyms for sad – expert info on depression.

Now that’s enough to make one depressed, isn’t it?

Searching for words to express ‘happy’, the google gods decide I’m probably depressed and sad.


It would be funny – if it weren’t.

The good news is I finally found 48 synonyms for happy.  Thesarus with ‘only’ 46 for sad.  I’m happy, glad (a synonym for happy, so I confess to redundancy) that ‘happy’ edges out ‘sad’ on synonyms.

In fact, I’m gruntled.