Saturday, September 19, 2015

Third Cup....

(written two days ago and only now published)

It's been a long morning already, and it's only 9:30 am. Jaydyn woke up shortly after I did at 6 am and wanted to get up. Wouldn't be encouraged to sleep a bit longer and so my ohsonecessary quiet time was lost. Such an approach-approach conflict! Spend time with him: spend time with coffee. Both high values in my life, but, yes, I chose wisely (or perhaps lovingly); I chose him, which lead to bath time and ninja warrior time and finally off to school for him and me....yes, I did get my coffee and so the integrity of this blog remains intact.

What's on my mind this morning? Ohsomuch. Thinking about the world we live in, the students I journey with, and the college/mission I still get to serve--a perfect combination for me.

The chaos of the world--hardly need to elaborate, do I? Never at peace, it seems shalom is farther away than ever. I wonder if there is any place on earth where it is, even briefly? I wonder what is meant by the evocative phrase “the reign of God”? The world is challenged at nearly every point and sometimes feels that it is falling to pieces. Here and abroad, we struggle with neighbors and strangers and fundamental human need/desperation at every turn. The period of time might best be labeled: "To wall or not to wall." Germany tears walls down and opens borders and then, in the country of The Wall, begins to talk again as if walls might be good; Hungary builds walls to close out; Croatia says we are open and then, oops, nope, we are closed. The US build walls to, what, close us in or keep others out? I vote for tearing them down or, at least, creating larger openings—but who is interested in what I have to say?

The pleasure of my students--
As anyone who reads my peripatetic blog knows, I'm in my early 70s. They also know that I am still able, willing, and allowed to teach. An amazing gift to me--to live out my calling at a time when many think I should be settling down somewhere and waiting for what? Godot? The grim reaper? Jesus? Don't know but I'm not settling down somewhere, and I'm grateful that I don't have to. Instead, I get to be with young and not so young men and women at crucial times in their lives that are, more or less, eager to learn and allow me to sit with them and enjoy the pleasure of their company. And, what do I teach: I teach about neighbors and strangers and fundamental human need/desperation--and how to tear down walls. Tear down the personal walls that separate us from the closest strangers; tear down walls from the anonymous neighbor; tear down the internal walls that we erect, we hope, to keep our own internal chaos at bay--and that keep us from knowing the most intimate stranger: ourselves. Pretty damn amazing!

What's even more amazing is that I am welcomed into the lives of these student/persons! I'm allowed/invited to know them and to speak into their lives. Better still I get to hear the stories they carry and watch the stories they are writing. These stories, oh, my Lord, are stories of such power and pain and joy and bitterness and anger and love and exclusion and inclusion--the list is endless. I'm allowed to laugh and cry with them as they embrace and tell and reflect on their stories--and to help them to grow with and through those stories. Sometimes I even get to be co-author. I am so fortunate I can barely speak at times. So grateful. So very, very grateful.

The focus of a mission--And on top of all that I get to serve in an institution that owns and lives out of a mission that not only allows me to engage in these ways but holds me accountable to doing so. A real mission. A lived mission. A thoughtful mission. It says that I get to follow Jesus in my work and life and with my students--to bring Jesus into the classroom and say welcome. Not in any prescribed or proscribed sense, but in the same sense, I think, that Jesus himself walked into the lives of the folks he encountered and said, "Come, follow me." In class, yesterday, we were listening to reports on various aspects of the human condition; the one we were learning about was "curiosity." I asked, "I wonder, if we are created in God's image, if we can say God is curious?" In some places that question might be seen as absurd or even heretical: How can an omniscient God be curious--about what would that God be curious? Ha! Well, the point is, the question can be asked and we can wonder what a curious God might be like....

But, in addition to following Jesus (i.e., WPC is Christ-centered), the mission I serve also says we are urban. That is what? We are connected to the world outside the classroom. Yesterday, the campus shut down as it has for 11 years. Yes, in the third week of classes, we shut down, and a huge number of us got into vans and headed out into our urban world--our classroom--to serve. I think I heard that students, faculty, and staff were engaged in service projects in the greater Portland Metroplex at 20+ sites. I joined my co-teacher, Bill Dobrenen, our two peer mentors, Olivia and Milo, and 13 students.

We traveled to NAYA, a complex service and education entity serving Native American youth and families. (Did you know that Portland is accurately an urban reservation with nearly 40,000 Natives living here?) There we engaged in those tasks that often get overlooked because there are so many more urgent demands taking the attention of staff. Some of us cleaned out a refrigerator, recently donated, so that the food pantry to supply more than canned foods. Others stacked and sorted clothing, so that seasonally appropriate clothes can be available. Others cleaned out a space that is used for the food pantry, creating larger and cleaner space. Some engaged the outdoors, in the pouring rain, to work in the educational garden so that the students who study at NAYA can learn what they need to know about food survival and the value and importance of Native natural medicines. One person’s weed is another person’s lifeline. That, I think, may be a life principle?

Beyond the service is the joy of being with my students, engaged in serious and humorous conversations, working hard, getting dirty, ruining shoes, and generally emerging as a community that begins to understand not only in intellectual and emotional ways but also physical, dirty handed and kneed ways, what community is and how really valuable it is.

I am so fortunate and so deeply grateful!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

First Cup: If I taught….

As I walked this morning, a certain refrain kept occurring to me: “If I taught according to what I believe and what I teach….” A challenging refrain because I teach courses that are part of the Humanities Core of Warner Pacific College. These courses are, in and of themselves, challenging learning environments. They function like the backbone of the curriculum, a spine that extends from the freshman year through the senior. Depending on the entry point, all students are required to take these. I usually teach these classes in three out of four years: in the Freshman Year Learning Communities program; the two junior year courses—Spirituality, Character, and Service and Faith, Living, and Learning; and the senior capstone course, often referred to simply as Hum 410. Its title is Senior Humanities Seminar.

These courses provide a specifically mission driven set of lenses through which students engage the College’s mission—“Christ-centered, liberal arts, urban, diverse”—and convictions: “a worldview that is ethical, respectful, and promotes stewardship through acts of service; self-knowledge, integrity, and awareness of others through responsible decision making; and sensitivity to and valuing of diversity among and between persons.”

I often say to students, however, that the subject of these courses, regardless of the context and skills taught and utilized, is “you,” that is, the student him and herself. In these core courses, finally, nearly everything comes down to one question: “How, then, shall I/we live?” Whatever I believe and whatever is the content of my character, how I/we live with others in a rich and diverse world becomes the “end” of what I teach—if there can be an end in such courses. This would apply as well to me, the professor, instructor, teacher, guide, coach, mentor. Finally, what I believe and who I am must be play out in response to “How, then, shall I teach?”

This begs the question: If I taught in ways congruent with my beliefs and convictions and congruent with what I teach my students, how would I be present in those relationships both in and out of the classroom?

• I believe that God is fundamentally relational, created all persons as fundamentally relational beings, and seeks in ways too mysterious to say to be in loving relationship with all persons, yes, even the entire created order
• I believe and teach that all persons are loved by God without condition and have inherent value;
• I believe that God invites all persons to sit at God’s table without regard to status, privilege, ethnicity, sexual orientation, class, talents, skills, intelligence
• I believe all persons embody a personal narrative that has meaning and value in and of itself—and are persons who want to be heard;
• I believe all persons are on journeys of great significance and meaning—journeys of mystery and wonder and purpose;
• I believe all persons are part of a community—Ubuntu—and are who they are because of who we are

Which means:

• That I teach as a vulnerable and transparent person, practicing hospitality that invites students to learn in and live out of vulnerability and transparency
• That I spread a classroom table that is wide and accessible and expandable
• That I strive in every way I know to create community in the classroom—community that is sacred space into which all persons are welcome to the extent they are able to enter
• That I treat learners as teachers and myself as learner
• That I see my student-learners and myself as pilgrims, individually and communally, on a journey of self-discovery, other-discover, and God-discovery—and that these journeys are one journey and interwoven and inseparable
• That I enter a mutually developed covenant with my students that is mutually binding
• That I treat each student with respect, generosity, and wonder, and invite each one to treat each other with respect, generosity, and wonder
• That I listen not only to what they say but also to what they do not say
• That I practice grace and hospitality
• That I never ask student-learners to go anywhere I will not go or will not go first
• That I never take advantage of the power I have to coerce, manipulate, or shame
• That I strive to express myself in loving, personal and formational ways that contribute to the student’s own growth as a loving, personal, and forming adult
• That I pray during the development of my syllabus, pray as I teach, and as I grade; I will pray for each of my student-learners

I’m sure there is more to be said, and I know I don’t have a corner on this matter. Therefore, I invite any reader out there to add to the list. This really matters, I think. I look forward to what you might have to say.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Last Cup: Easter Night

The following prayer-poem was written for Easter 2011 and offered
at Park Place Church of God on Easter Sunday morning that year. After this good
and rich day of praise and table-ing, I offer this prayer again in
praise and thanksgiving to the God who brings us from the dead daily:

Oh astonishing God, endlessly Creator,
breaker of patterns, lover of mystery,
God who hides eggs in plain sight,
ever surprising....

You, deep, deep down in the mystery
of the darkest night of sealed and guarded rock, lit,
first, a spark, then a
flame, sudden forest fire of raging light
enough to wake the dead—O light of life,
eyes, windows of the soul,
opened and, like Bartimaeus, one blind sees.

You, deep, deep down in the dark of
sealed tomb, stagnant, fetid air, first,
stone cracks, earth stirs, then,
sudden abyss shattering quake—stone
rolls, air and light rush in
breath sucked back, returned
into the lungs on one three days dead:
new Adam.

You, life giving God, acted and one,
three days dead, "up from the grave
he arose, a mighty triumph o’er is foes..."

You, Astonishing God, on this Easter morning,
this first Sunday,
this new day dawning, this new era,
this new Eden, a world
reborn, hope reborn, despair answered, made
sure that nothing
will ever be the same again,

Crack open our self-dug tombs
roll back our self-protective stones and
let fresh air, clear light, new life
flow into our sorry hiding places

Into the deep, deep dark of our dark despair,
Into the dark, dark deep of our foolish fears,
Into the stagnant air of our self-created tombs,
Breathe, O Breath, the fresh air of your life;
Breathe, O Breath, the fresh air of your love;
Breathe, O Breath, the fresh air of your light;


Revive us again
Fill our hearts with thy love
Rekindle each soul with fire from above
Hallelujah, thine the glory
Hallelujah, amen
Hallelujah, thine the glory
Revive us again.

["Up from the Grave He Arose" by Robert Lowry;
"Revise Us Again" by William P. Mackay]

Saturday, April 4, 2015

THIRD CUP: Holy Saturday

Two reflections on this often ignored day....

Once so many generations, millennia, ago the
Angel of Death crossed the liminal divide and
how many died of the first born of a whole nation.
Death visited; an appointment, that might
have been avoided, was kept. How many died?

Later, much later, no angel this time, but armed
soldiers bearing state sponsored writ, descended
across literal space, from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.
Death visited; fear driven massacre, killing how many?
One escaped, forewarned, until

now, lowered carefully, can we say despondently,
certainly sadly, family and a few friends; he lays
across his mother’s lap as she once suckled
him, he lies beyond life. Somewhere. In a
borrowed tomb. Hastily wrapped and spiced—

conventions must be observed—the memory of
that earlier angel is still alive, and the rescue
he brought still worth remembering. Kairos:
all death joined in one death. Liminal space
created afresh and Passover now threshold,
no longer only memory,
thanks, this one time, to this one death.

+ + +++ + +

“As the waters of a lake dwindle, or as a river shrinks and runs dry,
so mortal man lies down, never to rise until the very sky splits open.
If a man dies, can he live again” (Job 14:11-2).

“You have a guard,” said [Pilate]; “go and make the grave
as secure as you can” (Matthew 27:65, emphasis mine).

One can only speculate at the soul-deep abyss
the disciples stood on the edge of, watching their
Lord and friend die—humiliating death that it was;
the reality was, “He is dead and buried.”

A dark night—a dark night of the soul.
Abandoned. Alone. Struggling with
their own perfidy, with the
Betrayal, wondering as humans do, if Judas
were the only traitor—fearful, then,
of every knock at the door behind which
they hid; "cowered" is the more appropriate word.
Apparently they didn’t even hang around to help
Joseph entomb the Body. This secret disciple
of Jesus, now more brave than the Eleven, who
goes to Pilate—he outs himself, we would say—
Let me have the Body.

Paralyzed with fear. They hide in the room
behind locked door. Probably with a password.
What did they talk of? Did they talk at all?
Perhaps sitting in corners, or at the table where,
Hours before, they ate together with him, staring,
furtive, darting glances,
recriminating looks—or did they simply stare,
deep into the darkest abyss: their souls...or into
the floor or ceiling—What now?
Did any hope linger? Were there those
fleeting, sudden flashes of light, of memory,
a heart-beating moment when a word
he spoke rose into their conscious mind—
In three days?

Friday, April 3, 2015



A poem about a cross on a certain
Day in a certain part of the world far
Removed from where the poet sits
And wonders how to write a poem
Like this. All the words that can be
Said have been said. There is no
Middle ground: either understated
Or hyperbole—but neither comes
Close to the reality of this certain cross
On a certain day in a certain part of the world
Far removed from where this poet sits.

The poet feels he should write a poem—he
Thinks a poem about what is one of the
Two or three singularly most important
Days in the history of the world; he should
Be able to write such a poem; then, he
Rabbits off about what the other events
Might be, all of which, apparently, lead
To or from this certain cross on this certain
Day—the day he sits wondering why
He is moved so far beyond adequacy
That it feels like writer’s block.

Certain cross on this certain day was
Located just outside a certain city—the
Base of that cross was set with certainty
In the grounds of a certain hill with a
Certain name. It was a certain hill
Close enough to the certain city to,
Certainly, be unavoidable. Certain
People—some, like ambulance chasers—were
Drawn there; some there with great
Purpose and others, certainly,
just doing their job;
others, casually out For a stroll
on this certain day,
just happened to see this certain cross
On which hung this certain man who,
Even in his dying, attracted attention—
Certain kinds of attention: fear, certainly;
Derision, of course; the other certain kind
Of fear—awe; a certain sense of well,
We’ve solved this problem and now we
Can get on with our business and now we
Can wash our hands and turn back to the
Certain business of empire and temple;
also, a certain sense of well, I guess that’s that—
so glad I have a fall back safety net—I go fishing.

That certain ground shook that day, rocked
The certainties of that world then and
Certainly continues to shake the rock solid
Certainties of all time and this time and
That time and this place. This poet’s heart,
certainly, shaken Beyond certainties
wondering whether it is
Even possible to write a poem about
Certainly the singularly most horrible and
Most wonderful death the world knows.


Tuesday, March 31, 2015


“This is the way in which you are to eat it: have your belt fastened, sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand, and you must eat in urgent haste. It is the LORD’S Passover” (Isaiah 12:11 NRSV). “I have set you an example: you are to do as I have done for you” (John 13:15 NRSV).

For several years, I’ve spent Holy Week with the same companion: John V. Taylor (1914–2001), once Bishop of Westchester (Church of England). Specifically, I’m spending my mornings during this week with a set of meditations that the good bishop presented in Holy Week 1986 in the chapel of the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva. The collection is titled Weep Not for Me, Meditations on the Cross and the Resurrection. It was given to me by my friend Rich Willowby and continues to be one of the most thoughtful meditational resources I’ve ever found.

This morning, March 31, Holy Tuesday, the meditation focused on “The Cross—Key to the Nature of God.” Here Bishop Taylor invited me to look closely at the crucified Christ—not the pretty—or empty—crosses of many churches. Instead he bids me gaze upon the terrible and bloody cross on which Jesus hung, bleeding and slowly choking to death, displayed in all his nakedness for the world to see and misunderstand and mock. After inviting me to spend some time at the cross, he has the audacity to quote another bishop (John Austin Baker of Salisbury): “The crucified Jesus is the only accurate picture of God the world has ever seen.” If that isn’t enough to correct the way I picture God, Bishop Taylor goes on to call my attention to the larger truth when he calls my attention to the words of Jesus at the Thursday night meal: “not so with you.”

My already challenged eyes halt gain. Wait. Jesus, the one who will soon hang on a cross, is talking to his disciples and teaching them about lordship. First, he says, the common idea of lordship is that lords lord it over those who are not lords. “Not so with you.” Kings demand royal treatment. “Not so with you.” The highest demand to be seen as the highest. “Not so with you.” The chiefs must be seen as chiefs. “Not so with you.” The authorities must be granted their authority and power. “Not so with you.” Suddenly, I am transported to Jesus who, this Thursday, will kneel before his disciples and wash their feet. There he says, “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s also should do as I have done for you…” (John 13). Then we see him before Herod and before Pilate, quiet, non assertive, disconcerting. “As I have done for you.” Then we see him before the crowd who call for his death. “As I have done for you.” Then we see him on the cross, hanging there in all his gory, beaten, pierced, bloody reality. “As I have done for you.”

I get it, Bishop. I don't like it, but I do get it. The whole world is turned upside down or, as another has said, turned right side up. “Not so with you.” If I follow Jesus, I must follow Jesus not only on the joyful journey up and out of the tomb but also on the sorrowful journey onto the cross and into the tomb. “As I have done for you.”

“If God was in Christ we have to come to terms with a God to whom it is natural to be humble, frustrated, and at risk. The coming of Jesus was a prodigious revelation that turned the previous ideas of God and of authority on their head.” (Taylor, John V. (1986). Weep Not for Me. Geneva: World Council of Churches, p 9)

Lent 2015

It’s Lent, early, Sunday, at church.
I’m walking forward, part of a double line
up the middle of the sanctuary. A double line
of diners headed to the Table.
The bread is torn.
I dip the bread into the cup and
walk to the kneeling bench, suddenly
aware that the juice drips lightly from
the torn bread onto the palm of my left hand,
Cupped beneath to catch
any sacred drip. A purple spot, raggedly
splattered; at first outlined, then

A mark, scripture says, I bear briefly
a mark of Jesus. Stigma. A sign of reproach and
shame made beautiful; might I say, made
holy by memory, by story.

A beauty spot.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Second cup of coffee

Sacred Space

In the last few years, I've begun to think differently and, I think, more intentionally about the classroom--and what goes on there. The last two years, I've started inviting my students, especially but not only, in those classes that are part of the liberal arts core of WPC, to think of the classroom as sacred space--and to invite them to enter that space with that special sense of liminality. The classroom is a place in between; a place of encounter, hospitality, welcoming and encounters--with themselves, with others, and with God. (Parker Palmer has played a huge role in helping me think this through; I still think To Know As We Are Known is one of the most important books I've ever read.)

In fact, I have asked students to literally stand at the door--outside it, inside it, and within it--to make more concrete this idea.

In the syllabus for my course, REL 320, Spirituality, Character, and Service, I have included the following in the syllabus. I hope this will help us all think and practice and welcome liminality:

If you are here unfaithfully with us,
you’re causing terrible damage.
If you’ve opened your loving to God’s love,
you’re helping people you don’t know and have never seen.

Places are sacred; they may be sacred because God shows up; they may be sacred because something happens that changes you forever; they may be sacred because you encountered beauty or love or truth—or all of the above. They may be sacred because someone you never thought you would meet is suddenly present and you are present and everything is altered. Everything is altered.

I think a classroom is sacred space; actually, specifically, I think this classroom is sacred space because of what has happened here and will happen here—because students and teachers showed up here in this room, 100s of one and 1000s of the other, and learning happened, and life happened, and truth was discovered. God was discovered. Oh, I could tell you stories. I was changed in this room; I was forever altered by what happened here and in this place and on this campus. So, here we are, in the hall, before we go in because I want you to really think about what is going to happen in there. What might happen in there. I don’t want this day or this class or this hour to be ordinary. I want it to be extraordinary—but I can’t make that happen; only we can make it happen. You see, at this point, although I know some of you, I don’t know all of you—and since we are all mysteries, there is so much more to learn. But I believe this: you are already amazing, brilliant, beautiful, intelligent, creative persons—which some of you know but perhaps not all (although I think you suspect it and might be just a little afraid about it and some of you may be ready to run away from yourself or have already done that). But I know you are not just good enough; I know you are extraordinary and that, together, you and I are capable of blowing our collective socks off this semester and make something truly beautiful—together!