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;

and

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

AFTERNOON TEA ON GOOD FRIDAY 2015

Certainties

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.

That
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.

--amk

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

First Cup: HOLY TUESDAY

“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 feet...you 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
filled—stigma.

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.
—Rumi


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!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Late at night: My Top Ten Book List for 2014:

The following list is in no particular order; it is a list of books I read during 2014. They impressed me or moved me or provoked me or assured me or taught me or reminded me. They are all worthy of your attention, I believe. For the most part, the comments are brief snippets from my sometimes longer comments and reviews that you will find on Goodreads.

Embrace the Unforeseen by Dennis Plies • Even if you don't know Dennis Plies, a professor of music and jazzist at Warner Pacific College, this is a remarkable book--thoughtful and hopeful, it invites the reader to go on a journey of enlightenment. Enlightenment is defined as living open to the universe, holding loosely and lovingly those ideas and practices we hold dear, with a significant expectancy that the life of faith will always bring newness into a pilgrim's life. If you do know Dennis Plies, then, you will want to read this.

Leading From Within, Poetry That Sustains the Courage to Lead, and Teaching With Fire, Poetry That Sustains the Courage to Teach, Sam M. Intrator and Megan Scribner, eds. • Both of these poetry collections (with commentary) are rich with beautiful selections—some old that I’ve treasured for years or longer and some very new to me (but now becoming familiar companions. Worthy reads for anyone interested in understanding leadership, teaching, or poetry.

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, A Righteous Gentile vs. The Third Reich by Eric Metaxas • I’m aware that this book has played to mixed reviews (and sometimes I understand that), yet I found it an engrossing and challenging read. It helped me to understand and fill in some important gaps in my understanding of Bonhoeffer, the church in Germany before and during the war, the rise of the Confessing Church--and most importantly the process that brought Bonhoeffer to the participate in the various efforts to undermine and defeat Hitler and his abhorrent Reich.

The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman • Powerful...relentless...mesmerizing...want to avert your eyes but cannot...even though the end was known, could not keep from reading. an amazing wonderfully awe inspiring homage to the human spirit against insurmountable odds--the power of mother love and the refusal to be bound or defined by gender, culture, set dogma. Grateful that there are such book in the world.

The Great Bridge, The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge by David McCullough • Such a great large great book! More information than I would ever need (or want) to know about one of the most amazing construction projects in our history--perhaps world history. A celebration of the creative intelligence of thoughtful men and women. A tour de force reflection on a particular heroic epoch. I'm very glad I read it; I am very glad I have at last finished it.

Neither Wolf Nor Dog, On Forgotten Roads with an Indian Elder by Kent Nerburn • One if those can't put down but want it to go on forever. Moving and challenging. My responses were all over the place: Laughter. Jealousy. Crying. Defensive. Guilt. Dan is a great character. Nerburn's honesty and vulnerability are very impressive.

A Hidden Wholeness, The Journey Toward An Undivided Life by Parker J. Palmer • As always, Palmer challenges me at some of the deepest levels of my life and vocation. A thoughtful, creative, illuminative philosophical, "how to" book that everyone engaged in working with people—teachers, pastors, social workers, managers—should read and contemplate. It is a distinctly compassionate book that invites us to think about the power of trust in relationship, the practicality of love as a way of life, how to live peacefully and holistically in a world that constantly seeks to divide and conquer--to keep us apart from our true selves so that we make little difference and the profoundly entrenched arrogance of powerful people is allowed free rein (reign). (A second read.)

To Serve Them All My Days by R. F. Delderfield • A remarkable novel. A clear evocation of an era long gone by; sentimental in the best sense of that word—honest about what matters, valuing it, and figuring out how to live in it. The story takes place between two wars, the first and the second--the big ones, as they are often characterized--and follows the career of a veteran of the first who comes to this lonely outpost for healing. He finds himself here—a teacher‚ and grounds himself. It is a nostalgic book; at times, a very sad book--I read often with tears in my eyes, especially as I neared the end.


A couple of others that would belong in a best 12 books:

Wild, From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed • There are moments in this book of sheer agony—deep physical and spiritual pain. There are moment of such great beauty that I found myself holding my breath until I was aware I was in need of oxygen. There are moments of such truthfulness in this book that I was almost embarrassed to be looking over her shoulder—even though, clearly, I was welcome. I’m too old, I imagine, to hike this trail, although I’ve been on parts of it around Mt. Hood and further north on the Washington side of the Bridge. This book makes me want to pull on my big boots and head out—even as it warns me away.

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry • How I ever missed this, I’ll never figure out, but I am so grateful to Sam Collins for loaning it to me. A wonderfully funny and terribly sad story. Characters are strong and real and vital. The view of the West and its impact on people is both moving and frustrating. It is rich with local color; the language is vernacular and, at times, cringe worthy, but reflective of the terrible ideas and attitudes about people, especially first peoples. I found myself moved to tears at times and, finally, experienced a deep loss as wonderfully human men and women struggled against the wideness of the world, marveling at the generosity of some, the cussedness of others, and the deep, damned meanness of a few. What a wonderful book!

For Whom the Bells Tolls by Ernest Hemingway • I thought this was going to be a re-read but, no; once I began to read, I realized that I'd never read this one. I’ve seen the movie so many times that I think I just assumed I’d read it. Glad I found it.

Monday, December 8, 2014

First Cup: Last entry: Thinking theologically

Second steps: Theologically informed—

For me, the truth is that we need to think carefully and theologically about all this. In fact, I think the task I am really talking about is a theological task. It is a task that assumes something about who we are as persons, who our students are as persons, the imago dei, the Trinity, relationships, sacred text, the role of the Spirit—all of which we often bundle in the phrases Christian and Christ-centered. Personally, I think it is the operative qualifier; it qualifies each of the following statements of the mission: Christ centered is a discrete and a pervasive description: Not only one but also all; not only liberal arts but also Christian or Christ centered liberal arts…. What in the heck does that any of that actually mean?

• In one of the most thoughtful, troubling, and hopeful books I’ve ever read (Brueggeman, Walter. (1986). Hopeful imagination. Prophetic voices in exile. Philadelphia: Fortress Press), Walter Brueggeman invites us to think about re-imagination. He’s talking about prophets, truth, and the people of God and asking how hope returns. I think what he writes relates to the time in which we live and work and move and have our being. As I said, I think our task, together, is finally a theological one.

Brueggeman invites us to remember that [biblically, newness always] “grows out of the memory of Israel…not [out of] personal invention. Rather these poets probe and mine the tradition in ways that cause the old tradition to articulate a newness…” (p 2). I think this defines our task.

“These poets [prophets] not only discerned the new actions of God that others did not discern, but they wrought the new actions of God by the power of their imagination, their tongue, their words. New poetic imagination evoked new realities in the community…” (p 2). I think this defines our task.

“…[creating] hope for a community so deeply in crisis that it might have abandoned the entire enterprise of faith” (p 3). I think this defines our task.

He believes that “The reception of a new world from God is also under way in our time.… It is apparent in the staggering, frightening emergence of new communities, which we experience as revolutionary, with dreams of justice and equity. Those dangerous emergences are paralleled by dreams of justice and mercy in our culture that dare to affirm that old structures may be transformed to be vehicles for the new gifts of God. Thus we are at the risky point of receiving from God what we thought God would not give, namely a new way to be human in the world” (p 6). I think this defines our task--and our hope.

[But] “Our vocation is to relinquish and receive [that which] cut through every dimension of life, for such moves entail nothing less than dying in order to be raised to new life” (p 7). I think this defines our task.

[And, finally,] “My sense is that the ministry of the American church [read, Christian higher education; read the name of your own school] is in many ways fatigued and close to despair. That is so because we are double-minded. On the one hand, we have some glimpses of the truth of God’s gospel of relinquishment and reception, and we see where it may lead us in terms of social reality. On the other hand, the church [read, Christian higher education; read the name of your own school] is so fully enmeshed in the dominant values of our culture that freedom of action is difficult. In any case, it is evident that ministry [read, Christian higher education; read the name of your own school] will be freed of fatigue, despair, and cynicism only as we [read the name of your own school] are able to see clearly what we are up to, and then perhaps able to act intentionally. Such intentionality is dangerous and problematic, but when and where the church [read, Christian higher education; read the name of your own school] acts with such freedom and courage, it finds the gift of new life is surprisingly given…” (7). I think that could define our outcome.

Can we do this? If you’ll pardon my intentional plagiarism, “Yes, we can.” I’ve seen it before; there is no reason to think that it cannot happen again. If we care enough, we can. If not—well, we won’t.