Wednesday, July 30, 2014

First Cup—"The None Zone"

It’s been over a year since Judy and I have been regularly in church. With the exception of a few trips to River Street Church of God in Newburg and visits to Park Place in Anderson, we have been trying to sort out what our relationship to the church is. It’s an odd place to be; I tell friends that “We’ve joined the ‘None-zone,’" which for those who don’t know is a peculiarly Northwestern state of mind: there are more folks who check the none box on surveys about religious affiliation in the northwest than folks who check one of the usual boxes.

In an article in The Christian Century, dated 12/2/08, Amy Frykholm noted: “The region is sometimes called the None Zone, based on the fact that in a 2001 poll (the American Religious Identification Survey) 63 percent of Northwesterners said that they were not affiliated with a religious group—compared to 41 percent of Americans as a whole who made that statement. And 25 percent of Northwesterners claimed to have no religious identity—compared to a national figure of 14 percent.”

Now, this is an odd place to be. After all, I am a child of the church; for better and worse, the church has been my mother. Significantly more often than not, I’ve been in church on Sunday mornings. In my childhood, way more often than that since I grew up in a home where the church was our primary gathering place—our social as well as our religious life. I often heard my father say that when the doors of the church are open, we are there. Only once before, intentionally, did we absent ourselves from church, but that was years ago and under largely different circumstances.

Furthermore, I am a churchman. Most of my adult life I’ve worked in and for an agency of the church—Warner Pacific College, Warner Press, the Board of Christian Education, and Church of God Ministries. Not only has the church been crucial in my development as a follower of Jesus, it has given me most of my important relationships—and it has given me a paycheck.

Because of a difference in how we were responding to a particular situation in a particular place, Judy and I decided to take the summer off—last summer, that is. We were going to be traveling a great deal that summer and because we had seriously different answers to what we should do about it, a Sabbath from Sabbath seemed appropriate. Well, as I said, that was a year ago. We are still in the “none zone.” And still uncertain of what to do.

I can’t go into much detail about what brought about the change because I don’t want to hurt friends and colleagues who might read this, but our struggle seems to revolve finding a home. It may be helpful to put this in the larger context of our move back home where, for the most part, we continue to feel displaced. Displaced is a good word; outsider is another. Sometimes we think it was a mistake to return to Portland; for me, that feeling goes away when I am with my great grandson, hiking along a trail on our way to Larch Mountain or cuddling, cuddling on the couch, or exploring the nearby pond. But it doesn’t go away for good.

It is not a bad place to be, this “none zone.” I’m not sure how I would have survived last year if I’d not had Sunday mornings to recharge and, yes, work on the Sabbath, grading papers and so forth. When church leaves you frustrated or angry or saddened, it is probably better to be away. (As I wrote that last sentence, I thought—no, Arthur, you know that’s not true.) Yet, Judy and I continue to be in a place where we cannot agree. Part of the struggle is that our own spiritual journeys took us to different answers—neither is wrong and both are good. What is good for the goose is not good for the gander.

So, what now? In Let Your Life Speak, Palmer writes about waiting for "way to open." I like that. It makes sense and seems to fit with the space we are in. Our “none zone” space is not empty or mindless space; it is open and active space. It is anticipatory space. My friend, Lori Taylor, might describe it as liminal space—threshold space. We are neither here nor there. We are in between and that is a comfortable, uncomfortable, and discomforting place to be—it is a place of discernment.

On Sunday mornings, you’ll find me with the lectionary. On some Sunday mornings, you’ll find us watching a DVD of worship at Park Place. Often you’ll find us yearning for fellowship with other Jesus followers. I have not abandoned the church; I have not given up on God; I hope for way through this and, therefore, continue to wait of way to open. It seems that way has closed. I do not struggle with guilt about this; I do not feel it is a faithless place to be—quite the opposite of that. Yet, still, on tiptoes, waiting to see what opens—this is, I think, finally a most faithful place to be (even if I do say so myself).

Monday, June 2, 2014

Morning Joe--very late at night

A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson—

There was an older English couple, the Claytons, who lived around the corner from us in Santa Ana. I don’t actually know how old they were; as a child, I thought of them as very, very old. She was deaf and very kind. He was big and gruff; I think I was afraid of him, although I had little to do with him. They had a kumquat tree at the back of the house on the side, and I loved to eat kumquats. There was an old car parked in the backyard; it was her knitting room and, I suppose, didn't run. But it had a roomy back seat and she and I often were there.

I didn’t do much talking; she couldn’t hear me. (I think it had something to do with bombs and England.) But she was a talker and I was always a good listener. She loved the poetry in A Child’s Garden of Verses. She knew many—perhaps most of them—by heart and would recite them from memory. I loved the Englishness of her voice and the Englishness of the verses. Sitting in the backseat of that old touring car was like sitting in an English garden. Quiet, the clicking of her needles, surrounded by lovely flowers, the kumquat tree, and Mrs. Clayton. And her soft voice. That’s all she ever was to me—Mrs. Clayton; I remember his name was Harry. I knew that because that’s what my dad called him when he would bring the over or under filled five gallon containers of ice cream to our huge garage freezer.

One day she gave me a copy of it. I had it for years and don’t know what happened to it. It was a birthday present, I think. She inscribed it. I don’t know what happened to the Claytons either. The cover pictured here is, I’m pretty sure, the cover of my book. The illustration is the lovely art of another child’s world by Jessie Wilcox Smith. I loved that world and wanted to live there.
But it was my first real introduction to poetry. This poem in particular—"Foreign Lands." There is a larger world; someday I'll see it; perhaps, someday I'll live in such places. The poems, the art work, the Clayton’s garden, the old car and Mrs. Clayton’s voice—magical and never forgotten. Something inside awoke there, and I am ever grateful for it.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

First Cup: Easter 2014

A Song in Two Parts

Part 1: “Behind locked doors for fear…”

It was a day like any other day:
The sun rose; the sky turned blue and
The day hot. What little breeze there was
Was too little, not enough. Except:
He was gone. A great void opened up
Underneath and within and there were
No longer words to speak. The one
So at the heart of their lives, the one around
Whom all they did and thought and said
Revolved was dead and buried.
Their center gone. It was
A day like any other but a day so dark and
Empty that it was a day unlike any day.
No one noticed that the sun rose:
Their darkness profound. All his words
Forgotten. No one noticed the risen sun,
The blue sky or the heat for all had gone
Dark and cold. No one noticed the breeze
So adrift were they in the desert of their loss.

Part 2: “Two of them were on their way….”

It was a day like any other day:
The sun rose; the sky turned blue and
The day hot. What little breeze there was
Was too little, not enough. Except:
He walked along side them, although
So lost in their loss they did not see.
They found words for their pain; they
Found words for the void that encompassed
Their profoundly shifting ground. They were
Headed out, away, uncertain.
It was a day like any other day:
The sun rose; the sky turned blue and
The day hot. What little breeze there was
Was too little, not enough. Except: there
He was, breaking bread, opening eyes.

—Easter 2014, amk

Friday, April 18, 2014

First Cup: Poetry Friday


Stunted. Branches gnarled
like an old man’s arthritic fingers.
Exposed to gorge winds. Dead.
It sounds dead: Dried needles rasp
against each other.

Yet, at the tips: green.

—amk, 2014

Sunday, March 30, 2014

First Cup—Evangelicals, Bullies, and Swirlies…

This blog began a few days ago right after discovering the ongoing Facebook discussion about World Vision’s decision to not discriminate against Christian same sex married employees—and, then, sadly, its decision to run away from that cliff. My initial thought was this: I’m getting one step closer to completely disassociating myself from the label Christian. (I gave up on evangelical a long time ago because of its rampant, ahistorical misuse.) I know there are some who already think I have abandoned the faith and are neither surprised nor shocked by such a decision. There may be a few out there who are thinking—well, good riddance; he’s been messing up the purity of the faith for years.

Why might I do this? Well, some of the reasons:

The continuing confusion between faith and politics. I grew up relatively apolitical; my church was never sure how to be involved in politics. It was, I think, for us more personal and less political—we voted our conscience. We thought politics a necessary evil, at best, because it tended to subvert the gospel, tending to create division rather than unity. Now, apparently, Christians think it is the primary forum for communicating the Good News.

The continuing confusion about how what matters to us gets turned into what matters to Jesus and not the other way around. In the lectionary this week, the Gospel reading shows Jesus criticized for working (aka healing) on the Sabbath. He cannot be from God because he broke the Sabbath by forming dirt into mud and giving sight to a blind man. All Christians are more or less guilty of proof texting—that is, reading texts from our own perspective—and we tend to think that the way I read the text is, in fact, the biblically correct one. I’m honest enough to confess that I struggle with this. Yet, this biblically based certainty about so many things that Jesus is silent about—and our apparent inability to consider our lives in the world in the context of how Jesus lived in the world, reducing it to, well, what follows...

The continuing confusion that insists that the USA is a Christian nation, founded on Christian principles, by Christian founding fathers. I’ll not say more here except, well, only if one puts a fairly broadly Enlightenment spin on the label Christian.

The continuing confusion about replacing serious theological discourse with sloganeering and jingoism and blame. Intelligent, thoughtful discourse (the kind we see throughout the Christian scriptures) about what matters is very nearly a lost art.

The continuing and confusing ways we make decisions that protect us while damaging and disrupting others—even society in general. One has only to consider the vast exodus of Christians from public schools over the last decades for one (not so) pretty devastating example of this.

For the record, Judy and I are not contributors to World Vision; we do support Children of Promise, the child sponsorship program of the Church of God (Anderson, IN), our denomination. But I think the decision that the first WV made was reasonable and thoughtful and clearly in keeping with their mission. I wonder how many people read the carefully reasoned statement about why they were doing this—as an expression of their mission and their historical relationship with a variety of denominations and communions. I think the decision to take money away from children in the name of Jesus is, well, simply wrong. Jesus said something about hurting children, millstones, and drowning. (And I do hope that those now offended, angry, or saddened about its reversal will not choose to behave in the same ways that its attackers did.)

And, now, we’re going viral about a movie—Noah!

If I remember correctly Christians were first named Christian by the people who watched them (Acts 11:26); apparently their behavior was such that others associated their compassionate and generous behavior with Jesus.

Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. (Acts 2:43-47 NRSV)

In this narrative, Christian is not a political label, and I don’t think it was meant to be derisive. I think it was a response to how these followers of Jesus lived: "These people are apparently not going away; what shall we call them?" In that spirit, therefore, I choose to label the current crop of “evangelicals” (which, last time I checked, has something to do with Good News) “bullyvangelicals” in keeping with their behavior, which I see as bullying, threatening, intimidating, crass, and finger pointing—the ecclesiastical equivalent of “swirlies.” Somewhere the Good News is lost in favor of some new kind of religio-political correctness.

This leaves me with a problem, however: What will I call myself? I’m not sure. Some now like to say, “I’m a follower of Jesus.” I think I understand why they say that, and I’d like to say that, but it seems presumptuous. I’ve said that; I want to be that but am not sure that I have the ethos to do so. I’ve always thought of myself as a pilgrim, trying to live on a journey of discovery open to the call of God in Christ in my life—waiting for way to close and way to open. Perhaps that’s it—pilgrim. But I guess it finally doesn’t matter what I call myself; it is about what others see in me and my living and loving (a scary proposition), and, finally, God’s grace.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Second cup—Poetry Friday

It's been a while since I've posted any of my poetic musings; it's been a dry spell brought on by too much of nearly everything. Lately, I've been thinking a great deal about what I do in the classroom--what am I really doing there.

Liberating Professors

“If you are not here faithfully among us,
you are causing terrible damage.”

Where are you? How did you get here?
On whose back? On whose shoulders?
Did you get here playing by the rules?
Subverting the rules? Bending the rules?

Did you arrive by bus, train, by straight road or
mountain path or, trackless, cross-country?
Did you arrive by grabbing hold and
refusing to let go or by letting go, fearful,
of the fall? Did you arrive alone
or in the company of a friend or teacher.
Perhaps a company of pilgrims?

I suspect no one who traveled well traveled here alone.
My guess is we’ve traveled with companions
more than by ourselves. My guess is no one would
or could arrive here alone. My story clearly suggests
this. However tall I may stand, it is always on the shoulders
of giants, Christophers, who carried me across rivers.

If not well, that is, alone, something
is wrong, something stunted. Deformed. We are
not simply alone but lonely. Maybe frightened.
Imposing our loneliness and pain on others
we bang into, accidentally or on
purpose, damaging others in our care.

Remaking others in our image more than,
Virgil like, guiding persons out of their personal
hell through purgatory to their own Beatrice.

We have a language; it defines us as greater than,
more authoritative. Our jargon—insider language—
and the assumptions/attitudes that say clearly
but without words: be like me.
Use my language (for Christianizing Indians.
For uninvited immigrants.) My language.
My vocabulary. My tone.

I wonder. What do we really teach?

—amk (3/28/14)

Saturday, March 8, 2014

A late afternoon post--several cups gone...

Mary and the Franciscan Renewal Center—

In the mid-90s my life seemed to be spiraling out of control. I was at the top of my game; I was asked to lead the operational life of the College in a time of great risk; I was emotionally on edge and physically not well. The job was demanding but not impossible, but my health complicated my ability to sustain its demands.

The deeper struggles were spiritual. I was out of sorts and my journey with God had grown cold in face of the challenges of my life—it seemed to me that God was on sabbatical. (Yes, I know, and knew then, God doesn’t do that; but it is one way to characterize my state of being. It is how it felt.) But, like so many of us, I chose to address a deeper spiritual problem by ignoring it and pretending it was something else. So off to the medical doctor. I spent a great deal of time at Kaiser with a Dr. Kono who was a very good and caring doctor—he took me seriously and resolved to find out what was wrong and fix it. Just the kind of doctor we all want. His methods were exhaustive and exhausting. I’m fairly confident that all orifices of my body were probed, every piece of equipment available to him was used, and every possible kind of test was administered. (He did find an insufficiency of thyroid and did correct that.)

The wake up call began about the third of my on going weekly visits when the good doctor asked me a set of questions; he asked the same questions again the next visit; then, the next. I admit I am slow on the uptake and finally asked why these same questions week after week? His initial response was “hospital protocol.” “Protocol?” “Yes.” “Protocol for what and why now?” Here’s the alarum bell: “Protocol for persons who might be suicidal.”


I don’t think I was; I think I’m too much of a coward. But it was a very loud alarm. What to do? Clearly I needed help; where was I to go? I needed someone and I was pretty clear that it needed to be someone who did not know me, know about me—and did not know the Church of God or Warner Pacific College. I won’t go into all of that except to say that I had a fairly profound sense that if I were clinically depressed—and I’m pretty sure I was—that some (or a great deal) of the cause of that was tied up in all of above.

I remembered a colleague in chapel at WPC talking about his own journey with spiritual direction; I thought my problem was spiritual—or at least had deep spiritual roots. I had some limited—and as it turned out narrow—understanding of direction. It fit my sense of what I didn’t want and had the lure of something new. So I called and asked to speak to the spiritual director at the Franciscan Renewal Center, in the West Hills of Portland, near Lewis and Clark College.

One of the most important phone calls I have ever made. It saved me.

As a result of that call, I met Sister Mary Smith, a diminutive, tough, feisty, and lovely “Clare”—a Franciscan sister. Mary was a trained and gifted director. I wrote a poem about her that hints at who she was to me:


she walks within a light
from within, without;
inviting others to the Light
and their light
from within, without.

a gentle light, soft, hinted at
playful light, daring across and
around, highlight

she treads lightly along
the darkling paths—
a companion of seekers and
journeyers lost among mazes
of their own construction,
hidden from others
hidden from self,

and provides a threaded way
out of worn and weary
torturous labyrinth
like another Mary she
opens wide a heart light to
the mysterious God whose
darkness is light
births new life
where sterility and formless
chaos holds sway:

let it be
to me
according to your word.

—Advent, 1993

For nearly a year and a half, I met with Mary in her cozy, private, relaxing, incensed space with a view of hydrangea and trees and grass. It was a holy space. She asked me what I hoped for; I told her about the genuine, loving little boy I was before the “prison house” of my own egotisticdefensiveintentionalharmful choices closed about me. I told her about the boy who knew no strangers but who chose to become an alien. I told her about the boy who, for all kinds of reasons, grew into an adolescent who never felt he belonged anywhere and, upon reflection, never had anyone around to help him find his own way. The boy who chose the wrong path to individuation and, now, ironically, felt trapped in every other person’s expectations. I said, I want to get back to that boy. The journey took a long time. Honestly, it is still not over—I still struggle with the who am I question and still seek recognition and reward in unhealthy ways.

But, I am no longer determined by those desires. I know what they are and can name them, call them out, and dismiss them (well, usually, dismiss them). Mary’s tender loving companionship, her “simple” questions—and her willingness to simply let me sit and cry, sometimes she just held me as I sobbed unable to put feelings into any other kind of “words.”

Few days go by that I do not remember Mary, think of her fondly, miss the visits, and pray for her. I do not know where she is, but wherever--and I do mean wherever--she is changing life for the better.