The Way is Calling

This was published in the Wednesday Word, put out by the Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship. 3/28/18

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Every year this week comes up in the church calendar. The profound mystery. The very center of the Christian tradition. The heart of it all.

And because we are somehow different every year we encounter this mystery and because we are somehow the same, the text presents us with new reflection opportunities.
This year I am struck by the young man. Who was he? And why would he tell the three women to not be alarmed?
How could they possibly not be alarmed? The one they had come to tend was nowhere to be found. It is alarming.
Their whole world was turned upside down.
Maybe you’ve had moments like this. Maybe you are like the young woman I met recently who was just minding her own business, driving down the road one day. An impaired driver lost control on the other side of the road, smashed into her car and paralyzed her for the rest of her life. As she emerged from a ten day coma, she had good days and bad days, days of relief that she was alive, days of deep tears knowing that nothing would be the same. As her chaplain, I just listened to her. I held her hand. I listened to her fears and her dreams. I marveled at her resilience over time. She was alarmed, but not defeated.
The young man at the tomb performed three remarkable tasks in this story.
1. Comforting. The young man was an instrument of comfort. “Do not be alarmed.” Somehow in the moment when they could have completely panicked, he was there to stand with them. “There is more to the story than you realize. Do not panic, right this moment. There is something bigger going on. I know you want to panic right now, but trust that something greater, beyond your wildest imagination is happening underneath all of this. The story does not end here.”
2. Orienting. The young man oriented them to their surrounding. In the moment of despair, in the moment of deepest tragedy, the one thing that is universal is a sense of disorientation. The young man in this story says: “Look” and “Look again.” He says to them: in this moment, you are disoriented. You are not losing it. You are not imagining any of it. It is real. But look and look again. Feel the ground under your feet. You are exactly where you think you are, you just can’t see it in this moment. But I’m here, standing next to you. It’s real and you’re going to be ok.
3. Sending. “Go ahead, as Jesus told you.” The young man is not just there to comfort and orient, he is there to send them forth. Go ahead to Galilee. He’ll meet you there. And you’ll be reunited with your loved ones.” And the story will continue on in ways you could not possibly imagine in this moment. A new day is coming, and you won’t be able to see it now, and you couldn’t write a mission statement around it if you tried. But trust me, go, and you’ll meet a transforming love and be a part of something wondrous and amazing.
You have been the young man in your own narrative and you have been the young man to others, I am sure of it. And you have encountered, in the moment of your deepest fears and disorientation, someone who comforted, oriented and sent you to a new story, when you thought all was lost.
They were seized, nonetheless, by terror and amazement and they were afraid, but still they walked. So it is with us, as we pursue the one who was resurrected and who invites us to a story we cannot even imagine, a story of life and transforming love and renewal. Do not be alarmed: walk. The way is calling.

A rough draft: some thoughts on chaplaincy (a poem)

First, walk gently.
You’re entering into the great mystery.
Sorrow, regret, anger, grief, relief.
You never know what you’ll find.
So you may as well walk gently into that room,
which will likely be dark and quiet.

Second, talk gently.
The dead dream.
And the survivors do too.
They are in a fog,
or out to sea,
or in the deep woods.
Pick your image.
But talk gently, that mystery
will one day be you and yours.

Third, act gently.
Your gentleness
will invite whatever needs to happen
to happen.
If at all possible,
make it so the wife/husband/
mother/child
Hardly knows you are there.

Listen gently.
Listen with your eyes
and your ears
and mostly your heart.
The stories will come.
Be there to hear them.
Stories remind the wife
that she still is alive
And is alone and is not alone
all at once.

Be the Spirit
or Jesus
Or Muhammad
or the Buddha
Pick your guide and be that person.
Mary. Dorothy Day.
Thomas Merton.
It matters not.
Of course you are the best option.
So be you too.shine your light

The Temple and the Bell

I wrote this poem for my Clinical Pastoral Education (chaplaincy training program at Penrose St Francis, Colorado Springs).

February 2015

 

The Temple and the Bell

Somewhere there is a temple,

Buddhist or Christian,

on a hillside

overlooking the persistent

crashing ocean waves.

 

And in that temple is a bell.

It rings before the morning prayer.

It rings before vespers.

The monks put away their brooms,

The nuns file away their papers,

and they make their way to the chapel

to chant and to pray.

 

The sound of the bell

is the breaking through of eternity

in the everyday chores of life.

 

The sound of the bell

has lived on this hillside

for generations,

during the floods,

and when food was scarce,

and when the wars came.

 

The bell knows its work.

To signal the coming of the next thing.

To call the ones gathered to mindfulness.

To remind each one of their beat and beating heart.

To sing a song of hope and remembrance and gratitude.

To bring them back to their deepest selves.

 

You are the temple and the bell,

you help me to see the way home.

 

 

 

Cliffside-Mountain-Monasteries-Taktshang-Bhutan

Jubilee Day Prayer

hope

Jubilee Day Prayer, NAACP, Colorado Springs, Branch 4001. Roger Butts

God of many names,
God who looked upon the diversity of the world
from the very beginning
and called it good, very good,
and beautiful, very beautiful,
Bless this time.
Bless this hour.
Bless all who have ears to hear.
We shall walk together,
this year, every year,
in truth and righteousness,
in power and light
and love.
Give us strength to walk
towards justice for all,
give us a spirit of resilience
and hope,
as we proclaim that all people
in all places
have a place at the table,
that all God’s people
have a voice in the choir.
Deliver us from
this violence that has poisoned us
towards a spirit of peace.
Deliver us from tyranny,
Tyranny in our politics
Tyranny in our spirit
so that we might all be free
now and always.
Liberate us.
Bring down the haughty
and the garish and the greedy and the grim
that a spirit of joy and abundance
might claim us.
This jubilee day,
every jubilee day,
we proclaim that the captives are free
and a new world is coming, a new day is dawning.
In your many names we pray,
but mostly we pray in love and commitment
And fierce loyalty to the freeing of all the slaves
then and now and always,
Amen.hope

Ash Wednesday Reflection

colorado sunset

 

This appeared in the Wednesday Word, a publication of the UU Christian Fellowship.

Clarke Dewey Wells wrote a classic Ash Wednesday reflection in 1975: “In a world that is full of plastic smiles and cheap grace, ashes come as a kind of relief.”

Here we need not pretend.

Here we need not put on a brave face.

Here we can say: this is my heart, tattered and torn asunder.

And here is my courage, fully intact.

And here are my inner most thoughts
and here is my public face
and I’ve done what I can to make them one and the same.

I’ve failed more often than not.

So I enter into God’s grace.

I enter into God’s peace.

I silence my thoughts.

I welcome the quiet.

Put the ashes on my head.

I know one day I’ll be in a bed
tied up to oxygen,
my family all around.

Put the ashes in the form of a cross.
Cause I’ve decided, truly,
that for me, the suffering God can help.

The One who says: My shoulders are heavy,
my back aches, as we walk in the exile.

Put the ashes on my head.

One day that will be me on the bed, and the doctor
will say it is time to turn off the machines that measure
blood pressure and heart rate, and just let him peacefully go.

It is ok. Today, no fake smiles. No easy answers. No cheap grace.
Just some ashes and a friendly reminder.
From ashes to ashes. One and all.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and sin which slings so closely, and let us run with perserverance the race that is set before us. Hebrews 12.1

 

 

Day Off: Sandburg: We are all one

 

There is only one horse on the earth
and his name is All Horses.
There is only one bird in the air
and his name is All Wings.
There is only one fish in the sea
and his name is All Fins.
There is only one man in the world
And his name is All Men.
There is only one woman in the world
and her name is All Women.
There is only one child in the world
and the child’s name is All Children.
There is only one Maker in the world
and His children cover the earth
and they are named All God’s Children.

 

 

You ask why Sandburg is the poet for our time. This piece above is my reply.

He saw early on that we are all in this together. That our democracy must grow stronger and wider and ever more inviting. That our religious and ethical commitments must find a way to see the divine in all God’s people and all creation.

I was recently sitting with a group of clergy, all concerned about the common good. We kept returning to the idea that the prevailing mood in 2017 is fear and anger and resentment. A tribalism feels like it is coming on strong: nationalism and white supremacy and fear of the other.

Maybe I’ll rent a box and a megaphone. Go to the street corner and read this poem over and over. Maybe it will sink in. I need the reminder. It appears others do as well.

The great story comes to mind about Merton’s epiphany. He is on the corner of 4th and Walnut in Louisville. Amidst his longing and his deep desire for solitude, he saw all the passersby, all the people and he realized in that moment that he was one with them. That all humanity had a deep dignity and a deep beauty. Oh, I wish I could stop them and tell them, each one of them, how beautiful they are and how they shine bright as the sun.

I love this Sandburg, who reminds us of our deepest dreams and our highest ideals. That we are all one, that democracy can hold all the different types of folks, that everyone is invited to the party.

The people, yes is the title of one of Sandburg’s most well known works. The people, yes.

The people, yes. All the people. All of us in our crazy diversity, one. One. One.

Sunday with Sandburg: Jaws

It is afternoon now. My birthday. It is one of those crisp autumn afternoons. The sun is bright. The dark caramel of the leaves are rustling. The flag across at the neighbor’s house is in full flight.

Robert Frost and Jane Kenyon are in the air.

I tried to preach on Bonhoeffer a bit this morning, fairly unsuccessfully I fear. He’s the one who was a pacifist during World War I and into World War II but ended up joining the resistance against Hitler. He asked so many good questions about how to be Jesus people in a world come of age. How to act as if God wasn’t in the picture at all. And he pointed the way towards an invaluable new way of seeing things: from the perspective of the outcast, the voiceless, the marginalized, the suffering.

His big question, and the reason he is popular among evangelicals and liberals, was: who really is Christ for us today? I conclude that there are two very different responses to that, depending on if you are conservative or liberal.

For the liberal, Bonhoeffer points to solidarity with the poor, the gay and lesbian, the immigrant, the person on death row, the bullied. The widow, the orphan, the prostitute.

Those excluded from polite conversation in most churches. Bonhoeffer wanted the church to be the church in standing for those, inside and outside the walls, who were on the front lines of injustice and oppression.

For me, I see Jesus in the meth addict I met recently at the hospital, who can’t stop his mind from racing, who can’t stop picking at his scab, who probably will go home and steal from his parents who are wanting to get him help and who are letting him stay, ‘for just a while, til we can get him the help he needs.’ “I have PTSD man, I have PTSD. I don’t want to live like this any longer,” he kept telling me. I said: Let us admit you. We can get you the help you need. “Nah, man. Can’t. I gotta go.”

News comes this afternoon that those who think about such things put a war with North Korea at around 20 or 40 percent depending on the predictor. And news comes that maybe 2 dozen are dead from a shooting today in a rural church in Texas somewhere. More guns. More violence. More war.

There is a voice whispering, murmuring, “That All Might Flourish.” “There is another way. A way of life, and abundant, for all.”

Bonhoeffer, in the face of the quote unquote Jewish Question, kept saying: There is no Jew, no Gentile. No male, no female. We are all in this together. We are all one, no matter our label.

Sandburg wasn’t especially religious, but he heard that the voice calling us to peace is all too often ignored. No where is he more explicit about that than in his poem, Jaws.

 

Jaws
Carl Sandburg

Seven nations stood with their hands on the jaws of death.
It was the first week in August, Nineteen Hundred Fourteen.
I was listening, you were listening, the whole world was listening,
And all of us heard a Voice murmuring:
“I am the way and the light,
He that believeth on me
Shall not perish
But shall have everlasting life.”
Seven nations listening heard the Voice and answered:
“O Hell!”
The jaws of death began clicking and they go on clicking.
“O Hell!”

*****

O Hell. My heart hurts today.