Thursday, April 30, 2015

Last Helicopter from Saigon

On this day 40 years ago, the last helicopters left Saigon.  I've been listening to a week of commemorations; I particularly enjoyed this episode of On Point about April 29 and 30, 1975, as the U.S. did its final exit from the capital city; troops were already gone.  Even though I heard this story about Operation Babylift days ago, my thoughts return to those airlifted children, many of them Vietnamese orphans.

I love this stories about how humans try to do the right thing, and how these efforts sometimes actually do work out.  One of the people interviewed for the story was a child who was evacuated; he has gone on to engineer planes for Boeing.  Obviously, if he had been left to his fate as an orphan in Vietnam, his story would have ended very differently.

I think of those children who were evacuated, how they were similar ages to me and my sister.  We were born in 1965 and 1970.  But unlike those evacuated children, I don't have many memories of the war.

If you look through family photos, you will see one year of Christmas pictures when we all wore our POW bracelets.  On the silver cuff was the name of a prisoner and the year he was captured.  We were supposed to wear them until the prisoner was released.

I wonder what happened to those POW bracelets.  I wonder how many of those captives came home.

I have memories of going to Maxwell Air Force base in Montgomery, Alabama to see troops return.  But did I really see that?  Or is my brain claiming classic photos of children and wives throwing themselves into the arms of returning men as memory?

My dad served in the Air Force as a navigator, but the closest he got to Vietnam was Thailand, I think.  He did join the Air Force because he knew his draft number was coming up, and he didn't want to be in the Army.  And because he did that, he met my mom--otherwise, he'd have never made his way to the Dallas area, where she had her first job as a parish worker.

During my childhood and teen years, I was surrounded by veterans, but they seemed to be relatively unscathed by their experiences.  It was only later that I heard about an older friend's brother's death from diseases that had their origin in Agent Orange exposure.  Still, when I count up the Vietnam era veterans that I "know," I see people who seem relatively undamaged.

It's sobering to think about how old these veterans are getting.  In my brain, they are forever 20, lanky, smoking cigarettes as they move through distant jungles.

It's also interesting to me to think, as I so often do, about how these wars and various conflicts, motivate migration.  I heard one of the commentators talk about getting on one of the last helicopters out of Saigon and looking down at the sea below.  He saw all those tiny boats, people fleeing in any way they could.

I have more memories of Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees than I do Vietnam vets.  The churches of my youth were always helping to resettle refugees.  The churches of my adulthood are not doing that activity, at least, not as openly.

In fact, as I look around, I'm not seeing anyone with similar commitments to resettling refugees these days.  Perhaps that's a good thing.  Maybe it's because we're doing a better job at figuring out ways that people don't have to leave their homes.

I'm too much of a realist to let myself believe that for long.  It's more likely because refugees are washing up on different shores these days.  I'd have a different view if I lived in Spain or Italy and saw significant numbers of refugees coming from various war-torn places in Africa and the Middle East.  This year, refugees are drowning in a different sea.

Years ago, I thought about the Cambodian refugee who rode my school bus in the 7th grade.  At the time, I knew that she must have been overwhelmed by her experiences.  But she didn't speak much English, and I certainly knew no way to communicate beyond smiling at her. 

Long ago, I wrote a poem that spoke of her.  I don't like the whole poem, but I think the first stanza is striking.  I'll end with it.  The whole poem, "Seventh Grade Refugees," was published in The Julia Mango.

They fled from Cambodia to Charlottesville
during one of the coldest winters of the twentieth century.
They left that harvest of corpses to come to the fertile
crescent that created vibrant democracy, Jefferson’s back yard.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Burning of Baltimore

My inner sociologist has found the last few days interesting, as the crisis in Baltimore grew worse and worse.  Despite having a B.A. in Sociology, I really don't understand riots that end in people burning their own neighborhoods.

Oh, I understand the anger.  Most of us do.  I understand the frustration of the slow pace of social change, of feeling unvalued.  I understand the nihilistic joy that comes from destruction.

It intrigues me that so seldom in U.S. history do we see people torch government buildings.  Perhaps they are more protected or perhaps riots escalate and no one says, "Hey, let's move this demonstration to the true source of our misery."

It's hard to move a group, especially a group that's in a bad mood.

In these days, those of us who have ever worked for a better world may be feeling discouraged.  We may wonder if anything that we do will make a difference.

So, I wanted to offer two quotes of consolation.  I listened to the latest episode of the radio show On Being; Margaret Wertheim is part of a huge project, Crochet Coral Reef.  She talks about why the project is important and how it is a metaphor:

"One of the things about the reef project that I feel is important is that it's a constructive response to a devastating problem. I think most people, as I am, are completely freaked out about the problem of global warming. What can we do? Can we do anything? And the reef project — the Crochet Coral Reef project is a metaphor, and it goes like this: if you look at real corals, a head of coral is built by thousands of individual coral polyps working together. Each coral polyp is a tiny insignificant little critter with almost no power of its own. But when billions of coral polyps come together, they can build the Great Barrier Reef, the largest living thing on earth and the first living thing that you can see from outer space.

The Crochet Coral Reef is a human analog of that. These huge coral reef installations that we build with communities are built by hundreds and sometimes thousands of people working together. So the project capitulates, in human action, the power and greatness of what corals themselves are doing. And I think the metaphor of the project is, look what we can do together. We humans, each of us are like a coral polyp. Individually, we’re insignificant and probably powerless. But together, I believe we can do things. And I think the metaphor of the project is we are all corals now."

And to return to theology, which often informs my thinking on social justice:

Easter promises us that our efforts will not be in vain. In Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, N. T. Wright says forcefully, " . . . what you do in the Lord is not in vain. You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that's about to roll over a cliff" (208).

For many of us, the most difficult part of Jesus' mission that he gives us will be the willingness to believe that the arc of history bends towards justice, as Martin Luther King reminded us. The arc of history also bends towards beauty and wisdom and love and mercy.

Some of us are so beaten down that we forget. Some of us would have no problem being crucified for our faith, but it's much harder to believe in God's vision of a redeemed world and to work to make that happen. But scripture and thousands of years of theology makes it clear, as Wright says, "We are called to live within the world where these things are possible and to agents of such things insofar as they lie in our calling and sphere" (248).

I'm glad to wake up this morning to hear that Baltimore was quiet last night.  But clearly, we all still have work to do in bending our current arc of history towards justice.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Small Efforts in a Similar Direction, Trusting the Trajectory

I have finally submitted my full-length poetry manuscript to Jacar Press.  I was very impressed with Sandy Longhorn's The Girlhood Book of Prairie Myths, both the poems themselves and the book as a physical artifact.  The submission fee of $15 is very reasonable, and the press also considers the non-winners for possible publication.

I rarely submit to a press that charges a fee unless I get a book in return, but for $15, I'll do it.  If the fee was $30, I would likely not submit.

I am not the first person to observe that if I counted up all the submission fees and postage I've ever spent, I could have self-published.  I could start a press of my own and publish a few other books too.  The technology makes it easy.

What's not easy:  having a full-time job and teaching online classes as a part-time job and having writing assignments for the Living Lutheran site and still having time to self-publish.  I'd like a press to make some of those decisions:  what paper to use and how to format the text and making sure it all looks right on the page.  I am willing to do a lot of the promotion, but the actual production is the tough part for me to undertake. 

After all, I've had my manuscript ready to go (I had to create an anonymous copy and a copy with a variety of information included) for several weeks, but finding time to actually complete the submission didn't happen until this morning.  The time crunch that is my life makes me decide, at this point, not to self-publish.  I just don't have the time for that sustained focus that self-publishing would take.

It won't always be this way, but it is now.  Happily, a writing life can still be constructed with the bits of time I have.  I wrote a poem this morning.  I submitted a manuscript.  Yesterday, I had lunch with my writer friend, and we brought short stories we had written.

She's a friend who works at the same place that I do, which makes it a bit easier to connect and exchange fiction.  I have other writing friends, and coordinating schedules to find time for lunch is tougher.

I am hoping the time will soon be coming when we coordinate time to do readings and sell books.  Should I be so lucky as to have a new book, I will clear time for those efforts.

But for now, I will keep making these small efforts in a similar direction, each day, trusting the trajectory I have chosen.

Monday, April 27, 2015

A Different Atwood Apocalypse

I spent much of my reading time this week-end reading Margaret Atwood's latest collection of short stories, The Stone Mattress.  It's an apocalyptic story, but apocalyptic in a different way than her other apocalypses.

Since it's a collection of short stories, perhaps it's unfair to see this book as one work.  But it has many threads unifying it, and one of the threads is the many horrors of old age.  Most of the characters in this book are well past mid-life.  Atwood explores the many apocalypses of the land of old age, where the body fails in so many ways, and friends and family abandon the inhabitants. 

In the last story, the character is trying to read Gone with the Wind, which is an apocalyptic tale of a different sort.  The character's life has interesting parallels to that book, as her own civilization goes up in flames, just like Scarlett O'Hara's did.

The first three stories are linked, and I enjoyed them thoroughly.  It's a wonderful portrait of the artist as an elderly man--and there's an elderly female artist too.  The stories explore their younger years too, and it's an interesting meditation on the use of new technologies.

I was hoping that the stories would continue to be linked and would continue to explore the lives of these characters and others in their orbit.  But the rest are new, although there's a story that picks up the lives of the characters in The Robber Bride.

That story made me think of all the Atwood books I loved before the Oryx and Crake trilogy.  Perhaps in the not-too-distant future, I'll read The Robber Bride again.

Still, I don't regret reading The Stone Mattress.  Atwood is one of our great writers, and it's always wonderful to spend time with her.

And as a writer of short stories, it's good to see what the great writers are doing with the genre.

I've also been teaching an online literature class that explores the short story, many of them written in the middle of the 20th century.  Many of my students approach those stories as interesting historical documents.

A hundred years from now, what will readers assume about this time period from reading these stories?

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Tree Trunks and Transformation

Yesterday's post made me think of a photo essay that I posted on my theology blog.  It fits well with our creative pursuits too, so since time is running short this morning, I'll repost it here.  The photos were taken at Mepkin Abbey in Moncks Corner, South Carolina.

--------------------------------------------------------


It is the time of year when I dream of new paths.



It is when I yearn for a new gate to open.



I feel like I see the answer, hiding in plain sight.



Some days, my life feels like a wrecked tree.



I need to remember that a fallen tree can be transformed into a work of art.


Saturday, April 25, 2015

A Good Weariness at the End of a Work Week

The Pulitzer Prize winners were announced this week--or was it last week?  There are some years when I could have told you precisely.  Some years I look at the Pulitzers and feel inspired.  Some years, I simply add books to my reading list.  Some years, I feel discouraged, and my inner critic reminds me that I'm not doing the work I was put on earth to do.

This week, I'm so worn out by my work week that I almost didn't notice the Pulitzers.  I'm not sure why, exactly, it's been so exhausting.  I've also been grading research papers for my online class, which does make me tired in a unique way.

In my administrator life, it's been a week where we see the implications of our new attendance policy.  Instead of failing students when they go over the allowed number of absences, now faculty members withdraw them from the class.  It involves more paperwork and more signatures.

I did not anticipate how much more time it would take to complete these tasks.  I have decided that it's wise to check the student attendance screen for each withdrawal form I get, just to be sure that it shows the requisite number of absences.  There have been some glitches.

The screens that I can see are updated in real time, while the screens that faculty members can see are updated once a week.  So, they've often been withdrawing students who are already taken out of the class for other reasons.  Sigh.

But let me not get sunk in despair over this week at work.  Let me remember some high points.

----I got several thank you notes from faculty.  I know that people could see me as the boss who requires ever more work.  It's nice to get a thank you note in these times of change.

--Some time ago I helped a student who was pursuing studies at a different school, and the school needed information about one of our classes to see whether or not they would accept it for transfer.  I get these requests from time to time.  But I rarely find out the result.  I send off the information and hope for the best--but I often have no idea whether or not the class is accepted.

This week I got a thank you e-mail from a student I helped. The course was accepted.  But the thank you e-mail made me realize how seldom I hear about the outcome. 

--I also got thank you notes from my online students.  One student is headed on to a school where I used to teach to be an English major.  She asked for my advice.  It was neat to be asked.  I enjoyed writing the e-mail, which I'll paste at the end of this post.

--Yesterday, a group of us went to the student-run restaurant.  It was a lovely experience, and I had a gift certificate that I was given when I did a faculty development workshop.  My gift certificate meant that we all had reduced cost.  Delicious meal with friends plus reduced cost--wonderful!

--My writing friend and I are trying to get back on track.  We are meeting on Monday to exchange stories.  I went back to a story that I had been working on in January.  I stopped writing back in January because I wasn't sure what to do next.  Now I know exactly what to do.  And this morning, I made progress.  At some point before Monday, I'll finish.

--And I have an idea for a poem.  Thursday I used my crystal decanter to water the petunias in the planter box.  I have a vision of a woman who, thirty years after her wedding, is using the wedding gifts in daily life.  I'm tempted also to put in details about drinking the dreadful coffee at work.  Can I weave these threads together?

So yes, even though I'm tired, it's a good kind of tired.  Those of us who have worked any amount of time at all know that there are weeks that can leave the worker tired in much more ghastly ways.  Happily, this week was not one of those.

-----------------------------------------------

E-mail to an advice-seeking student moving on to a university to be an English Major:

"I'd look at course descriptions and take what sounds interesting to you.  You'll find out that classes are mostly divided into British Literature and American Literature, and you might want to focus on one of those. Or you might enjoy dipping in and out of each.  And of course, recent literature is less bound by place, as we all travel more and know more about what's happening all across the world.  There are also some interesting creative writing courses, if your passion runs that way.

You'll have some classes that you have to take, and probably a limited # of classes that you can take just because they interest you--so you don't want to waste those.

And yet, I'll share a story with you that shows that some times, it's good to just choose a class and see what happens.  When I arrived at grad school, most of the classes had no seats left.  So I took a class that focused on James Joyce and his works.  I had no interest in Joyce, but there were seats, so I signed up.

It was AMAZING.  The professor LOVED Joyce and made the difficult reading material come to life.  I went on to write my Masters thesis on Joyce and his female characters, which was not what I would have predicted when I went off to grad school.

So, trust your interests, but don't be afraid to try new things.  It's basic advice, isn't it?  But tried and true."

Friday, April 24, 2015

Poems for the 100 Year Anniversary of a Genocide

One hundred years ago today, the first genocide of the twentieth century began, as Turkish authorities rounded up Armenian artists and intellectuals to deport them.  Students of history know that this genocide would be one of many in the twentieth century:  Jews, Gypsies, Russians under Stalin, Cambodians, Rwandans, a variety of people who lived in Bosnia at the wrong time in history . . . and I'm probably missing a few.

We might be tempted to say that the 20th century urge to genocide was made possible because technology made killing more efficient--but in the 1990's, the Rwandan genocide was carried out by machete.

What do we do in the face of this history?  How do we retain our hope?  How should we observe this day that commemorates the first of many genocides?

I'd argue that we should make some sort of art, that we should celebrate our intellects.  After all, if the Turkish authorities thought that artists and intellectuals needed to be rounded up first, it shows the value of those activities.

I looked through my poems for something to post here.  First I'll post the hopeful one, and then the one inspired by despair--something for every mood.

You'll notice that the first poem suggests baking bread in the face of despair--that's always one of my first instincts, to do something that affirms life.  I also love the metaphor of yeast.  Even during times of despair, granules of hope and transformation may be incubating, ready to leaven the loaf!

I often return to bread baking in an effort to remind myself of who I am at my essential core. It's nice to have that practice. Years ago, I wrote this poem, as I thought about those high school years when I made the most bread, from 1979-1983. It was published in the Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review.

Demands of Dough

Each decade ushers in a new genocide;
each bloody crime introduces histories
of humans I’ve never heard of before. Each
year’s newscast schools me in ways to slaughter
masses of humans efficiently, human rights
violated in ways I never would have imagined. Yet,
the familiarity persists as well. Auschwitz,
Cambodia, Rwanda: an ongoing, constant
story of corpses stacked like cordwood, rivers choked
with bodies, a consistent backdrop
to the bloodiest century on record.

I turn off the news and declare a news fast.
I pull out my old recipe books to revisit
an earlier self, the vegetarian pacifist with a quick
temper, the girl who marched on Washington
to protest Apartheid and arms races and abortion
rights backsliding. I pull yeast and flour
out of my cupboard and knead myself younger.

My first loaf of homemade bread. What possessed
my mother to suggest it? Vegetarian seminarians
coming for dinner and a long, summer afternoon
to fill. What kept me baking? Praise.
An excuse to play with dough. Desire
for more nutritious food. By age seventeen, I’m the only
high school senior with her own garden.

I can think short term. I may not live
to see my twenties, especially if our president
continues to joke about bombing the Soviet Union.
But I’m able to invest the space and time
a rising bread dough demands.
I’m willing to commit to a germinating seed,
willing to hope for one more season of growth.

That was before cable brought us multiple news
channels. Somehow the abstraction of a cold
war and an arms race disturbed me less
than these scenes of neighbors butchering
each other. I cannot process misery at this scale.
I return to what I can handle:
yeast and a pinch of sugar, oats and flour,
a window sill of seedlings,
an afternoon of tea and books.

And now for the poem that offers less hope, which was first published in Pacific Review:


New Societies

          “Violence is the midwife to the new society.”
                                                                 Che Guevara


Births explode in eastern Europe.
Twins and triplets bloody the midwife,
a new society of ethnic hatreds.

Bodies dam the rivers throughout Africa.
Agrarian governments produce more field hands,
soldiers for the new society.

In the U.S., technology marries indifference.
Their warped offspring practice killing on video screens,
use their skills on a new society of scared classmates.

What a new society this century creates:
world wars, societal revolutions, painting the planet
in stripes of blood and bone.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Earth Day Prayer Flags

Yesterday was Earth Day, which I didn't remember until later in the day.  In a way, I feel like I already celebrated it, since I wrote a post for the Living Lutheran site a month ago.

That Earth Day post is now up at the Living Lutheran site.  It asks the question:  what shall we plant if we're not good at gardening?

My answer:  prayer flags!



You might say, "But I'm also not good with creating things out of fabric."

I have good news:  my project only requires scraps of fabric and no sewing:

"I don’t mean the traditional Tibetan prayer flags, although those flags inspire this idea. Naomi Sease Carriker, a pastor, told me about her simple practice at a recent Create in Me retreat at Lutheridge, a Lutheran camp and conference center in Arden, N.C.  

She writes prayers on tulle, a thin cloth, and ties them to pieces of lattice fencing in her garden. She takes great joy in seeing them flutter in the breeze. The fluttering reminds her to pray."

I wish I had a picture of this project, but I don't.  The picture above is from a Create in Me retreat where we experimented with batik techniques.

Even if you're not a praying type, I have a vision for how this project could be used to foster our creativity.

We could write our wishes for our creative work on tulle or write our problems for which we need solutions.  We could write our dreams and visions, our hopes for what we'd like to see in our lives.

If we write them out, we may find ourselves able to release the anxiety that often comes from our unacknowledged needs or our inability to find solutions.  If we tie the tulle in places where we'll see them, we can be reminded of both our goals and our wildest dreams.  We may be more likely to stay focused with this kind of reminder.

And even if you don't have a garden or a corner of yard to call your own, you could still try a variation of this technique.  Put the scarps of cloth on your bookcase.  Tie them around your rear view mirror and gear shifter in the car.  Braid them together and make a long chain.  Let the braid remind you of your larger hopes and dreams--and periodically think about how many of them you (and others) have made manifest.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Why Is April the Cruellest Month?

My answer would be different than T.S. Eliot's answer.  For one thing, I would not write a modernist epic to explain.  Or would I?  I'm not dead yet.  Maybe in retirement, I'll start writing longer poems. Maybe I'll take out a lot of my lines that do too much to explain.  Maybe I'll trust the reader more, or maybe I'll have a Pound type friend who will convince me not to care whether or not people get all the meanings. But that's a topic for another day.

Why is it almost always that I have the most trouble getting writing tasks done during April?  It should be easy with National Poetry Month, right?  Ha!

I usually have travel of some kind in April, and it's the month for the dentist, and this month, the dermatologist.  In my full-time administrative job, we have beginning of the quarter duties, which often take more time than the ones at the end.  In my part-time online teaching job, I have end of semester tasks.

And let me not forget that most years, April includes a lot of extra spiritual tasks, at least for me.  There's Easter and Holy Week.  Even for those of us who aren't church professionals, a lot of extra tasks come our way.  It enriches, but it takes up more time that isn't exactly plentiful to begin with.

But I write all this not to whine.  No, I write to remind myself that I will soon have a bit of free time.  Not free time.  Time is never free for me.  No, it will be time that isn't assigned elsewhere.  If I am not careful, the time gobblers will set their sets on it.

So let me assemble a list.  I do better with a list.  What do I want to accomplish in May and June?

My chief priority:

--the memoir/book of essays.  I need to get the "final" revisions done.  I have a whole pile of easy edits, so it's time to actually go ahead and type them in.

--I will send the query letter to the agent who represented Kathleen Norris' The Cloister Walk.  I will select 3 more agents too.

--I will send out 15 packets of poems.  It's been too long since I submitted.

--I will get back on track writing poems--I want to write two poems a week.

--I will write one short story.

Let me stop here.  Let me not want to do so much that I get overwhelmed and do nothing.

I will report back in the early days of July to let us know how I did.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The God of Dusk and Social Justice Movements

Yesterday was a low energy day.  I expected to have that kind of day a week ago, my first day back after Hawaii.  But yesterday was rougher.

There were highlights, of course.  I went over to a former colleague's house for lunch.  She made us great salads.  It was good to reconnect, to hear that life goes on after a RIF.

I got some writing done for the Living Lutheran site. I spent time in the late afternoon writing a piece about being in an Ash Wednesday frame of mind as Pentecost approaches. 

I got home feeling drained and might have gone right to bed, if not for our evening plans.  Our church is part of a multi-church group that has a justice rally every year.  It's the culminating event of our year of study of two or three justice issues chosen by the group.  We invite county leaders to meet with us and work towards a solution to problems of injustice.

In the past, we've worked on basic issues like the need for more low-cost housing, more jobs, more access to dental care.  This year, we demanded that county officials do more to save elderly people in assisted living facilities from abuse and to move towards a less punitive approach to minors who commit non-violent crimes.

For more on the theological reasons why we do this work and why I feel it is important, see this blog post on my theology blog.  Suffice it to say, some years have felt more successful than last night, and some years less.  Some years we've felt successful, only to see gains reversed.  Some years, officials seem to have hardened their hearts against us, only to reverse course later.

I like to be with a big group (over 1600 people) who give up their precious free time to come together to work for a cause greater than ourselves.  I like to be reminded that change is possible--but often not possible until ordinary people work for it.

I also like to go to worship spaces.  Last night, I was struck by the stained glass windows.



Can you make out the words?  The glass says, "May the God of dusk bring you peace."

And it happened.  I returned home to a much better sleep than the night before. 

And this morning, I see signs of rebirth all over.  Our gumbo limbo trees recently lost their leaves (it's normal), but now they're about to burst into leaf.  And an orchid which has looked dead for the better part of 9 months, now has a stalk with 7 flowers on it.  Two weeks ago, there were no flowers.

In times when I'm tired, I forget how much change can be possible in such a short amount of time.  In one day, I moved from exhaustion to exhilaration and back again.  I've seen the same in many a social justice movement too. 

The quest for justice is so fluid, gains one year, setbacks the next--it's one aspect about social justice movements that I was never taught.  In school, it seems like a straight line from injustice through the struggle to a more just world.

It wasn't until much later that I realized that those sweeping changes were started with small, halting steps.  I suspect that most changes that lead the world to a more socially just place begin with tiny steps stepped by people who aren't entirely sure what they're doing or where they're going.

Back in the 80's, when we gathered to pray for South Africa, we had no way of knowing that Nelson Mandela would soon be free, and then be elected president. We had reason to be despairing and cynical. I would have predicted civil war, not freedom.

That stained glass window and its blessing makes sense on more level than just the literal.  Most people I know think of God in terms of bright, shining light.  But a God of dusk makes sense too.

Monday, April 20, 2015

A Poem for the Fifth Anniversary of an Oil Spill

Five years ago, oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig.  I anticipated utter disaster, the disappearance of the reefs at the Keys.  Happily, so far, that hasn't happened, although the Gulf waters aren't exactly recovered.

As you might sense from the title, I seem to be working on a series. The first pantoum I ever wrote was "Alternate Apocalypse," with that same first line. It talked about dealing with the reality of global warming, which wasn't the apocalypse I would have predicted, if you had talked to me in 1985. Back then,  I expected nuclear war.

As the economy crashed, I wrote a different apocalypse pantoum, also with the same first line, which talked about economic apocalypse.

So, when I saw a call for poetic response to the oil spill, I couldn't resist another pantoum. I expect to keep writing them for the rest of my life. I'm not sure they'd make a good book all by themselves. I worry they'd be so depressing taken together that no one would buy such a book.
 This poem first appeared at the Poets for Living Waters site, which is still up, if you want to spend time today reading more poems about the oil spill and the larger issue of ocean health.

Alternate Apocalypse #3
 
We expected mushroom clouds and radiation.
We didn’t anticipate a plume on the ocean floor,
an unstoppable gusher.
We thought we would run out of oil.

We didn’t anticipate a plume on the ocean floor.
We assumed precautions had been taken.
We thought we would run out of oil.
Now we worry the flow will never stop.

We assumed precautions had been taken.
We thought there was an emergency plan.
Now we worry the flow will never stop.
We face a future of oily seas.

We thought there was an emergency plan.
We thought they cared about the environment.
We face a future of oily seas,
a fishless existence our fate.

We thought they cared about the environment.
Now we watch migratory birds slicked with petroleum.
A fishless future our fate,
we cry over lost treasures.

Now we watch migratory birds slicked with petroleum.
We hear the stories of generations living on the water.
We cry over lost treasures,
marine animals, an ecosystem, an ocean, a planet.

We hear the stories of generations living on the water.
All these cultures will evaporate:
marine animals, an ecosystem, an ocean, a planet.
We expected mushroom clouds and radiation.
 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

A Vista Untouched by Humans

Yesterday, my spouse and I took the motorcycle down to Key Largo.  Earlier in the week, my spouse and his brother had done some exploring by motorcycle, and my spouse wanted to explore some areas on foot.

It was a tough ride on the Turnpike for me on the back of the bike--very windy.  But soon enough, we were at the Botanical Site off Card Sound Road in Key Largo. 

It was a beautiful walk on a very hot day down shady paved paths.  The highlight of the day:  we came across an overlook of sorts.  We stood on rocks and looked down at a small lake--or would it be a pond?

What made it unique?  We looked and saw no evidence of humans:  no cell phone towers, no parking lots, no houses, no boats, nothing--not even the path on the other side of the lake that we knew was likely there.  We imagined the first travelers through the area seeing the exact same vista.  We imagined people saying, "We should settle here."

We walked back and talked about how rare it is to see a vista with no evidence of humans.  We could hear traffic nearby, but we couldn't see the cars.  We looked at the path and realized that we were probably walking on an old coral seabed--not surprising, since the area was once under water.  We talked about the fact that it likely will be again in the next several hundred years.

Our whole afternoon stretched out before us.  We decided to keep going south--who knew what we would see?

Lots of traffic, that's what we saw.  Sigh.  After catching sight of a trail of brake lights that went on and on, we turned around. 

Still, I'm glad we went.  I'm glad I had a chance to see such an unmarked landscape.  I'll be looking for others.  I assume they're rare--but maybe I just haven't been observant.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Hawaii Retrospective with Photos

Two weeks ago we'd have been waking up near a different ocean in Oahu.




We've seen similar views of the coastline on the Atlantic, but how different was the view from the other side of our balcony!



On the shores of the Atlantic ocean, we don't have mountains that rise out of our beaches.



In many ways, the plant life is similar to what we could find in our own yards.



But I've never seen plumeria/frangipani flowers with quite these colors in the yards of South Florida.



The sun rises out of our ocean, instead of setting into the sea, as in the picture below:



I told my dad that I have so many pictures of sunrises and sunsets in my computer.  But it's irresistible to capture more.  And why not the setting of the moon?



All too soon it would be time to go.  We left our extra food here, and I left thinking about why we don't see this kind of good idea in more places.






Friday, April 17, 2015

Good Friday, 2015, Flying Westward

Two weeks ago, we'd have been getting ready to go to the airport to make our way to Hawaii.  Because we knew we'd be leaving early, we didn't go to Maundy Thursday services.  Because we were in the air all day, we didn't go to Good Friday services. 

But because the stream of the liturgical year is always moving below the rocks of my regular day, I was aware of what I was missing.  I did my own recognition of the holy days, but it was strange to observe them alone.

Wendy has a post about flunking Lent.  I flunked Holy Week.  Or maybe I just made a D.

On Maundy Thursday, I did have communal meals, but nothing like some Maundy Thursday meals I've had in the past (the occasional Seder, the pot luck dinner).  A group of work friends went to lunch in our work neighborhood; someone paid for our lunch, including the to-go lunches that we were taking back to colleagues who couldn't leave their desks.  That would have been strange any day, but it felt especially weighted with meaning on Maundy Thursday.

On Maundy Thursday evening, while the rest of the Christian world washed feet and stripped altars, we shared a simple meal of hamburgers with a friend and then did our final packing.  Again, our activities fit a Maundy Thursday theme in a way, but a strange way.

We got up early on Good Friday and made our way to the airport.  We waited for our first flight, and one of our fellow travelers told us about his recent heart attack and renewed life:  an Easter story!

In the Dallas airport, an announcement invited us all to the chapel for a Good Friday service, but didn't tell us where the chapel was.  I wondered if the worship planners did what they would normally do, or if a Good Friday service in an airport chapel would be substantially different.

And then we got on the plane for our almost 9 hour flight to Hawaii.  I thought about all the mortifications of the body that a long flight requires.  I won't go as far as to call it a crucifixion; I'm very clear about the agony involved in that punishment.

We flew west, so the falling of the night was always behind us.  I'd love to be the kind of person who sleeps on a plane, but even on overnight flights, I have trouble.  On a flight where the sun doesn't set, it's even harder.

We ended Good Friday sitting by a pool under the light of the full moon.  We drank tropical drinks and ate fried chicken.  Even my best poet self can't make that experience fit into a Good Friday theme.

Yesterday as I thought about making a poem about any of this, I looked up John Donne's "Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward."  It's never been one of my favorite Donne poems, but I find it comforting that even in the seventeenth century poets wrestled with the intersections of the liturgical year and the rhythms of business life and needing to attend to other concerns, not just spiritual ones.

The first two lines of the poem intrigue me:

"Let mans Soule be a Spheare, and then, in this,
The intelligence that moves, devotion is,"
 
I think of staring out of the plane window and imagining that I could see the curve of the earth:  spheres of all sorts!
 
And here we are, one week later, and I'm still looking at strands of imagery, trying to think about how to weave them into whole cloth. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Practice of Paying Attention

We may not think of the practice of mindfulness as being part of our creative practice, but I would argue that it should be.

I'm also interested in the intersections of mindfulness as a spiritual practice, even though mindfulness hasn't been stressed in my Lutheran/Christian tradition. 

In short, the practice of mindfulness can enrich us on so many levels--so why is it so difficult?  Why do so many of us avoid this practice?

One obvious reason:  if we are mindful, we are not mindful just of joy and beauty.  Mindfulness means letting ourselves feel grief and loss.  Many of us try to numb/avoid these feelings.

In her new book Small Victories:  Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace, Anne Lamott reminds us that only by grieving, by letting ourselves feel that emotion deeply, do we move beyond grief.  Her essay "Ladders" in the book is an amazing exploration of the process of grieving.  She talks about the strange phenomena of full grieving often having moments of connectedness and joy.  She says, ". . . finally grief ends up giving you the two best gifts:  softness and illumination" (p. 35).

But it's not only grieving that can give us these gifts.  Jane Hirshfield reminds us that a creative practice can give us softness and illumination too.  In this interview, she reflects on her twin practices of Zen meditation and writing poetry:  "Both writing and any spiritual practice are technologies to exceed your own capacity for presence. Both are learned by entering them over and over, and both are without any arrivable-at destination. You don’t write a poem and say, “Good, I’ve done that now.” It’s more like breathing: you finish one poem and begin another. The same is true of meditation. One breath leads to another. Some breaths are transparent, some are filled with silent weeping. Some tremble on the cusp of disappearance, others become the sound of cars or birds. Closely attended, any moment is boundless and always changing. You emerge from these kinds of undoing awareness and you know it is not you yourself who are all-important. You know something of the notes of your own scale."

I'm thinking of mindfulness because of my recent holiday experiences.  On the plane ride to Hawaii, my reading light didn't work and the in-flight entertainment was also not working, so I spent much of the flight looking out the window.  I was amazed at the beauty of the country underneath me.  At points, I wanted to run through the plane reminding people to look outside.

Of course, most people were sleeping or looking at their electronic devices.  They probably wouldn't have appreciated my enthusiasm.  How much do we miss because we forget to look?

At the resort, I also noticed how many people sat and pecked at their screens.  Part of me understands.  Part of my route to mindfulness, after all, involves writing, which involves a computer.  But part of me wanted to say, "Here we are, at a tropical island in the middle of the Pacific, and what are we doing?"

No doubt about it:  mindfulness is tough, whether it's being mindful of our losses or of the surrounding beauty.  But many of our best teachers make it clear that the rewards of mindfulness are great.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Writing Inspiration Whilst on Holiday

It won't surprise you to find out that I've come back from my vacation with all sorts of writing possibilities in my head. 

I don't find Hawaii itself to be inspiring, like I did the desert Southwest of our Christmas 2012 trip.  I came back with some poem ideas that led to some poems that surprised me, and I wrote a short story that one of my writing friends declared my best ever.  That short story was in some ways inspired by the poems I was writing.

Would I have had any of them without that trip?  Hard to say.

One thing I love about a cross-continental airline flight in the daylight is the view of the land below.  I love the way the land changes from verdant green to what I know to be prairies to the harsh landscape of the desert.

On this trip, my spouse had just read a book about the Comanche, who spent much of their lives, if they were male, on horseback following the buffalo, making their way through an unforgiving land.  We talked a bit about that, while looking down at lakes that are clearly drained of most of their water.  I may try writing a poem that uses some of these images.

I'm also interested in the shapes from the air: human-made things follow a rigid geometry, while things like lakes and rivers seem much more fluid and softly-shaped.

I expected to keep seeing images and possible poems once the plane landed, but instead, my brain went to short stories.  I thought that a connection of linked stories could be cool.

What would link the characters?  The resort where they work.

I wouldn't want it to be an upstairs-downstairs kind of book.  What do I mean by that?  A short story about a resort guest followed by a story about the cleaning staff.  That seems too clich├ęd. 

As we moved through the week, I thought about how many other lives that resort touches:  the dive instructor and the guy who works on the boat.  The astronomer who shows guests the stars which are in different positions in the sky (the North star is only directly above you if you're in the Arctic--did I ever learn that?).  The photographer who schedules photo shoots with the guests.  The pilot who takes people up in a glider, and the staff on the ground--while my sister was up in the glider for 20 minutes, we stayed on the landing strip talking to the guy who works on the planes while working to get his pilot's license.  The surfers who formed a company that teaches tourists to surf.

Could I make these kinds of stories fresh and new?  Or would it begin to seem repetitive?  I'm not sure, but I wanted to capture this idea before it slid away as I returned to regular life.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Footsteps Past and Present

In many ways, yesterday wasn't a terrible re-entry to regular life.  It's never easy getting back to the office, even if I've only been away a day or two.  I'm astonished at all the e-mails that come in a regular day.  I was out of the office for 5 work days, 10 days total, and e-mail came the whole time.  It took much of yesterday morning just to deal with the accumulation of e-mail.

The day had low points; since I woke up in a fairly contented mood, I won't destroy the mood by recounting them.  Instead, let me talk about the high points.

While I was away, I checked e-mails every few days--not the ones from my main workplace, but my private e-mail.  I got a message from my Living Lutheran editor.  She told me that The Lutheran has an electronic newsletter, and that they wanted to run a copy of my recent piece on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. 

Of course I said yes.  What a delight to pick up the phone yesterday to find the editor at The Lutheran on the line.  We chatted a bit, and I asked if she was looking for writers.  We talked about my interests, and she said she'd keep me in mind.  I'll start thinking about stories to pitch to her.

I also found out that my earlier editor at The Lutheran has a different post at a sister publication, Gather.  Now is a good time to get back in touch with her.

I ended the day by having an early dinner with colleagues present and past.  We planned to go to the Ft. Lauderdale Historical Society at the New River Inn for a talk on Florida's climate past, present and future.  Yet a different former colleague was giving the presentation. 

We ate at a nearby restaurant that has $5 hamburgers on Mondays.  From there, we could walk to the New River Inn for the presentation.  Two of us were on the team that interviewed and hired the colleague giving the talk.  We've celebrated the completion of the doctoral studies of one of us.  In short, we've been colleagues for so many years that we're now friends.  It was a treat to be with them.

It was an additional treat to explore the RiverWalk area.  I'd never been to that particular section, the oldest part of Ft. Lauderdale.  One of our colleagues brings her students to the area on writing field trips, so she gave us a mini tour complete with interesting background on the history.

It was an interesting juxtaposition to the climate change lecture we'd just heard.  So little of original Ft. Lauderdale still exists, and it's been lost not to rising seas or hurricanes but to development.

But for one evening, we could enjoy a walk along the New River, in the footsteps of ancient Native Americans and traders of all sorts and capitalists of every stripe--as well as ordinary Floridians, out to enjoy a lovely evening, and scruffier types slumped on park benches.  Did they feel the whisper of the history that surrounded us?  Did they think about the future when it would all be under water, both literal and metaphorical?

Likely not.  Many of us choose not to keep competing realities in our heads.  It's similar to the balancing act that many creative types try to maintain.  We work at our jobs that pay the bills, while at the same time giving time and attention to the work that feeds our souls.

If you need some inspiration on that front, here's a great interview with poet and Zen expert Jane Hirshfield.  It's part of what led me to contentment this morning.

Monday, April 13, 2015

From One Tropical Paradise to Another: the Hawaii Overview

I am back from a long journey--faithful readers may not have realized that I was gone, since I left posts scheduled to go up.  Or perhaps faithful readers said, "Hey, she's not writing every day like she usually does."

My family tries to go on a big trip every few years (while we're all alive and able to travel and able to make our schedules sync), and this year, we headed to Hawaii.  It was a wonderful trip, although the plane trip feels ever more arduous.

Today, let me post some highlights, an overview of sorts:

--I was pleased that we didn't try to get to every possible outing on Oahu.  We decided not to try to do any Pearl Harbor activities.  My 8 year old nephew does his best not to watch the news, and we worried that the war memorial sites might be too intense.

--But we didn't just sit around soaking up the sun, although there was plenty of that.  We had some wonderful science outings.  We went on a snorkel tour where we saw dolphins (Bottlenose and Hawaiian Spinner dolphins), sea turtles, and even a whale.  The last time we were in Hawaii on the island of Kauai in January 2007, we heard them but never saw them--and they should have been more plentiful at that time of year.

--The snorkel tour let us see parts of the island, albeit from a distance, that we wouldn't have seen if we headed out by car.  Fascinating!

--We also had an astronomy tour.  A NASA ambassador set up some very powerful telescopes and showed us some wonderful objects, up a bit closer.

--Part of me still expects to see Hubble-type images when I look through those telescopes.  I am surprised to look through powerful telescopes to see stars that look like specks--larger specks than I can see with my naked eyes, but tiny still.

--Several days, I got up just before dawn to try to see the Southern Cross, but it was always too overcast.

--I mostly disconnected from electronics, which was wonderful.  But I had no trouble getting an Internet connection halfway across the planet, which seemed wondrous and strange.

--The life that I'm creating, and the alternate life that I might want/need to have, means that I will never completely disconnect.  I need to check on my online classes, and my writing career means I can't disconnect for weeks at a time.

--I dread all the e-mails waiting for me at the office today.  Sigh.

--I read a lot of books--I may write a full post later.  But here's the overview version.  I got all 3 books of the Southern Reach trilogy from my public library, and I read them all--a marvelous trilogy.  Thanks to Hannah Stephenson, who wrote this post and this one, which led me to this interview with the author, which made me want to read the whole trilogy.  Wonderful stuff!  Jane Smiley also wrote an interesting book, Some Luck, which was experimental in a different way:  each chapter covers one year in the life of family members.  Some years are broad in scope, and others aren't.  She, too, is writing a trilogy, but alas, the books aren't all written yet.  Book #2 is released later this month--will I just buy a copy for myself or will I wait?

--I was surprised by how many people were on the island.  I think of Hawaii as being almost inaccessible, but it's really not, especially for people on the west coast of the U.S.

--It's also a hot spot for Asian tourists.  I was surprised by how many signs were both in English and Japanese.  My surprise made me feel provincial.

--I was also surprised by how many people are travelling with children.  To me, Hawaii is an exotic location that I would expect most people to visit once or twice in a lifetime--that statement probably says more about my provincial-ness than my surprise at Japanese on signs.

--I keep thinking that I'm done with body image issues, that I'm accepting of my body, with its extra weight and exuberant good health.  But a trip to a resort awakens my inner adolescent who looks around and sees everyone as thinner and thus happier.

--An example:  the first day we were at a pool that had mostly small children and their parents.  If I was a visitor from a different planet and didn't understand human reproduction except that it puts weight on the one who carries the child in a womb, I'd assume that the male of the species carried the children for 9 months.  Almost every man was carrying 20-50 extra pounds.  Every female looked lean and super-fit, despite the 2-4 children that were hers.

--Later in the week we moved to quieter pools, where a wider variety of ages and body types relaxed beside.

--My nephew so enjoyed playing volleyball in the pool.  I was surprised by how evenly matched we all seemed to be:  water as the great equalizer.

--I had forgotten how many military bases we have in Hawaii.  Several times a day, fighter planes zoomed overhead.  At times, it did occur to me to wonder if anything major might be happening.  But even in Hawaii, we weren't that isolated.  We'd have known.

In short, it was a wonderful trip.  It's good to travel, to make that effort, to see how other parts of the world live (and even in a resort, we see glimpses).  It helps renew my appreciation of both my home and the wider world.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Justice Poem Prompts

A few weeks ago, I wrote a series of prompts for the Create in Me retreat planners to use.  My vision:  that people would fill in blanks and come up with interesting ways to think about justice.

I thought I'd post the exercise here, too, in case it would be more widely useful.


Justice Poem Prompts

 

 

Fill in the blanks, make new blanks, and see what happens.

 

 

What does justice look like?

 

 

--The elders say, “Our children need ___________________________.”

 

--The prophet calls upon the legislator and says, “Do  _________________________.”

 

--The flocks say, “Give us ___________________________________.”

 

--The angel Gabriel gives us these instructions:  “_____________________________.”

 

 

A different approach; fill in these blanks and then in the next section, fill in those blanks:

 

Detail of shift from one season to another ________________________________

 

Type of noise ________________________________________

 

Element of nature  _____________________________________________

 

Type of emotion _________________________________________________

 

Favorite flower __________________________________________________

 

Something very tiny  ________________________________________________

 

Floor or wall covering  ______________________________________________

 

Something nourishing ________________________________________________

 

Favorite fruit __________________________________________________________

 

Element of self-care  ______________________________________________

 

Something that oozes _____________________________________________

 

Favorite treat  ________________________________________________________

 

Something that turns _______________________________________________

 

Something that grinds   ___________________________________________________


 

Now let’s move to the next section and see what happens:

 

--A commitment to justice helps us offer __________________________________.

 

--We yearn for the day when justice covers the earth like ______________________________.

 

--We are crushed into bits smaller than _____________________ by injustice.

 

--Truth rolls down through the valley like ________________________________________.

 

--When I work for justice, it’s as if ________________________________________________.

 

--I first felt the move to justice as __________________________________ ripening.

 

--Evildoers cover their rotten foundations with _____________________________.

 

--We burn with __________________________________for truth and justice.

 

--Injustice grinds us like a giant ____________________________________________.

 

--The____________________________ of justice turns slowly, but the turning does occur.

 

--The ___________________________of justice has found fertile soil in my heart.

 

--_________________________grows in the garden of justice.

 

 

One last question which may prompt poems:

 

Is the pomegranate of justice different than the pineapple of justice?

 

 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Bonhoeffer's Significance for the Twenty-first Century

On this day in 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was put to death by the Nazis. Like Anne Frank and many other nameless victims, he came heartbreakingly close to surviving the war.  Like Oscar Romero, he fought against a corrupt government and paid with his life.

Bonhoeffer was one of the most influential theologians of the 20th century. A Lutheran pastor, he lived what he preached, actively resisting the Nazis and living in intentional community. He was arrested for his role in an attempt on Hitler's life.
I've written an essay that's scheduled to post today at the Living Lutheran site.  The essay considers Bonhoeffer's idea of cheap grace explored in The Cost of Discipleship, and in it, I spend time pondering whether or not we've been spending time with the wrong Bonhoeffer book.  Lately, Life Together speaks to me more forcefully.

Go here to read the rest of the blog post, along with all sorts of other thought provoking pieces.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Celebrating Barbara Kingsolver on Her Birthday

Today is the birthday of one of my favorite writers, Barbara Kingsolver. The story of how she moved from being an academic and a technical writer to a woman who makes a living as a creative writer has probably inspired tens of thousands of people.


She was pregnant and suffered insomnia. Her doctor suggested that she clean the bathrooms with a toothbrush, so that she had motivation to stay asleep. Instead, she decided to write what would become her first novel, The Bean Trees. She moved her typewriter into a closet so that she could write on her typewriter and her husband could sleep.

Notice that she had always been a writer. In addition to the academic and technical writing she had been doing as part of her work, she had been writing poems and short stories (for most of her whole life). But The Bean Trees catapulted her into popularity. She's continued to write fantastic novels and wonderful essays. I love how her novels weave themes of social justice into compelling plotlines with characters who are utterly believable.

I love her essays too. If I ever give up this South Florida life and move to a farm, her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle will be partly to blame. That book makes sustainable living sound doable.

Hardly a week goes by when I don't wonder if I'm living a good life, the kind of life that makes a difference to anyone.  Kingsolver's books show us ordinary people doing simple actions that tilt the trajectory of humanity towards a more just and humane future.  She assures us that we can all do these things.

 If you've been having a similar time, where you wonder if anything you do is worth doing, here's a quote from Kingsolver to inspire you: "What a writer can do, what a fiction writer or a poet or an essay writer can do, is re-engage people with their own humanity. Fiction and essays can create empathy for the theoretical stranger."

Sunday, April 5, 2015

A Poem for Easter Morning

So, here we are at Easter morning.  Here's a poem for Easter.  It tells the story of the first Easter morning from the view of a gardener.  It was inspired by the piece of the Easter story where Mary thinks that Jesus is the gardener, which made me think about the fact that there must have been a real gardener and made me wonder what he thought of all the commotion.

It first appeared in issue 3 of Eye to the Telescope.  The whole volume is devoted to persona poems and edited by Jeannine Hall Gailey.

The Gardener’s Tale


I liked to get to the garden
early, before the harsh
light of day revealed
all my mistakes, all the growth
I couldn’t contain.

I liked the pre-dawn
hours, when I knew
the flowers by their smells
as I rustled
their stems.

That morning I saw
him first. He asked
for bread, and I had a bit
to share. I offered
him olives and some cheese
from my son Simon’s goat.

We talked of ways to attract
butterflies to the garden:
the need for nectar
and leaves for the babies.
I showed him a tree
that had been ailing,
and he suggested a different nourishment.

I thanked him for his wisdom
and moved to the border
of the garden. I didn’t make
the connections until I heard
the shrieks of the women
and Peter nearly knocked me down.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Good Friday: A Photo Essay

When I was young, Good Friday was my second favorite service of the year.  My very most favorite, of course, was Christmas Eve.  But I LOVED Good Friday with a passion that might have frightened people if they had known.



For several years, the pastor of my childhood church, Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Montgomery, Alabama, read an article that recounted the crucifixion in medical terms.  The article was quite clear about the agony that Christ suffered, hour by hour on the cross.  I remember hearing about wood scraping against scourged flesh and the suffocation that crucifixion brought about.  And the nails--through the wrists, not the palms, since the flesh in human hands won't support human weight on a cross.



I loved that the lights went out as the Good Friday service went on, and eventually there was the big bang when our pastor slammed the big Bible shut.  I loved the drama.  I loved that the service was so different.  I don't understand why churches don't do more with that.




There are so many ways this service can go wrong.  It's too easy to get bogged down in what I call the Old, Rugged Cross school of theology.  That script can get dangerously simplistic:  that Jesus had to come to pay for my sin because 2000 years later I would get into fights with my baby sister.



Of course, my theology of the cross can get dangerously simplistic too.  I focus on the fact that Jesus was crucified.  Ancient Rome had many crimes that warranted death as punishment, but crucifixion was reserved for those who were seen as a threat to the State:  terrorists and insurrectionists and such.  Jesus was seen as such a threat to the social order that the government had to kill him.  But of course, the crucifixion of Christ was about so much more.




I love the way that Nora Gallagher describes the cycle in Things Seen and Unseen:  A Year Lived in Faith:  "I kneel down in front of the cross.  I've come full circle from Ash Wednesday, on my knees for the imposition of ashes, to kneeling here to kiss the cross.  I am marked here, in the same way I was marked with ashes, in the same way I was marked at my baptism.  As my lips met the wood, I'm pierced by a shaft of pain so tender I sob.  A last layer cracks" (page 128).



Good Friday reminds us of all the ways our hopes can be dashed, of all the ways that we can be betrayed and abandoned, of all the ways that it can all go so terribly wrong.  N. T. Wright says, "The greatest religion the world had ever known and the finest system of justice the world had ever known came together to put Jesus on the cross" (How God Became King, page 208).


It's good to remember on Good Friday that God can make beauty out of the most profound ugliness, wholeness out of the most shattered brokenness.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

All the Old, Old Stories--and a New Poem!

This morning, I'm thinking about food and suppers of all sorts, both the Last Supper and last night's supper.  Last night, after our day of many meetings, some of us had happy hour at a local spot that has good happy hour food and prices.  One of my friends was able to enjoy herself in a way that she hasn't in many months.  I'm hopeful that last night's supper will be the start of many meal joys to come.

It's Maundy Thursday, Holy Thursday, the day that can be a celebration of so much, and include so many elements.  Maybe it will be a meal, a Seder inspired meal, a potluck dinner, a quick bite grabbed between work and evening service.  Maybe we will wash each other's feet.  Maybe there will be anointing with oil.

Maybe we are waiting until tomorrow, sunset, when Passover starts.  If you're in the mood to think about the intersections between Passover and Maundy Thursday, head over to this post of mine on the Living Lutheran site.  Many writers have wrestled with the question of how inclusive a Seder meal should be.  I hadn't really thought of some of the more troublesome aspects of an ecumenical Seder until recently--yet I still don't think we need to forsake the idea.

This morning I spent time with an earlier story in the Bible.  I started writing the cancer cells and the angel Gabriel poem--and suddenly, I thought of the Bible verse where God makes Abraham a promise about numerous descendants.  I looked up the exact wording:  "I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, . . ."

Oh, my!  My brain didn't need to work very hard.  Instead of the voice of Gabriel, I decided to go big--I wrote in the voice of God.  Luckily I come out of a religious tradition where I will not be struck down for such hubris.

Here's the first draft of the poem.  It's not exactly a good fit for Maundy Thursday--but it works as a prelude for a certain kind of Good Friday meditation.

I will surely bless you,
as I have always blessed
the lowly.  I have raised
the simple ones to new heights.
Will I not do the same for you?

I will make your descendants as numerous
as the stars in the sky,
as the sand on the seashore,
your genetic mistakes repeated
into the seventh generation.

Your descendants will conquer
the cities of their enemies,
the distant outposts of the body
or the inmost organs.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Holy Week and Work

Many of us are not on Spring Break this week.  I've wondered what it would be like to have this week off or to be at a religious school where the rhythms of Holy Week aren't clashing with the duties of the work week.



But that is not my life.  Today is a day of many meetings.  It's not a crucifixion.  But it's not the life of the mind that I envisioned when I went to grad school.



I've thought about Holy Week, and wondered how we can hear the familiar stories with fresh ears.  How can we move closer to this story that's so distant from us in time and place?



Do the palms obscure the real Jesus?



What feet are waiting to be washed?



What table waits to be set for a meal made new with meaning?



The soldier looks impassively at the Passion.  How are we colluding with our empire?



So many wounds to bind.



How can we celebrate Easter with the taste of ashes still in our mouths?

 
 
 
How can we balance our creative yearnings with our spiritual yearnings with our worldly duties and joys?