Saturday, February 14, 2015


            I am not well-read in the philosophy of George Santayana (1863-1952), who was educated at Harvard and later taught there, from1888-1912.  I have a couple of his books and am familiar with the name, familiar enough to be interested in learning more.  So awhile back, in a used book store, when I discovered The Philosophy of Santayana, excerpts from his writings, I bought it.
            One of the joys of being a book lover is to stumble upon wonderfully penned words in such discovered books.
            Here are some beautiful lines from Santayana, lines which ring true to me.

The world is not respectable; it is mortal, tormented, confused, deluded for ever; but it is shot through with beauty, with love, with glints of courage and laughter; and in these the spirit blooms timidly, and struggles to the light among the thorns.

            I may choose some words differently, but the basic idea makes sense to me.  The world is not an easy place.  There is poverty, cruelty, destruction, terror.  Families, meant to be places of love and care and nurture are sometimes, instead, places of great hurt and damage.  Religions intended to foster the spirit are used, instead, to justify horrific behavior.  The world is often a tormented, confused and deluded place.  It is also shot through with beauty, with love, with courage, with laughter.  In the end, we choose how we will let the spirit bloom, even if timidly.  We choose how we will let it struggle to come to light among the thorns.

With Faith and With Feathers,


Friday, February 6, 2015

Faith, Church and 2015

            Last fall in a post on (the Sojourners web page), Tom Ehrich, an Episcopal priest, wrote about eight things he thought the church needed to say.  It was an intriguing list.  It included saying the name “Jesus,” knowing that Christians may mean some different things in evoking his name.  Also acknowledging our diversity, he thought we should be willing to share why we believe in God, and tell stories about the difference God makes in our lives.  The church should not only speak, it should listen.  We should connect our faith with how we are leading our lives.  We should talk about what we see going on in the world.  Finally, Ehrich wrote that we should speak of hope and of joy.
            I like this list a lot.  Though the new year is already a month old, we might resolve to speak of such things this year and beyond.
            I would add some items to the conversation.  Ehrich framed many of the items he identified in terms of Christians talking to other Christians.  He was not precluding wider conversations, particularly as he discussed speaking of hope and of joy.  There were a couple of other things I read last year that also say something to me about what the church needs to discuss, particularly with those in the wider culture.
            For me, faith supports experimental exploration, imaginative conjecture, experiential probes (Michael Eigen, Faith and Transformation, vii).  How does Christian faith support that kind of openness and adventure in living, and why is it that for so long the church has given the impression that faith closes us off rather than opens us up?
            We need a religious view that embraces nature and does not fear science (Gary Snyder, Back on the Fire, 70).  How does our Christian faith embrace nature and work with the findings of science?  Far too many people equate faith with a rejection of science, and it is often those speaking for Christian faith that perpetuate that view.  The church needs voices that embrace faith and science.
            One of my hopes for this new year is that such important conversations will deepen and widen.

With Faith and With Feathers,


Friday, January 30, 2015


            The class was “Arts in America.”  The professor looked like he could have come from central casting – coat and tie, balding with glasses, a goatee.  The class was held in a large lecture hall, no doubt to accommodate all the students who were fulfilling their liberal education requirements.  And when did liberal education requirements morph into “generals,” as in “I am attending the local community college to complete my generals”?  I rather prefer “liberal education requirements.”
            We looked at paintings, discussed literature, listened to some music.  I remember appreciating a great deal of it. I think it was in this class that I first heard the music of Charles Ives, and it is music I return to from time to time.
            The music played in one class session, however, penetrated more deeply.  In the darkened lecture hall that day, the record needle (yes, a vinyl record) went down on a recording of a small group jazz combo played a song that was absolutely beautiful.  The small group was led by its saxophonist, John Coltrane.  After the song ended, the professor moved on to a discussion of jazz as an improvisational art.  It is a uniquely American art form.
            This was one of my first encounters with jazz, and I spent some time exploring it.  I built a small collection of records, including some John Coltrane.  I came to a deep and abiding appreciation of Coltrane’s music, from his ballads, like the one I heard that day in Arts in America, to his more experimental pieces.  Listening to Coltrane has provided me wonderful pleasures over the years, even been the occasion for experiences that some might call mystical.  However, none of the Coltrane records I bought at the time had that song I heard that day.
            Over the years, my jazz listening waxed and waned, burning more brightly since watching the delightful Ken Burns series, “Jazz.”  Along the way, I found that song that opened the door to the music of Coltrane, “Central Park West.”

With Faith and With Feathers,


Friday, December 26, 2014

A Song for All Seasons

            For the past couple of weeks I have been listening to Christmas music.  I listen to classical songs and classic songs, songs with a rock beat, a jazz swing, a pop tunefulness, songs sacred and secular.  Some of the songs evoke warm childhood memories, some remind me of concerts attended (I heard Bruce Springsteen play “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” live in St. Paul November 29, 1978).  I enjoy the music of this season, but I am also ready to move on, or move back to other music.
            I listen to a fair variety of music, mostly jazz and rock and pop.  I sprinkle classical music in there as well.  When listening to rock or pop music, I probably listen to more older material than newer stuff, either new music from familiar bands like Bruce Springsteen or U2 or Tom Petty, or older music from the 1960s, 70s, and 80s.  I still enjoy discovering a new band.  The Hold Steady, a band whose music I discovered in 2009, though they had been around for a while, is still a favorite.  I am enjoying TV on the Radio, “Seeds.”
            One thing I find particularly enjoyable, though, is finding what I consider a lost classic – some song on an album that has been around for a long time, but something I had simply not paid much attention to.  A recent such discovery for me is the Simon and Garfunkel song “7 O’Clock News/Silent Night.”  The song consists of an overdubbing of Simon and Garfunkel singing "Silent Night", and a simulated "7 O'Clock News" bulletin of the actual events of 3 August 1966 – the death of Lenny Bruce, a controversial Martin Luther King, Jr. march, the war in Vietnam, killings of student nurses by Richard Speck.  Here is a link to the song:

            In many ways it is a seasonal song, a song I should put away until next year.  But it is also a song that transcends the season.  If the message of “Silent Night” cannot find its way into a still broken world, a world where there remains violence, war, political strife, drug overdoses, racial tension, then Silent Night is little more than pure sentimentality.  I don’t think it is.  I treasured this Simon and Garfunkel song this season because it reminded me of my need for a strong, courageous, compassionate and tender faith amid a difficult world, a faith not just for a few weeks at Christmas but a faith for every day.
            This was my discovered classic this fall, a little treasure that was hidden in a field, and I found it with joy, and I intend to keep it close to my heart.
            Next year, when I take out my Christmas music again, I will burn this song onto a new holiday cd.  I expect I will take it out for a listen a number of times between now and then.
With Faith and With Feathers,


Friday, November 28, 2014

Ferguson and an Act of Hope

            Late last week, as the country was waiting for and wondering about the Grand Jury decision that was going to be coming from Ferguson, Missouri, I was contacted by a coalition within the Duluth community who were working on some responses to whatever the decision might be.  Would officer Wilson be charged with a crime in the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager, our would Wilson’s narrative of the events, wherein he felt threatened by Michael, and thus used appropriate force, lead to end to the legal process?
            In Duluth, community responses began to be organized before we knew what the Grand Jury would decide.  The church I pastor, First United Methodist Church would be a place for prayer, counsel and reflection.  The verdict came Monday.  My church was offered for prayer from noon to four p.m. on Wednesday.
            Not many came that afternoon.  Perhaps other events had provided sufficient opportunity for their reflection.  In any event,  I had determined that I wanted to do something during that afternoon.  Once an hour, beginning at noon, I went either into the chapel or the sanctuary and rang my prayer bowl.  Earlier in the day, I had also decided that I would offer a brief prayer service at 4 p.m. if anyone was present. 
Four p.m. came and no one was there.  I offered the prayer service anyway.  I rang the bowl.  I used the United Methodist morning prayer, slightly revised.  New every day is your love great God of light great God of light, and all day long you are working for good in the world.  Stir up in us desire to serve you, to live peacefully with our neighbors and to devote each day to your work in the world – the work of justice, peace, compassion, beauty, reconciliation, creating the beloved community, and love.  I read “The Magnificat” from Luke 1, Mary’s powerful words about the horizon of hope in which we live, about a God who works for justice.  I prayed a body prayer.  Then I sang.  I was a little self-conscious about this, but I did it.  I sang “We Shall Overcome” and the last first of “We Are Called” – Sing, sing a new song.  Sing of that great day when all will be one.  God will reign, and we’ll walk with each other and sisters and brothers united in love.  We are called to act with justice.  We are called to love tenderly.  We are called to serve one another, to walk humbly with God.
It was, for me, an act of hope.

With Faith and With Feathers,


Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween Memory

Memories light the corners of my mind
Misty water-colored memories of the way we were
Scattered pictures of the smiles we left behind
Smiles we gave to one another for the way we were
                                                Marvin Hamlisch, Barbara Streisand

The beer was empty adn our tongues were tired
And running out of things to say
She gave a kiss to me as I got out and I watched her drive away
Just for a moment I was back at school
And I felt that old familiar pain
And as I turned to make my way back home
The snow turned into rain
                                                Dan Fogelberg

Our psychic life may be lived at different heights, now nearer to action, now further removed from it, according to our degree of attention to life....  It is memory above all that lends to perception its subjective character.
                                                Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory

     Last night I began reading Alfred Kazin's lovely memoir, A Walker in the City.  Kazin writes beautifully about the neighborhood in Brooklyn in which he grew up, describing it with words that evoke so well one's senses.  His memories are powerfully shared.
     Halloween is, for many adults, a day of memory.  Perhaps we remember our children, now grown into adulthood, in their costume of choice heading out into the streets to Trick-or-Treat, or heading to some neighborhood carnival - a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, a princess, a color crayon.  Maybe we think even further back to our own childhoods - cold October evening in Minnesota when five blocks seemed like you were visiting the border country with some strange neighborhood, and candy, which was otherwise so difficult to come by was freely bestowed on you by strangers.
     Memory, at its best, when enjoyed and savored, but not clung to excessively, can make us more perceptive, more sensitive, can help us pay more attention to life and deepen our subjective appreciation of it.  Memory can hone our subjective sense of touch, making us more aware of the pain, angst, the beauty, the joy of living.

     Happy Halloween.

With Faith and With Feathers,


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Art and Life

            I am not an artist, or at least not a visual artist.  I cannot paint well.  I do not sculpt.  I enjoy working with words, and have occasionally attempted to put them together in the art of poetry, but I would not say I have created “art.”  I am not an artist, yet I have continued to nurture a deepening appreciation for art.  At its best, art enlarges our capacity for experience.  It deepens our capabilities for richness of experience.
            This summer I had wonderful opportunities to view great art in New York.  Here I want to share a few of the pieces I viewed interspersed with quotes that speak to me of the essential value of art for life.

“A moment of beauty makes us quiver through and through, reverberates through our being, touches foundations, an experience that ripples through sensation, feeling, thinking, action, ethics.”   Michael Eigen, Contact With the Depths, 8

“Curiosity, and awe, a respect for complexity, the disposition to identify empathically, the valuing of subjectivity and affect, an appreciation of attachment, and a capacity for faith are worth cherishing.”          Nancy McWilliams, Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, 45

“The intrinsic value of human life lies in the capacity for feeling and in the experience itself….  To maximize the richness of experience is to maximize the quality of human life”   Charles Birch and John Cobb, The Liberation of Life, 168, 173

With Faith and With Feathers,