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,


Sunday, August 17, 2014

Silent Pain

So much has been said and written this week about the deaths of Robin Williams and Michael Brown.  I hesitate to write more.  Yet I have seen very little written that makes any connection between these two heartbreaking events.  I think there is a connection.  Both deaths have brought to light pain that often remains silent.
            The suicide of Robin Williams brought to light the fact that even among the most successful there can be pain.  Looking at the world we often envy the rich, the famous, the successful.  We imagine that their lives might be cushioned from some of the pain and sorrow of the world.  To be sure they need not worry about where their next meal is coming from or about where they are going to sleep away from the elements.  Materially they are doing well. When compared with the suffering endured by the hungry, the displaced, the refugees in war-torn countries, the suffering of the well-off may seem minimal.  It would do us well not to try and compare human suffering in ways that minimize the very real pain of persons regardless of their social, economic or cultural status.  Robin Williams suffered.  He was in pain and the pain overtook him, overcame him.  In pain, he ended his life.
            The psychoanalyst Michael Eigen has said, “there is no trauma-free world, no trauma-free space in real time.”  We all experience pain in our lives, in one way or another.  We experience loss.  We experience grief.  We experience disappointment.  Our task is to try and find constructive ways to deal with it.  It is not always an easy task.
            Obviously, not all pain gets dealt with constructively.  We would not call suicide a constructive response to the pain in life, though making judgments about a suicide after the fact is pointless, and can even be rather heartless.  After a suicide, we need to find constructive responses to the pain of those grieving.  We need to mourn and celebrate the life that has been ended.
            In Ferguson, Missouri there seems to be some non-constructive response to pain.  Protests can be a constructive response to social pain.  Looting is not.  But make no mistake about it, the death of 18 year-old Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American, shot by a white police officer, has revealed deep pain in our society.  There is pain and anger associated with injustice.  This pain and anger is deeply rooted in our history.  There are details to this case that continue to come to light, and we will learn more in the days ahead.  What we know now is that an unarmed 18 year-old is dead, shot by a police officer in the line of duty.  It has brought out of silence deep pain rooted in the history of race relations in our country.
            Thinking about this pain that we don’t always see, but that has come to light in recent days, I think about some of these wise words.
            All tremble at violence; all fear death.  Seeing others as being like yourself, you should neither harm nor kill.  All tremble at violence; life is held dear by all.  Seeing others as being like yourself, you should neither harm nor kill.  (Buddha, The Dhammapada, 129-130)
            Sometimes we feel that we are barely pulling ourselves forward through a tight tunnel on badly scraped-up elbows.  But we do come out the other side, exhausted and changed.  It would be great if we could shop, sleep, or date our way out of this.  Sometimes we think we can, but it feels that way only for a while.  To heal, it seems we have to stand in the middle of the horror, at the foot of the cross, and wait out another’s suffering where that person can see us.  To be honest, that sucks. (Anne Lamott, Stitches, 10)
            Seeing that all experience pain, we need to muster the courage to stand with the hurting.  It is not always easy.  Sometimes it just plain sucks.  We should seek to do no harm.  We should develop gentle souls.  We should seek to be healers.
With Faith and With Feathers,


Monday, July 21, 2014

Miranda Socrates

            As I noted when I last wrote here, one of my resolutions for this new year was to read more poetry.  My poetry reading has slowed, though I was delighted by William Stafford’s Sound of the Ax: aphorisms and poetry.  Here are a couple of gems.

Everything has meaning.  Be a total receiver. (35)
Before you hear the music, you do the dance. (8)

            I don’t know about making resolutions mid-year, but here’s one.  I will write on this blog at least once a month.  I need to find time to put some thoughts together in this space, while not neglecting all the other places where I need to bring ideas together.
            Over the course of my lifetime, I have tried to grow as a receiver.  I have grown in the music I listen to.  When I was younger, it was pretty strictly pop and rock.  I was much like my peers.  I have since grown to love jazz, appreciate classical and opera, and I have developed a fondness for country.  To have even said such a thing when I was in high school or college was to invite social ostracism.  Yet there is a certain beauty and truth that gets expressed well in country music.
            To be sure, there are a lot of clichés – honky tonk angels, good loving women who put up with a bit of cheating and boozing in their men (though there are limits).  Yet many country women portray rare strength and determination.
            Recently I have been listening to the music of Miranda Lambert.  O.K. not an original discovery by any means.  Rolling Stone did a big write up of her in a recent issue on country music.  Anyway, I decided to give a listen.
            One finds a generous portion of country music clichés on her albums.  In her songs there are cheating men, though she doesn’t put up with much.  Guns play a role in the music (“Time to Get a Gun” from Revolution). 
There are times when Miranda Lambert’s music digs a little deeper.  That’s the way the world goes ‘round, One minute your up, the next you’re down, It’s half an inch of water and you think you’re gonna drown, That’s the way the world goes round.  I have to appreciate that image of half an inch of water and you think you’re gonna drown.  I have been there.  I have had days like that.  That’s the way the world goes round, at least sometimes.
Jesus shows up, too.  Now Jesus can be a country music cliché, but sometimes you can encounter something a little more real.  I ain’t the kind you take home to mama.  I ain’t the kind to wear no ring.  Somehow I always get stronger when I’m on my second drink.  Even though I hate to admit it, sometimes I smoke cigarettes.  Christian folks say I should quit.  I just smile and say God bless. “Cause I heard Jesus He drank wine, and I bet we’d get along just fine.  He could calm a storm and heal the blind, and I bet he’d understand a heart like mine.  A Jesus who reached outside the bounds of respectability seems more akin to the Jesus of the New Testament than a Jesus who likes us in our Sunday best.
This isn’t the most profound stuff around, but it is delivered with a music that swings and a voice that has melody and meaning.  There is something to dance to here, on many levels.  To be sure, Miranda Lambert is no Socrates, but it will never be said of Miranda Lambert what was said of Socrates – He had wide-se, bulging eyes that darted sideways and enabled him, like a crab, to see not only what was straight ahead, but what was beside him as well; a flat, upturned nose with flaring nostrils; and large fleshy lips like an ass.  (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
With Faith and With Feathers,


Monday, May 26, 2014

The Ache of Ministry

            One of my resolutions for this new year was to read more poetry.  I’ve met with some success.  I have been much less successful writing this blog, but I hope the different pace of summer will afford me more opportunity to write.
            Among other things, poetry helps me pay closer attention.  It connects me to my soul in unique ways.  Much of the language of the Bible is poetic language.
            One poet I have been reading is not someone new to me, but “an old friend,” Denise Levertov.  If you are unacquainted with her poetry, I commend it to you.  She writes wonderfully about faith, nature, relationships, politics – in short, about much of life.
            In a poem from the 1960s, entitled “The Ache of Marriage,” Levertov celebrates marriage while acknowledging the work it entails.
            The poem begins:

            The ache of marriage:

            thigh and tongue, beloved,
            are heavy with it

I so appreciate the sensuality present, the embodiment of emotion.
            The poem ends:

            It is leviathan and we
            in its belly
            looking for joy, some joy
            not to be known outside of it

            two by two in the ark of
            the ache of it.
I hear joy and work and the desire to embody love in the daily-ness of life together.
            The poem, though, helped me reflect on something else, the ache of ministry.  Earlier this year a member of my congregation died.  He was a relatively young man, divorced, with three children - 23, 20, and 17.  When it came time to plan his memorial service, I met with the three children.  They were “in charge” of their father’s service – the ache of ministry.
            On the day of the service, the twenty-year-old, a son came to me.  He wanted to wear a tie, but he wasn’t sure how to tie it.  That is something we typically learn from our fathers, but his father was not there.  It isn’t easy to tie a tie while it is on someone else, so I put it around my neck and tied the knot, loose enough so I could then put it on this young man.  In that moment, especially, the ache of ministry.
            The ache of ministry – the joy and work of it, the desire to embody love in the daily-ness of it.

With Faith and With Feathers,


Thursday, March 27, 2014

Senate Prayer

Yesterday, March 26, I was afforded the honor of praying at the beginning of the session of the Minnesota State Senate.  I offered this prayer:

God of all peoples, intricate weaver of the web of life, seeker of justice and pursuer of peace: Here we are in this state which those who came before us called L’Etoile du Nord – the star of the North. It is an audacious statement, O God.  Yet you call we human beings to the high calling of moral grandeur and spiritual audacity, to use the wise words of Abraham Joshua Heschel.  You call us to do justice and nurture kindness.  You call us to pursue peace and seek freedom.  You call us to create beauty and tend the earth wisely.  You call us to recognize our sister and our brother in every one we meet, and to see in each person something of your image.  You call us to live with a certain humility and with compassion.  May we, today, in this deliberative body, hear your call again.  Grant us determination, courage, and imagination to respond to your call.  May our work this day help our state shine more brightly with the light of justice, shine more brightly with the light of freedom, shine more brightly with the light of compassion.  With moral grandeur and spiritual audacity, today let us pursue our calling to be L’Etoile du Nord.  Amen.