Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Letter to My Younger Self

Dear Glynn,

I’m looking back to a moment, sometime in the spring of 1970, when you considering a decision to switch majors. You were discouraged by chemistry, and how many courses lay ahead for a pre-med major. And you knew that you heart wasn’t in pre-med; instead, your father’s heart was in pre-med, because he had wanted to be a doctor. And you were toying with two ideas simultaneously – the ministry and journalism.

You made the right decision. You didn’t know it then, and you disappointed your father by abandoning pre-med, but you made the right decision. You were not cut out to be a minister. And truth be told, you weren’t cut out to be a journalist, either. But journalism was the closest thing you were cut out for, because of the way you thought and the way you would be trained to think.

You could have been a poet, too, but you would have starved to death.

Be encouraged: you will reach the seventh decade of your life and not regret a single decision about your marriage, your work, your children, and your faith. You will look back and say I would change nothing about any of these major decisions, even if I could.

You will find disappointments, frustrations, and often – perhaps usually – tremendous stress. You will find anger and hurt. You will experience unhappiness and grief. But you will have no regrets.

You will learn to understand that life does have meaning, and that includes your life. And everything happens for a reason and a purpose.

You will discover that you will come to love your wife even more than you did when you married her.

You will find joy in your two sons (and it shouldn’t be a surprise that you will have only sons, because that’s all your family ever has). You will find joy in your grandsons (you see what I mean about our family and sons).

You will take extreme career risks. You will challenge status quo thinking, often fearlessly, and sometimes you will frighten and threaten others who believe in and own the status quo. You will pay a career price for that, but you will change things.

The dream you had in your 20s – you know which one I’m talking about – will become real in your 50s. You will come to writing fiction and poetry late, but you will come. And you won’t get rich, but you will write. You will understand that the image of God that is in each of us is first the image of the creator.

Not long before you retire, you will find poetry at work, in the most surprising ways and places. Seeing work as a kind of poetry will allow you to look at the everyday and see it in a new way. You will find the poetry late, but when you look back, you will see it is the poetry at work that has always led you to challenge the status quo.

I would tell you not to sweat some of the things you will worry about, and sometimes obsess over, but those things, too, will become part of who you are, the decisions you make, the opinions you hold, the stories you write. Life is a whole, and all things in a life make it a whole. Your stories are about the pieces, but they all come from the whole.

That is what your life will ultimately be about: the whole. And you will want to be remembered for the whole.

The High Calling is hosting a community linkup this week on Writing a Letter to Your Younger Self. For details (and the deadline), please visit The High Calling.

Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Sitting in the caves

We sit huddled
the city’s caves offering
a respite
a single candle burns
dim light
our faces and thoughts

cries echo above us
we sit, hiding,
not stirring
an occasional glance
offered the passageway
an occasional glance, uneasy
offered the graves

running feet above
what follows:
boots thudding above
cries anguished
then silence

we sit in caves
a spared remnant

Illustration: Crypt of Saint Caecilla in the catacomb of Callistus in Rome. Image adapted from Walter Lowrie, Monuments of the Early Church (New York:The Macmillan Company, 1901).

Poets and Poems: Luci Shaw and “Scape”

As I get older, I’m noticing something about myself.

Things I didn’t have much time for when I was younger seem to be more important.

Things like art exhibitions. Poetry. Watching bees and hummingbirds in the garden (I spent several minutes sitting at our kitchen window on Saturday, watching a hummingbird flit from flower to flower in the garden).

Part of the reason may be I simply have more time. Children are grown and on their own. Work has become less about career and more about accomplishment. Retirement is looming.

I’m paying more attention. And I’m paying more attention to the creative acts, and acts of creation, around me.

I’m not alone in this. I hear friends saying similar things.

So I come to a volume of poetry like Scape: Poems by Luci Shaw, and what’s she talking about in every poem is familiar, recognizable, and somehow moving.

To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Slow Church: We Are Not the Same

The Apostle Paul wrote 14 or 15 epistles to various churches (the precise depends upon the author of Hebrews, believed to be Paul but never explicitly stated as in the other letters). Some were in Asia Minor, some in Greece, and one was in Rome itself. And while the letters are consistent in themes and ideas, they are also different.

Each of the churches was in a distinct community. While koine Greek might have been the primary lingua franca of the empire, and Paul used a similar governance model wherever he established churches, the fact is that the churches existed in specific communities. Some had issues with the prevailing paganism and centers of idol worship. The community at Corinth had to deal with a culture of extremely lax sexual mores, and how those mores were coming into the church.

And beyond Paul, the book of Revelation begins with short addresses to seven churches, each of which had a specific defining characteristic.

Yes, similarities existed. But each church was itself a specific community, being equipped to reach out to the specific community it lived within.

“After Jesus’ death and resurrection,” write Christopher Smith, John Pattison, and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove in Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus, “his disciples dispersed throughout the world and planted churches that were manifestations of Christ’s body in their particular places.” How could they not be? Some of the cities were old, older than the Roman Empire. Some had been planted by the empire as cities for their retired soldiers. And one was the heart of the empire, with all of its wealth, power, sophistication and brutality.

The churches had the same purpose; but the purpose had to be implemented in different communities.

Do we believe that church model that works for one community in suburban Chicago and one in Los Angeles will work just as effectively in Little Rock or St. Louis or New York?

Have we become so mesmerized with technology that we think that “sites” (a central church radiating out its worship services by video and webcast to smaller church groups in a metropolitan area) will work as well in New Orleans as it does in Nashville and Cleveland?

Have we been misled into believing that America is such a homogenized culture that everything works the same everywhere?

The authors of Slow Church refer to this as McDonaldization, the church model franchised everywhere regardless of whether it fits the community or not. They give credit for the idea and concept of McDonaldization to John Drane, author of The McDonaldization of the Church, who says that “while Christians should try to learn from the success and failures of other churches, we shouldn’t copy them.”

The church is in the local community for a reason. Paul didn’t start with an empire-wide concept of what the church should be.

Which may be a major reason why Christianity was so successful in the Roman Empire.

Photograph by Lynn Greyling via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The sea is gone

The sea is gone
disappeared or
lifted in cosmic
reversing Noah
in a bleeding moment
it was there
it is not now

in its place the city
the waves of the city
crash upon the shore
in high tide
the sea has ebbed
the city has flowed

the seagull returns
to the ark, no fish,
the ark beached
upon what looks
like Michigan Avenue
or Fifth Avenue
or The Strand
or the Champs Elysees
the sea is gone

Photograph by Petr Kratochvil via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Peggy Rosenthal’s “Praying through Poetry”

A new word entered the country’s consciousness this week. A new word entered our prayers at home this week.


It’s a suburb of St. Louis, with some 21,000 people, and about 10 miles in a straight line from where we live in St. Louis.

Ferguson entered the world’s consciousness this week. A friend form St. Louis traveled on business to Bangalore, India, turned on the television set in his hotel, and on the screen was a news report from the United States.


A new word for our prayers. It joined other words, like Iraq and IS. Ukraine and Russia. Ebola.

I found myself reading more in the Bible this week, and reading more poetry.

And I read a small book, 83 pages including three pages of notes: Praying through Poetry: Hope for Violent Times by Peggy Rosenthal. It was published in 2003, although parts of it were published in The Christian Century in 2002. Rosenthal wrote it after another word entered our vocabulary and our prayers.


She went looking for hope after the fall of the twin towers, and she found it in poetry.

She takes 10 poems, explains why each leads her to hope, and then suggests several ways each inspires her to pray. The poems included were written by Polish poet Adam Zagajewski; Lucille Clifton; Scott Cairns; Jane Hirshfield; Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish; Denise Levertov; Wendell Berry; Daniel Berrigan; Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai; and St. Francis of Assisi. What all of the poets have in common is that they write about faith, belief, doubt, God, and humanity.

Here’s “God Has Pity on Kindergarten Children” by Yehuda Amichai:

God has pity on children in kindergartens,
He pities school children – less.
But adults he pities not at all.

He abandons them,
Sometimes they have to crawl on all fours
In the roasting sand
To reach the dressing station,
And they are streaming with blood.

But perhaps
He will have pity on those who love truly
And take care of them
And shade them,
Like a tree over the sleeper on the public beach.

Perhaps even we will spend on them
Our last pennies of kindness
Inherited from mother.

So that their own happiness will protect us
Now and on other days.

Rosenthal says that, for her, the transition from what begins as a rather dark poem to one of hope is the phrase “But perhaps.” At that point, she suggests the poem is like a psalm, some of many begin in darkness, too, and end with hope in God.

It’s small book, now more than a decade old. But Praying through Poetry is still current, and likely will remain current for a long, long time.

Top photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Feeding fish

We could be
there still
feeding fish
not fishing fish
fish fattened
an endless diet
bite-sized pellets
we throw
the mouths arch
bodies flail
and rush
white and gold
water churns,
we throw
bite-sized pellets
a chubby hand
bite-sized pellets
we could be
there still

Tweetspeak Poetry is still fishing for poems. Bait your hook and see what’s biting.

Photograph by Stephanie Young, Easter Sunday 2012. St. Louis Union Station.