For Terry

My friend Terry was a farmer, a man who embodied faith and joy.

Rising early

first thoughts

of tasks

toil

contained in a vessel

of trust

and praise

and thanks

 

Pulling on worn jeans

familiar as the

breakfast

and markets

soft voices

going over the day’s schedule

flexible as farming requires

prayer

intention

a joke or two

a wry acceptance

of what is here

and hope

always embedded

cultivated

as surely as the soil

 

Awakened machine

trained to walk

the uneven ground

to climb the fueled beasts

of burden

and planting

and harvest

hands reaching for controls

that cannot control

the sun

and rain

 

Body fueled

by home cooking

and love

and Spirit force

and legacy

of cherishing the land

and the coaxing

of creatures

to be born

and eat

and grow

as they know to do

 

Body diseased

but never dis-eased

by its betrayal

forced Sabbath

strange gift

opening the heart

to joy

and wonder

healing over with

scar tissue

of trust

 

Father, lover, grandpa, friend

spirit expanded

bursting

the bonds

of this world

the door opens

to Presence

glory

life

wider

deeper

wonder full

 

Beloved whispers from beyond

I am here.

 

Sunday Morning Confession

If you are looking for ideas for this week’s lectionary text, go to the Menu and click on “Lectionary Sermons.”  They appear in order for the current year.  

Folks will come at the appointed hourFall 2015

dutifully, happily

visit a bit, then settle into their familiar pews

expectant, ready for a song, a prayer,

a word or two of inspiration

to nourish their steady faith for a few more days.

Where are the words?

They are tangled up, bound, uneasy,

resistant to casual exploitation.

Feeble, not equal to the task

nor strong enough to emerge

from the morass of questions,

preoccupied with contradictions,

busy elsewhere with tweets and posts and shrillness.

Better to give them a break this once.

Better to ponder the vivacity of the children among us,

the blaze of yellow grass in the ditches,

the relentless, rhythmic caress of the waves on the lakeshore.

Worthy satisfaction for a Sabbath morning.

 

 

 

 

 

Over the Mountain

Sometimes, while writing the weekly sermon, other ideas swirl and prod, but editing is critical, and they don’t make it into the final draft.  Some of them linger.  This is one idea that persisted and emerged in a poem, having pondered Philippians 3:13–“forgetting what lies behind, reaching out for what lies ahead…”

pioneer-women

I rescued

one teacup

to honor

Grandmother

hid it among the quilts

I alone unfold

each night.

The memory

is safe

for now.

 

Her silken hands

handing me

milky tea

veins in relief

tracing the map

of her years

life blood

testifying

that she

is here.

Was there.

 

We will have

a new here.

 

The china

painted peonies

she selected

as a bride

had to go.

The careful wrapping

the harsh warnings

the birthday meals

the thin connection

to the old country

had to go.

 

Shattered

in a ravine

bright treasure

for the crows.

China flowers

among the real,

payment

for carrying

our hope

lightly.

 

Flowers

along the way

anyway

columbine

fireweed

sego lily

 

and the

teacup

snatched

to hold

my grandmother’s

memory

will find

its new place

at the end

of the trail.

Beauty Eclipses the Tension

Eclipse fever cast its own eclipse over the United States this month.  It was cloudy and rainy locally, so the untimely darkness was our only indication of the phenomenon.   Listening to the recordings of people as they experienced the veiling of the sun was enough to bring tears to my eyes.  Their cries of astonishment and delight had me almost as captivated as they were on August 21.

The non-political, non-commercial (mostly), grace-filled moment offered us a brief respite from the tension that persists among us in the U.S. these days.  The tension seems to take on new forms daily, assaulting us from every direction, making us wary and suspicious.  It is relentless and self-energizing, searing us in its heat if we let it get too close for too long.  Is it any surprise, then, that our collective sense of wonder during the eclipse felt like a healing, refreshing breeze?

It reminds me of an incident from a few months ago.  Last winter a friend and I launched a discussion group called “Knock Knock.”  It was an attempt to address emotion-laden political issues with greater care than seems to be the norm in the public square.  We chose guidelines to help us speak and listen to one another with sensitivity and curiosity.  We practiced, we fumbled, we kept at it.  The participants who came timidly at first gained confidence, delighted at the chance to engage in meaningful dialogue that is safe, thoughtful, open.

Our final gathering before the summer hiatus had us listening to a local politician, offering him the opportunity to tell his story beyond issues and votes.  The habit must be hard to break, because the discussion got a little heated.  I realized that I was unprepared for this problem.  How to intervene within the spirit of our principles?

April 2017 rainbowSuddenly someone pointed across the table and blurted, “Look!  A rainbow!”  The wine bar where we gather is entirely made of windows, so there it was, vivid and delicate.  We watched it grow and recede, glow and fade until the colors disappeared.  We oohed and aahed, laughing together at this unexpected gift.

As we returned to our seats, our smiles morphed from awe to merriment, collectively realizing how the rainbow had broken the tension in the room.

We cannot control the skies, nor each other.  We are disappointed often, clouds darkening both our personal and collective horizons.  But once in a while, beauty breaks in to surprise us, unite us, and heal us, if only for a moment.

About “The Gate”

My thoughts on Marie Howe’s poem “The Gate”

“I had no idea that the gate I would step through

to finally enter this world

would be the space my brother’s body made.”

20160919_172125 (2)
September 2016

I feel sometimes as though the gate I step through to see the world is my mother’s smile.  I feel my lips forming her smile and feel my eyes turning into hers, twinkling with a secret knowing.  Other times I find myself crying her tears.  Feeling the pain of loneliness that seems as though she is weeping along with me, in me.  Looking long at someone’s suffering that no one around me notices, allowing the ache to permeate my protective shell and give space to tears.

But her smile.  Winsome, hard-won, given.  It healed me, gave me such hope.  Told me that everything will be all right, for her, for me, for the yet-unborn who will inherit the ghost of a smile that opens a space in the world for them to walk through.

 

Snatches

 

This month I enjoyed hiking with friends in the Rocky Mountains near Estes Park.  As hiking “veterans,” sometimes we devise ways to entertain ourselves on the long hikes back to the trail head.  For example, once we challenged each other to name movies or books beginning with every letter of the alphabet.

Dream Lake CO 2017
Enjoying the easy hike to Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

During one hike this year, we overheard some young women talking about mathematics as they passed us on the trail.  At least I think it was mathematics.  The language was above my head!  It occurred to me that it would be fun to create fictitious snatches of conversation that would turn other hikers’ heads.  We laughed as we came up with some provocative statements:

“I was so relieved they didn’t look in the trunk!”

“Roadkill doesn’t taste that bad if you use enough seasonings.”

“We got the head buried, but then we didn’t know what to do with the body.”

“I told him, if you’re going to shoot me, shoot me!”

(You can see the direction our ideas were taking.)

It was fun to imagine the comments that hikers would make after passing us on the trail.  It was pretty entertaining.

This is what passes for “extreme” sports in my set.

We only managed to use one “snatch” on other hikers without laughing and giving away the game.  I saw some hikers approaching and said, “…so what do I do after you’ve won the lottery and bought the house, gone on all the trips you can think of?  I’m not sure what to do next.”

We form impressions of people based on brief interactions, careless remarks, or a comment on Facebook or Twitter.  Those impressions may or may not be accurate.  I can’t count the number of times I have had to alter my opinion of someone because I got to know them better.

I got to thinking about “snatches” in our lives, slices of our speech or behavior that people witness without knowing us otherwise.  Interactions with cashiers or waiters or strangers on a neighboring campsite.  What kind of impressions do we make?

I don’t think we have to pepper our conversation with the gospel message or Bible verses in every other sentence in order to offer the love of Jesus to the world.  We can be living lights of love and encouragement in myriad ways, participating in the reign of God by our generosity.  Of course we can always share the basis for our hope when the occasion arises.

We don’t have to be profound to have an impact.  Sometimes a well-timed question seems best to me:

“Huh.  I wonder how it felt to be on the receiving end…”

“How is that (attitude, story, perspective) workin’ for you?”

“So what do you think?”

I wonder whom I will meet along the “trail” today.  Happy hiking!

 

An even preachier version of this appeared in the Spencer Daily Reporter of August 4, 2017. 

Succeeding at Civility

unnamed

Here in northwest Iowa we have been conducting an experiment for the past few months.  A colleague and I started a dialogue group to create a space for gracious conversation about issues that affect everyone, so we mostly talk about politics.

Almost everybody I know felt beat up after the presidential election of 2016.  It didn’t matter whether your candidate of choice won or not.  If you got into conversations about the election, there was a good chance you got into a heated argument.

It is tough out in the public square these days.  During the presidential campaign, protesters who shouted at political rallies were escorted out the door.  But it wasn’t just in public places.  Thanksgiving dinners were ruined even after the election, with angry words spoken and turkey suddenly tasting like cardboard as anxiety rose to a fever pitch.

In the months since, the situation has not gotten better.  We could almost predict the shocking news of a recent shooting motivated by political differences.

We can do better than this.

Last year my friend Wendy and I talked about how to get people together to share their ideas, tell their stories, and listen instead of arguing.  We decided it was worth some trial and error at first.

So, we did it.  We had two pilot meetings in December.  The fact that people came in the middle of the busy Christmas season indicated how much they needed this.  They were excited to read the rules of dialogue and start practicing gracious conversation together.

We launched officially in February.  Word got around.  The local editor did a beautiful article the weekend before our launch.  New faces appeared at virtually every gathering.  People of all political stances, a wide range of ages, and vastly different backgrounds shared their views around the table.

4-11-17

We had to work at listening to each other.  I had to remind people not to form arguments and bring background material.  We were there to hear each other’s stories, not debate or reach consensus or even common ground.

On the day I screwed up my courage to begin this venture, the words “Knock, knock” came to mind out of the blue.  What?  Is this a joke?  Where is this coming from?  I won’t get all mystical here, but it felt like divine inspiration.  My first reaction to the words “knock, knock” was to think, “who’s there?”

That’s it.  Who is there?  As Elizabeth Alexander asks in her poem, “Ars Poetica #100: I Believe,” “are we not of interest to each other?”

This is what we have been ignoring in our political debates.  Instead of getting more and more shrill in our efforts to prove we are right, we need to pause and consider the person we are talking to.  Instead of trying to convince you why you are wrong I need to ask, “Why does this matter to you?  What is at stake here for you?”  And then just listen.  Ask questions out of curiosity.

What have we got to lose if we do this?  Nothing.  We learn different perspectives.  We realize why our problems are not easily solved.  We understand that we have to live together and find a middle way because we care about each other. 

That’s what has been happening.  We have been making new friends.  We have actually been laughing together with people we can’t agree with about health care or guns or immigration policies or abortion.  We are hearing each other’s stories, and telling our own.

At our first gathering, I said, “Folks, we have to start somewhere.  I don’t know if this will succeed or not, but we have to try.”  Every head nodded emphatically.

It feels so good to be listened to.  It is exciting to realize that I can be a good listener too.  Most of all, it is a relief to find that we can do this.  We really can do this.

Because who’s there really matters.

Knock Knock is on summer hiatus.  You can see more at our Facebook page, “Knock Knock One,” and follow us for future posts.  Principles of dialogue for our group are taken from Kay Lindahl’s book: Practicing the Sacred Art of Listening.