Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Who do you love...

I LOVE George Throgood's version of the old Bo Didley classic: Who Do You Love? I LOVE bar bands - I LOVE down and dirty rock and roll - and I LOVE the spirituality of Johnny Cash!

And the reason I am blasting this all too obvious news to you is because today - once again - I was given another opportunity to laugh at myself. I was walking into the store to pick up my wife when a young white man, really beaten up with a blistering black eye, waved at me and said, "Hey man... how are you?" He was a tough little dude so I noted that I was "cool" when he said, "Wait, man... do you know that you look like that movie star.. what's his name?" Now, that opened a HOST of possibilities: some say EC...

Others have suggested Tim Curry, but my main main said, "Oh wait, man, I know: Dennis Leary." Now I LOVE the work of Dennis Leary on "Rescue Me" - it is the most insightful show about men that I know - but really! So I smiled at the two middle aged women watching this show, gave my brother a "power to the people" raised fist and walked into the store to pick up my wife.

Like many things these days, this just made me laugh. I WISH I was as hot as Dennis Leary. I am amazed that someone mistook me for him. And I recall Johnny Cash saying one time that he was glad that he had found his true self - clean and sober and totally in love with June - but still, sometimes he missed the buzz of the drugs! In other words, he was humbled by the totality of his humanity: the light and the darkness, the sadness and the celebrations, the good days and those that are full of shit that are all wrapped up together.

So, as I get ready to celebrate my 57th birthday, I am with brother Cash: life is too damn funny to take myself too seriously - you can laugh or you can cry - and I choose to laugh. And then strap on my electric guitar from time to time and play a round of "Who Do You Love?" Or "Not Fade Away" or even "Mona." Life is good and I am grateful for the gift of laughter and rock and roll, the love my dear wife shares with me, the blessings of my children, the grace of God and the chance to serve an all too human congregation.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Another thought about Michael Jackson...

It has become VERY clear to me that Michael's death has created another fissure in the illusion of racial harmony in the USA. On the day that our Supreme Court ruled to overlook the importance of healing past grievances, I continue to hear a host of well-intentioned people of faith drone on about excess - confusing celebrity/notoriety with depth of importance - when it comes to Michael Jackson. It seems to me that three truths have not been considered:

+ First, MJ has to be understood as the Jackie Robinson of the entertainment world: he broke barriers, records and expectations. To be sure, many Anglos don't even consider this reality - people of privilege rarely do - but it is undeniable.

+ Second, church people - especially middle class, white church folk - still tend to live in a high culture/low culture dichotomy that both overlooks and even denies the place of our still speaking God in popular music. There is NO question that MJ created beauty, inspired hope and cooperation in millions of people throughout the world, advanced the cause of compassion through his "We Are the World" benefit work AND... brought often opposing people together. (You see, Michael was a TRUE genre bender - an innovator who blurred lines separating male and female, black and white, street and geek and all the rest... check out the guitar on this and "Beat It" if there is ANY confusion!)

+ And third, rather than categorizing MJ as a freak - or inferior being to high culture artists - wouldn't it be better to simply recognize that Michael was a broken soul who found a way to create beauty out of his wound? He had feet of clay, without any doubt, but... that is true for us all. In this he was like Johnny Cash, much less redeemed, but on the same road.

I rarely underscore the racial/class divides within the church of Jesus Christ - they are already too obvious, painful and real - but this warrants our consideration. As the liberation theologians used to say: the good news is BAD news to some for a while before it becomes GOOD news for us all. We miss the mark when we misunderstand what the spirit is saying to us in the profound outpouring of grief throughout the world. In fact, it reminds of Jesus saying: how come you can read the signs in the sky, but fail to grasp the signs of the times? Take a look at this from the NY Times:( http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/29/us/29race.html?_r=1&hpw)

Anyway, I still say: let's give thanks to God for Michael Jackson and mourn his passing. (And dig this GREAT tune of Michael's - damn if he didn't nail both the sound and sadness that he knew all too well in this tough world...)

Sunday, June 28, 2009


I am always grateful when worship all comes together - more often than not it is a crap shoot if it is real because we are all such a mix of wounds and needs, joys and questions - but today... Let's just say that it was a sweet celebration of the blessings God shares with us in our broken humanity if we are able to discern them.

+ These blessings are almost always there, but we are not always awake to receive them.

+ Or else we don't feel safe enough to let our defenses down long enough for the Spirit to blow in our direction.

But today... today we were blessed - and everyone knew that "Jesus was in the house." There was truly GREAT music and congregational singing, gifts galore (from a retired teacher's children song based on a collection of "knock, knock" jokes to my wife playing recorder while a dear friend sweetly sang, "Lone Wild Bird) as well as laughter, tears and deep prayer, too.

A dear man shared a testimony about how he was overwhelmed by the love and encouragement he had received from the community during his recovery from prostate cancer surgery - and quoted St. Joni Mitchell, too, noting, "don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you got 'til it's gone!" And before worship another saint gave us a bag of old Minolta cameras for the "kids with cameras" project. "I don't use them any more and they are just getting in the way." Incredible. (Check out my friend Stephen's take on today's worship at: The Night Sea Journey @ http://thenightseajourney.blogspot.com/)

To me it felt like Jorma playing one of my favorite tunes - Embryonic Journey - and getting it right...

After worship, Di and I had the chance to work in our garden, too, adding tomato and pepper plants, lots of herbs as well as finding some beautiful hanging flower baskets. Then we sat on the back porch, sipped a little red wine and read the NY Times. It was pure grace upon grace.

As this new week opens, there will be church problems - count on it - there will be hurts and we will celebrate our birthdays, too. I just wanted to return thanks while it is still fresh in my heart because I really am grateful.

credits: stock photo used as per license agreement; Van Gogh in indianartview.blogspotcom

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Pushin' too hard...

Lost amidst the authentic public grief and confusion over the death of Michael Jackson that seems to be shaping the zeitgeist of this summer is the death of Sky Saxon. His mid-sixties hard edge and demanding music - he fronted and played bass for the The Seeds - brought an important balancing toughness to the sweet sounds that defined popular culture. In fact, in the middle of the British Invasion - the Beatles' released, "Help," Petula Clark was singing "Downtown" and groups like Sonny and Cher were trying to mimic the Mersey beat thing - four US bands were charting another direction with verve and energy.

The Seeds - from LA - scored a brief but important hit with "Pushin' Too Hard." It was a stern warning NOT to try to smooth down any of our rough edges. It was soulful, powerful and unlike anything else on the radio at the time. Yeah, there was a Rolling Stones look to the band, but also a uniquely American edge...

Three other bands were mining a similar vein during 1965. Bob Dylan said he had been reinvigorated by the Beatles' music after nearly being smothered to death by the pc demands of the culturally irrelevant New York leftist elite. Driving towards New Orleans, he heard the Beatles and fell in love with music all over again - and wanted to claim this joy in his own way. But he refused to become a clone of the British Invasion - in fact, he wanted to discover a truly American way of unlocking this wisdom - so he got together with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and started an exploration.

His first experiment can be heard on "Subterranean Homesick Blues" - and the near riot he caused at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965 - but the heart and soul of his work matured on both Highway 61 Revisited and the double album Blonde on Blonde. This music, too, was raw, rough and taking no prisoners.

Then there was the Music Machine - a total garage band with a rougher edge than most - who played with our minds and hearts with "Talk, Talk" and "The People in Me." Without trying to belabor the point, these guys were tapping into a growing awareness that not all was right with the world. Like the Velvets a few years later, they prefigured the sad underbelly of pop culture that would erupt into addiction, sexual excess and hedonism confused with spirituality. And damn if they weren't insistent! The Beatles may have gently whispered (about Brian Epstien's homosexuality) "Do You Want to Know a Secret?" but the Machine screamed: "my social life's a dud, my name is really mud... can't seem to talk about the things that bother me" and a whole lot more in just under two minutes. And WHERE the hell did that fuzz guitar come from: MARS!?

And shame on me if we forget the Count Five's gift: "Psychotic Reaction." Like the Seeds, the Machine and Dylan, this song exploded on the radio with a sound and message that was unnerving. Sure they put on slick suits for TV and smiled at the screaming girls. Who wouldn't? Of course they were influenced by the Yardbirds - who were charting their own alternative course from the sweet sounds of the British Invasion by this time with songs like "I'm a Man" and "Over Under Sideways Down" (my personal favorite) - but this song captured the truth of the grunt on the ground in Vietnam. It also suggested that the era's innocence and beauty were coming unglued and ungrounded.

So, I want to give thanks to God for Sky Saxon and all your buds. You took your finger out of the crack in the dam before it was popular -and helped keep it real. There would be no Clash or Elvis Costello - no Springsteen or Television or U2 - without your gfts. So rest in peace brother man, rest in peace.

(picture: "The Scream" by Eduard Munch, public domain clip art)

An interesting challenge...

Yesterday I received a very tender and helpful letter from a photographer who had just come upon my blog. He was very supportive and I was grateful for his note... but there was a problem. I had used one of his images - a beautiful photograph of a cross in the raindrops - and it is copyrighted. To make a long story short, he was concerned about protecting his artistic work and receiving proper credit - and I support him.

So here's the interesting challenge in the emerging world of the internet and the blogosphere: what are the new rules (to paraphrase Bill Maher - HBO Photos.) I consulted a reference from the University of Maryland (http://www.umuc.edu/library/copy.shtml) and their take is based on use of pictures, poems and prose in the classroom (with suggestions for the internet).

+ Always credit your source
+ Always use your sources sparingly
+ Always make certain that one source is not more than 10% of your message

Amy Cham offers some very good common sense guidelines, too at: (http://amycham.typepad.com/amy_cham_inside_my_head/2007/09/web-101-copyrig.html)

Answers/Yahoo suggests that non-profit use need only site the credits while this site (http://webnet77.com/webstuff/copyright.html) clearly prohibits using anything except in the public domain. Interesting, yes?

Clearly, every day use of internet images is a thousand light years ahead of legal precedent - and - artists need protection. It is clearly time for me to be much more careful and intentional about sharing artistic credits, yes?

(NOTE: so let me credit the really beautiful work of photographer, Gaylon Wampler, for his pix from Samoa. And let me invite you to check out his works at: http://www.gaylonwamplerphotography.com/)

I am grateful for this challenge and... wonder what your take on it all might be? Made me think of this golden oldie...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

I'm starting with the man in the mirror...

Well... Michael Jackson - the king of pop - is dead. So many feelings and thoughts are running through me - so many conflicting experiences with this troubled, brilliant, wounded genius who shared his core with the world on the stage and wrestled with demons I will never comprehend. Yes, he became scary - to be sure he was broken - but he was beautiful, too. And the deepest longing within me is that Michael might be at peace. As one of my old Tucson friends wrote: may dear Michael find peace in life everlasting that he never knew in this life. I say, "AMEN" to that one thousand fold.

I was sitting having dinner and conversation tonight with a new friend - another music and spirituality guy who shares something of my passion for both - when the TVs in the pub broadcast Michael's death. We were shocked - saddened - stunned. It brought to mind the other important musicians in my life who have left this realm...

+ I was driving back from San Francisco to the Tehachapi Mountains - just outside of Bakersfield - when I heard the radio say that Elvis had been found dead in his shower. It was August 16, 1977 - my first daughter was less than a year old - and we were leaving the Farm Workers Union to complete undergraduate school on the way to seminary. I had always loved Elvis - and love him still - from the hip, sexy outcast of the 50s to the fat, sad old clown of his later years. My mother turned me on to "the King" and we used to go to all his movies at the drive-in. I still to a mean impression of the early Elvis because he was so real. As Bono said so well: this dude was the embodiment of the Civil Rights movement way before the 60s. He was black and white, male and female, sex and religion and hope all rolled into one confused Southern gospel boy who was deep fried and FILLED with soul.

+ I was sad when Morrison, Hendrix and Joplin offed themselves with drugs - the sad end to tragic excess - but I was knocked on my ass and unable to breath or think when John Lennon was gunned down in New York City. I was a second year seminary student at Union Theological Seminary in NYC. My dentist was across the street from the Dakota where a troubled young man with a gun shot one of my life-long heroes on the way into his home. I couldn't move - John helped me experience Pentecost when he sang "Twist and Shout" on Ed Sullivan - and I have loved his music and madness ever since. Sitting weeping in my seminary apartment with 2 little girls, my oldest friend, Ross, called me and we wept together. Ross helped me learn to play guitar after confirmation class each Wednesday during 9th grade. We formed a band together and sang out our hearts and souls together. We went our separate ways after high school... but when John was shot there wasn't another person alive I wanted to talk to. I still give thanks to God that he called me that day.

+ There were other shocking deaths - Frank Zappa, George Harrison, Johnny Cash, Duane Allman, Roy Orbison, Marvin Gaye,Kurt Cobain, Jerry Garcia, and James Brown - they were all dear to my heart. And now Michael Jackson...

I would never have said that I was a FAN but GOD did I love to dance to this man's music.
And the way he wove tradition into innovation - a genre bender as I like to say - always impressed me and strengthened both, too. Which brings me to my favorite MJ tune: Man in the Mirror. It is a little gospel - a lot of confession - total funk and state of the art pop/street groove all at the same time - and it is infused with a message of humility, hope and solidarity. It is a much better song than "We Are the World," a song whose spirit I embrace, but grow tired of its sound. But I never tire of "Man in the Mirror." It still brings tears of joy and compassion to my eyes even now. There is a little James Brown and Motown here, a little Beatles and a lot of gospel as well - to say nothing of his incredible fusion of street hip and tenderness.

I am going to grieve his death... and I am going to choose to remember him for giving me, "Man in the Mirror." He was wounded and brought pain and confusion to some; he was exploited and abused, too, by so many others. But I give thanks for the gift of "Man in the Mirror" and all it means to the world.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Taking ourselves more lightly...

NOTE: Here are my notes/thoughts for this coming Sunday's worship. In the middle of politicians who talk about family values while carrying on behind their loved one's back, arguments about national health care and the courage and anguish of our sisters and brothers in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel my message might strike some as irrelevant - maybe even fluff. But I have found over the years that learning to take myself a little more lightly - actually learning to laugh at myself - is one sacred way of becoming more open and compassionate. I wonder what you think? If you are in town at 10:30 am on Sunday, please come join the conversation!

The Roman Catholic theologian, G.K. Chesterton, once said that the “reason angels can fly is because… they take themselves so lightly.” Today, as we go a bit deeper into the connection between humility and humor – and actually consider how our use of humor can help or hinder our life as disciples of Jesus – Chesterton’s observation is a good starting place. In a way, I think it captures a truth long neglected in organized religion.

+ Our spiritual forbearers in Judaism, you see, have a tradition that says: A cheerful heart brings a smile to your face; while a sad heart makes it hard to get through the day…. A miserable heart brings a miserable life; but a cheerful heart fills the day with song… Fear-of-GOD is a school for learning a skilled life — first you learn humility, then you experience glory. (Proverbs 15)

+ And St. Paul told the early church: You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction with one another, so stay together, outwardly and inwardly. You have one Master, one faith, one baptism, one God and Creator of all, who rules over all, works through all and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is permeated with unity... but please: never forget that your life together is built on humility and practice… pouring yourself out in acts of love for one another, alert to the wounds and quick at mending fences. (Ephesians 4)

Even Jesus in today’s healing stories embodies a sacred sense of humor that mixes things up so that joy overcomes sorrow, healing replaces our hurts, laughter triumphs over our tears and grace trumps karma in spades. We’re talking about this upside down kingdom business again, right? So much so that Jesus told the woman long afflicted with pain and isolation: “Daughter, you took a risk of faith and now you're healed and whole. Live well, live blessed! Be healed of your plague." (Mark 5)

There seems to be a connection between humility and wholeness and I have come to believe that humor is one of the best ways we can cultivate and nourish a holy humility in our ordinary lives. Not only does gentle humor turn the tables on our culture of cynicism, bringing us closer to joy, hope and trust, it does so in a way that is festive and satisfying.

And I suspect that intuitively we know this to be true even if our formal religious heritage has tended to be overly dour and serious. Don’t get me wrong: like the Hebrew wisdom tradition of Proverbs, I, too affirm that “awe and fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” Awe is one of the ways we are humbled – it helps us live like we’re not the center of the universe – it gives us perspective.

But shock and awe are not the only way to acquire humility: just as there is a hard and demanding path, so, too, one that is gentle and even fun. Why do you think we were created with the ability to laugh? It is one of the very attributes of the One Who is Holy – the Lord God – who made us in the divine image and calls us in Christ to embrace holiness within our humanity so that the Word becomes Flesh. Dare I say that laughter… is prayer?

One old saint put it like this asking, “How enlightened are you?” If…

+ … you can live without caffeine, be cheerful, ignoring your aches and pains and resist complaining

+ If you can understand when your loved ones are too busy to give you any time, take criticism and blame without resentment, ignore a friend's limited education and never correct him or her

+ If you can resist treating a rich friend better than a poor one, face the world without lies and deceit, conquer tension without medical help and relax without liquor

+ If you can sleep without the aid of drugs, honestly say that deep in your heart you have no prejudice against creed, color, religion, gender preference, or politics. Then, my friend, you have almost reached the same level of spiritual development… as your dog!
Brilliant, don’t you think? Honest, tender, humbling and insightful, this type of humor not only makes us laugh at ourselves but also notice just how far from the mark we are in most of our activities. That’s why I say that our laughter can also be a prayer: it is communion with the truth, spiritual insight and invitation to repent all in one delightful experience. It is the sweet side – the upside down way – of cultivating humility.

And humility, dear friends, is essential for our healing and the healing of the world. Simon Tugwell, scholar and author of a host of books exploring the wisdom of the ancient monastic world, has observed that, “The first work of grace is simply to enable us to begin to understand what is wrong.” (The Spirituality of Imperfection, Kurtz, p. 21)

And when we consider what is wrong with ourselves and the world, one of our first discoveries is “that we are not really in control of very much at all; we do not have the answers” and in many cases don’t even know the questions. Powerlessness – emptying – humility – fear and awe of the Lord in light of our limitations… is what? The beginning of knowledge, yes? The Christian poet T.S. Eliot put it like this:

In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is… where you really are not.

(Eliot, The Four Quartets)

The Sufi mystics are equally insightful when they playfully tell the story of Mullah Nasrudin – their Holy Fool – who was sitting in a cafĂ© one afternoon, drinking tea and talking about life and love. “How come you never got married, Nasrudin?” asked his friend at one point. “Well, said the mystic,” to tell you the truth, I spent my youth looking for the perfect woman.”

In Cairo, I met a beautiful and intelligent woman, with eyes like dark olives, but she was unkind. Then in Baghdad, I met a woman who was a wonderful and generous soul, but we had no interests in common. One woman after another would seem just right, but there would always be something missing. Then one day, I met her. She was beautiful, intelligent, generous and kind. We had everything in common. In fact she was perfect. “Well” said his friend,” what happened? Why didn’t you marry this wonderful soul?” To which Nasrudin sipped his tea reflectively and then replied: “It’s a sad thing. Seems she was looking for the perfect man…”

Embracing our powerlessness – accepting our lack of control – coming to terms with the fact that we really don’t know very much about anything – this, too, is the beginning of knowledge. It is humility – born of the word humus – from which we get the words humor and human. And I love the fact that these three words share the same etymological momma and poppa: “The dictionary describes humus as “a brown or black substance resulting from the partial decay of plant and animal matter… that is, it is the earth.” (Kurtz, p. 191)

+ Which is to say that humility is about earthiness – being grounded in what is real – a spiritual condition that bears fruit best through humor, don’t you think?

+ One of the co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson, used to say that “humility begins with our rejection of perfection – trying to live an all-or-nothing existence. For to be a human be-ing – to exist and carry out our lives in the middle of reality – is to be neither all nor nothing… it is to be all mixed-up. Both saint and sinner” to say nothing of dark and light, holy and human, male and female and all the rest.

And humor helps us get to this mixed-up/upside down place almost better than anything else because it puts together crazy things together that at first don’t seem to fit or belong: juxtapositions or paradox. And if we are lucky – and paying attention – by the end of a good joke or story, a connection is made. The words become flesh, heaven embraces the earth and we see both joy and sorrow living side by side together. Look at how this unfolds in today’s gospel, ok?

+ The story begins with a series of seeming contrasts: a sick woman and a healthy man, a woman outcast from the community and a young girl surrounded by her family and friends, the poor and the rich, those who have been forgotten and those who are always embraced. Are you with me?

+ What’s more there is faith and fear, ritual impurity and healing as well as death and new life, too. There is one more set of contrasts that warrant our attention, too, and they have to do with those who are called unclean and those whom Jesus touches.

This is real life to paraphrase AA: the place where everything is mixed up, nothing is perfect and humanity is very, very earthy. Now watch how this story of Jesus unfolds: Last week we were told that Jesus and the boys took a boat ride across the lake to the land of the Gentiles – the Decapolis – where a Jew crossed the line to share God’s grace with the Gentiles.

Now they are returning to Israel where they will meet both a leader of the synagogue, Jairus, whose daughter is dying – and – a nameless, unclean outcast woman who is given no name.

+ The little girl from the wealthy family is probably pre-adolescent while the woman has been suffering from a menstrual hemorrhage for 12 years.

+ Do you see the contrasts here? Contrasts that Jesus will reconcile?

Now, in the ancient tradition there were three human conditions that were considered so infectious that other human beings were forbidden contact: leprosy, bodily discharge and touching a corpse. And in our story we are told that Jesus touches both the leader of the synagogue’s dead daughter – and brings her healing – and allows himself to be touched by the woman with the incurable menstrual flow so that the miracles of healing are multiplied.

+ This was foolishness in his time – clearly a violation of common sense, religious tradition and social norms – may I call it radial humility - a profound commitment to mixing it up in the earthy stuff of real life to advance hearling?

+ Think about it: Jesus went so far as to call the outcast, diseased woman… what? Daughter! He called her daughter – making this healing personal more than merely business or even religion, don’t you think?

You see, in the humble, upside-down/mixed-up humility of Jesus, we are never content with abstractions: we yearn for relationships. Jesus is just as committed to discovering the identity of the one who touched him as the woman was committed to reaching out for her cure. One scholar wrote: “He is not content to dispatch a miracle; he wants to encounter a person. For in the kingdom of God, miracle leads to meeting. Discipleship is not simply getting our needs met; it is entering into the presence of Jesus, being known by him and following him.”

And what is the consequence of all this touching and healing? It looks an awful lot like joy to me – a celebration of God’s awesome sense of humor that brings faith out of our fears. All the more reason to practice – and cultivate – something of this earthy, humor-filled humility in the midst of our mixed-up lives, it seems to me.

So I’m going to stick with this quest for humility through gentle humor for another week because not too many people sent me a joke:

+ I asked you to do some homework - think of a joke or story that made you laugh at yourself - something that humbled you - and send me an email.

+ But I only got four replies! So let me say that you don’t have to use email – you can write me a letter – or even stop by the church office and drop it off for me here.

The challenge, you see, is to start cultivating a way of living that is angelic – where we don’t take ourselves too seriously – and where we spread a little hope and healing through the prayer of laughter. So let's push the envelope a little here and see if we can do better, ok? And to prime the pump and practice what I preach, I'm going to leave you with these two gems that both puncture our self-righteousness and create a little space for humility.

The first comes from the country singer, Butch Hancock, who said that he learned two important truths from his fundamentalist Texas church: the first is that God loves you – and you’re going to burn in hell; and the second is that sex is the most awful, filthy thing on earth – and you should save it for someone you love.

And the second tells the story of the Baptist preacher and his wife who decided to get a new dog. Ever mindful of their congregation, they knew that their dog must also be a Baptist, too. So they visited kennel after kennel and explained their needs. Finally, they found a kennel whose owner assured them he had just the dog they wanted.

+ The owner brought the dog to meet the pastor and his wife. “Fetch the Bible,” the owner commanded. The dog bounded to the bookshelf, scrutinized the books, located the Bible, and brought it to the owner. “Now find Psalm 23,” he ordered. The dog dropped the Bible to the floor, and showing marvelous dexterity with his paws, leafed through and, finding the correct passage, pointed to it with his paw.

+ The pastor and his wife were very impressed and purchased the dog. That evening, a group of church members came to visit. The pastor and his wife began to show off the dog, having him locate several Bible verses. The visitors were quite impressed. One man asked, “Can he do regular dog tricks, too?” “I haven’t tried yet,” the pastor replied. He pointed his finger at the dog and said, “Heel!” And the dog jumped onto a chair, placed one paw on the pastor’s forehead and began to howl. At which the pastor looked at his wife in shock and said, “Good Lord, Dianne: He’s not a Baptist, he’s a Pentecostal!”

Have some fun out there:
as Bill Coffin used to say, "Go out there and give 'em a little heaven and laughter - there's already too much hell, ok?" For this can be the good news for those who have ears to hear.

Monday, June 22, 2009

We are neda...

I don't pretend to understand the opposition protests in Iran that have broken out after the fraudulent elections of June 12th. But I DO get it when thousands of women and men take up the call to stand vigil on behalf of their fallen sister - and I get it in SPADES when they tell the world that they, too, are Neda (the woman killed during recent protests.)

There is something noble and heroic in taking up this vigil. There is something holy, too. I AM NEDA. Cesar Chavez taught me - and many of us - that there is always a place - regardless of race, age, gender or class - for people to stand together against injustice and oppression. He learned that first from the Alinsky organizers like Fred Ross - and also the witness of Dr. King and Gandhi. And when I worked with those who had trained with Cesar - this time in rural Mississippi - that same reality was true: there is always a place to stand together with those confronting evil.

When my daughters were tiny, we lived in San Francisco when St. Harvey Milk was gunned down and the GLBT community - and their straight allies - gathered to sing, "We are a gentle, angry people... and we are singing, singing for our lives." They were saying: I AM NEDA.

The African American poet genius, Langston Hughes, said it, too when he wrote, "Let America be America again (it never has been for me...)" back in 1938:

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek–
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean–
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today–O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

I heard much the same thing - but in a different language and context - when I was in Costa Rica during the early 80s. The young Sandinistas used to shout, "Presente!" when the names of those who had fallen during the good fight were mentioned in prayer. "They are present" they proclaimed - part of that great cloud of witnesses - who surround and encourage us all towards the true and compassionate. And when Archbishop Oscar Romero was gunned down during the celebration of the Eucharist... they would claim he, too, was "presente." He was NEDA.

Years later, sipping strong tea in East Germany, the heirs of Bonhoeffer told me that they chose to return after WWII to face both the shame of the Nazis and the agony of the Communists because that is what it means to serve the God who becomes flesh. "If we didn't remain in solidarity during the anguish, what right would we have to join the celebration?" So they worked faithfully for years until... the wall fell and feast became public. I heard the organizers of Poland's SOLIDARITY say exactly the same thing as they brought down their regime.

And our friends in South Africa made the same bold prayer during the horrors of apartheid and Nelson Mandela continues to bear witness to the fact that those who died are still within and among us... because as our Iranian sisters are telling us once again: I AM NEDA. As she died in the street an old man reassured her: "Don't be afraid, Neda, don't be afraid." May they all be in our prayers and hearts as the repression intensifies.

When did we see thee, Lord, and not feed thee... or clothe thee... or visit thee? Whenever you forgot - or chose to ignore - that I am Neda.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

cat's in the cradle...

It is an odd thing to be a father of adult daughters in these early days of the 21st century: odd and wonderful. On Father's Day 2009, despite the commercialization, it causes me to think back carefully over the many years of loving and guiding my two daughters. I became a peace activist back in the 80s (after being a conscientious objector during Vietnam and taking a long break) when a flock of Canada geese almost caused US Cruise missiles to attack the former Soviet Union on my daughter, Michal's, 5 birthday.

That led to my congregation getting involved in a variety of people-to-people visits with Soviet Christians - I took 50+ teens and their parents in 1984 - to say nothing of community sponsored conversations about the arms race. I taught my oldest daughter, Jesse, all the old union songs when she stayed with me one summer while I was organizing woodcutters in Mississippi. And when she graduated from an elite girls' high school - and gave her senior speech - she had the choir sing, "Union Maid." (It must have driven the corporate guys and their trophy wives NUTS!)

And now they are 32 and 30 respectively - teaching middle school in Brooklyn, NY and running a roadside cafe for folks with emotional issues transitioning back into the mainstream - and I love them all the more dearly as adults - even though I often still see them both as babies (I was a hippie and delivered them both) and children and young women. They have taught me so much and enlarged my small world 1000 fold. They are both married now to two great men - and I give thanks to God for this, too.

Interestingly, the first song I ever used from the secular world in worship was Harry Chapin's, "Cat's in the Cradle" because it was a prayer...

The second was Springsteen's, "My Hometown." We were living in Michigan during that economic collapse - the auto and steel industries tanking and many of our church friends scrambling for a future - and sometimes I would drive around our town with one of my daughters on my lap as we looked at their hometown. They both learned to drive a standard shift car, too, during that time - and judged their boyfriends by whether they could handle a real car or not - and this was a prayer, too

I am grateful for my daughters - for our good times and tough ones - because they have helped me. Blessings to you both, sweet women.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Holy humor and the practice of humility

NOTE: My weekly sermon notes this week as I work through the summer series: Learning the Unforced Rhythms of Grace. This is the first of two reflections on how humor can be a spiritual practice that nourishes humility. If you happen to find yourself in town at 10:30 am, please join us for worship, ok? I would love to see you.

There is a story told about a spiritual seeker who asked his beloved rabbi why it was that people were not allowed to see the face of God. “From the time of Moses until today God’s face has been kept from us. “What happened that keeps us from reaching high enough to see the Lord?”

+ The rabbi, who was very old, had experienced the fullness of life and said tenderly, "My child, reaching higher is not the way at all. We cannot see the face of God because there are so few who can stoop that low. How sad this is, but also the truth: learn to bend, to bow, to kneel and stoop and then you will be able to see God face-to-face." (www.spiritualityandpractice.com)

+ It’s like that old song from the Shaker community: “tis a gift to be simple, tis a gift to be free, tis a gift to come down where you ought to be; and when you find yourself in the place just right, ‘twill be in the valley of love and delight. When true simplicity is gained, to bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed: to turn, turn will be our delight till by turning, turning we come round right.”

This morning we’re going to consider another of the spiritual practices that can help us become people of focus, inner peace and outward integrity in the world: humility. It is one of the standards for living – one of the unforced rhythms of grace – that can round off our rough edges, help us find a measure of beauty in even the busiest moment and bring a bit of tenderness to a world that seems hell-bent on sacralizing selfishness without regard to the consequences. Jesus put it like this in Luke 14:

When you're invited to dinner, go and sit at the last place. Then when the host comes he may very well say, 'Friend, come up to the front.' That will give the dinner guests something to talk about! What I'm saying is, “If you walk around with your nose in the air, you're going to end up flat on your face. But if you're content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself."

Then Jesus turned to the host. "The next time you put on a dinner, don't just invite your friends and family and rich neighbors, the kind of people who will return the favor. Invite some people who never get invited out, the misfits from the wrong side of the tracks. You'll be—and experience—a blessing. They won't be able to return the favor, but the favor will be returned—oh, how it will be returned!—at the resurrection of God's people."

The invitation – the spiritual admonition – here has to do with letting go of both our insecurities and our need for social recognition long enough that God can work some compassion through us, right? It is summons to get out of our way from time to time so that blessings might be found in some of the oddest places.

But here’s what I’ve discovered over the years: not only is the practice of humility so counter-cultural that it baffles most of us, but also there is at the very least some ambiguity about what type of humility really advances the cause. In fact, there are three distinctive types of humility described in the Bible that can cause us confusion. So, let me first give you a quick survey course concerning what the scriptures say about humility and then move on to a way of cultivating and practicing it that I think you will find intriguing.

And the first thing I have to get out of the way is this: spiritual humility is NOT the same things as being a DOOR MAT. Sometimes we have been led to believe something like this, so let me disabuse you of it right now. Being meek – being gentle – being humble has NOTHING to do with being used and abused and then hung up wet to dry. When Jesus says: “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth” in Matthew 5: 5 do you know his reference? Do you recall the two people in the Bible who are described as meek? Jesus and Moses. Period.

+ So think about this: is there ANYTHING you know about in the story of Moses that resembles acting like a doormat? When Moses confronted Pharaoh, how did he act? Timid? Oppressed? Confused?

• Not at all: when Moses visited Pharaoh he didn’t whisper, “Please, dear man, if you don’t mind, would you kindly consider letting my people leave the agony of their slavery?” NO, he marched into the king’s chambers and announced: “Thus saith the Lord – let my people GO!”
Apparently the word we translate as meek – praus in classic Greek – “refers to horses… horses who have been trained to wear a bridle… those who have been broken in for the race.” (Clarence Jordan, Cotton Patch Sermons, p. 64) Which is to say that: "… a person who is meek is the one who obeys the pull of God, who never tunes his or her ears to the whispering of society, who isn’t afraid to be a fool for God… the meek are those (like Moses and Jesus) who turn the world upside –down… and becomes partners with the Lord across the land." (Jordan, p. 64)

When we’re talking about humility, therefore, we’re talking about living in a way that responds to God’s calling – a way of seeing that starts with the upside down kingdom of God – and continues to make God’s way real in our ordinary lives. Not a doormat, but a wise and tender fool for the Lord: that’s the first insight.

The second is that there seems to be a few competing notions throughout the Bible concerning how it is we cultivate humility. How do we nourish the upside-down blessings of meekness? How do we get from here to there? Well, there seems to be three options:

+ The first is to hit bottom – to crash and burn – and be down so long everything looks like up to you. That’s essentially what our text from Job points towards: after Job has lost his health, his family, his security, his friends and his pride – and after he is so low that all he can do is scream at the Lord – then a breakthrough of sorts seems to happen.

+ Those of us who have wrestled with addictions or other wounds understand what it means to hit bottom: you can’t go any lower so either you start to accept reality on the road towards health or you die.

That’s one way that humility can come to us – hitting bottom – and interestingly we have very little control over it.

The second seems to be through an encounter with awe – it can be beauty, it can be power, it can be nature or it can be love – but awe seems to move us beyond ourselves so that we are open to the realization that we are not the center of the universe. I think that is part of what the gospel story for this morning hints at when we’re told that Jesus calms the storm. Consider the following:

+ First, the reason why everyone is on this boat crossing the lake is to get to the Decapolis – Gentile territory – a place where Jesus is expanding his mission of grace and healing. They are taking God’s upside-down blessings out into the streets – they are sharing the joy – and welcoming the outcasts.

+ Second, when the storm comes up, the disciples are terrified and literally cry out: Lord, don’t you care that we are all about to die? Ever felt like that yourself? Ever cry out and curse God because you were in danger or trouble or worse? It is a very human reaction and this story grounds us in the humanity of those who first followed Christ, ok?

+ And third, please notice that throughout the whole voyage Jesus was at rest. He was a non-anxious presence in the midst of worry and a source of strength to those in distress. For the love of God, for most of the trouble, he was asleep! And not because he didn’t care. But rather because of his complete trust in God – not half-hearted or fingers crossed trust, ok? – complete trust. The disciples were worried about the obvious; Jesus was at rest in his abiding faith beyond the obvious.

Lutheran scholar and preacher, Brian Stoffregen, likes to point out that the empirical evidence about our worries includes only 2% of concern about the things we can change. Listen: “only two percent of our "worrying time" is spent on things that might actually be helped by worrying stress management experts have discovered… the other 98 percent of this time” is spent like this: 40% on things that never happen; 35% on things that can't be changed; 15% on things that turn out better than first expected; and 8% on useless, petty worries.

Most of our time is wasted worrying about things we can't change - but every once in a while a rainbow breaks through (or we notice a flower) or we get a note in the mail or a loved one's embrace - and we wake up to grace through awe. In our story this is exactly what happened: Jesus told the wind – the externals – to pipe down and the world became quiet. There was calm and rest – and in the awe of the moment the disciples’ hearts and faith were strengthened. I don’t try to explain away the miracles. I don’t understand them and I don’t even try: I like serving a God who is beyond my ability to comprehend. At the same time, I recognize something in this story that I have seen over and over again: in the face of awe, we become still and recognize something of God’s grace that changes us.
Awe is another way we meet up with humility. And like hitting rock bottom, awe is pretty much beyond our control, too.

Which suggests to me that the only practice we can embrace that will move us from selfishness to sharing has to do with taking on the role of servant: St. Paul was pointing toward this.

Don't put it off; don't frustrate God's work by showing up late, throwing a question mark over everything we're doing. Our work as God's servants gets validated—or not—in the details. People are watching us as we stay at our post, alertly, unswervingly . . . in hard times, tough times, bad times; when we're beaten up, jailed, and mobbed; working hard, working late, working without eating; with pure heart, clear head, steady hand; in gentleness, holiness, and honest love; when we're telling the truth, and when God's showing his power; when we're doing our best setting things right; when we're praised, and when we're blamed; slandered, and honored; true to our word, though distrusted; ignored by the world, but recognized by God; terrifically alive, though rumored to be dead; beaten within an inch of our lives, but refusing to die; immersed in tears, yet always filled with deep joy; living on handouts, yet enriching many; having nothing, having it all.

And here is my suggestion for learning the way of the servant – the meekness that empowers us to live as partners with God in the upside-down kingdom – it has to do with your humor. I’m not kidding: your sense of humor – and the jokes and stories you choose to share – can either help you become more Christ-like and humble or not. Are you with me? Think of the things that make you laugh:

+ Are they at the expense of another? Do they compound stereotypes? Deepen social wounds?

+ Or are they self-deprecating? About wisdom and how we’re all in this together?
There is nothing holy or helpful about racist or sexist jokes. There is nothing of God in sarcasm that lifts us up by putting another down. But, I suggest to you, there is spiritual nurture in cultivating the ability to laugh at yourself, yes? That’s why I have come to see comedians as some of the best prophets and teachers of spiritual maturity we can consult.

+ Dear St. George Burns said: The secret of a good sermon is to have a strong beginning and good ending – and to have the two as close together as is possible. Someone else noted: Want to get God to laugh? Tell him (or her) your plans!

One of my current favorites, however, comes from the late spiritual master, St. George Carlin, who understood something true about the upside down nature of God’s kingdom when he said:

I want to live my next life backwards: You start out dead and get that out of the way. Then you wake up in a nursing home feeling better every day. Then you get kicked out for being too healthy and enjoy your retirement and collect your pension. Then, when you start work, you get a gold watch on your first day. You work 40 years until you're too young to work and then you get ready for High School where you drink alcohol, party and go all wild and crazy.

Then you go to primary school, become a kid, play, and you have no responsibilities. Only to become a baby, and then... spend your last 9 months floating peacefully in luxury, in spa-like conditions: central heating, room service on tap, and then... you finish off as an orgasm. I rest my case.

I have come to believe – and experience in my own spiritual life – that one of the best ways of practicing humility and cultivating a commitment to servant hood comes through our humor. So here’s what I would like you to do for me – but really for the sake of your soul – send me some of your favorite stories and jokes by email over the next week.

+ Be on alert for those gentle stories that help you laugh at yourself – or the anxieties of real life – and send them to me, ok?

+ Next week, in the second part of this message, I’ll share some of these stories with you and talk about the connections between humility and humor – they both come from the root word humus which means of the earth – as we try to discover real ways to help us deepen our commitment to integrating the holy with the human.

And, so far as I can tell: that is the good news for today so let those who have ears to hear, hear. Let's pray together with these words from St. Mark Knopfler...

Monday, June 15, 2009

More thoughts on the tender warrior...

Two of my favorite poems about the complicated nature of becoming a "tender warrior" are "The Russian" by Robert Bly and "Sometimes A Man Stands Up During Supper" by Rainer Maria Rilke. Both have been teaching me truths for a long time - and both keep changing and maturing as I grow older. Bly writes:

"The Russians had few doctors on the front line.
My father's job was this: after the battle
Was over, he'd walk among the men hit,
Sit down and ask: 'Would you like to die on your
Own in a few hours, or should I finish it?'
Most said, 'Don't leave me.' The two would have
A cigarette. He'd take out his small notebook -
We had no dogtags, you know - and write the man's
Name down, his wife's, his children, his address, and
He wanted to say. When the cigarette was done,
The soldier would turn his head to the side. My
Finished off four hundred men that way during the
He never went crazy. They were his people.

He came to Toronto. My father in the summers
Would stand on the lawn with a hose, watering
The grass that way. It took a long time. He'd talk
To the moon, to the wind. 'I can hear you growing' -
He'd say to the grass. 'We come and go.
We're not different from each other. We are all
Part of something. We have a home.' When I was
I said, 'Dad, do you know they've invented sprinklers
Now?' He went on watering the grass.
'This is my life. Just shut up if you don't understand

This is apparently based on a true story from various Russian doctors who lived through WWII. When I first heard it I thought it was speaking to me - we, men, have to do horrible things for the common good sometimes that others don't understand - and I suspect that there is some of that in this poem. But now, as I move closer to 60, it also says to me: shut up, man, there is so much you don't understand - and if you try to grasp it you'll probably just miss the incomprehensible pain of an other's life - so just shut up and... honor it. Treasure it. Hold it close without trying to understand or analyze it.

Paul Simon sang about this in "You Can Call Me Al" - all about that middle aged man whose life is changing and he doesn't understand it: Mister beer belly, beer belly, get those mutts away from me... I don't find this stuff amusing anymore!

I once asked my poet/artist wife, "What does this poem mean? What were you trying to say?" and after a few uncomfortable moments of silence she said with a look of bewildered but gentle disgust, "If you have to ask..." and walked away. I was furious. God damn it, I wanted to understand... But if you have to ask rather than feel. it.. right? So much of ministry is just being present - and shutting up. There aren't words to describe our wounds. Nor are there ways of talking about grace. But they are still real. Rilke puts it like this:

Sometimes a man stands up during supper
and walks outdoors, and keeps on walking,
because of a church that stands somewhere in the East.

And his children say blessings on him as if he were dead.

And another man, who remains inside his own house,
dies there, inside the dishes and in the glasses,
so that his children have to go far out into the world
toward that same church, which he forgot.

When I first read that standing shell-shocked in a Cleveland bookstore on a miserably frigid night, I heard something affirming my journey through divorce. I had to trust - and pray - that my children WOULD eventually find the blessings in my absence. (Eventually they did. but it was still a gamble and agonizing.) Nothing was for certain. All that was clear was that I had to get up.. and leave.

But now, while I still believe all this was true, Rilke's words speak to me of trusting God's grace - which is rarely seen and almost never understood - and responding to it. For without our response, we don't show our children how to live authentically. Boldly. With both head and heart - we don't show them how to trust beyond the evidence and they will have to invent for themselves ways of discovering what we might have made flesh if we had claimed the courage to stand up during supper. They will still have their own trials - and we can't rescue them - but they won't "say blessings on him as if he were dead."

Makes me think of how Bono put it as he cared for his father during the old man's death to cancer... my wife used to sing this in our old band - about her father - and it still rings true.

Trying to be more user friendly...

There is a fine line (at least in my small mind) between an artistic and edgy blog site and one that is too hard to read. In the past I have been told (on more than a few occasions) that either my background is too weird/dark or that my accent colors can't be distinguished from the rest of the colors. Hmmmmmm...

So, I have changed the color of my print font because try as I have, I just don't like the way this thing looks without the dark blue and brown. Let me know if the lighter font makes this thing any easier to read, ok? I've got some fun/challenging things to be sharing here and I don't want to bum you out with headaches - or blurred vision - or whatever. Peter Rollins et al get it pretty much right in this visual...

I like this very much... check out his blog at: peterrollins.net

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Oh well...

Ever have a sermon take a left turn during worship and end up in a place you weren't expecting? It happened to me again this morning: as some of you know, I've been trying to talk about the "wisdom of our wounds" - explicitly how our wounded feelings are a sacred call to march in the opposite direction - but once again I never got around to that concept. And this is now three weeks running. Ok, ok, I confess I am a slow learner! It is (almost) clear to me that I need to head into new territory next week... and I am really glad I was paying attention and let my plans just slip slide away...

What did happen was a lot more playful conversation about how the foolish "mustard seed plant" not only represents a much more humble image of God's presence in our lives than the "cedars of Lebanon," but also how our commitments of compassion, welcome and slowing down are utterly counter cultural values. What's more, because they are so upside down, we have to practice them - start making them more and more our own - so that we are better able to share them when it really counts.

And that led us into dancing with the idea of worship as a place in time given to us by God to "waste our time" - and - also to practice the upside down values of not taking our religion so seriously that we don't see the humor and beauty within and among us. We ended up singing a rockin' version of "Day by Day" from Godspell as our "practice" in being fools for Christ. Beautiful... there were 80 year olds singing with 10 year olds - hipsters wmaking music with conservatives - and those fearful and afraid finding a little hope and comfort amidst the storm. One woman said at the end of the day, "Now I really can go back and face Monday."

I guess having all our children in worship today - and having some dear friends who have been away back in the fold - helped us all shift gears and celebrate the foolishness of our commitment to finding God through Christ. Maybe it was the Holy Spirit saying, "Give it up, brother, leave that other idea for another time." And maybe it was all of this and more. Whatever it was, it was a blessing and we all felt that "Jesus was in the house."

Saturday, June 13, 2009

A tender warrior redux...

Let me go a little deeper with an idea I started a few days ago: a tender warrior. Contrary to what popular culture has suggested about Robert Bly - mostly a caricature of an ungrounded wild man beating drums in the forest with other men of privilege - dear Robert is simply a poet whose soul aches for the healing of the world. This is a high calling - to both ache and discover words that bring healing - and he does it with compassion and care. There is a little shaman in Bly, a little trickster as well, a healthy dose of cultural critic and even a bit of an evangelist, too (at a poetry reading in Tucson he told me that a Bly was one of the last missionaries to China.)

+ He is very much at home with the wisdom and insights of contemporary feminism and understands his calling to be in solidarity - not competition - even as he works with men in a parallel exploration of soul, wounds and redemption. I remember hearing him in a conversation with Deborah Tannen in NYC as they considered the ways women and men are different and alike. Many had hoped for something like an intellectual version of the tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King - they were sorely disappointed - for the night was spent helping us all learn how we might grow closer in love and healing. He said even though his work has been ridiculed - mostly because the men's movement is 20 years behind the women's - serving as a holy fool is a sacred calling. Think St. Paul, think Ginsberg, think Loki or Kokopelli or St. John the Baptist... think Dylan in spades!

+ He has come to believe that the secret wound that most men must wrestle their way through is shame. It often comes out looking like anger - or addiction - but is grounded in the fact that many of us don't know how to be authentic men in our age. In rejecting the harsh and emotionally crippled masculinity of the traditional cowboy who doesn't talk about his feelings and just wants to get the job done, ma'am, countless men in the West have become "soft." We are loving and gentle - grounded in compassion rather than assertiveness - but unable to rise to the challenges of the era. Bly calls this "the yogurt man" who hides behind the skirt of strong women, refuses to live into his calling as a tender warrior and essentially remains a child in an adult world.

His work with Jungian Marian Woodman as well as James Hillman is called "the sibling society" where men refuse to mature because our traditional understanding of masculinity is so empty and often violent. This is moving in the right direction, to be sure, but it is complete because... it is born of shame and confusion. I think of the music of James Taylor and the singer-songwriters of the 70s - so beautiful, so tender - all moving us away from the swagger and violence of the old men.

Bly's poem, My Father's Wedding: 1924, speaks of this, too, with sweet insight more passion.

Today, lonely for my father, I saw
a log, or branch,
long, bent, ragged, bark gone.
I felt lonely for my father when I saw it.
It was the log
that lay near my uncle's old milk wagon.

Some men live with a limp they don't hide,
stagger, or drag
a leg. Their sons often are angry.
Only recently I thought:
Doing what you want...
Is that like limping? Tracks of it show in the sand.

Have you seen those giant bird-
men of Bhutan?
Men in bird masks, with pig noses, dancing,
teeth like a dog's, sometimes
dancing on one bad leg!
They do what they want, the dog's teeth say that.

But I grew up without dog's teeth,
showed a whole body,
left only clear tracks in sand.
I learned to walk swiftly, easily,
no trace of a limp.
I even leaped a little. Guess where my defect is!

Then what? If a man, cautious,
hides his limp
somebody has to limp it. Things
do it; the surrounding limp.
House walls get scars,
the car breaks down; matter, in drudgery, takes it up.

On my father's wedding day,
no one was there
to hold him. Noble loneliness
held him. Since he never asked for pity
his friends thought he
was whole. Walking alone he could carry it.

He came in limping. It was a simple
wedding, three
or four people. The man in black,
lifting the book, called for order.
And the invisible bride
stepped forward, before his own bride.

He married the invisible bride, not his own.
In her left
breast she carried the three drops
that wound and kill. He already had
his bark-like skin then,
made rough especially to repel the sympathy

he longed for, didn't need, and wouldn't accept.
So the Bible's
words are read. The man in black
speaks the sentence. When the service
is over, I hold him
in my arms for the first time and the last.

After that he was alone
and I was alone.
Few friends came; he invited few.
His two-story house he turned
into a forest,
where both he and I are the hunters.

Playfulness and humility - tenderness and passion - are at the core of what Bly shares because he has embraced the shame as both teacher and shadow. And thankfully he doesn't stop with simply exposing the wound - he invites men to enter it and live into the wisdom of their wounds. This, you see, is how men become tender warriors - bringing healing through their strength and protection through their fear - rather than remaining trapped in rage, sexual brutality and emotional emptiness.

Once I prayed for only girl babies because I had no idea how to be a healthy and holy father for a boy - shame, yes? I give thanks to those who have helped me face and embrace my shame - and discover that it isn't the whole story. I give thanks to the poets and singers and artists who have continued the inward/outward journey of the Spirit. I think of the aging Bob Dylan... and James Taylor who has been sober and creative for the last decade... and my old "soft" friend, Cat Stevens aka Yusuf who is now more passionate and alive than ever before.

I loved "Father and Son" and "Peace Train" before, but now they are even better... as is his playful and powerful reworking of "I Think I've Seen the Light."

playing for our lives: a concert to combat local homelessness June 15 @ 7 pm

In an interview with Krista Tippett a few years ago, the late Jean Vanier gave contemporary people of compassion his antidote for despair:...