Saturday, December 30, 2006

Am I generous with my time and
adventurous with my resources, willing to
risk all in order to help another?

I’m sitting in the staff room at a Christian camp, looking at a map of the 10/40 window. That’s an evangelical term for the least Christianized parts of the world, and we’re often exhorted to go and preach the gospel to the 3 billion non-Christians who live there (or to send money in order to accomplish the same). But something about this push seems suspect to me.

Maybe it’s the fact that so many prayer mailings, books and conferences look as though they’ve been designed to open our wallets instead of our hearts. Maybe it’s the idea that God has given us the responsibility of taking Him anywhere. If that were the case, I’d gladly buy God a ticket and accompany Him at least as far as Europe. (I hear Italy is beautiful this time of year.) But that’s not how God works.

I don’t bring God to others. Neither do I bring others to God. I can’t. If God is omnipresent, then He’s already there — everywhere — and He’s already working in the lives of each person He’s created — everyone.

Where does that leave us Christians?

First, we don’t spread the word of God with money. We pass on his love through our lives. Am I generous with my time and adventurous with my resources, willing to risk all in order to help another?

Second, there are no mercenary Christians. If I’m not willing to go, I have no business paying someone else to do it for me.

Third, God’s Church has ministers, not members. If my life fails to make a difference in somebody’s life, then it follows that I’m not a Christ-follower.

Read more of my writings for Barclay Press.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Forgiveness and Greed

The blue-green grass swayed gently in the breeze at the cliff’s edge. It was about noon in the garden.

It was morning in the garden, and the Master had stopped at the garden’s edge where the blue-green grass grew right up to the place where the earth fell away. The Master looked down into the depths where a river of fire roared through the narrow gorge, and the Master spotted Ahab, blistered and burned, crowded with the others on a narrow shelf of rock above the flaming torrent.

It was true that Ahab deserved his fate. He had murdered some and stolen from others, but the Master remembered a single act of kindness. Ahab, lifting his foot to crush the head of a snake, had stopped, convinced that the snake was harmless. To kill it would be thoughtlessly cruel.

Remembering this, the Master felt compassion. There was a snake at his feet, casting off its skin. With his walking stick, the Master gently lifted the end of the dead skin and laid it over the edge. The snake wriggled and twisted, and its skin slowly descended into the abyss.

Ahab, crushed by the constant shifting of bodies on the rocky ledge, looked up away from the fiery river and saw the snake skin, slowly descending.

“If only it would stretch far enough,” he thought, “I might pull myself to safety.”

As the snake skin came closer, Ahab reached until he touched its tip. He grasped tightly the slippery scales, and in spite of his pain, Ahab climbed, hand over hand, higher and higher. At first, Ahab climbed quickly, but he soon grew tired, and the cliff’s edge seemed so far. As he looked back down to the river, however, Ahab was encouraged by how far he had come. But Ahab saw something else. There was a man beneath him, climbing the same snake skin. And beneath him, another man. And beneath him, another man.

Ahab let out an anguished cry. For how could the dead, slender skin possibly hold the weight of all those eager to escape the flames of the abyss? Ahab felt fear’s sharp sting, and then he was angry.

“Get off! Go back!” he shouted to the men below. “This is my skin!”

With that, the skin broke, and Ahab fell to the rocks and fire below. The Master looked on with sadness. Ahab’s greed had destroyed him (as well as the rest).

The blue-green grass swayed gently in the breeze at the cliff’s edge. It was about noon in the garden.

Read more of my writings for Barclay Press.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

If God is the source of all truth, if
all truth is God’s truth, then the Christian character
must be marked by integrity.

Ihate losing, mainly because I’m so bad at it. I yell, cheat, make snide remarks, and when my situaton seems particularly dire, I sometimes find myself whiling away the time between turns, plotting violent revenge against whoever happens to be winning. Last night, that was my sister.

We were playing Risk, a board game in which players fight for world domination. My sister had publicly proclaimed, however, that her only aim was to destroy me, even if it meant letting my dad win the game. This, to my experienced judgment, seemed unsportsmanlike. But my thoughtful advice as to how she might improve her strategic position, coupled with a kick to the shins (subtly delivered under the table, of course), only succeeded in deepening her resolve.

So when Bethany finally lost, I rejoiced, even though I’d already been out of the game for an hour. In the midst of my quiet (and tasteful) celebration, however, I spotted a flaw in my position. During the game, I’d planned and plotted and sulked. I was consumed by my competitiveness, by my anger.

Please don’t misunderstand. For the duration of the match-up, I looked and sounded like any other normal adult. I smiled and laughed and held up my end of the witty repartee required when playing parlor games. But it was a farce. Underneath the happy face, I was anything but happy.

It makes me wonder. If I could successfully separate inner experience from outward expression during a game — a kind of social schizophrenia — then didn’t that make me a liar in real life?

If God is the source of all truth, if all truth is God’s truth, then the Christian character must be marked by integrity.

I realized (once again) that God isn’t done with me yet. In fact, it’s beginning to look as though this journey is going to take at least a lifetime.

Read more of my writings for Barclay Press.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Who Is Jesus?

I was too busy to stop, too embarrassed to care, too indifferent to offer help.
Isaw Jesus today. She drove up in front of my house at 6:35 this morning, jumped from her smoking Ford van and ran over to hand me my newspaper. She wanted to tell me a story about my dog. I listened and nodded without hearing a word. But I remembered to wave before driving away.

I saw Jesus today. He was ringing a bell outside the "B" entrance at Fred Meyer. He had a moustache and a denim jacket. He asked about my day. I walked away.

I saw Jesus today. He stood on the corner of 6th and Burnside, holding a sign: "Visions of a hamburger." He'd grown a beard, and it was graying. I thought about buying a burger when I saw him smile, but I kept walking.

I saw Jesus today, and I was too busy to stop, too embarrassed to care, too indifferent to offer help.

On the day that baby was born, covered in rags and placed in a feed trough, shepherds came to worship. But I went shopping.

Read more of my writings for Barclay Press.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The key, then,
to wisdom is and always
has been humility.

Absolute Truth claims, in its innocence, that there is an underlying moral standard that universally defines the difference between what is good and what is not. But in its arrogance, Absolute Truth and its adherents attempt to enforce this standard through codes of conduct, both legal and religious.

Relative Truth, in its humility, counters that even if such a standard does exist, we humans are limited in our ability to perceive it. Too often, we hear only what we want to hear and see only what we’re looking for. But in its ignorance, Relative Truth says that we make our own truth, a claim that works when measured against our actions but falls far short of encompassing the universe within which we live.

The problem with these differing points of view is that both make truth a concept, a kind of object that can be studied, understood, grasped and even possessed. One claims that the object exists apart from me. The other disagrees, saying the object is my creation.

Both are wrong.

Truth is not an object. Truth is a Person. Truth does exist outside of me. But my understanding of and obedience to Truth is dependent on the depth of my relationship. And this is a relationship that only grows in correlation to perceived need.

The key, then, to wisdom is and always has been humility. Until and unless I admit my need, there is no opening for Truth. But out of humility comes opportunity for growth in knowledge and understanding, a foundation for wisdom. And wisdom has always been the mark of a deep reverence and love of Truth.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Original Sin?

Just because a theological theory’s been established, doesn’t give Christians an excuse to stop thinking, to stop wondering, to stop asking difficult questions.

Ihave many frustrations with institutional Christianity, but my biggest beef is the fact that so many Christians seem unable or unwilling to think outside of the theological boxes within which they’ve been raised (or saved). So many people claim to be following scripture when they’re actually following their interpretation of scripture (which may or may not hold up to scrutiny). And just because a theological theory’s been established, doesn’t give Christians an excuse to stop thinking, to stop wondering, to stop asking difficult questions.

For instance, I received a visit a few days back from a Christian who made the following claim — “Christianity teaches that sin is humanity’s natural preference, due to our self-corrupted nature.”

I know that the comment was made with good intentions. The reader saw what appeared to be a shortcoming in my thinking and gently attempted to expand my understanding. The problem with this particular attempt is that it makes a claim I know to be false. Christians have never been limited to a single line of thought on the subject. There are extremely few — if any — yes or no line items that must be checked before one can advance to heaven (do not pass go; do not collect $200).

Scripture just doesn’t tell us what to believe. That’s not what scripture does. And I’ve gone into the prose vs. poetry argument before, so I’ll cut to the chase. There is room for all kinds of thinking within Christianity. Here are just a few examples on the concept of original sin as referenced in my visitor’s claim .

1) Those who identify original sin with concupiscence: an innate tendency among humans to do evil.

2) Those who see original sin not as a positive reality but as something merely negative, namely lack of holiness.

3) Those who believe Adam’s sin influenced his character, making it impossible for him to lead a completely holy example for his own children (nature/nurture controversy).

4) Those who believe in ancestral sin as opposed to original sin, claiming that Adam’s disobedience changed the very environment in which we live, opening up opportunity for (but certainly not requiring) sin.

5) Those that believe humans inherit Adamic guilt and are in a state of sin from the moment of conception.

6) Those who reject the notion of original sin, believing only in the sins for which men and women are personally responsible.

And it doesn’t matter which of these you choose. There is plenty of room at the table.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

In trying to gain control of our own
destinies, we too often decide that someone
else’s dreams don’t matter.

Afriend of mine writes that “we are all essentially evil at the core.” And I’ve heard this statement shared so many times in Sunday sermons, in conservative Christians’ view of scripture, in the arguments used for a “just war” or in explanations as to why nobody can ever live a truly “holy” life.

But I disagree. If we’re created by God and in God’s image, then the core of our very being must be good. Even someone who doesn’t know God (or believe in God’s existence) has the ability to recognize truth, to give and receive love. I think sin (or evil) is more like an artificial covering, something we like to wear because of the false feelings of protection and power that it provides. The problem is that in trying to protect our own interests, we selfishly cause harm to others (or short-sightedly cause harm to ourselves). And in trying to gain control over our own destinies, we too often decide that someone else’s dreams don’t matter, giving ourselves permission to do whatever is necessary to “win.”

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

What’s a Pacifist?

Faraway conflicts fly
right under the radar of my daily life.

Growing up a Quaker, I’ve always thought of myself as a pacifist. But a question posed fairly recently by a friend of mine made me consider what this actually means.

The question: “On a scale of 1-10, how pacifist are you?”

Many of the respondents answered as if pacifism is actually a form of passivism or simple conflict avoidance, considering only how much they support or don’t support forms of violence (as if religious faith is little more than sacred consumerism in which we can boycott ideas we don’t like and lavish attention or money on those that we do).

But I’m convinced that pacifism is really about taking action, putting an end to violence or, even better, working to replace violence as an option with creative and constructive solutions (both socially and politically, privately and publicly, personally and culturally, locally and globally).

Considering my definition of true pacifism, I had to admit that I don’t rate much better than a 5 in spite of what I claim to believe. After all, action (or, as is more often the case, inaction) speaks for itself.

Truthfully, it’s hard to care about anything that isn’t a clear and present danger. I’m ashamed to admit that huge but subtle problems (like global warming) or faraway conflicts (like the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq) fly right under the radar of my daily life.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Soul

A simple square box,
brimming with secrets—
specters of the past
that haunt the present.

An onion,
peeled back, exposing
experience’s yellow layers.

A seedling,
struggling up from heart’s fertile folds
to root or rot,
depending on how it’s watered.

A Russian doll
inside a doll
inside a doll
inside a doll.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Any religion that
treats others as objects
is a false religion.

Afriend suggests that we need to create a place for people to share their beliefs — a kind of religious wiki that could help nail down common-ground faith statements. That may be impossible considering the lines drawn in the sand by so many different Sneetches on the beaches of institutionalized belief. But I see what he’s getting at — an opportunity to consider who we are as spiritual beings instead of simply railing against the weaknesses of whatever it is that we’re not. So here’s a beginning, some thoughts from my head on the nature of belief:


Leaving room for faith is faith enough. I don’t have to know anything. I only need to consider the possibility. That’s where faith begins — with an honest question. It grows as I seek an answer (not, as so many believe, when I claim to have arrived).


As far as I can tell, most world religions have man and woman as creations of a higher power. That puts each of us at the same starting line. No man is better equipped to know God than I, and I have no greater access to truth than my neighbor. Any religion that treats others as objects — whether they be child, elderly, man, woman, colored, white, criminal, clean, homosexual, straight, rich, poor, illiterate, sophisticate, whatever — is a false religion.


Tolerance may be politically expedient and even necessary, but it is cheap compared to love. Intelligence, dexterity, riches, and influence don’t matter for anything if I’m unwilling or unable to love.


When wronged, I want revenge. But an eye for an eye compounds the hurt and blinds us both. Humility demands no reparations. And if the wrong-doer experiences remorse, coming to me in humility, I have lost an enemy and found a friend.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Global Warming

I saw a river of corn sucked out of the ground
and men — miles high — tearing at the edge of a hole in the sky.
A ridge of ice dripped away in the summer sun
while starlings swallowed New York.
But the people laughed
at a clown who could eat 300 hot dogs
and pray
and mispronounce his mother’s name —
all at the same time.
“The end of the world is near!” I cried,
and the band played a merry tune
while we danced.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Dry Summer Storm

empty cardboard box and plastic
bags flew into the yard like weary gulls sometimes do in winter

Living in a basement — even with windows — I spend so much of my time looking up at the flowers in the front yard (daisies, petunias). The way the sun lights up their petals makes them translucent — so bright. But mostly I look at the sky. And Thursday night, it was dark — the round purple bottoms of storm clouds gathered overhead, pushed the last little bits of summer sunshine out of the corners of the sky. No rain. Just sudden darkness and a dry wind that whipped bits of dirt and gravel against the window and rolled garbage cans down the street. An empty cardboard box and plastic bags flew into the yard like weary gulls sometimes do in winter — so far away from home. But I couldn't write it down, couldn't imagine the forces at work. It was just another boring movie playing across the window screens. Couldn't change the channel, however, so I went out into the wind, tried to play my part, sat in the garden and weeded the carrots while the storm raced by.

Thursday, July 06, 2006


Flour shifts shape as it's sifted,
filters past fine screen mesh,
fills the air with white
as it falls to the bowl's round bottom.

Grandmother's hands
scatter salt over the snowy surface
and flutter away to the cupboards
for Clabber Girl --
just a puff (like a promise) --

then gather shaky strength,
form a fist,
grip wire whisk
to cut in the butter.

I'm afraid.

But she smiles
while pouring the milk,
"Like making mud pies!"
And her eyes --
as her hands sink into the dough --
slowly close.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Fidel Castro
ate all of
Cuba’s tobacco.

Astudent of mine, working on a paper about Cuba, provided the following four pieces of evidence that "Cuba would have better economic health and world relations if Fidel Castro had not come to power:"

1. Fidel Castro did not allow U.S. citizens to visit Cuba.
2. Fidel Castro cut off all trade with the U.S.
3. Fidel Castro lied about things such as the Cuban Missile Crisis and all.
4. Fidel Castro ate all of Cuba's tobacco, so they couldn't sell anything to make money.

With much prompting, I finally convinced said student to try turning at least two of these pieces of "evidence" into paragraphs, which resulted in the following:

1st Evidence Paragraph

When Fidel Castro came to power he decided to make Cuba a Communist country. Because of bad relations with the United States, Fidel Castro cut off all trade with the United States. He also didn't want Mr. Muhr to be a part of his leadership because writing papers makes him tired. Muhr had a history of papers. He once wrote three in one day. But then he ran out of cool pencils. This caused many problems with other countries because when they read his papers, they couldn't understand them.

2nd Evidence Paragraph

Yes, it is true. Castro did eat all of Cuba's tobacco in the years of 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, and finally in 1988 when he discovered Cuban people didn't want to grow tobacco because they knew Castro would eat all of it. He found out that the people started to grow sugarcane so he ate all of Cuba's sugarcane in the years of 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, and finally, 1997. This badly hurt Cuba's economy. People were very poor and could not provide for themselves. The government had to pay for every trip Castro had to the hospital. The grand total of his charges during all of the years he ate the tobacco was $1,314,321,645. During the years he ate the sugarcane, he added up a grand total of $6,108,342,123 in hospital charges.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Is Increased Efficiency the Purpose of Change?

People are afraid of the
unknown. They would rather improve efficiency than try a new task.

The institutional church, as it grapples with cultural change, has a tendency to preserve the status quo. Members take actions that result in a stronger system -- earthquake-proofing, putting on a new roof, remodeling the foyer to let in more light. But what if it's time to move to a new neighborhood? To leave the old building behind and start on a new journey?

People are afraid of the unknown. They would rather improve efficiency than try a new task.

I dropped a piece of doughnut on the floor, and it's covered with ants. Two ants are hauling off a section while a third crawls around on top. A fourth and fifth ant push and pull, stopping the portion's progress for a moment before letting it go again. In spite of this seeming chaos, the work gets done.

What's wrong with redundancy? Why do we need to streamline? To make processes more efficient? Aren't these kinds of discussions based on the premise that some people are unnecessary?

Sunday, June 18, 2006


Hiding behind my plexiglass reflection
I watch as others stare straight
ahead or down into their laps
Except a man in yellow --
under fluorescent yellow tubes.
I'm yellow.

He smiles.
What does he know?
it's nothing.
I try to smile back
but can't
find solace in the silent stares.
I look down,
put pen to page.

Pages pass.

A lady in the back
fluffs frizzy hair
so wild,
the illusion of wind
when the window's closed.

Another smile?
Or smirk?
I write it down and wait.
This, too, shall pass
like staged shadows,
the sputtering flutter of flame
from sand candles,
like her,
asleep in the back.

So tired of life.
So far away.
Slipping down in her seat
behind the smiling
yellow man.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Who are we?
Why are we here?
How ought we to live?

People often ask why anyone (I think they mean me) would teach English. They imply that nothing could be less useful in the real world. I disagree.

Here's my philosophy of literature:

Literature is not practical. It doesn't tell you how to repair a computer, build a bookcase, or change a tire. What it does do, however, is far more powerful. Literature takes you out of yourself, provides transcendent experiences that give a taste of what might be. And it takes you into yourself, helps you to process the events of your own life, to produce your own narratives.

I believe in the notion that literature -- our attempts to make sense of the world through story -- is a form of truth-seeking and truth-telling that draws us ever closer to relationship with each other, with creation, with our Creator. We find in story -- all stories -- attempts to answer these questions: Who are we? Why are we here? How ought we to live? And we find in each story reflections of the STORY: relationship, rejection, redemption, and reunion.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Grasping at New Idols

there has been a tendency to
institutionalize belief, to set up boundaries around who we are in order to protect what we have

The history of Christian idolatry (in three brief stages):

If we look back in time, we can see that the Church has passed through different stages, and in each stage, there has been a tendency to institutionalize belief, to set up boundaries around who we are in order to protect what we have. Unfortunately, these walls also limit future growth and tend to cut us off from direct relationship with God. Looking at the walls from the past can help us to think about our present walls and to consider what walls might become a danger in the future. Here are three examples:

1) The wall of hierarchy. As the Church grew, it became more and more difficult for those with a direct experience of Christ (in the flesh) to share their experiences with new believers. Because of this, we see a slow transition from gathering together in the temple courts to the sending of missionaries and later to the widespread practice of sharing epistles. Over hundreds of years, these practices, combined with systems of government (Constantine), created a hierarchical system of authority that was meant to centralize issues of doctrine and organization. But it also took the focus of many away from God and put it on the Church, leaving us with what has been called pope worship, a form of idolatry.

2) The wall of literalism. Luther broke through the wall of hierarchy by claiming scripture as a common-ground connection for all Christians. Gutenberg strengthened Luther's claim by making the Bible more accessible. Individual believers were no longer dependent on the Church hierarchy for teaching, organization, and the filtering of God's message to his people. But even though this broke through the walls of institutional hierarchy, it also set up a new problem by simplifying faith, pulling us away from God's Word (Christ) in order to replace it with the much more tangible form of God's word (scripture). This created an artificial requirement that we defend the Bible at all costs, and whole institutions have been created to do just that. Could we have King James-only churches or a Creation Research Institute or people like the Bible Answer Man if this change hadn't taken place? We like to think that we're an informed and educated people, that we're better than those Dark Age Christians. But we just have a new form of idolatry, identifying the Trinity as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Scriptures.

3) The wall of individualism. George Fox's message broke through the wall of literalism (even though I'm not convinced he recognized the wall he was breaking). He taught a kind of progressive revelation, claiming that the Light of Christ is in all and accessible to all -- men and women, English and Turk, slave and free. Because we are each made in God's image, each of us carries within the image of God, which allows us to recognize and speak Truth. We can hear God, and we can obey. But almost immediately, the freedom that Fox preached turned into a kind of license -- wearing hats in worship, public nudity, claiming to be Christ -- a kind of individualism that threatened to do more than break down a few walls. It looked as if there might be a chance that the entire structure would come crashing down, leaving every man to do whatever was right in his own eyes. Unfortunately (or fortunately as far as many Christians are concerned), Fox and other Friends were ultimately unsuccessful in spreading this message very far. But in a postmodern age, this message of individualism is being preached -- not by religious revolutionaries but by consumers. Feed me. Comfort me. Entertain me. And we have in this a new form of idolatry, the worship of self.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Mr. Clean

Cleanliness is next to Godliness
because God is so clean
like Mr. Clean,
a machine --
a God machine,
who likes to clean
and is bald
with an earring
and a fresh lemon-y scent.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Gettysburg Address

I was surprised
to see how poor
his sentences,
so many words
and always in
the wrong order --
less orator
than foreigner
who with a
strange tongue

Four score and seven?
His sentences
(at least that long)
squander the strong start,
smother it under
stale strings of words,
no verbs.

There must be
something hidden there
of character?

An editor
might only
mess it up.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

A place for searching,
for inspiration, a place of peace
in the midst of a busy city.

Imagine an entire city block devoted to books. A place where kilted, mohawked, multiple-pierced punks browse quietly, side by side with slightly-hunched grandmothers, shaggy rpg enthusiasts, and bag ladies. A place with Jesus Action figures and nun-shaped lighters just 50 feet away from Virginia Woolf and Shakespeare. Down a flight of stairs and just around the corner stand rows and rows for railroad enthusiasts. Climb up three flights to an art gallery and rare book room. Cross through spaces devoted to classic literature, reference materials, religious studies, philosophy, education, the martial arts, cookbooks, quilting . . . And everywhere you go, there are people sitting, pacing, staring off into the distance, lounging on the floor with a book or a pile. It’s like a microcosm of the world, like what you might find at an airport or a train station. Except in this place, there’s less physical rush. These are travelers. But they leave their bodies behind as they zoom around the universe, back and forth in time, hitching rides as visitors in some hapless narrator's brain.

And they come back changed — peaceful, thoughtful, calm — whispering quiet excuses as they step over others who are still traveling, recognizing somehow that this is a holy place, a temple to human wisdom and beauty and truth. A place for searching. For inspiration. A place of peace in the midst of a busy city.

And they always come back. To Powell’s.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Truth or Fiction?

Great works of truth
and beauty are often little more than hopeful fictions.

After examining a number of paintings in the Library of Congress, I've made a simple discovery. American artists of the 19th century erroneously believed that the ancient Romans utilized Krazy Glue (more commonly called super glue) or some similar substance for the artistic draping of fabrics, some substance so powerful that there was no need for zippers and snaps and buttons and such.

Here's an example from a mural above the door of a large conference room. A venerable teacher sits on a stone bench with a gathering of youths circled around him, listening intently to his wise and instructive discourse. Said teacher has a simple slip of cloth across his privy parts, which puts him in a precarious position. For even the slightest shifting of a leg is frought with the danger of exhibitionism. Yet he shows no sign of discomfort.

In another painting (in another room), it seems that nothing more than a wisp of wind provides the necessary force to clasp a garment's corner above what otherwise might prove a woman's bared bosom. But her face shows none of the anxiety I'd expect to experience in such an awkward social situation. Instead, she seems secure.

And I wonder how it's taken me so long to notice that the truly great works of truth and beaty are often little more than hopeful fictions.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Cheap Thrills

There's a Subway sandwich shop
In one of the Smithsonians,
Crowded with kids on a field trip.
They're bored with architecture and art,
Just want to crowd around tables
And text each other.

A few moments ago,
I admired art-carved rock
in an outdoor garden.
The teenagers there were
Plugged up with iPods

And later, at the Lincoln Memorial,
Sit on the steps,
Swatting mosquitoes,
Eating pizza
Talking too loud.
Nobody reads the words.

That statue?
It's nice enough, I guess.
But once you've seen one statue,
You've seen them

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Orange Line

Others stare
Just a moment
Before bending back to books
Or coffee,
Scanning newspaper print,
Reading between the lines.

Lady across sits straight.
Arms around her bags.

Next to her, a boy.
His book is upside down.
He stares it down.
As pines slide by the window.
And the freeway.

While the operator warns
Of suspicious packages

And me in my black socks and brown shoes.

That woman loves the sun.
Pile of yellow curls.
Freckled face.
Pink glasses
Hide her eyes.

This girl asleep in her seat,
She has stars in her ears.

A man in a black suit swallows.
Looks down at his square leather toes.

What happens when the bomb blows?

When we cross the Blue Line,
I look up.
The lady is gone.
With the man and sleeping girl.
But the boy
With the book
In reverse.

I hate these socks.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Our success-
oriented culture pushes people apart,
demands that each man and woman be an island, totally self-sufficient.
Reliance is weakness. Need is next to sin.

I’m working through an idea for a book on recreation as a means of discovering God. Here’s the synopsis. Would love to get feedback from any of you who make it through.

Game: Discovering God in Adventurous Play opens up a world of possibilities in worlds that don’t exist. Because that’s what games are — alternate realities — and that’s what games do. They do away with what is real and ask us to do the same. It follows, then, that in the perfect game, players perform foolish acts for no good reason. And in playing out these harmless fantasies, game players discover reality, what it is to live without inhibitions, what it means to finally be real.

The game is central to identity.

God made man in his own image, and although we identify God as the source of love, joy, peace, and other virtues, what lies at the bottom of God’s character is his creative power. So it is in creative play that we discover God’s image within us, waiting to break free from the oppressive propriety and maturity required in our day-to-day lives.

Imagine a 10-year-old boy teaching adults to wriggle around on their stomachs in a round of Snake-in-the-Grass. Imagine two friends on a road trip, reading billboard messages backwards, pretending to speak in a foreign tongue. Imagine a group of middle school students using dictionaries and a long cafeteria table to create their own version of shuffleboard.

When we create and play new games, we discover God’s creative power in our minds, his presence in our midst. We discover what God created us to do and be: fellow creators.

The game is central to community.

Jesus prayed that God might make us one — one with each other in heart and mind, unified with the Father so that we might truly worship him in spirit and in truth. But we live in a dog-eat-dog world where people are valued for what they accomplish not for what they become. Our success-oriented culture pushes people apart, demands that each man and woman be an island, totally self-sufficient. Reliance is weakness. Need is next to sin.

But the game turns topsy-turvy the world as we live it. In British Bulldog, the strong and the fast become victims to the cooperative efforts of smaller and slower players. Tops and Bottoms — like Lemonade — is designed around the goal of getting everybody on the same team. And no game is complete without an after-opportunity for sharing stories.

When we play together, we create shared experiences that break down barriers to vulnerability and transparency in other areas of our lives. When we learn how to play all out — hard, fair and nobody hurt — then we cease to be islands. We tag shoulders in Link-Up, strip off socks in Knock Your Socks Off, wrestle each other to the ground in Whomp-Em or Bloody Wink ‘Em. And every time we touch, we demonstrate that God is forming us into a living breathing body of believers.

The game is central to worship.

First, some background. Dualism is the ancient heresy that claims spirit is holy while the flesh harbors sin. In Western Christianity, we’ve given new life to this system in our practiced separation of sacred from secular. Why else would we believe (or live as if we believe) that worship is only worship if it occurs in a certain place (church) at a certain time (Sunday morning) with a certain group of people (other Christians)?

And what good does worship do as a shot in the arm, a kind of holy inoculation intended to keep us safe from the dangers of greed, sex and road rage? Shouldn’t worship be central rather than tacked on? And must it always include music? Or a sermon?

Here is the problem. We cannot know God unless we know ourselves. We cannot celebrate God’s goodness if we fail to recognize his beauty reflected in the lives of our fellow humans. In order to worship in spirit and in truth, we must know ourselves, and we must have community. Everything else is false.

But our churches engage in little more than a kind of parallel play. We are in the same place and doing the same things as other believers. But we are alone.

Games bridge the gap.

I once took a group of youth and adults to a grassy hill on the edge of town where we spent hours speeding down the slopes on sleds made of ice blocks. As the sun set that evening, we gathered at the top of the hill, recounting stories of close calls and heroic deeds. We dreamed up new adventures. We marveled at the orange-topped buildings in the city below set off by deepening shadows and fiery clouds that shifted from red to pink to purple to blue. We spoke of secret longings and of God. That night, we stumbled down that hill in the dark, drunk with the joy of connecting, of trusting, of being known. That night, we experienced worship.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Excrement in Heaven?

I’m amazed at the extent
of human curiosity as well as the sources of our conflict.

I recently stumbled upon a series of old theological treatises. One that caught my attention questioned whether two angels could occupy the same physical space. Another asked if excrement could exist in heaven.

At first, these issues strike me as superficial, even silly. And I’m amazed at the extent of human curiosity (as well as the sources of our conflict).

But I think the question of excrement in heaven could point to a deeper issue. For instance, are natural body functions — eating, defecation, flatulence, perspiration or intercourse — unclean? Will we somehow lose the physical aspects of our existence when we enter eternity? Sure, on the surface, it seems a waste of thought. But the implications are huge.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

could the Creator be as small
as creation? How dare
we try to objectify, classify, quantify

that which transcends existence?

I think I’ve finally figured it out. Found the answer. Placed the puzzle’s last piece.

All this bad religion out there, it’s a mistake of genre.

Doing-oriented American culture tends to think of scripture in terms of prose (especially technical prose). We like to have a resource for easy answers, quick fixes, little pick-me-ups.

But scripture is poetry.

Poetry doesn't give up its answers so easily. It has to be digested bite by bite. Slowly. Repeatedly.

And then there’s the silence. Lots of silence. Poetry takes time to unfold, and silence — serious meditation — is required if we intend to unravel meaning, find the source of our searching.

People don’t have time for this kind of thing. No patience. So they settle for the Sparknotes version. Never take a minute to think (let alone listen).

Enough of that. I probably need to offer an example. What about this one? What if God doesn’t really exist?



Pull your fingers away from the keyboard.

Hold off on the hate mail.


For just a minute.

And consider that God is not a thing. How could the Creator be as small as creation? How dare we try to objectify, classify, quantify that which is beyond, that which transcends existence?

But we dare to do just that every single Sunday because we live in little worlds. That’s what prose does. It offers answers, entertains, informs. There’s no challenge beyond the superficial.

But poetry!

Poetry couches each truth in a conundrum, in conflict, in the paradox. In poetry, the challenge is impossible (at least initially) because it pushes past human understanding, asks that we conceive of conflicting ideas working together to create...

something deeper,

something more meaningful,

something beautiful, which otherwise, we might never conceive.