Tuesday, September 29, 2015
Monday, September 28, 2015
I'm very proud to be included in this wonderful anthology:
North Dakota is Everywhere: An Anthology of Contemporary North Dakota Poets was voted one of three notable ND state documents at the North Dakota Library Association (NDLA) annual conference. North Dakota is Everywhere will be sent on to compete with other state documents at the American Library Association annual conference, where we'll watch to see if it is chosen for an ALA Notable Document Award!
From the NDLA's website: "Each year, the NDLA Government Documents Roundtable (GODORT) nominates about half a dozen exceptional North Dakota state government publications. Along with printed reports and other text, these can be videos, maps, or any other format. NDLA conference attendees vote for their favorites and the top three vote-getters are forwarded to the American Library Association for national consideration."
Mary, Untier of Knots
Today is the Feast of Mary, Untier of Knots. There are few "knots" she could defintely untie for me.
Thursday, September 24, 2015
To celebrate the completion of almost two years of work on editing the collected poems of Prudence Gearey Sand (1908-1984), I was invited out to Cormorant Lake, Minnesota, where PGS had a summer home, and was given this wonderful cabinet which once belonged to her, and which she painted this "Chinese red." Thank you to Marianne Stafne Meyers for her kind gift. It will be like having a little bit of PGS with me all the time.
Sunday, September 20, 2015
Jeremiah 11.18-20; Psalm 54; James 3.13-4,7-8a;
+ Every morning for at least the last 15 years, I have, in my daily celebration of the liturgy of Morning Prayer, at the time of intercessions, prayed this petition.
“I pray for those who I view as my enemies, and for those who view me as their enemy.”
Behind this petition, I put an ellipses, three simple dots, at which point I pray for them by name. Now, I really don’t know who views me as their enemy, but over the years, I’ve had a few names of people I viewed as my enemies that I have included at that ellipses. A few names. Not many. And it takes a lot for me to view someone as my enemy. Just because someone doesn’t like me, or says unkind things about me behind my back or whatever, doesn’t make someone my enemy.
I have had people that I do view as enemies—people who wanted to do me some kind of harm in whatever form. One thing I have been unable to do is pray for bad things to happen to those people who I view as my enemy. Do I kind of secretly wish that bad things would happen to them? Maybe.
But more than anything, I just wish they would see the error of their ways, as I perceive it. Which may be wrong. But, yes, for one or two, maybe I did kind of wish bad things for them. You know, like a canker sore or a stubbed toe or something.
Enemies in the Bible were dealt with differently, as we no doubt have discovered. And often times, some harsh language was directed at those people who were considered enemies. On those occasions, we do sometimes come across language in the Bible that we might find a bit—how shall we say—uncomfortable. The language is often violent. It is not the language good Christian people normally use.
We get a peek at this language in our scriptures readings for today. Our reading from the Prophet Jeremiah is a bit harsh, shall we say?
“Let us destroy the tree with its fruit,
let us cut him off from the land of the living,
so that his name will no longer be remembered.”
For many us, as we hear it, it might give us pause. This is not the kind of behavior we have been taught as followers of Jesus. After all, as followers of Jesus, we’re taught to love and love fully and completely. We certainly weren’t taught to pray for God to destroy our enemies. And not just destroy our enemies, but our enemy’s children (that whole reference to the fruit of the tree). We have been taught to pray for our enemies, not pray against them. None of us would ever even think of praying to God to destroy anyone.
But the fact is, although we find it hard to admit at times, we do actually think and feel this way. Even if we might not actually say it, we sometimes secretly wish the worse for those people who have wronged us in whatever way. I like to think that, rather than this being completely negative or wrong, that we should, in fact, be honest about it.
We sometimes get angry at people. We sometimes don’t like people. And let’s truly be honest, there are sometimes when we might actually just hate people. It’s a fact of life—not one we want to readily admit to, but it is there.
Sometimes it is very, very hard to love our enemies. Sometimes it is probably the hardest thing in the world to pray for people who have hurt us or wronged us.
So, what do we do in those moments when we can’t pray for our enemies—when we can’t forgive? Well, most of us just simply close up. We turn that anger inward. We put up a wall and we swallow that anger and we let it fester inside us. Especially those of us who come from good Scandinavian stock. We simply aren’t the kind of people who wail and complain about our anger or our losses. We aren’t ones usually who say, like Jeremiah, “let us cut [that person] off from the land of the living!”
I think we may tend to deny it. And I think we even avoid and deny where the cause of that anger comes from.
Certainly, St. James, in his letter this morning, tries to touch on this when talks about these violent “cravings” which are “at war within us.” It’s not pleasant to think that there is warfare within us. For me, as a somewhat reluctant pacifist sometimes, I do not like admitting that there is often warfare raging within me. But it is sometimes.
But what about that anger in our relationship to God? What about that anger when it comes to following Jesus?
Well, again, we probably don’t recognize our anger before God nor do we bring it before God. We, I think, look at our anger as something outside our following of Jesus. And that is where scriptures of this sort come in. It is in those moments when we don’t bring our anger and our frustration before God, that we need those verses like the ones we encounter in today’s readings.
When we look at those poets and writers who wrote these scriptures—when we recognize her or him as a Jew in a time of war or famine—we realize that for them, it was natural to bring everything before God. Everything. Not just the good stuff. Not just the nice stuff. But that bad stuff too. And I think this is the best lesson we can learn from these readings than anything else.
We all have a “shadow side,” shall we say. We all have a dark side. We have a war raging within us at times. And we need to remember that we cannot hide that “shadow side” of ourselves from God.
Let me tell you, if you have war raging inside you, you definitely cannot hide that from God. Sometimes this dark self, this war, is something no else has ever seen—not even our spouse or partner. Maybe it is a side of ourselves we might have not even acknowledged to ourselves. It is this part of ourselves that fosters anger and pride and lust. It is this side of ourselves that may be secretly violent or mean or unduly confrontational and gossipy.
Sometimes it will never make an appearance. It stays in the shadows and lingers there. But sometimes it actually does make itself known. Sometimes it comes plowing into our lives when we neither expect it nor want it.
As much we try to deny it or ignore it or hide it, the fact is; we can’t hide this dark side from God. It’s incredible really when you think about it: that God, who knows even that shadow side of us—that side of us we might not even fully know ourselves—God who knows us even that completely still loves us and is with us. Few of us lay that shadow self before the Light of God.
But the authors and poets of our scriptures this morning do, in fact bring it out before God. These poets wail and complain to God and lay bare that shadow side of him or herself. The poet is blatantly honest before God. Or as St. James advises,
“submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and [God] will draw near to you.”
When these ugly things crop up in our lives, bring them before God. Let us deal with them in humility before God.
The fact is: sometimes we do secretly wish bad things on our enemies. Sometimes we do wish God would render evil on those who are evil to us. Sometimes we do hope that God will completely wipe away those people who hurt us from our lives. It is in those moments, that it is all right to pray to God in such a way.
Because the fact is—as I hope we’ve all learned by now—just because we pray for it doesn’t mean God is going to grant it. God knows what to grant in prayer. And why. The important thing here is not what we are praying for. It is not important that in this Psalm we are praying for God to destroy our enemies. It is important that, even in our anger, even in our frustration and our pain, we have submitted to God.
We have come before God as this imperfect person. We have come to God with a long dark shadow trailing us.
I have heard people say that we shouldn’t read these difficult on Sunday morning because they are “bad theology” or “bad psychology.” They are neither. They are actually very good and honest theology and very good and honest psychology. Take what it is hurting you and bothering you and release it. Let it out before God. Be honest with God about these bad things. Even if your anger is directed at God for whatever reason, be honest with God. Rail and rant and rave at God in your anger if you have to. Trust me, God can take it.
But, these scriptures teach us as well that once we have done that—once we have opened ourselves completely to God—once we have revealed our shadows to the Light of God—then we must turn to God and turn away from that shadow self. We must, as St. James says, “resist the Devil.”
Hatred and anger and pain are things that, in the long run, hurt us and destroy us. At some point, as we all know, we must grow beyond whatever anger we might have. We must not get caught in that self-destructive cycle anger can cause. We must not allow those negative feelings to make us bitter.
So, when we are faced with these difficult scriptures and we come across those verses that might take by alarm, let us recognize in them what they truly are—honest prayers before God Let these scriptures—these lamenting and angry, as well as the joyful, exultant—be our voice expressing itself before God. And in the echo of those words, let us hear God speaking to us in turn. When we do, we will find ourselves in conversation with God. And, in that conversation, we will find that, even despite that shadow side of ourselves, God accepts us fully and completely for who we are.
Friday, September 18, 2015
Monday, September 14, 2015
In memory of my father; 5 years later
Five years ago today, on the Feast of the Holy Cross, my father died. Here is a photo of him in 2002 doing what he loved most—metal detecting. He is triumphantly holding an 1892 silver dollar he had just found. I sure do miss him, and is absence in my life is an ache that just does not seem to end. Here also is a poem from my book, That Word (2014), which hopefully says in a better way anything I could say otherwise:
Take from him
And let him
if not today
one day soon—
from the ashes
so carefully into
the dark recess
of the earth
and left there
where the rain’s soaking
and the snow’s run-off
and the heat of high noon
cannot reach him
Let him rise up
than he is
in those dreams
from which I myself
rise and stumble
From That Word
Copyright © 2014 published by North Star Press
Sunday, September 13, 2015
1 Peter 2.1-5,
+ Seven years ago tomorrow—September 14, 2008—I sat down with the congregation of St. Stephen’s to be interviewed to be their new Priest-in-Charge. On that Sunday, for that congregational meeting, we had 25 people in church, which was just above the Average Sunday Attendance of 24. Our church membership on that Sunday in 2008 was 55 members. We actually have well over the total membership number then this morning here in church.
At that meeting, I sat down to answer questions about what I would do as Priest-in-Charge of St. Stephen’s. I remember one of the questions I was asked was: “Do you call before you make a visit or do you just show up?”
I said, “I always call and make an appointment first.”
Which seemed to be the right answer.
At the end of the meeting, I then asked the congregation a question. I asked, “If you agree to have me, what do you want as a congregation? What are your goals?”
There was some very serious thought before someone offered, “We want to grow.” And someone else added, “We want families.” And someone else, “And children.”
And I said, “We all can do those things together.”
Well, here we are, almost exactly seven years later. Today is of course Dedication Sunday—this Sunday in which we celebrate and remind ourselves who we are and where we’ve been. It’s also a kind of a State of the Union today. It important to look at where we are right now, at this time.
So, where are we, on this Dedication Sunday in 2015? Well, in comparison to where we were seven years, we look at the numbers: Our membership, as of today, with our 19 new members, two earlier new members and a few people that have
(we were 153 last year)
And that was even with the loss of four long-time members this year to death, as well as a few people who have been added to the inactive list. Those we lost to death this year were:
and Georgia Patneaude
Those deaths were hard on all of us. Coming as they did in rapid succession—we lost both Sharon and Pat in one day—there was a moment of maybe slight despair. The fact is, we are going to lose parishioners to death, or to inactivity, or they will move away, or whatever. But that is what being a congregation means. Of course, numbers are numbers. We can delight and rejoice in those numbers. We can proudly hold those numbers and gauge where we are with those numbers.
But ultimately numbers and numbers. Numbers change. Numbers are faceless and person-less ultimately. What matters here is much more than numbers.
What matters here is what we do and how we do it and why we do it. What matters here is what are we doing to make this world better, to making the Kingdom of God more and more of a reality in this world. It’s important for us on this Dedication Sunday to be reminded of those things that make us a bit different than other congregations. I don’t mean that in a smug, self-congratulatory way. Celebrating our growth and all the things God has granted to us does not allow us to be arrogant or full of ourselves. It is a time to be humble and to humbly thank God for these many, wonderful things. And it is important to examine ourselves in a humble way, a way in which we all find ourselves grateful to God and to each other for bringing us here, to this place, in this time and in this wonderful, holy moment.
As followers of Jesus, we have found something in this congregation that we haven’t necessarily found elsewhere—at least in this particular way. For us, who call ourselves members of St. Stephen’s, we know that something unique and wonderful is happening here and has been happening for some time—fifty-nine years, in fact. And all we can do in the face of that happening is give thank God and to continue to do what we are called to do as followers of Jesus. And we do those things well.
For example, our radical hospitality to those who come to us. Our amazing sense of welcoming all people as beloved and accepted children of God within this congregation—no matter who they are or what they are. Our commitment to service beyond these walls. Our commitment to the sacraments and to the Word. Our strong sense that our collective lives as followers of Jesus are centered on the celebration each week of the Holy Eucharist and the hearing of the Word of God in scripture.
These are all things that make us who we are as a congregation here at St. Stephen’s. And they are things that, together, are, sadly, rare in many churches. This is why people are finding us. This is why people are seeking us out.
The Holy Spirit dwells here. I have heard so many people who come in those doors say to me, “Yes, we feel it! We feel that Spirit dwelling here.” That Spirit is here, permeating these pews, these walls, but most of all, permeating us. That Spirit is here dwelling within us.
As we all know—as we all strive and continue to work to make the Kingdom of God a reality in our midst—it is not easy to do anything we have done together as a congregation. It has not been easy to get to this point in our collective lives here at St. Stephen’s. There have been set-backs. There have been trip-ups. There have been frustrations. But, that’s all part of the journey.
We, as followers of Jesus and more specifically, as members of St. Stephen’s, are called here to be, in the words of St. Peter from our epistle this morning, “living stones.” We are called to be living stones—living stones that can be built into a true spiritual home, a royal priesthood of not just believers but do-ers. We are called here at St. Stephen’s to proclaim all that God has done for us here and in our lives. We, as living stones, are called to be building up a new church. We are, by our very existence, showing that something is about to change. The Church—capital C—the larger Church—is changing.
That Church that was a close-minded ivory tower of repressive views regarding such issues as misogyny and homophobia and special privilege, is dying rapidly. And we all know it. We are all sensing it. God is letting us know that a Church built on anything other than love and acceptance is not the Church of Christ.
Essentially that dying Church turned away from the Gospel of Jesus. That Church turned away from Jesus, who commanded his followers to love and love radically and to accept and accept radically.
We are the prophets to the larger Church. We are the ones who are saying, THIS is the future of the Church. We are the living stones building up that new Church.
Royce today in baptism is being commissioned and called to be a living stone in the Church. All of us, by our baptisms, were and are commissioned to do the same thing. We are called to be the Church—a Church in which love and acceptance prevail. This is the Church in which Jesus’ message of love and acceptance is held up and lived out. This is the Church that is striving pave the way for that Kingdom of God in which radical love and full-acceptance reigns, to break through into our midst
It is not easy to do. It is daunting. And it is frightening at times.
But those words of St. Peter are ringing in our ears. You are God’s people. You are receiving mercy. And we are turn are sharing that mercy with others.
So, let us be those living stones building up a new and powerful church. Let us, on this Dedication Sunday, do what we have been doing for 59 years. Let us embody that Jesus whom we follow. Let us continue to spread that Gospel of all-encompassing, all-embracing love and acceptance in all we do here.
The future for us is bright. It is unlimited. But we have to make it a reality. We have to strive forward. We have to labor on. We have to break down those barriers of hatred, and fear and isolation and marginalization so that Christ’s Kingdom can bloom in our midst.
We see it happening, here at St. Stephen’s. We see what the future of St. Stephen’s and the larger Church really is. We see it when we live into that calling of Jesus.
So, let us be living, breathing, strong stones. That is the future. And, let me tell you, it is glorious.
Now, as we celebrate and move forward into that future, I’d like to invite Royce and his family to come forward…
Friday, September 11, 2015
Tuesday, September 8, 2015
Sunday, September 6, 2015
September 6, 2015
+ A week from tomorrow, I will be commemorating a hard anniversary. It will be the fifth anniversary of my father’s death. Five years. It’s been a long, hard five years. Many of you have traveled with me on this journey. I thank you for your patience.
Now, some of you might remember my father. And the last thing anyone who knew my father would have guessed about him was that he could get angry at times. Not angry in the conventional sense. Not anger like I preached about last week when I talked about how angry I get when I drive a car. He got angry in the way that I called last week “righteous anger.” He would get angry at things he saw as wrong.
One of the first times I ever heard of this anger in my father was one time, many times years ago, when I was headed to the South. My father was not a fan of “The South.” He lived there at a time when things were a bit crazy there. In the early 1960s, when my father was working for the Air Force, he was stationed in two places in the South—Tampa, Florida and Greensboro, North Carolina.
I could never understand why. I LOVE Tampa. And every visit I’ve ever made it to North Carolina has been wonderful. But of course I wasn’t visiting them in 1961 either.
When I pressed my father about why he disliked these places, he told me of the prejudice and racism he saw firsthand those places. He shared the story of how, as he and a group of friends were walking along the street, in Greensboro, one of the guys in his group made a pair of black men walk in the gutter while they passed. My father was shocked by this. But he said, “I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to say. I had never seen anything like that in my life and didn’t know how to react.” But it stuck with him and he soon found himself resenting the “friend” who did it and refused to do anything with him again.
Also, while in Greensboro, he saw the lunch counter sit-ins, and saw white people pouring sugar on the protesters’ heads. Again, he said, he didn’t know what to do.
In Tampa, he and a group of friends attempted to enter a bar. Because one of his friends was Native American, the bar tender refused to serve him and told him to get out. This time, my father got so angry, he raised a huff, and was himself thrown out of the bar.
He was then stationed in Texas and as he was driving from Tampa to Dallas, he passed through New Orleans, where he witnessed another lunch counter sit-in with unpleasant results.
To his dying day, those incidents haunted my father. When he would see those events reenacted in movies (I remember going to see Mississippi Burning with him), he would tense up and become very uncomfortable.
And he would to say: “I should’ve done more.”
This past week, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori, issued a letter. In it she called on Episcopal congregations to participate in “Confession, Repentance, and Commitment to end Racism Sunday.” Which is today.
Now I think such a Sunday is an important Sunday. And I’m disappointed that we were not given more time prepare and build up such an important Sunday. But the intention is right.
As followers of Jesus, this is what we should be doing in response to the racism we find in the world. Hopefully, one day, we will not feel like my father. Hopefully we not come to a point in our lives when we realize we should’ve done more to stop racism. And yes, it is noble and wonderful to have a Sunday wherein we all get together, admit to the terrible things people have done and to promise to end it.
But…ultimate we must actually be doing something in our own lives. We ourselves, as individuals, must be actively trying to make changes. And unless we do, one such Sunday on occasion is not going to ultimately do much. This is not an issue we do on one Sunday of the year. This is not something we only do when there is a tragedy like the massacre at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. If it is, then we’re really not doing much. If that is all we’re doing, then, let me tell you, there will be a day when it will happen again and we will say to ourselves and our loved ones, “I should’ve done more.”
For us, as followers of Jesus, as people who are striving to live out the promises of the Baptismal Covenant, we don’t get to make that excuse. For us, we ARE doing this—all the time.
For us, we are like the deaf man in our gospel reading for today. Racism and our response to it is like being that deaf man. The easier thing to do is to allow our ears to be plugged when we experience such inequality in our lives. It is so much easier to walk around not really hearing. Because when we really hear, we must look around and see. When we really hear, we must react. When we really hear, we can no longer be complacent. When we no longer have a speech impediment, we must actually speak out.
Well, Jesus is touching our ears and our tongues. As followers of Jesus, we don’t get to be deaf and have speech impediments when it comes to issues like racism. We, as followers of Jesus, as people who strive to live out the Baptismal Covenant, we can’t be like deaf people, but we must be like people whose hearing has been restored.
The Presiding Bishop, in her letter, cites a resolution made at our General Convention:
“The Church understands and affirms that the call to pray and act for racial reconciliation is integral to our witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to our living into the demands of our Baptismal Covenant,”
It IS integral to our witness of the Gospel and our living out of the Baptismal Covenant. Our Baptismal Covenant, which you can find beginning on Page 304 of the Book of Common Prayer, is clear and emphatic about issues like this. On page 305, the last question asked of us is,
“Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the worth and dignity of every human person.”
To which we respond, “I will, with God’s help.”
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people? Justice. Righteousness. Just treatment. Among all people. Will you respect the worth and dignity of every human person? The WORTH and DIGNITY of every one. Not just the nice ones. Not just the ones who are easy to like.
But everyone. The person who bugs us. The person who irritates us. The person who we innately just don’t like. Your priest….
And we respond with, “I will, with God’s help.”
We can’t do these things without God’s help. But with God’s help, we are able. That means that we must strive to do these things ALL the time, not just on one particular Sunday of the year. That means living it out in our daily lives, in our minute to minute, hour to hour lives. That means we don’t just get to have our hearing and speech restored to us on one occasion, but then we get to go back and be deaf and speechless the rest of the time. It means respecting the worth and dignity of all people, all the time. It means actively working and proclaiming and speaking out for peace and justice for all people all the time.
And for us who do this, we know what it feels like when we fail to do this, or when we see others blatantly deny people of justice and dignity.
When we do, we ask forgiveness of our God, of those we have wronged and we speak out when we see others doing it. This is a daily, moment to moment issue in our lives as Christians.
So, let us allow Jesus to touch our ears so we can truly hear. Let us allow Jesus to touch our tongue so we can truly speak out. Let us be a follower of Jesus with all our senses of justice and peace. Let us work hard, not just here in church, not just now on this particular Sunday, but all the time, for the worth and dignity of all human beings. When we do that, that is truly when the Kingdom of God comes in our midst and is uniquely present.
Let us pray.
Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart and especially the hearts of the people of this land, that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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