Just After Midnight

Just after midnight on Christmas day
he lifts his head from the computer
where he was creating a poem to
listen to the glorious sounds of
college students and sees blacks,
browns, yellows and whites singing
beautifully the various religious
traditions of the season. He had just
seen a broadcast of his alma mater’s
Christmas Vespers and the music
sung beautifully by the mostly white
college students was nice and ever
so properly parochial and, to his mind,
so completely out of touch with the
beautiful inclusivity of Jesus’ message,
ironically sung by the music school
of a state university. And while he
likes Merry Christmas with it’s
nostalgic touch, really, Happy Holidays
is better, if for no other reason than,
it means Happy Holy Days — for all.

Kyrie Eleison on Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve, the holy time,
the blessed time and I’m
having to hit the mute button
on the remote because I
can’t take all the appeal
to jealousy, envy, covetous-
ness on TV commercials not
to mention the mayhem and
murders on programs and
previews of upcoming shows
this Christmas Eve. And
Jesus just shakes his head
and wanders off among the
dispossessed and disen-
francised and illegal
immigrants as his parents
were that first blessed
Christmas Eve, that holy
time, that blessed time
and all I can think to sing
this blessed Christmas Eve
is not Deck the Halls or
the most sad song of all,
Have Yourself a Merry Little
Christmas
but Kyrie Eleison,
Christ have mercy, over and
over and over again through
Christmas day and into eternity.

Is That Why…?

The rich are feeling comfortable
For the moment, only the moment,
Because as an heir to a fortune once
Said, “It’s never enough.” Those
Somewhere in the spectrum called
Middle class are confused trying to
Be optimistic but doubting what
They are being told will actually
Come to pass. Only the poor know.
Is that why they are called Blessed?

A Hundred Lies A Day

Someone, apparently with
some justifying social science
credential, once said that
Americans lie about a hun-
dred times a day. I thought,
“Wow! Really? A hundred
times a day? That is a lot,
so much.” Needless to say, I
had my doubts. Years later
with the (p)resident in the
White House, I just ruminated,
“Yup. Guess so.”

Snow Crunches Under Foot

The snow crunches under foot
and sounds like peanut brittle
sounds inside your head when
you bite down. The snow becomes
slippery under foot as peanut
brittle becomes slippery on
the tongue before and after
the crunch. I avoid stepping on
the slippery, icy snow for
apparent reasons. Like my chocolate
labs, I used to bite newly fallen
snow. Because I’ve been using peanut
brittle as a simile, I now think
having a piece of peanut brittle
to lick and crunch would be nice
just for me. I can’t remember the
last time I ate peanut brittle or
newly fallen snow, but I can taste
them both, right now — even all
mixed together.

Leaders Give Praise

Leaders give praise,
show appreciation,
work for others,
demure, while this
(p)resident gathers
congressional syco-
phants who fawn over
him, praise him, laud
him, bow to him, kiss
his butt and lick his
boots. Abused children
stick close to their
abusers, hugging them,
hoping and praying that
the abuser will not abuse
again: “I love you, love
you, love you, daddy.
Don’t hurt me, please,”
and how much daddy loves
to hurt them. “We love
you so very much, Mr.
(p)resident. You are the
greatest (p)resident ever.
Please, please, Mr.
(p)resident, (don’t hurt
us) we love you so, so
very much,” as they cling
to his pant legs, kiss
his butt and lick his
boots, and how much he
loves to hurt them.

Winter Solstice

It’s the shortest day of the year —
the winter solstice — for light. I
got up at seven-fifteen and it was

dark. I entered my morning routine
that involves a few meds and many
supplements and flossing and brush-

ing and making a pot of coffee from
freshly ground gourmet coffee beans
and filtered water and the reading

of three meditations and two poems
and by then, as I sit at the computer
typing out the lines of a poem, I

see the light arrive in the neighbor-
hood. That routine feels really good.
Then I’m off to the service station

to have the oil changed in the car
and then a few more errands and then
home for homemade soup, an afternoon

of some exercise, reading and the ex-
perience of anticipating watching the
light recede and darkness descend early

and I’m already starting to yawn.

Exclaiming

Such banality, superficiality, cruelty,
Such shallowness, nastiness, greediness —
the new, but old, normal?
Greek and Roman gods fought
over just such things striving for
dignity, nobility, humility.
Native peoples creation myths
put us in touch with earth, sky
and the connection between
all things that walk, run, swim and fly.
Adam and Eve left Eden for a long,
slow day to die.
Cain slaying his brother Abel
speeded up the dying
and we have been killing each other
ever since long before
the Hebrews’ creation myth
described us to the core.
Is it any different now in this
dangerous culture of
such banality, superficiality, cruelty,
such shallowness, nastiness, greediness?
Is this but again the new, but old, normal?
Where in this bleak house
is dignity, nobility, humility,
justice, mercy, peace, self-sacrificial love
to be found?
If as it has been purported and proclaimed,
we are with God and God is with us
as Jesus, the Buddha, Lao Tzu aimed,
then in deep prayer we must remain
and in non-violent protest we must proclaim
creation rights and human rights for
glorious, wonderful universal life to be attained
and, by the grace of God, exclaiming
faith, hope and love
and watching, once again, for the descent of the dove.

A Note to a Friend

This is a note I wrote to a friend:

Below is an interesting and sad take on Buechner’s term of teaching at Harvard Divinity School.

He missed community. I also sense that he is blaming it on “pluralism,” which I think is a mistake as I believe there can be “unity in diversity; holding us together in loving mystery.”

I think he was just a lonely guy and it makes me sad for him at that time in his life. He accuses students of being “dead fish.” I think he was a fish out of water.

My experience at Western Theological Seminary (a denominational seminary and not a divinity school) was just the opposite; it was four years filled with community, love and affirmation — perhaps it had more in loco parentis for fledgling clergy just learning to spread their spiritual wings and that was just fine even for those who were 21 to 25 and older chronologically but babes in faith, some might say “lambs before the slaughter.”

Perhaps there was too much “sameness” in those years, and I chafed at it a bit, and, of course, was never shy about speaking up, much to the chagrin of faculty, I’m sure. Then later I developed a theology/spirituality of prophet, priest on my own (something to fit my personality), but the nurturing spirit prepared me to go on my own in search and affirmation of community elsewhere — campus ministry, installed ministry, hospice ministry, interim ministry, adjunct teaching in pastoral care and preaching at Western, the RCA, PC(USA), the UCC and finally a sense of being a part of all of it and, yet, none of it anymore and that’s okay. I’m content being where I am, on the way as Dorothy Day would say: “All the way to Heaven is heaven, because He said, ‘I am the Way.'”

By the way, my wife Chris who just read Buechner’s meditation, wondered if he was just talking about himself and not bringing the students in at a place they could relate, say at the place of their “issues.” Perhaps his “sharing of secrets” was too threatening for them and he could have drawn them in over something less personal but important, nevertheless, and perhaps, thus giving them the courage to share on a more personal, feeling level. I knew there was a reason I married her.

Bob

Pluralism

HARVARD DIVINITY School was proud, and justly so, of what it called its pluralism—feminists, humanists, theists, liberation theologians all pursuing truth together—but the price that pluralism can cost was dramatized one day in a way that I have never forgotten. I had been speaking as candidly and personally as I knew how about my own faith and how I had tried over the years to express it in language. At the same time I had been trying to get the class to respond in kind. For the most part none of them were responding at all but just sitting there taking it in without saying a word. Finally I had to tell them what I thought. I said they reminded me of a lot of dead fish lying on cracked ice in a fish store window with their round blank eyes. There I was, making a fool of myself spilling out to them the secrets of my heart, and there they were, not telling me what they believed about anything beneath the level of their various causes. It was at that point that a black African student got up and spoke. “The reason I do not say anything about what I believe,” he said in his stately African English, “is that I’m afraid it will be shot down.”

At least for a moment we all saw, I think, that the danger of pluralism is that it becomes factionalism, and that if factions grind their separate axes too vociferously, something mutual, precious, and human is in danger of being drowned out and lost. I had good times as well as bad ones that winter term. I was able to say a few things that some of my students seemed to find valuable, and some of them said things that I value still, but if there was anything like a community to draw strength and comfort from there at Harvard as years before there had been at Union, I for one was not lucky enough to discover it.

– Originally published in Telling Secrets

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Just a Dune Away

The sun sets or the earth rotates
into a beautiful sunset just a dune away.
The sun rises or the earth rotates
into a beautiful sunrise just a dune away.
Are the beautiful start
and the beautiful end
just a dune away from my heart
or is my heart there,
anticipating, waiting,
never hesitating to run
for that which is just a dune away
and if I stop and wait
will I know that love has come my way
bright and shining, above me
just on this side of the dune today?
Or is it, like the sunrise and sunset,
always just a dune away?