I like Christmas a lot not decause of the prestents decause of God
Thursday, December 29, 2011
I like Christmas a lot not decause of the prestents decause of God
Monday, December 19, 2011
Blue homespun and the bend of my breast
keep warm this small hot naked star
fallen to my arms. (Rest...
you who have had so far
to come.) Now nearness satisfies
the body of God sweetly. Quiet he lies
whose vigor hurled
a universe. He sleeps
whose eyelids have not closed before.
His breath (so slight it seems
no breath at all) once ruffled the dark deeps
to sprout a world.
Charmed by dove's voices, the whisper of straw,
hearing no music from his other spheres.
Breathe, mouth, ears, eyes
he is curtailed
who overflowed all skies,
Older than eternity, now he
is new. Now native to earth as I am, nailed
to my poor planet, caught that I might be free,
blind in my womb to know my darkness ended,
brought to this birth
for me to be new-born,
and for him to see me mended
I must see him torn.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Bales of real hay
the false manger.
The choir files in,
an unheavenly host,
to predestined slots on stage.
I spot David,
my almost angelic son;
Our eyes connect;
Joseph and Mary arrive.
The mini-Madonna clutches the Babe;
his plastic head sticks out, unsupported,
and does not fall.
"Tough kid," I think.
mill around the manger.
My small daughter, a miscast lamb,
flops her ears
and bleats to the music, all mischief.
For the next twenty minutes
I strain on the edge of the pew
as bathrobed wise men
and mock shepherds
march in and mumble their lines.
The third wise man sneezes,
and I suppress my own mirth
I see the Christ,
perceive the glory,
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Christmas demands we bring together the nearness and greatness of God. God sent Jesus in an intimate, down-to-earth form—as a helpless baby, needing to be held, changed, fed. That’s the imminence part, God’s nearness to the human condition.
The angels and shepherds got the transcendence part right. I love the King James description of the shepherds being “sore afraid,” uniting pain with terror. More than a helpless baby, this child was the Lord of lords and King of kings in unlikely disguise. Something for the heavenly hosts to shout “Hallelujah!” about.
Sunday in programmed worship, Cherice Bock, our message-bearer, quoted G. K. Chesteron: “Man is bored to death listening over and over to a story he has never heard.” As we listen again to the Christmas story, which we have all heard over and over, I invite you to join me in opening the “eyes of our hearts,” and seeing afresh in the baby, Emmanuel, God with us. Then let us, in the words of the old hymn, become “lost in wonder, love and praise.”
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
The real book is called La iglesia latinoamericana: su vida y su mission (The Latin American Church: Her Life and Mission). I coordinated the three person editorial team (with Alberto Roldán and Chuck Van Engen) of this book of essays from 11 Latin American scholars. It’s published by Certeza, a Protestant publishing house in Buenos Aires. It’s been a long and arduous process, but I’m pleased with the result. The book is academic and in Spanish; if these are not barriers, please look it over! (I may blog later on some of the essays, including my own.)
The other book, which is even more “real” (in the velveteen rabbit sense) is published through Bapa Creations Unlimited. You’ve probably not heard of it. It’s my very own (and very unofficial) publishing house. “Bapa” was Alandra’s word for Grandma a few years back. I publish these books around Christmas time, usually in runs of three (one goes to Rwanda, one to Springfield, and one stays home with me).
This latest creation couldn’t be farther from the volume published by Certeza. Rather than academic in level, its destined readership is a three-year-old autistic boy named Peter. The English is pretty straight forward.
One of Peter’s fixations is stripes. He sees them everywhere. A few weeks back when Hal and I were at the coast, I took a walk one day and, like Peter, I saw stripes everywhere. So I took out my camera, and a new book was born. Following are various scenes from Stripes on the Beach.
Monday, November 21, 2011
Now I lay me down to sleep.
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
And if I die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my toys to break
So none of the other kids can use 'em....
(From A Light in the Attic)
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Two of the books are the memoirs of Iranian writer Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books (2003) and Things I’ve Been Silent About: Memories of a Prodigal Daughter (2008). The third book is Hilary Spurling’s biography, Pearl Buck in China: Journey to the Good Earth (2010). And the fourth book is by theologian Roberta C. Bondi, Memories of God: Theological Reflections on a Life (1995).
All three stories reveal the power of place (cultural and historical context) to form lives. Pearl Buck grew up as a missionary kid in China and spent a good deal of her adult life there as well. And while she herself felt more Chinese than American, being a “foreign devil” during the Boxer Rebellion and the violent conflict between Chiang Kaishek’s nationalism and Mao Zedong’s communist revolution marked her life. Azar Nafisi was raised in the Muslim context of the Shah’s Iran and lived through the radical changes, especially for women, brought by the Islamic Revolution under the Ayatollah Khomeini. Roberta Bondi spent much of her childhood in the shadow of the Christian fundamentalism of rural Kentucky and later, as a young scholar, under the contrasting influence of a rational male-oriented seminary education. All these contexts, in different ways, devalued women, setting up similar struggles for all three.
All three women found solace and hope through the power of literature and language. As a girl, Pearl Buck learned Chinese and soaked up the legends and mythology of her people. As an adult her stories of the Chinese people earned her both a Pulitzer Prize and a Nobel award. Azar Nafisi’s book, Reading Lolita in Tehran, chronicles her clandestine reading group and how reflecting on the works of Nabokov, Fitzgerald, Henry James, and Jane Austen (all forbidden Western authors) helped her and her students find their way through the difficult days of the revolution. Roberta Bondi also writes of the books that helped bring balance and hope to her early years, but it was language itself, in particular the Hebrew language, that gave her a sudden epiphany, “a sense of cosmic goodness and joy in all created things I had never encountered before.”
All three women experienced the power of family to harm, as well as to heal, and a good deal of their personal development had to do with coming to terms with the damage. Buck and Bondi faced the trauma of harsh fathers, while Nafisi wrestled all her life in a difficult relationship with her tyrannical, emotionally unbalanced mother. In some senses, all these relationships with parents were abusive and all the women suffered the trauma of abandonment. In addition, all three entered into unfortunate first marriages and resulting divorces.
And all three women eventually find healing through understanding and forgiving their offending parent, all forming new relationships before the death of the parent.
Azar Nafisi does not write about any kind of relationship to God or the Muslim faith. Both Buck and Bondi were raised in Christian homes. Pearl Buck eventually rejected the Christianity of her parents and did not find a replacement. In contrast, Bondi outgrew the rigid fundamentalism that formed the backdrop of her childhood and slowly moved into a rich and deep Christian spirituality with a God of grace.
Pearl Buck died in 1972. Azar Nafisi lives in the United States, teaches college literature and directs the Dialogue Project at the Foreign Policy Institute of Johns Hopkins University. Roberta Bondi is Professor of Church History at Candler School of Theology, Emory University, in Atlanta, Georgia.
Of the three, the story that impacted me the most was Roberta Bondi’s, but that’s a topic for another blog.
Friday, November 4, 2011
The other day as Hal and I ambled along on the sands, we saw something else that began to amaze us as we approached it. From a distance it appeared to be some kind of huge driftwood configuration, but it only grew stranger in appearance as we drew near. We named it The Thing on the Beach.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Al and Lois have been part of North Valley Friends since before its founding. I remember when Hal and I were newly married and began attending Springbrook Friends, one of the meetings that merged to form North Valley. Al was teacher of the adult Sunday school class. Newly graduated from college, as well as newly married, I was a bit of a rebel at the time, highly critical of anything to do with church. But I loved that class. More to the point, I loved Al and his gentle way of opening the Scriptures and of encouraging us to engage with them and with each other.
In the following years, each time Hal and I would return from Bolivia for our furlough year in Oregon, Al and Lois were a stabilizing factor for us in the church. They were like parents in the faith and never seemed to change, were always part of the life and health of the community we came home to.
I was with the elders visiting Al and Lois in their home on Sunday afternoon. Al never woke up during that time, and his labored breathing formed a sort of background music to our visit. We sat with Lois and Bev, sang some old hymns, with Hal’s harmonica accompaniment—songs like “Blessed Assurance,” “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” “When the Roll Is Called up Yonder.” We then all talked about what Al had meant to us, and the strong testimony of a consistent, faithful, gentle life unfolded.
Lois shared that the day before God had given her an unexpected gift. Al woke up and was conscious for about an hour. During that time they again expressed their love to each other. Lois was smiling as she told us, “I didn’t think I get another chance to tell him I loved him.” Bev shared about how her father never wanted his last months to be like this, did not want to be so dependent on family for every need, but that as his condition gradually worsened, he just seemed to accept that this was how it was to be. He walked gently and submissively through the whole experience.
We prayed for Al and the family, sat around for a short while longer and left, not realizing this was his last day with us.
I’m remembering reading about the spiritual discipline of the “good death,” a practice in years gone by, not spoken of much anymore. For the life of me (interesting phrase), I can’t find the source of my reading. I’ve googled it and find thousands of references to a “good death,” all contemporary. Today the phrase pertains more to the medical profession than to Christianity, and is linked with practices such as hospice care. It basically means a death with as little physical and spiritual pain as possible. That’s good. Al and the family benefitted from hospice care during the last several months.
But the “good death” as a spiritual discipline has another sense entirely. Rather than something the dying person receives at the hand of others, it is a gift that person gives to others. It refers to letting one’s death be as full of Jesus and of the fruits of the Spirit as one’s life was. It means letting the way the person handles death become a ministry in itself, a blessing to the community. It results in a deep joy that mingles with sorrow as the person finally slips over the edge and into Life.
Of course, for that to even be possible, a person would have to have lived a consistently Spirit-filled life. Over a long period of time. Al Lehman was such a person, and while we will all miss him, I smile as I imagine him now in the presence of the One he loved. And I thank him for giving us the gift of a good death.
Wednesday, October 19, 2011
--the witching hour
--the pull of the moon
i slip from sleep
drawn to the lip of chasm
bend in & begin to
spin down & down
i grow small small
as the cone of the vortex
whirls the colors & sounds
& senses of all i’ve ever known
fast fast so fast i forget my name
around & around the dark
shines twirling tumbling me
sucks out my words
my words my very
it slows slows
& stops i
never know how or when
but the vortex vanishes
& i uncurl in the gentled night
hold in my hand
a small pile of words
a singular piece of
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Entitled Secret Sunshine, the film tells the story of a widow who, along with her young son, decides to honor her late husband by moving to his home town, a small city actually. (The translation of the town’s name is “Secret Sunshine.”) Shin-ae begins to make a few friends, finds a job and puts her son in the local grade school, but nothing comes easily. As she explores her new environment, in the background of several scenes Christian groups are singing choruses and testifying in the streets. The local pharmacist tells her earnestly that she needs God and invites her to church, an invitation Shin-ae shyly turns down. But Christianity keeps poking its head around the corners of the film and I wonder, is this the “secret sunshine”?
Tragedy strikes and Shin-ae’s son is kidnapped, then brutally murdered. The perpetrator is apprehended and turns out to be the school-van driver. Shin-ae, overwhelmed by grief, finds herself one evening in a healing service of the very church to which her pharmacist had invited her. She breaks down in the service and people gather to lay hands on her and pray. The next scene shows her at peace, giving her testimony in a small group. A Christian now, with a new “family,” she is learning to sing the songs, read the Scriptures, and submit to a theology that encourages her to accept her son’s brutal death as somehow “God’s will.”
It all breaks down when she goes to the prison, accompanied by church members, to tell the murderer that she forgives him. The criminal smiles tenderly at her from behind bars, informs her that he, too, has become a Christian, that God has completely forgiven him and he is at peace and praying for her.
Too much. She walks out of the prison in stunned silence, accompanied by the “hallelujahs” of the brethren, then collapses in the parking lot. The remainder of the film portrays her rejection of Christianity, psychotic breakdown, hospitalization, and subdued return home. Heavy stuff.
One of the most difficult aspects of the film for me was the portrayal of Christianity. It was fairly honest, not exaggerated. I recognized the music, the forms, the types of relationships because I have heard and seen them all—throughout Latin American and in the United States, representing mainly the neo-charismatic movement, but corresponding to some denominational groups as well. I recognized all the songs, which included contemporary worship music, Bill Gaither (“Because He Lives”), traditional hymns (“Blessed Assurance”) and one song I couldn’t recognize which might actually have been Korean. The Christians were good people, wanting to be helpful.
But the overall impression was of a church that was not Korean in form or content, that was offering superficial answers to the deep struggles of life.
I know something of the large evangelical church in Korea through my Korean friends (including some of my students), through reading the history of the church in that country, and through reading some of her theologians. I know that something good and real concerning the Kingdom of God is taking place in Korea.
But the questions the film poses need to be listened to deeply, not just in the context of Korea, but around the world where the church has taken root and sprung up in diverse cultural contexts. Why, in so many of these places, do the forms and even the content of the gospel seem so similar to what we see in church movements around us? Where are the unique contributions that different cultural expressions of Christianity could offer the whole church? Where is the profound grappling of gospel and culture producing a theology that touches the deep hurting places in life today?
Monday, October 3, 2011
In the middle of the night
I awaken, dream pictures
and on the edge of consciousness,
At my computer
pondering how to respond
to a difficult message,
Walking to the post office,
head down, worrying
this task or the other,
a gentle nudge,
At the moment of temptation
to irritation--the inappropriate
remark, the socially inept
It's there at the unanticipated
turn, the interruption,
the sudden darkness.
Throughout the day
and into the night,
alone or in a crowd,
when I'm thinking about him
and when I'm not,
the offered hand,
the quiet word, "Come.
Ready or not, Lord,
here I come.
(From Mark 1 & 2)
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Thursday, September 22, 2011
As I prepared for last Sunday’s time of worship, I found helpful the instructions that the class facilitator sent to us. The process he suggested to us is as follows:
1. Participate in worship service, take notes.
It helps that I attend the early unprogrammed meeting, which becomes not only a preparation for programmed worship, but a worship experience in itself. The gathering word came from a quote by Carolyn Stephens about God who communicates: “The one cornerstone of belief upon which the Society of Friends is built is the conviction that God does indeed communicate with each one of the spirits he has made, in a direct and living inbreathing of some measure of the breath of his own life; that he never leaves himself without a witness in the heart as well as in the surroundings of man; and that in order clearly to hear the divine voice thus speaking to us we need to be still….”
Several people spoke into the silence, one about an atheistic scientist who found Christ through research on the human genome project, the other a personal story about seeing a deer in a small forest in the middle of Newberg. I felt awe and gratitude before the fact that God communicates with us in so many ways.
So many aspects of programmed worship spoke to me. The words of the songs became prayer: “Knowing you, Jesus, there is no greater thing;” “Oh draw me, Lord, and I’ll run after you;” “We have decided to follow Jesus.” During the baby dedication, I had the strong sense of the community vowing to follow Jesus in the care and discipleship of our children. I felt his pleasure and was moved by the seriousness of this commitment.
Lynn preached on several passages from Mark 1 and 2, and the parts that stood out to me concerned Jesus’ calling of the disciples. “Follow me.” Here are some of the points I noted down about the call to follow and our response:
And mixed in with these formal elements of worship were the greetings, conversations, warm connections with my fellow followers. This, too, is worship.
Now, several days later, what is lingering and growing is the voice of Jesus throughout the day, inviting: “Follow me.” On Monday, as I communicated with the students in my online class, as I interacted by email and phone with other members of the administrative team, as I prepared for the writers group and, later that evening, led a meeting of the elders and pastors, this invitation accompanied me. I had a very real sense of following Jesus in each endeavor.
This continues and has become a profound and deeply encouraging experience. I know what Jesus is saying to me through the Sunday worship. Now I broaden the question: What is he saying to us as a community?
Monday, September 19, 2011
It had been months since the words flowed
from brain to hand to page and I was anguished,
wondering if my muse was on extended coffee break
or if this was a clear-cut case of abandonment.
But then, last night as I was brushing my teeth,
it came to me, pure and full-blown, the perfect poem.
So I rushed from the bathroom to my desk,
grabbed paper and pen, put it all down,
then basked for a moment in creative relief.
I left it there on the edge where I'd be sure
to see it first thing in the morning.
It's morning now, but all I find are nibbled margins,
a few Sanskrit footprints in the dust,
and down on the carpet,
barely visible, one small grey poop of a metaphor.
(From The Secret Colors of God: Poems by Nancy Thomas, Barclay Press, 2005)
Friday, September 9, 2011
Right now Hal and I are in Springfield, Oregon at our daughter’s home, helping out with the grandkids. We are giving Kristin time to do her online courses, while we care for three-year-old Peter. Peter is legally blind and autistic. Other than that, he is a bright, beautiful, active toddler. And life is an adventure.
Among the many things we’re learning about autism are the unique ways people with this condition process language. They think in pictures and take things very literally. They have trouble with metaphors and imagery.
The other morning I was getting Peter up and I said something that irritated him. He ordered me to “No Grandma talk!”
I responded with, “You don’t want me to say that? All right. My lips are sealed.”
He immediately sat up in bed, dug his stuffed seal out of the covers, found its mouth and said, “Seal’s got lips. Seal’s got lips.” (Repetition is another characteristic, usually more than twice.)
I laughed and tried to explain what I meant. We then got him dressed and headed down the hall to breakfast. Entirely out of context, he said, “Peter’s lips are sealed,” then changed it to a question, “Are Peter’s lips sealed?”
We enjoyed his remark so much that he has adopted this phrase and at various times throughout the day, always out of context, he will inform us that “My lips are sealed.” The new bed time ritual involves picking up his seal and making some comment on his lips, after which he’s free to go to sleep.
Life is indeed an adventure, and young Peter is teaching us much. He certainly keeps me on my toes. (Now how would he picture that phrase? Grandma in a tutu, doing pirouettes?)
Though his lips may be sealed, Peter can still grin.
Thursday, September 1, 2011
Recently I spent a delightful afternoon with a friend. Gary talked about his writing projects and among them was a reflection on his collections. The idea originally came from an exercise in self-reflection, pondering what the things we collect say about who we are. I found his article fascinating and insightful and decided to do the same exercise myself.
I’ve been a collector all my life. Much of this stuff I no longer own. My stamp collection became too expensive and demanding, so I finally just gave it away. I outgrew the dolls and comic books. But I still collect. And while I don’t really believe my collections define my existence, it’s still an insightful exercise.
I collect heart rocks. Why? Because they’re small, pretty and very inexpensive. And because I love the way they feel in my hands and the way they sound when I tumble them together. And because it’s a bit of a challenge to find them. Whenever I go to the beach I manage to bring home one or two. When a visitor to my home admires my heart rocks (and not everyone even notices them), I invite her to take one home. For keeps, as my grandkids would put it.
I have a wooden bird collection. These come from Bolivia and show both the beauty of Bolivia’s tropical woods and the skills of her craftsmen. My wooden goose accompanies me every day as I work at my computer, reminds me of where I’m from and what I love.
My wooden puzzle collection speaks mainly to my role as a grandmother. The grandkids love these animal puzzles and, although they’re harder than they look to put together, the kids have become quite good at it. These come from Costa Rica, a place I visit frequently as a teacher and have come to love. They represent the colors, creativity, and natural beauty of this place.
Hal and I both collect books and some of our rooms look rather like libraries. We have several categories of books, and my favorite collection, that includes movies as well as books, has to do with stories about cultural values, communication styles, and intercultural relationships. I especially like books and movies produced by the culture they represent. Favorite authors include (among many others) Khaled Hosseini (Afghanistan), Ynag Erche Namu (southern China), Naguib Mahfouz (Egypt), Isabel Allende (Chile), Ernesto Cardenal (Nicaragua), Sandra Cisneros (Hispanic American), Maxine Hong Kingston and Amy Tan (Chinese American), Jung Chang (China) and Jhumpa Lahiri (Indian American). The movies include my favorite, Babette’s Feast (Denmark), The Necessities of Life (Inuit culture), Eat, Drink, Man, Woman (Taiwan), and Departures (Japan). There are many more, but you get the idea. This reflects my life as a poet, writer and participant/observer, having lived most of my adult years outside the US.
I collect words. I collect them as favorite poems, some committed to memory. I collect funny (always insightful) things my kids and grandkids have said. I remember interesting conversations (some overheard) and billboards along the highways. I store in my mind words that sound beautiful, funny or interesting, as separate entities or in phrases. I use them when appropriate. Hal and I read good books out loud to each other, partly because we like the sound of the words. When we were reading Jacob Have I Loved (yes, a book for young people), we came across the word lugubrious, and just stopped to admire it, guessing its meaning from the context (and later looking it up). I then wrote this poem in honor of the word:
A WORD LIKE LUGUBRIOUS
needs a poem of its own.
Consider the slime and the slink of it,
the slightly sinister wink of its eye
as it peeks from behind potted plants at wakes,
lingers at the altars of Protestant revivals,
or sobs with soap opera heroines.
An irreverent Uriah Heapish word,
a marbles-in-the-mouth sound,
it offers no apologies
for its lumpish singularity.
Some suggestions for everyday use:
--"This piano is lugubriously out of tune."
--"He shed a lugubrious tear
as she passed him the marmalade."
--"This morning at exactly 5:37,
a lugubrious lummox was sighted
at the corner of 11th and Lucerne
in downtown LA. We have investigators
on the scene and will interrupt our broadcast
to bring up-to-date coverage
on this fast-breaking story."
--"Not tonight, dear. I'm feeling lugubrious."
What are some of your collections? What do they reveal about you?