Tuesday, November 8, 2022

The vacuuming prince

Keeping a retirement community of some 400 residents running requires a large staff. These are the people around us everyday, who clean our rooms, cook and serve our meals, fix our broken faucets, and tend to us when we get too old to take care of ourselves. In time they become familiar to us. We learn their names and they learn ours. Some become friends.

Some of the stated values of this particular retirement community are integrity, compassion, dignity, and service. The community tries (maybe not always with perfect success) to live out these values in board decisions, administrative policies, resident activities, and employment practices. Fair wages, adequate on-the-job training, and a recognition of the dignity of each person—these are the goal.

Most of us residents are grateful for the staff that work here. I especially enjoy the opportunity to interact with the Hispanic workers; they remind me of my home in Bolivia. And it’s refreshing to have so many young people—high school and college students—serving us meals in the dining room. (I did the same thing in this same dining room when I was in college. I loved how the residents treated me.)

According to the last report, this community employs 246 staff persons, many part-time. Most of them seem happy to be working here (they all need to work somewhere); others seem burdened. But they all have private lives. They all have stories.

Some of the ways residents express their appreciation is through a scholarship fund and bi-annual bonuses in the form of gift cards, furnished entirely by resident offerings. Perhaps even more important, is when residents respond personally to different ones, learning, not only their names, but also what we can of their unique stories. This can be a challenge as they’re all on a schedule, with timed breaks. But little by little, it’s possible.

Let me tell you John’s story. I first ran across John as he was vacuuming the carpet in our hall. I greeted him and he responded with such a warm smile, it touched me and after that I made it a point to chat with him whenever our paths crossed. Once he commented on a hanging of shells on my door, asking me where it was from. I told him it was from the island of Ponape in the South Pacific. He smiled and told me he recognized it because that’s near his homeland, the island of Yap.

Yap? Intrigued, we invited John up to our room one day after work. We had lots of question, and what we learned amazed and delighted us.

Yap is a cluster of islands about 800 miles east of the Philippines surrounded by barrier reefs, part of the Federated States of Micronesia. Beautiful beaches climb inland to forested mountains. It has a year-round temperature of about 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Population on the main island runs between 11,000-12,000 people. It’s small but it sounds like a paradise.

The religion is a form of imported Catholicism mixed with animism and ancestorworship. People are proud of their customs and language, and struggle to maintain their way of life while facing the modern world. Hard to do.

John comes from this culture, but he is not just a random member. He is royalty. His step-father was chief or king of the island, a position handed down in the royal family. As such, John was in line to become chief.

When he was in high school, a Korean student shared the Christian gospel with John and gave him a Bible. He had always been curious about that figure up on the cross and wondered if there were more to life. After much reflection and prayer, John decided to become a follower of Jesus. This did not go over well with the family who disowned him for a time.

John moved to Guam and met his wife Donna in a church. They had their first two children in Guam, then decided to migrate to the Northwest corner of the United States where both John and Donna had family. They eventually made their way to Newberg, Oregon where, after several jobs, John found himself on the maintenance staff of George Fox University. He worked there for 19 years, while raising his family of now four children. Oregon became home.

When George Fox began cutting staff positions, John decided to move over to Friendsview, again finding a position on the maintenance staff, where he continues working today.

I wrote this poem about John:

The Prince of Yap

The man who vacuums
the carpets in the hall
is really the Prince of Yap.
His late father was the King of Yap
and he was next in line
to succeed to the throne.
But he didn’t want to be king.
He envisioned another life,
dreamed of open borders,
less ocean, more scope.
So he migrated to America.
One of his relatives is now king.
He’s happy to be here,
vacuuming rugs, secretly knowing
he still is, will always be,
the Prince of Yap.

I suspect that other members of the staff are also secret royalty, probably not in the same sense John is, but royalty nonetheless. All people of great value with wonderful stories to tell.


Friday, October 7, 2022

The Empress' New Clothes

Not at all like the Emperor’s.
His robes glowed and glittered
but itched his arms.
Nothing hung right.
And in the end, they dissolved
in the true gaze of a child,
leaving the poor Emperor
as naked as a blue jay
without its feathers.
Nothing blue left.
The Empress, on the other hand,
chose real silk that really flowed
down the contours of her body,
that comforted as well as adorned,
that fit the reality of her person.

The Celts have a blessing
for when one puts on a new garment:
May you live and may you wear it
and may you wear seven more
even better than it.

As a daughter of the King,
I could make do
with a wardrobe like that.

Thursday, September 29, 2022

The Feast of the Archangels

September 29, 2022

Today I turn 77.
All birthdays seem like a new chance
to grab hold of life, to breathe
as though this were the first day,
to be gob smacked by sunlight,
to turn around in amazement
at trees and bird song,
the smell of coffee and the smile
of my beloved as he says,
Happy birthday, Nancy.
This is the day.
This is the life.
I am the one.
Come, all you archangels.
Let’s dance!

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

The Hagar poems

 Hagar: given to Abram as a concubine, bears him a son, is abused and cast out (Genesis 16)

Genesis 16:1-3

Hagar had no choice.
Did she love Abram?
At least respect him?
Did he know her name?
Had he ever spoken to her?
And Sarai. Was she really
so objective, so focused
on results that she had
no qualms sharing her husband
with a slave?
I know these are questions
of my time, probably irrelevant
in ancient Canaan.
Intimacy was a social transaction,
a deal made with results
in mind. Even so I ask,
what were the human components
of this transaction?

Genesis 16:4-6

When Hagar becomes pregnant
her humanity emerges.
She flaunts her condition
before a barren Sarai,
also very human it seems.
Stupid girl.

Gift with an Edge
Genesis 16:10-12

The descendants without number
part was good, but
a wild donkey of a son?
One who would go through life
flailing his fists, fighting,
hating even her?
A strange promise she would carry
with her, even as she carried
the child.

He Hears and Sees
Genesis 16:7-15

God found Hagar
in the desert.
God heard the cries
of this abused slave girl,
not one of the chosen.
God saw this desperate child,
gave her a promise
and sent her home
to again submit
to those who would never
see her as a person
or listen to her heart.
Along with the child
she carried, she carried
the memory of One
who heard her,
of One who saw.

Remind Me Again
Genesis 16

In those times
I feel
invisible and voiceless,
remind me again
of the name.
El Roi—the God who sees.

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Sneaky Peeks


My parents were Good Readers.
They had Good Taste,
and volumes of Great Books
filled the bookcases of our home.
Some of the Great Books also
had Great Pictures, and we three kids
liked to look at these, with our parents’ permission.
Being very careful, we would thumb through
The Brothers Karamazov, Ancient Chinese Poetry,
 and Don Quixote de la Mancha, fascinated, guessing
what the stories might be about

One day we made a Find.
Tucked among the Great Books
we found a collection of literary essays
from Playboy Magazine (about which we knew nothing).
It was mostly words, but here and there,
scattered between the essays, were cartoons.
We didn’t understand the captions,
but the drawings
made us laugh. All these
naked grown-ups—both men and women—gamboling
about in fields (“gambol” is the only verb that works here),
doing strange things.
Who could have thought this up?
It was both informative and hilarious.
We instinctively knew we must keep
this viewing pleasure a secret from our parents, and so
we found a hiding place in the bookcase.

One afternoon Mom popped in to find out
what we were laughing about. She saw the book.
She quietly left the room. I worried we might be in trouble.
But neither of our parents said anything.
The book, however, mysteriously disappeared.
We never saw it again.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

No discernable answer

I was sitting by the window
reading my Bible,
struggling with belief
as Lot’s wife
turned into a pillar of salt,
when the light
of the rising sun bounced
off my iPad and threw a diamond
of fire on the wall.
It looked like a flaming tongue.
Is this a sign? I prayed.
Are you answering my need
with a Holy Spirit anointing?
But why a single tongue of fire?
O Lord, send a conflagration!
I discerned no immediate answer,
went back to waiting.
As the sun rose higher,
the diamond disappeared.

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

The mystery of language: poems from Babel

Genesis 11:1-9

Why did they think
that building a skyscraper
could earn them a reputation,
make them famous,
if they were the only
inhabitants of the earth?
Where were the other people
who would applaud?
What other nations would tremble
at the mention of their name?
Is there something
going on here
we know nothing

What Comes First?
Genesis 11:1-9

Is it language
that divides people,
that causes separation and enmity?
Does language determine culture,
define worldview,
plot the course of history?
What comes first?
This is more complicated
than chickens and eggs.

From Babel to Music
Genesis 11:1-9

For one who loves languages—
English first, then Spanish,
Portuguese, Aymara, Greek, and Hebrew—
the fate of Babel
hardly seems like punishment.
Maybe—just maybe—
this was part of the original plan.
More than a curb on power and pride,
maybe it was a way
to scatter abroad the beauty
of diversity. Make the work
of building unity more musical.
Worth the effort.

Two Ways
Genesis 11:1-9; Acts 2:1-12

The Old Testament God
used language to divide and scatter.
The New Testament God
(ironically One and the Same)
used tongues of fire
to birth a new people
called to unity,
commissioned to gather in the world
with the one language of love.