who am i?

“I don’t know who you are.”
A repeated question in the current series of Doctor Who.
Put to me today by one of my favoritest people.

Of course, I responded through stumbling verse
the medium being the message too…

“Who are you?”

Half the time I don’t even know…
Awkward, clumsy man
Silently backing out of noisy rooms
Or hoping to move unnoticed through them

And yet flitting about the room
distributing hugs and cradling faces
and dancing publicly in bars
…and sanctuaries.

Uncomfortable with men
Terrified of women
and yet married, with four daughters
and surrounded by sisters.

Confident yet second guessing
Recognized and called out everywhere
yet rejected by family
and in the long term quite alone

Tender hearted and yet
so excessively acerbic.
In love with life
and yet the pastor of death.
Unquenchingly optimistic
and yet encompassed with pain.

Who am I?

What a fine question…



Posted by on October 20, 2014 in Poetry


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comment thread wisdom

This is chewy, but read:

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Alexander Hamilton, October 27, 1787, Federalist #1

Such wisdom here. Such relevance.

The words have yellowed with time but they came to life like Ezekiel’s dry bones, leaping off the page, aggressively juxtaposing themselves between me and many posts on controversial issues (everything from high profile pastor resignations to gay marriage) and too many comment streams following (providing a new meaning to the words “bottomless pit”) that I have been perusing these past few days.

These words were written for us.

And as a service for those whom the chewiness is a bit much, here’s my translation:

We can feel so strongly about so many issues that even good people end up venting and retching, rather than reasoning – right or wrong – on the powerful issues of the day; which is a summons to slow down; to wait before hitting “enter” or pressing “send.” Even our best intentions can be fouled by baser motives moving us unseen, as we confuse increased volume and the decibels of damnation with successful argument.

In other words, in the dance speak of Country Two Step, this is a quick quick hear…sloooooooooooooow speak move on the dance floor of conversation.

Oh yes.

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Posted by on October 19, 2014 in Quotes


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listen to the beggar

Another Night portrait.night_by_elie_wiesel__by_kuraicat-d3c0urn

Moishe the Beadle.

“A jack of all trades in a Hasidic house of prayer.”
Poor, but liked. “He stayed out of people’s way. His presence bothered no one. He had mastered the art of rendering himself insignificant, invisible. Physically, he was awkward as a clown. His waiflike shyness made people smile.”

morganb1_zps145e86e6I’m seeing the town beggar in Fiddler on the Roof. Or the one in Bruce Almighty.

“As for me, I liked his dreamy eyes, gazing off into the distance. He spoke little. He sang, or rather he chanted, and the few snatches I caught here and there spoke of divine suffering, of the Shekhinah in Exile, where, according to Kabbalah, it awaits its redemption linked to that of man.”

Sometimes it takes a poor beggar to see such things.

Moishe was also a foreigner – and one day all the foreigners were expelled from the town, “crammed into cattle cars by the Hungarian police,” they cried quietly. Over the horizon they went, quickly forgotten. “That’s war…”

Time passed. Life was normal again.

And then one day there was Moishe, sitting outside the synagogue, “the joy in his eyes was gone, he no longer sang…he spoke only of what he had seen”:

The train with the deportees had crossed the Hungarian border and, once in Polish territory, had been taken over by the Gestapo. The train had stopped. The Jews were ordered to get off and onto waiting trucks. The trucks headed toward a forest. There everybody was ordered to get out. They were forced to dig huge trenches. When they finished their work, the Gestapo began theirs. Without passion or haste, they shot their prisoners, who were forced to approach the trench one by one and offer their necks. Infants were tossed into the air and used as targets for the machine guns. This took place in the Galician forest, near Kolomay. How had he, Moishe the Beadle, been able to escape? By a miracle. He was wounded in the leg and left for dead…”

He told his story day after day, night after night.
For over a year.

No one believed him.

“Moishe wept and pleaded: ‘Jews, listen to me! That’s all I ask of you. No money. No pity. Just listen to me!’ he kept shouting in the synagogue, between the prayer at dusk and the evening prayer. Even I did not believe him. I often sat with him, after services, and listened to his tales, trying to understand his grief. But all I felt was pity. ‘They think I’m mad,’ he whispered, and tears, like drops of wax, flowed from his eyes.”

And the last time they saw him? The night the Jewish leaders of the village were arrested and the rest of the town was ordered to stay indoors on pain of death. Moishe the Beadle appeared one last time at the door of the house. “I warned you!” And then he dashed off into the night.

Seeing Moishe the Beadle I see Isaiah, Jeremiah (especially Jeremiah!), Zechariah, or any of the prophets. Poor, mad, weeping men and women whom no one takes seriously.

I’m also going to remember Moishe when I encounter any of the “four blood moons” people with their eschatology obsessions, calculations, and warnings.Though it would help to take such warnings more seriously if the leaders of such movements weren’t published authors with their own followings and all the trappings of affluence – and if they hadn’t been at this business for decades (centuries!) with ever new signs in the offing.

But wisdom seems to be whispering, “Perhaps you should listen to the next poor beggar you encounter.”

It just may be Moishe.


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Posted by on October 18, 2014 in Books, haverings


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needle the night with stars

I read Night by Elie Wiesel this month.night_by_elie_wiesel__by_kuraicat-d3c0urn

The New York Times calls it
“a slim volume of terrifying power.”
I can’t shake the images. Several portraits are burned onto the retina of my soul – and I really don’t want them removed. Something told me not to read this book – and something told me I had to.

In the morning I began reading the Bible from scratch in The Voice translation. I was intrigued by its style and arrangement, the artistic touches, the imagination in its renderings. As often as I’ve read Genesis 1 over the past forty years, it’s an achievement if a translation can make me smile with delight as I encounter the story again.

One line in particular popped – in a verse that had never popped for me. The traditional (aka rather plain) rendering is: “God made two great lights, the greater light to rule the day, the lesser light to rule the night,
and also stars.”

And also stars.
Almost like a hurried afterthought.

The Voice embellished with a bit of an imaginative twist: “And then he needled the night with stars.”

I sat enraptured for a moment at the thought. I was perched on my patio, but with blue skies above,
so I had to imagine the night with it’s needling stars.

And then I picked up Night and read.
I no longer had to imagine – at least not the night.

One day, as we returned from work, we saw three gallows, three black ravens, erected on the Appelplatz. Roll call. The SS surrounding us, machine guns aimed at us: the usual ritual. Three prisoners in chains – and among them, the little pipel, the sad-eyed angel.

The SS seemed more preoccupied, more worried, than usual. To hang a child in front of thousands of onlookers was not a small matter. The head of the camp read the verdict. All eyes were on the child. He was pale, almost calm, but he was biting his lips as he stood in the shadow of the gallows.

This time, the Lagerkapo refused to act as executioner. Three SS took his place.

The three condemned prisoners together stepped onto the chairs. In unison, the nooses were placed around their necks.

“Long live liberty!” shouted the two men.
But the boy was silent.

“Where is merciful God, where is He?” someone behind me was asking.

At the signal, the three chairs were tipped over.
Total silence in the camp. On the horizon, the sun was setting.
“Caps off!” screamed the Lageralteste. His voice quivered. As for the rest of us, we were weeping.
“Cover your heads!”
Then came the march past the victims. The two men were no longer alive. Their tongues were hanging out, swollen and bluish. But the third rope was still moving: the child, too light, was still breathing…

And so he remained for more than half an hour, lingering between life and death, writhing before our eyes. And we were forced to look at him at close range. He was still alive when I passed him. His tongue was still red, his eyes not yet extinguished.

Behind me, I heard the same man asking:
“For God’s sake, where is God?”
And from within me, I heard a voice answer:
“Where is he? This is where – hanging here from this gallows…”

That night, the soup tasted of corpses.

And I wept.
Books don’t make me weep, usually. Perhaps because much of my reading is theological in nature and there’s a glorious emotional detachment in such abstractions. Which is, I suppose, how theologians could crucify a Christ, perpetuate slavery, or turn their back on a holocaust.

But I wept.
I wept at the conjunction of Night and the needling stars, so absent that long, obscene starless night.

Too much night.
More stars.

Abba, we need more needling stars.


quite appropriately, this is a starry sky in Austria…

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Posted by on October 13, 2014 in Books, haverings, Suffering


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Word of the day: paraleipomenon (pa-ra-lay-po-MEN-on).

Left over. Extra. Warmed over. Rehash. Scooted to the side because it’s nothing new – and ultimately condemned to be tupperwared in the back of fridge where it becomes an impromptu science experiment.
All these capture the soul of paraleipomenon.

Or try this one on for size: rechauffe (French – ray-shoh-FAY). A scrumptious beauty of a word that could be readily applied to most current theatrical releases. Rechauffe so beautifully captures that “haven’t we seen this before?” sinking question that hits you five minutes into the film you just spent ten bucks to see (the fact that there is a 2 or 3 after the title should usually be the first clue). You must so use this word the next time you see a film that is just that is just the latest rip-off of previous films. “It’s just so rechauffe.” (And yes, employing a French accent will only enhance your overall pleasure in using the word.)

Rechauffe. Paraleipomenon. Rehash.

That was the ancient title applied to what modern Bible consumers know as 1-2 Chronicles – at least in the ancient Greek translation of the “Old Testament” we know as the Septuagint. (The original Hebrew title for these books is debere ha-yamim = the words of the days).

Peter Enns observes in his latest book The Bible Tells Me So:

what an invigorating, annoying read...

what an invigorating, annoying read…

Chronicles was originally placed toward the end, if not at the end of the Old Testament – where it remains to this day in the Jewish Bible. But early on some editors (who even back then got in the way of good writing) got the bright idea of sticking Chronicles right after Samuel/Kings – probably to group similar books together. The early Christians went with that order, and these poor books have been trying to get noticed ever since. The fact that Chronicles was known back then by the title “The Things Left Over” didn’t exactly encourage people to read it. (In Greek it’s paraleipomenon – pa-ra-lay-po-MEN-on. If you’re looking for a different kind of biblical-sounding name for your kids, look no further).

Placing Chronicles after Kings was an inexcusably dumb move, if you ask me, and I think God should give this editor some sort of temporary afterlife punishment before entering his glory – like make him read the entire Left Behind series nonstop for a year…out of order.

Forgive the rant, but the shame of it all is that Chronicles isn’t mopping up what’s left over from Samuel/Kings. It was intentionally crafted to give a very different take on Israel’s past. That poor book is jumping up and down, demanding to be read on its own terms, not treated like Samuel/Kings’ annoying little brother.

And that brings us to the point of this post – to what jumped out at me when I saw the word paraleipomenon.

None of us are tired rehashings.
None of us are warmed overs.
We are not paraleipomena.

Except perhaps when we trying to be someone we’re not – or when we’re trying to be someone else.

Each of us is a book jumping up and down, demanding to be read on its own terms, not treated like the annoying little brother to be dismissed into the shadow of more regal siblings.

But how rarely we give such dignity to one another. Particularly in comment threads.

You’re just another liberal.
You’re just another conservative.
You’re just another religious nut.
You’re just another irreligious extremist.
You’re just another…
You’re just another…

Perhaps that’s the best rendering of paraleipomenon after all: “You’re just another…”
Been there, done that, encountered that, heard that – you don’t even have to open your mouth.

And then instead of being the “word of the day” uniquely positioned as the latest or even the last because you and your story deserve to be heard, seen and valued, you are grouped, sorted, categorized, tupperwared with those you most resemble (at least at first glance).

You are dismissed. You are oh so rechauffe. So paraleipomenon.

We deserve better from one another.


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Posted by on October 11, 2014 in haverings


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come here, you scrumptious little beauty

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Series 6, “The Doctor’s Wife.” LIKE.

It’s a repeated Whovian theme.
There are no unimportant people.
Every creature, every person encountered is a wonder to behold.

Come here, you scrumptious little beauty!

John Duns Scotus called it haecceity (pronounce it “heck-city” – and don’t say you didn’t learn anything today) – the doctrine of “thisness.” It’s the Latin translation of the Greek to ti esti = “the what it is.”

Haecceity embodies the distinct characteristics that make something or someone what it is which was a radical thought for the times – times in which significance rested with the upper crust of society. You just didn’t make a fuss over the lower classes, the individuals, the nobodies. In fact, despite Jesus’ introduction of the concept of the individual almost in passing in such stories as the shepherd leaving the ninety-nine to search for the one, Christian thinkers (and doers) for the most part missed it, as momentum flowed in the other direction towards identity derived from an institutional collective.

Haecceity is full-on incarnation, refusing all vague abstractions and revealing itself in concrete particularity, a radical thisness. “If nature abhors a vacuum, Christ abhors a vagueness. If God is love, Christ is love for this one person, this one place, this one time-bound and time-ravaged self” (Christian Wiman). Sink your teeth into that one for a bit.

Rohr observes: “When we start with big universal ideas, at the level of concepts and –isms, we too often stay there – and argue about theory, forever making more distinctions. At that level, the mind is totally in charge. It is then easy to ‘love humanity, but not any individual people.’”

But we know and are known by a haecceitistic (!!! Yes, I am having far too much fun with words here) God who delights in the thisness of everything. He counts hairs – marveling at each cell; hairs that we readily pluck and discard, or pull out of our hairbrushes in large swatches as we mutter “gross.”

He feeds crows and watches sparrows fall – creatures we flatten into pancaked roadkill under our tires without so much as a thought.

He clothes wild grasses with splendor that we happily weed whack into oblivion.

And he beholds all the thisness of me, of you, of people who pass us as no more than blurs.

Now, all this talk about thisness could easily steer into yet one more burden, one more guilt trip piled onto our already overloaded backs – and you no doubt thought that’s where this is headed. Ah, but this havering was launched by a knock at the door in very, very deep space.

It is opportunity that knocks here.

Thisness is knocking at our door, inviting us to open and see it – in this face, this flower, these swaying branches, these high wispy cirriform streaks across the sky, this apple that just toppled to the ground, this blessing, this tragedy, this moment – knocking on the door of my heart like a bright box, inviting me to pause, to take it in my hands, and to see.

I’ve got mail!

Come here, you scrumptious little beauty…

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Posted by on October 3, 2014 in haverings


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oh yes, I’ll take two of what she’s having

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Follow up to my “Silly Human” post.

And this is totally why I tagged my friend Holly when I posted this. Holly frequently addresses me as “comrade,” which is unfortunate. The only comrades I have are those who speak the language of suffering through personal experience. I sorry we both qualify – as she puts it so well – “more than some, less than others.” It not so much that “misery loves company” as “pain forms fellowship.”

I’ve always appreciated the Proverb (14:10):

The person who shuns the bitter moments of friends
will be an outsider at their celebrations.

There is a deep, subterranean connection, you see (well, I see, anyway), between “bitter moments” and “celebrations.” I frequently observe that funerals are a time for tears – both of deep joy and deep sorrow. They are connected. And those who have not known deep loss simply cannot laugh as deeply as those who have. The deeper your sorrow, the heartier the laughter. In fact, I’ve found that when I am laughing deeply at a funny joke, a scene in a comedy, or whatever, I feel grief from previous losses – that haven’t even been on my conscious mind – ready to launch, stacked up right behind my eyes.

But maybe that’s just me.

Or maybe it’s what George MacDonald is talking about. The Son of God suffered unto death, not that we might night suffer, but that our suffering might be like his. “For the joy that was set before him, he endured.” And there’s the ticket: “permeating, marrow-soaking joy” to give our suffering “buoyancy, redemption.”

Yes. Holly’s post was much better than mine.

Divine Bartender, do please serve me up a double of what she’s having…



Posted by on September 26, 2014 in haverings, Suffering


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