Wednesday, April 30, 2008


In yesterday's Engines of Our Ingenuity, Prof. John Lienhard discussed how building arguments on foregone conclusions is like building a house upon sand. And perhaps I'm about to engage in a similar pitfall but nonetheless his commentary captured my imagination.

He averred that a scientist must fight for the hypothesis as much as against it. A good scientist forms a theory and then works to disprove it. A poor scientist searches only for evidence to support the theory. My mind started reeling with thoughts about faith and the search for God and meaning.

In places of worship we spend a great deal of time forming arguments on a foregone conclusion, namely, that God exists. But if we are to evolve as a species, we need to spend as much energy and time disproving it and doing so intellligently, unlike Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, and the rest. If we are to be adults in this universe, we must learn to hold the tension of God and not God within us. That's what Thomas the Doubter is for, what Good Friday is for, and those times when we feel utterly abandoned. Time to stand on our own two feet, reach out to those around us, and walk. And think and feel and sort out our purpose, with fear and trembling all the same.

The commentary ended with this quote from Henry Adams: "Only on the edge of the grave, can man conclude anything." Only then will we know if all our groping and straining after God was worth it, was real. So let's make it as worth it, as real as possible, by reading and questioning and talking with others and helping those who need us and, as Parker Palmer once said, loving everyone in every possible way. We don't need a conclusion to do that, only that at least heaven doesn't have to wait until 'the edge of the grave'.

Monday, April 28, 2008


Back in November this past year I took a poetry workshop in NYC with Ellen Bass and Marie Howe, two outstanding poets. They gave us a writing exercise in which we had to describe a defining moment in an unfinished relationship, including setting, any dialogue, taking the reader as slowly as possible so as to make them a part of it. Truly, any relationship is unfinished. This one is about my father.

I wrote this poem a few days ago, as today it will be 23 years since he died. It is part of a series I'm endeavoring to write about the unfinished relationships in my life, both past and present.


We had settled into
our nightime TV ritual
Magnum P.I. and Nero Wolfe
our favorites.
I was on the couch,
you in your well-worn recliner,
feet up to help keep
fluid out since
the pneumonia.
During a commercial
you casually asked me
if I would get you
a pack of cigarettes
out of the kitchen.

I huffed, gave you
one of my looks,
well-honed in sixteen years,
the one I reserve for when
I don’t know what to say.
When I came back
into the room
I hurled the heart-attack-in-a-pack
at you and thudded back
onto the couch, arms
crossed, leg over knee.
Now I know what to say.

Next time you want
a pack of cigarettes
get them yourself.

You looked at me,
at your wife as though
I had unearthed
a hidden truth,
taken off whatever lenses
through which you didn’t see me.

You once took my
little girl rage against
your palms, raised open
like a sparring coach,
small fists slamming
implacable flesh,
the sting of your wedding ring.

If I thought it would save
what life was left
I would have thrown
dozens of them at you,
my love sealed up
in plastic-wrapped paper,
smokes that would
never hasten your grave,
inscribed with that warning
not nearly fierce enough
but just as helpless.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

For thou art with me

Today I sang at the memorial service for the mother of a good friend of mine. Another good friend, a deacon in the church, read the scripture for the service. Well, he read one of them. The first scripture, the 23rd psalm, he recited in the King James Version. Instead of looking down at the words and raising his eyes to us every now and then, he looked out over the congregation, steadily gazing at each of our faces, dwelling ever so slightly on the weepy eyes of the grieving family, giving weight and cadence to each precious verse.

It was no longer a reading from scripture; it became a testimony, a witness of faith. It was as if he were drawing not only from his memory but from his own experiences of being led by the Good Shepherd, of facing his own valley of the shadow of death, of being seated at a table with his enemies, of mercy overflowing from his cupped hands. It may sound trite, but there was such beauty in what he did that I had tears in my eyes.

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through
the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:
for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me
in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil;
my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy
shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

No papal pastoral visit for Boston

From The Boston Globe:

A hearty welcome, a contrite tone


For local victims, too little, too late

If this had happened in the United Church of Christ, there is no way the adjudicatory clergy staff could get away with not making a pastoral visit to the victims and their families. The very stones would cry out if the faith community would remain silent...NOT.

Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the apostolic nuncio hosting the Pope in D.C., was asked why Benedict XVI did not schedule a visit to Boston, the eye of the sexual abuse storm. In his reply he said that it was not that the Pope wished to avoid highlighting the sex abuse scandal but that he did not have time to visit many cities, such as San Francisco. Sheesh!

Monday, April 07, 2008


Since my part-time gig in Darien ended the beginning of this past December, I've been doing a lot of reading, thinking, and moping. After working part-time and being away from my home church for six months, the longest stint I have done since staying home with my girls, re-entry has been more difficult than usual. Adding to the angst is my changing theology and beliefs. The ground is shifting, and sometimes I don't know where to put my feet. It would be great if I could call this a dance, but the music is changing as well, with long moments of deafening silence. So it feels more like a stumble in a dark room.

Yes, it's the midlife crisis thing, that indefinable term of birth pangs where you're not sure what you're going to get when the whole thing is over. You just hope you don't turn out to be an asshole like some other folks you've seen go through this. Cynthia, you could never be an asshole. Perhaps not but there are days I sure do feel like one.

Anyway, I've been trying to read some helpful books; NOT self-help but spiritually nourishing and challenging. Sue Monk Kidd's When the Heart Waits (which I alternately loved and wanted to chuck) and Ruth Rimm's The Lost Spiritual World, which I haven't finished yet. I've come to some kind of understanding of what I now believe about our human existence, which accounts for some of the tectonic shifts in my mood.

We cannot prove the existence of God, nor should we. Looking for proof is like chasing after wind, as silly as science looking for a unifying equation that will explain everything. Yet we as a human race seem to be under the delusion that it makes all the difference in the world which God we follow. We are one planet amongst billions of others that probably have civilizations that struggled with this very question eons ago. To me it seems that we need God for two questions which as of now have no discernable answer, in the macro and in the micro of living:

Macro: How did this whole existence begin? How is it all going to end?

Micro: How did we as individuals come into existence? What happens to us when we die?

And a third that encompasses it all: How are we to live?

When I was in seminary I took a class in object psychology, the premise of which, I think, was this: when we are children, we treat everything around us, including people, as objects, as things we can manipulate to get what we want. Our development into mature people depends on how we are able to internalize those objects, i.e., we learn to mother ourselves, father ourselves, befriend ourselves; we become able to take care of ourselves and help others, no longer needing to manipulate the world around us because we have become a part of it.

I have come to see our development, our evolution as human beings in a similar way. We objectify God because we are still learning how to live in the world. Basically, we as a human species are somewhere in our adolescence. We still need our Parent to tell and show us how to live, how to be moral, ethical, loving, compassionate people, because in our development, we are very much self-centered, like a teenager. We're trying to break away from our Parent, as evidenced by all the atheists getting their 15 minutes, but yet we don't know it all. We're still very scared and angry that one day we'll have to be grown-ups and be responsible and give up many of our toys and amusements.

But one day we will learn how to internalize what it is we need from God; we will have God's law of love written upon our hearts, we will have that same mind as Christ, we will be Spirit-led rather than led by our egos. That is the day that the kingdom comes on earth. And as His Holiness the Dalai Lama has said, we don't need to believe in God in order to be compassionate and loving. We need simply to do these things every day.

But it's not that simple. We need reminders to practice our compassion and our loving. And that is why I need church, why everyone needs a community of some sort to be accountable to for their actions. We do not work out our salvation in a vacuum nor solely on our own. We're always bumping up against someone and their notion of what constitutes a human experience. If anything, we need at least to be forgiving. And I don't know how anyone comes by that naturally.

When I'm not working, I'm in a tailspin as to what my purpose is for the living of my days. The irony is that it really never changes: I'm called to be a minister of God's grace, period. Just because I'm not up in front of the church preaching and teaching and leading worship doesn't mean I can't do that. But that's only my old ego getting in the way, doing its best to stay alive, even if it makes me look an asshole in the process.

So I'm going to keep reading and thinking, less moping and hopefully more writing here. As I've said before, I do this for my own benefit and enjoyment, so you may have to wait patiently for my thoughts and feelings to coalesce into something coherent. In the meantime, we might as well laugh.