Saturday, March 5, 2016

A Better Place For the Intelect

Real theology should not happen apart from loving real live people. The answers that satisfy us in the classroom when surrounded by people who all agree need to be tested and revised when brought into contact with life. We need those who don’t share our preconceptions at least as much as we need those who do.

More of what I've learned from hanging out with Muslims.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Come Let Us Worship and Bow Down

 I have discovered that I have a lot to learn about worship, and about prayer. And hanging out with Muslims has helped me learn more about what Christian prayer really is. Here is an article that I wrote for Evangelicals for Social Action.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Reading the Quran With Muslims and Christians

 I published an expanded and improved version of the last article.

 It is now on the webpage for Evangelicals for Social Action (ESA).

I would love to hear any thoughts, especially about similar experiments in friendship you might have made.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Reading the Quran with Muslims and Christians

The story being told us by a large segment of our political and religious leaders is that Islam is violent and the reason is because Muslims obey the Quran.

Representative Mo Brooks (Alabama) recently said, “You look at the Quran, and I encourage people to read it on their own so they can get a first-hand view of whether these terrorists who are killing non-Muslims are doing what the Quran instructs them to do.” These words are meant to strike fear and hatred into our hearts.

But as a follower of Jesus I see it entirely differently.

“To every community there is a direction to turn to, so compete to do good deeds wherever you may be. God will bring you all. God has power over all things.” (The Quran: A Contemporary Understanding, translated by Safi Kaskas, 2:148.) I read these words to a group of Christians and Muslims gathered in my home to celebrate Thanksgiving together, a few days early.

In this passage, I explained, God is reminding us that He has put us each into our particular community, whether Christian or Jewish or Muslim. God claims authority over us all. If we must compete between religions, God urges us not to compete for land, or wealth, or power, or numbers. Compete, God says, to do good deeds.

It strikes me that this one verse from the Quran manages to combine two important concepts from the New Testament.

First is that God intentionally has us all in different places and cultures. This is no accident, for as Paul says, “From one man he [God] created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries. His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him­—though he is not far from any one of us.” (New Living Translation, Acts 17:26–27.)

Second is that we are encouraged to “Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another.” (New Living Translation, Romans 13:8.) We have an ongoing debt that we will never finish paying, and that is the debt to show love to everyone around us.

These two ideas are beautifully united in the second chapter of the Quran. As a follower of Jesus I get excited when I find such correspondences between the spirit of the Bible spirit of the Quran. And the parallels are everywhere.

I did not always expect this. I long assumed, as many do, that the Quran is a dangerous book designed to pull people away from the God I worship.

But then I read it and I found that I had been wrong. The Quran is not simply a retelling of the Bible, nor a commentary on the Bible. But neither is it a repudiation of the Bible. In fact the Quran reminds its readers that it is a further revelation of the God of the Hebrew Scriptures and of the Christian Scriptures. It tells its readers to go ask questions of them to get further insight.

So, to Rep. Mo Brooks and to everyone else telling us that the Quran is the problem, I would simply echo Mo Brooks’ words back at him. “I encourage people to read it on their own so they can get a first-hand view of whether these terrorists who are killing non-Muslims are doing what the Quran instructs them to do.” You will find that they are not following the Quran at all.

But what if our political leaders would take up the Quran’s challenge, and actively “compete to do good deeds”? How could that change our world? And wouldn’t Jesus love to watch that competition!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Catch At Hope

De Profundis
Christina Rossetti

Oh why is heaven built so far,
Oh why is earth set so remote?
I cannot reach the nearest star
That hangs afloat.

I would not care to reach the moon,
One round monotonous of change;
Yet even she repeats her tune
Beyond my range.

I never watch the scattered fire
Of stars, or sun's far-trailing train,

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Yet Was Wider

When I was three and my family moved from the Chicago area to the wilds of northern Minnesota, I found myself confronted by a wonderful world without limits. I could explore where I wished, experiment as I wanted, and expand my world at will. And expand it did! Those were days of wonder and glory when my eyes were closer to the ground!


Here I stood to watch the squirrels
Scrurrying through the uncut grass,
And there a stump stood, rotting in,
Which I always kicked as I would pass.
The tractor ruts were great ravines
Reverberating wall to wall
With caterpillar calisthenics
And antic ants doing somersaults.

There were no walls within my world

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Some Can Sing

This spring has been absolutely glorious! Most springs are, but this one has been above average. And tramping through the woods and hopping over creeks with my friend Carrie I've been on site and in a mood to notice the glories. But few of us notice the wonders of nature with the clarity of the old Japanese poets. They noticed more because they took the time to sit and watch, to lie down and listen. We have a very hard time waiting for life and the world and glory to make themselves known to us. But when we do take time to notice, oh what an amazing creation meets us at every step!

Even with insects--
some can sing,
some can't.

old pond.....
a frog leaps in
water's sound      

White dew --
One drop
On each thorn


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Anything Except The Fiction

Today I began work on a novel tentatively titled "Seven." Most of my life I've wanted to write fiction, but instead I seem to have written almost exclusively poetry, essays, literary criticism, scholarly theological polemics, sermons, etc. Almost anything except the fiction that I've wanted to write. Why do we so often do that--pour ourselves into everything except that one thing we most want? Is it a fear of failure? It could just as well be a fear of succeeding. I am hoping to have a draft by Christmas. We will see.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Let Them Point

Dorothy Parker turned heads, and eyes were rolled at her, and tongues were clucked at the mention of her name. When Captain Jack Sparrow was told, "You are without doubt the worst pirate I've ever heard of," he retorted, "But you have heard of me." Dorothy Parker lived this retort out daily, for most of her life. Many in America were sure that she was the worst woman they'd ever heard of, but all must admit that they had heard of her.

And yet, while she was censured in public, she was paid grandly to perform on every stage in the country. Everyone wanted to see her and hear her mock her own indiscretions. They'd pay to come to her speeches, then go home and cluck their tongues that such a creature was allowed in decent society. But in the end her wit and candor were worth more to the world than were a thousand decent people's judgments.

Then let them point my every tear,
And let them mock and moan;
Another week, another year,
And I'll be with my own

Who slumber now by night and day
In fields of level brown;
Whose hearts within their breasts were clay
Before they laid them down.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

My Heart Lapped Strength

Not, I'll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;
Not untwist — slack they may be — these last strands of man
In me ór, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;
Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.
But ah, but O thou terrible, why wouldst thou rude on me
Thy wring-world right foot rock? lay a lionlimb against me? scan

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

He Giveth His Beloved Sleep

Be blessed, my beloved, and sleep.

It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.

Psalm 127:2

The Sleep
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Of all the thoughts of God that are
Borne inward unto souls afar,
Along the Psalmist's music deep,
Now tell me if that any is,
For gift or grace, surpassing this--
     "He giveth His beloved, sleep"?

Monday, March 25, 2013

Star On Which These Eyes Have Seldom Closed

Without some early encouragement, how many of us would have continued to write, to draw, to cut up books for collage, to sculpt, to experiment with cooking, with hair dye or make-up? Praise may have been scanty, but had there been none at all, who would have persisted?

At 18 I had more or less given up on writing. But moving away from my home town, to Indianapolis, I found that I missed one particular young lady friend. So I wrote Kara a longish letter. In her reply, she told me that she had loved the letter, had laughed out loud, and even had read parts of it to her father. Her praise revived for me the early desire to write poetry.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Jellicle Cats Are Black And White

As a kid I was a long term subscriber to Cricket magazine. It was a wonderful magazine full of real literature, but packaged for kids. Clifton Fadiman, the initial editor/publisher, assumed that talking down to children wasn't really necessary. In its pages I made my first acquaintance with Isaac Bashivas Singer, Lloyd Alexander, Langston Hughes, ee cummings, Carl Sandburg, Pamela Travers and many other brilliant writers.

At some point during our subscription, we purchased a recording from the magazine of some of its top pieces. Included among the gems on this disk was TS Eliot reading his own poem, Jellicle Cats. I loved the poem; soon I had it memorized and would recite it, even imitating his British accent. To hear him you'd never know he was born in St Louis, Missouri, just a few hours drive from where I live.

Never did it matter to me that I had no clue what "terpsichorean powers" were. I was in high school before I thought to look it up and learned about the muses,

Monday, March 11, 2013

No Mind To Learn Or To Understand

My day started very early, hours before the sun bothered to think about rising. Revisiting the town of my childhood, I'm overwhelmed by the remembrance of all those years. Unlike Fru Aashild in the following excerpt from Kristin Lavransdatter, my glory years, if there are any, lie not in my youth but in the days yet to come. Still, her words ring true to me today.

To set the stage: Young Kristin and her little sister Ulvhild are happy children, until some stacked wood rolls and destroys Ulvhild's back, crippling the girl. When the priest and his prayers, and the fasting and prayers of the girls' mother avails nothing, the mother sends for Fru Aashild who tends to the sick with treatments that pre-dated the Christian era of Norway. Kristin has been shyly watching the older woman,

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Lighted Coffins In The Dark

The Sleepers

AS I walked down the waterside
This silent morning, wet and dark;

Before the cocks in farmyards crowed,
Before the dogs began to bark;

Before the hour of five was struck
By old Westminster's mighty clock:

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Feet Of Fire And Heads Of Ice

Old Ogden Nash can complain, but if he had had the cold I've had this week--with bonfires in my lungs and skin that aches at the merest touch--I doubt he'd have bothered writing about it. He'd have been too busy adding honey to his lemon tea and pulling the comforter closer around his legs and telephoning his editor to come add another log to the fire.


Common Cold

Go hang yourself, you old M.D.!
You shall not sneer at me.
Pick up your hat and stethoscope,
Go wash your mouth with laundry soap;
I contemplate a joy exquisite
I'm not paying you for your visit.
I did not call you to be told
My malady is a common cold.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Soul That Hath A Guest

The Soul that hath a Guest
Doth seldom go abroad--
Diviner Crowd at Home--
Obliterate the need--

And Courtesy forbid
A Host's departure when
Upon Himself be visiting
The Emporer of Men--

Emily Dickinson

Thursday, February 28, 2013

The More Loving One


Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.

How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.

Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say

Monday, July 9, 2012

What's The Matter With Pie?

Who is that, father?
A mendicant, child,
Haggard, morose, and unaffable – wild!
See how he glares through the bars of his cell!
With Citizen Mendicant all is not well.

Why did they put him there, father?
Obeying his belly he struck at the laws.

His belly?
Oh, well, he was starving, my boy –
A state in which, doubtless, there's little of joy.
No bite had he eaten for days, and his cry
Was "Bread!" ever "Bread!"

Friday, March 23, 2012

Crowds Of Buried Memories Sleep

John Clare could well talk of "crowds of buried memories." His life was ragged. Nearly half of it was spent confined to assylums, which in the early 1800's were not the comfy dorms that we now know. Memories he had, and to spare--many of them worth keeping buried.

Clare's poem, THOUGHTS IN A CHURCH-YARD, (1835) is quite obviously playing off Thomas Gray's better known ELEGY WRITTEN IN A COUNTRY CHURCHYARD (1750). It would at first appear that Clare had written a sort of "Cliff Notes" version of Gray's. He replays it all: the quiet spot, death's way of raising the poor and humbling the mighty, etc.