Monday, December 19, 2011

I missed a week of advent

I missed a week of advent
as if it disappeared
or maybe never happened

I was in another place
with decorations and
carols all around
and greetings of cheer
from nice, new people
friendly, but unfamiliar

I sat in hotels, meetings and planes
that little convinced my heart or
soul of the soon coming day

I have returned home  
bearing an unseen weight
of responsibilities and
expectations with slight chance
I’ll catch up
or be caught up

Sunday, December 11, 2011

advent, again

only a fool
would retell a story
that resists a change
that the world adores

only a fool
would think life
might breath anew
on a dreary, winter morning

only a fool
would reach
for faith and hope
again and again and again

Monday, December 5, 2011

Seem So Different

There’s little buzz in our home
Advent begins, Christmas approaches
Decorations are an obligation
And only a few materialize

There’s talk of times past
And of kids now grown
Wondering how we did it all
Guilty whispers that can be ignored

How can an empty nest
Seem so busy?
How can a season
Seem so different?

Monday, November 28, 2011


times like these I get the Psalms
anguished pleas to a distant God
cries for justice, if not revenge
bargaining, begging
sleepless nights
and all too long days

no quick fixes, or simple explanations
only the waiting,
and the memory
that it was different
and the hope
that it may be different, again

Friday, November 25, 2011

the thirty-year itch

Memory says 1980 was the last time Connie and I went “church shopping.” We were a young married couple in our mid-twenties, new in town and working in a para-church camping ministry (my dream come true).
We’d grown up in (conservative) Baptist churches. Mine was small, blue-collar, something of a country church in a suburban setting full of salt of the earth type people. Our pastors were either at the end of their career or fresh from seminary. Hers was near the downtown core, white-collar, large and staffed with multiple pastors who were movers and shakers in the association (Baptists associated, they didn’t denominate).  Perhaps “conservative” is an understatement. Our congregations and lives were guided by strict theology and a seeming unending assortment of lifestyle expectations.
After moving to Bellingham, Washington, we tried a number of churches hoping to find something that “fit.” We’d stay a few weeks here or there, but somehow didn’t settle anywhere our first year. Eventually we followed the suggestions of some of our newer friends and checked out a local Presbyterian congregation. I had a not-too-subtle, negative prejudice toward anything mainline. I was convinced they were unwitting people with no real connection to God, and they certainly didn’t know Jesus.
We began by meeting with the pastor. The big hurdle for us was women in leadership. How could a church claim to be Biblical and ignore such clear, specific scriptures? He did his best to assure us that the church was focused on Jesus and faithful to scripture. Somehow we gave it a chance and soon found a new home.
In 1985 we left the camp ministry and I joined the church staff. By then I had realized my faith was in process. And that was okay. I was a member of a Presbyterian church and beyond that, a staff member. Fast forward to 1997 and I transitioned to a new role in another Presbyterian church. Once again we had blurred the lines between church and work.  We stayed for fourteen years, moving on this past summer.  (You can read about my transition in an essay I wrote for catapult earlier this fall.)  Now, after twenty-five plus years of having our church determined by my job, we are without a church home.
Much has changed since 1980. My perception of numerous “absolutes” has shifted. Surprisingly, the church has survived.  I’ve observed or participated in diverse elements shifting Christian culture including the Jesus People, the church growth movement, mega-churches and emergent efforts.  From where I stand today I can’t imagine being a part of a church that excludes women from leadership. Creation and evolution, divorce and remarriage, faith and politics and understanding of Scripture are a few of the areas in which my beliefs have shifted. In areas where I formerly had clear, specific beliefs, I now find I often have ideas, questions, hopes and doubts.
All of this makes the process of finding a new church more than a matter of doctrine or denomination. Since the last time we chose a church we have raised kids and become grandparents; my wife has survived cancer, we’ve lost friends and family members and so much more. I get that we are in something of a post-modern, post-Christian, post-church cultural moment. We are different, the world is different and the church landscape is different.
To be honest I’ve never been the best at sitting through a service. I don’t like ceremony and generally find church services more about enduring than enjoying. I no longer crave programs, activities, sermons or classes. At best, I am seeking soul space, conversations, presence, a glimpse of the holy and connections.  I’m drawn to being a part of a community. Yet I don’t want my belonging to be measured by the name on the building I sit in on Sunday mornings (or some creative new service time, you know like Saturday or Sunday evening).
Then there is the issue of this cultural moment. It seems that the primary identity of many churches, spoken or unspoken, is the claim to have the correct, Biblical, God-directed, view about matters related to gender/sexuality/orientation and membership/ordination and all that spills forward from there.  Since when has division, contentiousness and hubris become the mark of the church, the people of God, followers of Jesus? I detest the idea of associating with a church based upon a hot-button label. I am equally offended that I may be negatively labeled by my choice of a church home.
This leaves me uncertain how to find a church. Do I go with theology? Form of government?  My (current) view of said hot-button issue? Commitment to social justice? Appearance of being loving? The form of worship/services?  Do I want traditional (you know, music from the forties, fifties and sixties) or contemporary (that’s right, with my choice of stuff from the seventies, eighties or nineties)? How it feels? Where my friends go? Will my kids and grandkids like it? Who goes there? Who doesn’t go there? Let’s be honest, maybe I’m wondering where I might have the best shot at a new job, or at least connections? Something with established traditions and organizational structure or some organic start-up? How about the one I can walk to down the street? The most edgy or the one that cares less about cultural pressures? Do I look more at the pastor, the congregation, the denomination or lack there of?
As I consider the possibilities I don’t find a rush of energy to make a decision.
Connie and I have a great circle of friends that has long functioned as something like a “church” for us. Our roots of connection go back to the seventies, with some who have joined over the years and a few who are somewhat new to the family. We care for each other, encourage each other and challenge each other. Our commitments have held as we have lived through the stress of rough life stages. Interestingly, in my leaving occupational ministry I have been able to reconnect more fully with peers and specifically this group of friends.  We’ve shared holidays, vacations, family transitions, big events and lazy days. Births, baptisms, graduations, weddings and memorials have marked our years. Most of our connections date to the seventies and eighties at camp and church. Though we are now scattered from a singular church setting, we are still together.  
Connie and I have a short list of churches we plan to “check out.” Others appear to have their own lists for us. I have to admit, it’s easy to put it off. In the interim we have enjoyed a variety of Sunday morning alternatives; weekends away, overnights with grandkids, brunch with family and friends, biking in the islands or watching football in real time.
It would be easy to let guilt, habit or the expectations of others drive our decisions and actions. From where I sit at this moment, it is difficult to predict how this will turn out.
May God have mercy on us all.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Monday, November 21, 2011

some say it’s easy

some say it’s easy,
natural, you can’t stop it
“involuntary” droned  
the science teacher

some days
effort overwhelms
crushes my ribs
and empties my lungs

some times it takes more
much more
an act of tenacious will
a choice to continue

Monday, November 14, 2011

too bad

seems it’s not true
lemmings don’t actually
spend their days waiting
to join the mass hysteria
and head for the nearest cliff

too bad
it’s a great image
helping describe, maybe explain
acts of humanity
that should never have been

Thursday, November 10, 2011

another cover-up, (alleged) cover-up

story says it was years ago
people knew
important people
famous people
they looked away
thought it would be forgotten
hoped it would be forgotten
prayed it would be forgotten

really, forgotten?
kids molested
boys raped and abused
young boys
lost souls
throw aways
tossed into hell
for one man’s pleasure

in the showers
maybe a hotel
or a home, the safe place
could have been on the road
by that man
man of power
allegedly by the man of power

there is nothing alleged
about the lives of the boys
struggling toward adulthood
with memories that none
should bear
lost trust
fears beyond reason
hope beyond reach

Friday, October 14, 2011

Lessons for a season as an outsider

Being an “outsider” is something I have identified with throughout my life. My mom was a bit of an emotional outsider, deeply lost and seeking affirmation as she poured her life into others hoping to rescue or protect them and thereby possibly find comfort for herself. My Dad was an outsider by choice. He wasn’t about to buy your load of… and didn’t need to be a part of your club.
As with most kids, I received some of each of their styles. Like my dad I’m skeptical and critical of movements and charismatic people (not the spiritually charismatic, the personality type). From mom I have a passion to include and care for those left out. I have channeled this into a career in education and ministry for 35-plus years.
But this reflection on being an “outsider” comes from a new perspective. In June I “voluntarily resigned” from my ministry job of almost fourteen years. It’s three-plus months since the official end and I am in a new, not altogether comfortable place, unemployed.
I learned to be a worker from my parents. Berry picking in the summer and delivering newspapers after school, I have been working since I was about 12. Until now. Until June 30, 2011. Oh, I have been looking at jobs and even started a business in an attempt to provide a new way forward. But there isn’t much happening.  After almost 32 years of full time professional ministry, I’m not “that” any longer. So what do I do with this new identity? How do I start again?  I’m older, in the midst of a larger economic crisis, over-qualified for many positions and with lifestyle expectation realities.
This season has a sense of personal death for me. Gone are the systems, schedule and relationships I lived in. My rhythm is off. I have a lot of flexible time, but it is hard to focus because I’m not sure what I am supposed to be doing. I hang around coffee shops meeting with people, working on my computer. Trying to get the next thing going.
But there is a whole world of friends and family in their routines. Working their jobs in an orb that I am not included in any longer.  To be cliché, I am out of my comfort zone. That which I thrived on, my work, is gone. I’m left in this awkward space of transition. From the known to the unknown. From the desert to the (hoped for) Promised Land, maybe from death to life.
Not that all I left was bad — indeed, much of it was great. But it appears that time to move on arrived. Whether my transition was an act of divine providence or human bumbling is for others to debate. Moving on requires an acceptance of the death of what has been left behind.
So I will live this season as an outsider. And being an outsider is different from being left out. I have my family and friends. Some are walking alongside me. But there are lessons to be learned that are for me. The question is: will I make the most of this unplanned, unusual time and situation? I need to remember that without death there is no resurrection. Seems I have (the privilege of) some choice in the matter.
Being an outsider is a bit of a wake-up call. Jesus was for outsiders: “the least of these,” “the sick need a doctor.” It seems Jesus was more about outsiders than the rest of us. How can that be? Jesus showing favorites? It’s more scandalous than parent-child discrimination. But he seems to be able to manage it.
The writers of the epistles went along. “Orphans and widows,” “…God chose the foolish… God chose the weak… God chose the lowly….” In ways we may not understand God meets the outsider. Being an outsider has a sense of being stripped bare, down to essentials. It provides for assessment of values. As an outsider I may again lose myself to find myself in God alone. Increased need may provide increased clarity.
I’ve had my seasons as an outsider — outside my norm, outside my comfort zones, outside my expectations, outside others’ expectations. In all such times I have had the opportunity to open my eyes of faith and see reality, which has always been there, somehow more clearly.  I need to acknowledge that though my times as an outsider have varied in intensity and length of season, so far, they have ended. I ache to understand and care for those who experience unending life as an outsider. If I learn anything along the way and I become any of what God has created me for and called me to, I better be putting it in action to care for them.
Although I may not say it in every situation or moment, and this one is still in process, I am thankful for the “outsider” seasons.
And, I have to admit. I’m thankful that they only last for a season.
May God have mercy on us all.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

August Evening

it's national poetry day so i'm re-posting one of my favorites. 

August Evening

sitting next to Connie
old, hard, wooden stadium benches
red paint, chipped, gouged and peeling
she puts on her sweater
I put on my sweatshirt

band plays hits of some artist
we know little of and care less for
overbearing 80's synthesizer
annoys me
she doesn't seem to notice or care

beyond the stage I watch carnival rides
loop, spin and race into the evening
colored lights intensify
sky drifts to darkness

near full moon glows above the trees
growing smaller as it brightens
yellow to orange to almost white

we come to the fair almost every year
it's something we do
we learned this spring she has cancer
treatment, fear, hope shadow our days

we talk a bit, decide to leave
i am ready, but hesitate
how many more times we will go to the fair

merit award 2007 Sue C. Boynton Poetry Contest

Monday, September 26, 2011

I think it happened something like this… #6 - Boredom

#6 - Boredom

The guys grew tired of record stores, sporting goods, and watching girls. We ended up in a stationary shop. Wandered while the lone clerk reluctantly followed. I picked up a stapler, wove through the shelves, turned a corner, slid it behind some envelopes, and bolted.

The clerk met us at the exit. “I think you forgot to pay for that stapler.”

“What stapler?”

“The one you picked up.”

“You accusing us of stealing? Go ahead. Call the cops.” We smirked, shrugged, offered up our empty pockets.

He feigned looking, backed off. “Get out. Don’t come back!”

We laughed and walked away.

Monday, September 19, 2011

I think it happened something like this… #5 - Russell


His puffy red face and misshapen mouth were the result of beatings and non-existent teeth. 

He collected bottles and scavenged garbage while mumbling threats to imagined people. He’d pedal fast, bent over the frame of his rusty, crooked bike. Kids would chase and taunt, but never really tried to catch him. Nobody wanted the game to end.

We heard rumors that he lived in a shack near the market. Some older kids bragged to a wide-eyed audience that they sure showed him. “We broke in and trashed the bum’s place.”

I stayed clear of Russell, out of fear or pity.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Going Local

Let’s start with “God bless America.” Might as well tick people off from the beginning. I find it a narrow, selfish, arrogant view. It can be cloaked in the language of deep traditions and loyalties, but it is shortsighted. If God is in the business of blessing, I can only hope that that blessing is extended to all. None of us actually deserves the blessing of God and, certainly, my tribe has no more claim to it than others.
And what does this have to do with the world of “going local?” I’ll try not to ramble too far, but here’s my pitch.  Going local sounds so good. It’s trendy, cool and, dare I say, hip? It makes for great conversations and allows participants to feel superior to those uninformed or disinterested, and yet, uncritical acceptance of this movement ignores several important questions.
I live in a small city surrounded by prime farmlands. Seasonal fresh produce abounds and the farmer’s market is the place to be. We have our balance of an older downtown and mall/strip mall district. The infusion of the mall in the 80s killed downtown for a decade or more. But, it eventually came back. Small shops, offices, galleries, coffee shops and restaurants mix with the offices of the mayor and county executive and their minions.
For the most part, the other stuff — the mall and its bastard big box children — are on the other side of the freeway. We talk about IT in a condescending manner. Downtown is US, the mall and all is THEM. We go to their evil empire, but don’t want others to know. We make excuses or avoid the mention of it, but there are things you just can’t get in town.
But wait: don’t all those fast food restaurants, chain stores and their kin employ hundreds, if not thousands, of entry level workers, teens and college students, part-timers, early retirees and others needing work and its benefits? And don’t those people live locally and spend locally? Don’t they thereby contribute to the overall local economy?
My bigger question is this. Is the push for local another whim of the privileged, the current trend d’jour? Is it anything more than another flashy opportunity for those affluent enough to be able to ignore lower prices and free parking? I think — maybe I fear — that the answer is yes.
And what about the global economy and the flat earth? So much reminds me that all are connected. Changes in technology have interwoven people in dynamic ways beyond geographic addresses. Who my neighbor is and what defines my neighborhood are not the same as in former eras.
Here are few of my simple questions and concerns related to going local:
  • Does “going local” feed arrogance or help us experience life more fully?
  • Does it draw us closer to “our” people or actually help us understand and live out life with our neighbors?
  • What are the actual economic impacts? Does it help more share in the blessing of bounty?  Better yet does it expand the net of provisions of necessities of life, for all?
  • If the world continues to become smaller how can we go local without becoming some new-styled isolationists?
Strolling the Saturday market, chatting with friends, eating fresh, bartering, leaving the car behind can all provide a new sense of breaking free — free from the systems and traditions I have been shaped by, possibly controlled by, for decades. I just hope that it is all part of me becoming more of who I was created to be and less a selfish American consumer in new trappings.
May God have mercy on us all.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


9.14.74 Connie & I were married. I wrote this poem in honor of our 35th anniversary 9.14.09. I'm re-posting it today, our 37th.


Sometimes I wasn’t sure
we’d make it
sometimes I wasn’t sure
I wanted to

When we started
I assumed we’d get here
expected us to stay together
but had no clue what was ahead
or what it would take

It’s not a milestone,
like fifty
but well past twenty-five
people notice twenty-five and fifty
appears thirty-five
Iis no big deal,
at least
according to public opinion,

Memories made
and more forgotten
seasons of devotion
and trials of anxiety
grace remembered
and offenses forgiven
and much forgiven again

It is the choice we made
the path we’ve followed
and I would choose it again
I think I do
I hope we do

Monday, September 12, 2011

April Fool’s Day

I am re-posting this poem during this our anniversary (37th on 9.14) week. 

Someone should make a law
That we hold all weddings on April 1st
Because only fools would make
Those promises

Promises to
Put another person first and
Stick with them
No matter what happens

To love
To sacrificially give
All because of a promise;
It’s almost un-American

There are too many examples
Of failure and despair
Outsiders mock it,
Rationalize, and degrade it

Some lie through their teeth
They make the hollow promises
For convenience
To get what they want

But some, the true fools,
Still make the promises
Maybe their youthful zeal
Blinds them to what’s ahead

And some, more foolish yet,
Keep their promises
Not because it’s easy
Or because they meet all expectations

But true fools believe the promises matter
That love cannot be forced
That it’s sometimes found
By two fools

Who learn to laugh together

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

I think it happened something like this… #4 - Until Morning

Until Morning

On the best summer days, we’d play with friends all day and sleep outside at night. You might get to have one friend over. Maybe two.

We’d wait for lights to dim and our parents to sleep. The big maple at the end of the block was our gathering place. We whispered jokes and lies in the dark. Coughs stifled laughter. We’d light and flick matches; in later years, we smoked. Sometimes Denny would strip naked and run around the street.

At the sight of a house light or sound of a car, we scattered to our sleeping bags until morning.

Monday, August 22, 2011

I think it happened something like this… #3 - Clyde

We knew safe territory. Cut troughs, trails in the woods and trees to climb. There were shacks in forgotten pastures, as if put there for us.

And we knew the places to avoid. Crabby old people or reactive young parents. Most frightening was the house where Clyde lived. He was a few years older than us and strong beyond unbelief. Everybody called him retarded. It was all we knew. He’d yell and chase. Attack at his little brother’s command.

We never saw him at school. He disappeared by the time we hit high school. No one knew where. No one asked.

Monday, August 15, 2011

I think it happened something like this… #2 - A Wad of Bills

Story #2 in a series of 6 fiction 101entries (a story in 101 words or less) exploring growing up in the '60.

A Wad of Bills

Donny showed us the wad of bills, lots of bills. We followed him to the drug store lunch counter. Burgers, fries and sodas. Cherry for me. Whatever we wanted. He sweet-talked the waitress. She was maybe sixteen, but to us she was a woman. He offered to buy her presents. She refused. Time wore on and someone mentioned getting home for dinner. Donny promised more tomorrow.

After school, we anxiously waited for Donny, dreaming. Doug arrived. “Donny’s dead. He took that money from his dad’s wallet. He’s grounded forever.”

After mumbling and a few shrugs, we started a ball game instead.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

I think it happened something like this… I Wonder (1 of 6)

This is the first in a series of stories based on memories of growing up in the 60’s. Each story is 101 words or less.

I wonder

I wonder what stuff in my memory is more story than fact. Like Johnny from Sunday school, who swallowed his gum and choked to death.

It happened at the grocery store. In my memory, he was wearing a navy blue suit with short pants, because that’s what he wore to church. I was always glad I never had to wear short suits. He was with his grandparents, so his parents didn’t see him go.

I think we would have gone to the same school. We might have been in class together, maybe even sat next to each other, but we didn’t.

Monday, August 1, 2011

a poem for my dad

My dad died on 8.1.97. I wrote this poem a decade later. I'm re-posting it on this day of memories and missing.

August 1, 2007

ten years gone
a decade
August 1, 1997

we were over the mountains at a hotel
waiting to get the kids from camp
I was planning to visit the next week
got the call
you were gone

all the things you don’t know

within days, OK a few months
I had a new job and car
Michael moved out (was in foster care)
we would have talked and you would have cared

I can’t believe you don’t know

I imagine you in your family room
sitting in your chair
(it’s upstairs in our guest room now)
your television and sound system
(big screens and theater sound are the rage,
I know you’d love it)
you’d put in some action movie
tell me “listen to this”
sound would overwhelm the room
it would be impressive

I want to hear you rant about the government
and the unending stupidity of people

I want to play Upwords
just the two of us
you keeping score
for little reason
because you would win

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


Mr. Parker gave us Sadie. She was brown-red with white flecks. Her tail and tongue flapped when she ran. She followed me to school and slept with me every night.

One afternoon, Billy, the biggest kid around, threw a punch at me. Sadie lunged, pressing her teeth on his neck as a deep growl escaped her throat. Billy squirmed loose and took off. I ran home to Mom, bawling, gasping for words of explanation. Sadie was protecting me.

Mom was sitting on my bed, not Sadie, in the morning. “I’m sorry. Dad took her to the pound. She won’t be back.”

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

My Best Stuff

I’d always wanted to do stand-up. My family was funny. Dad was so quick; his words would be in the next county before the cousins got the joke.

This was my moment. I had an audience, the coveted captive kind.  They were laughing, crying and choking. Everything I said was killer, even the words that slurred worked.

I used my best stuff. The teenage couple “lost” in the woods. A priest, a pastor and  a rabbi go fishing.

Then she cut me off. “The anesthesia will wear off in a few minutes. You can have visitors in an hour or so.”

Monday, June 27, 2011

Back of the Bus

We giggled holding hands on the bus in fourth grade. Our first dance was at the seventh grade sock-hop. In tenth grade, I surprised him with a kiss in the library. We said a rushed goodbye on graduation night. Lost contact until the ten-year reunion, both married with kids. At the twentieth, he sobbed, telling me of his divorce. The thirtieth, I unloaded the grief of my husband’s cancer. The fortieth coincided with our sixth anniversary and I felt like a kid again, holding his hand and dancing. Duty and habit led me to the fiftieth, without him, I left early.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Teach your children well

I live in something of a generational limbo. My birth and life experiences place me squarely with the Boomers. The 60s cultural upheaval — an unpopular war, home front riots and the bloody killing of national leaders — hovered over my school days. Fears of being drafted were driven by the very uncertain political landscape. Music seemed to be the net that drew us together, provided occasional escapes and now lingers in fond memories. Most of my friends were fawning (if not fainting) over the Beatles, Stones or the ever-present AM radio pop sounds. I was drawn to some of the fringe stuff, including a strange mix of FM radio with its new folk, acid rock and early country rock. Influences of delta blues and gospel filled my days, as well as of forerunners of punk and alt-whatever.
My growing up was also shaped by years in a conservative, if not strict fundamentalist, church family. In my later teen years I was drawn to the edges of the “Jesus People” movement. A summer working at a church connected camp led to more summers, and eventually I was “in the ministry.”  For over 30 years, I have worked in ministry roles, now in a more moderate main-line setting, and I’ve focused on coordinating and mentoring young adults. It began when I was “one of them” and has continued through numerous life stages and ages. Now I am older than most of the parents of the people I work with.  This work has afforded me something of a front row seat to observe the rapid shifts in young adult culture as I spend most of my waking hours with those in their 20s.
I’ve listened to employers, parents and others express frustrations over the problems of current young adults, including entitlement, self-esteem overload and generally not getting it. While I share many of the observations of traits that seem to mark the current young adult population, I generally have a somewhat different perspective.
The character of any young adult generation is determined more by cultural and social context than by masses of children rising up and proclaiming some new way of being.  Face it: each generation is shaped by those who went before. The weight of cultural happenings, parenting styles, educational systems and new technologies are interpreted and accessed, or not, by values. And those values will filter into what kids learn, eventually manifesting in how they live.  If one generation does not like what another is becoming (especially as they move into adulthood), they have waited too long to make a difference. Generations are shaped in the days of growing up. And generations reflect the values of those before them in a never-ending stream — not the lofty values spoken of when there’s an audience, but the lived the values that seep into lives and emerge in practice.
Those of my generation might benefit from understanding that not only has the world changed, it is on a path of ongoing rapid change.  To prepare young people to enter the adult world in a similar way to how we did it is bankrupt. That single-track, career-first, corporate loyalty world is long gone and highly unlikely to return. We have allowed or encouraged success, accomplishment and affluence to guide our lives for decades. My life among young adults reveals a shifting of some of essential life values. Community and relationships are beginning to drive choices as much as climbing the corporate ladder.
Whether the world has become smaller or flatter will be debated long into the future. But by spending my days — and often long days — within a world of twentysomethings, I find hope in their efforts to live life more holistically and realistically driven by deeper values than societal pressures. The best hope is that we will all gain an understanding of the times and a commitment to make the best of life in the moments we share across generations.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Not a Bad Start

A real kiss with a real girl. Not Mom, Grandma, or one of those Aunts I hardly know.

I wanted to get it right. You only get one first kiss. I mean, a guy could become a hero, or mess up and never live it down.

We were walking home together on Tuesday. My hands started sweating. Heck, everything was sweating. I wanted to run but stopped walking instead.


She turned. I lunged, making a smacking sound, almost missing her lips. She started to laugh, but smiled. We started walking again, silent.

Not a bad start for a third grader.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


Let’s put this one to rest
I understand
That clichés endure
Codifying folk wisdom
To, usually, transcend
Time and circumstances

Yet I recoil when I hear one
That undermines
All which I believe
The very principle
That guides my life
And orders my days

But it would be feeble
To fight
To think
I could convince
The long gone
And unknown authors
To reconsider
For my convenience

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Everyone Agreed

Without conversation or discussion
Consensus was reached
Everyone agreed, she was
The most beautiful one in the room
Servers fawned
Men glanced, avoiding stares
Hoping neither she nor their companions would notice

Angles, curves,
Soft dark hair
Falling just right on her shoulders
That stare,
She looked at everyone
But saw no one
Disinterested, bored again

He ate and babbled throughout the meal
An office day and news he’d heard
Fidgeting with his phone
As if something more interesting
Would appear on his screen
Eventually calling for the bill
Without noticing she’d touched nothing

Monday, May 23, 2011


I heard a song recently
From when I was a kid
I’m sure it was recorded
In the sixties
Sort of country humor
Simple, catchy
I’d guess it
Crossed over to
The pop world
And worked its way
Up the charts
Hanging on as long as
It could hold
The attention of adolescents

But five decades later
I hear it anew
And what was sweet
And funny
Has become dark
And foreboding

I am left pondering
What has changed more?
The song, the world
Or me?

Monday, May 16, 2011


I love the early morning
Being the first out of bed
Making my way by memory
Avoiding corners and shoes
Occasionally getting it wrong
To the regret of my foot or shin

The night chill hangs
Until I close the window, kick start the heat

Sounds are few, distant, muffled
Until seasonal birds fill the yard

Darkness slinks away
Until morning has again arrived

Time pauses, then gains momentum
Until it rules the day… and morning is gone

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Enlightened West

Don’t worry
You’ll never see
A rebel flag
Or hear Dixie

There are no signs
With layers of paint
Covering old restrictions
That unofficially linger

No, not here
Not in the
Enlightened West
We were never like that

We cover our
Prejudices well
You’ll never see them
We promise

Monday, May 2, 2011


Some give God the credit
Others assign the blame
Seems presumptuous of both
Trying to justify
What they would have done anyway

Monday, April 25, 2011

It rains all the time, doesn’t it?

this is the weather
they all
talk about

rain that vacillates
from a constant drizzle
to pounding, pouring

no umbrella can
withstand the wind
no coat can restrain the chill

the clouds hug my shoulders
weeping, dark
and shifting

seems it
will last forever
but I know better

it only lasts
long enough
to keep them away

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Yet still...

Another day of Pagan rituals blended
With evangelical fervor
We squint through the twilight
Morning, standing damp-footed
In dewy, cemetery grass
For yet another sunrise service

I bow my all to Easter

Relatives and once-a-year attenders
Drawn by the scorn of a long
Gone grandma or some family curse,
Now days called expectations,
Arrive at church

I bow my all to Easter

Brunch in the basement
Between services for
Egg and bread casserole
Hastily made the night before
With fruit and dry ham, barely warm

I bow my all to Easter

Overflowing sanctuary
New bright colored dresses
And enough ladies hats to force
Even the most polite teenage boys
To smirk and jab their friends

I bow my all to Easter

Similar sermon with
A “zippy” new title, louder
Does not make it different
Or better, there is one
Easter story, get over it

I bow my all to Easter

“He is risen.” “He is risen indeed!”
Some shout, others mumble
The silent few, hope not to be noticed
Their obligation is clear
Attendance “yes,” participation “no”

I bow my all to Easter

Families, friends gather for dinner
Kids search for quickly hidden eggs
A few may not be found ‘til July 4
Too much food and obvious table talk
Candy, pictures and goodbyes

I bow my all to Easter

Cars chase dusk, disappear around the corner
A messy house, colored egg shells,
Shiny foil wrappers, flimsy colored plastic grass
Dishes to wash, leftovers to organize,
Should have sent more with the others

Yet still, I bow my all to Easter

original post: April 2009

Monday, April 11, 2011

For God and Country

The setting
On Wednesdays we gather
Early, before another day’s work
Some for more than fifteen years
Brothers in faith and life
We talk and sometimes listen
Questions, news, a book or two
Fears are whispered on occasion
Prayers offered

The first question

“Whose dad was in the military?”
Nods and affirmations from all
Stories soon follow
Of the “Big One” and Korea
And times in between

Next question
Who of us served?
We know the answer
Only Bill
His stint as an officer
Holding the Navy together
And keeping the
World safe for democracy

Last question
“How many of our kids
Have been in?”
Although not unexpected
The silence holds us for a moment
Until someone changes the subject

Monday, April 4, 2011

Opening Day

It’s Opening Day
And I must admit
That my hope fails to spring eternally

A decade of futility
Or loss of “the voice”
Both accentuate my unease

Don’t get me wrong
I’m glad it’s here
And I’d love to be surprised

But there’s an edge
That makes me wonder
Will this season bring redemption?

Sunday, March 27, 2011


Chicago, Denver
Maybe Memphis
Please not Houston
Somewhere else

No longer here
But not yet there

Time absent of
Becomes unrecognizable

Voice of authority
Garbles overhead
“Would I know if they called my name?"

Masses wait, some are better
At this game than others

How strange
To be a place
That no one
Wants to inhabit

Friday, March 25, 2011

Another Long Goodbye

Today we said our Pittsburgh goodbyes
We were able to coax
Puggy to play his drum
It was quick
But we have video evidence
We’ll watch in a few weeks at home
Reassuring ourselves
Of the goodness of this trip

It’s not the last day
That’s tomorrow
When we’ll be up before dawn
To get everyone moving
And off to the airport
Fourteen or so hours
Of flying and waiting
That’s the official end

Saying goodbye with predictable
But honest tears
Reflecting exhaustion, joy, and fear
I will travel the final leg alone
And arriving at home
With a confounded sense of time as
My desire for sleep vacillates
With a restless disquiet

Things Heard in a Van While Driving Students, from the INN, Around Pittsburgh for a Spring Break Mission trip…

It’s Thursday! Seems like we just got here…

Did you see that guy?

Which one?

I feel like we’ve been here forever…

That one, the tall one…

You were supposed to turn back there…

I can’t believe how friendly the people are…

Go around the block and maybe we’ll see him again…

Who made this CD?

I’m getting so much more from them than I’m giving…

How can there be so many empty buildings?

No, I meant back there, that street…

I did. It’s special music for our trip…

What’s for dinner tonight?

I haven’t seen a Starbucks all week…

I’ve never felt so close to a group…

Now you really need to turn around…

I think I’m going to change my major, maybe quit school…

I gotta come back here someday…

My parents will never believe I did this kind of work…

Wait, let me check my phone…

It’s March, it happens.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Everybody’s OK

It didn’t quite
start the day,
but we had to
call 911 before
heading out the door.
(Everybody’s OK; don’t worry.)

Not sure if we lost more
time waiting for the ambulance
or trying to change
a flat in
downtown Pittsburgh.
(Everybody’s OK; don’t worry.)

At lunch I’m driving to
check on the 911 student
when a car crosses in front of me,
hitting the car coming up
in next lane.
(Everybody’s OK; don’t worry.)



Scattered awakenings
Quiet words spoken around the table
A morning message
From a neighborhood pastor

the work day

Cement poured
A sidewalk built
Drain installed
Roof resurfaced

Relationships, old and new,
Explored and empowered


Reflection, conversations
Listen, and listen again
Words, songs, prayers
Rest, sleep, peace


Goals accomplished
Finished projects
Friendships built
And memories shared

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Puggy’s House (That’s Not True)

We spend the day
At Puggy’s House
Listening to stories
Of playing along side
“…famous people…”
Ray Charles and others
“…that you wouldn’t care about.”

He speaks of being thirteen
And making his first recording
“…you know,
(drawing a large circle with his hands)
A big, black record.”
He’s been told it’s on the Internet
But he doesn’t have that

Puggy says
That some people
Say they don’t like his music
“That’s not true,”
Puggy says.
“When I see their foot tap,
I know I got ‘em.”

We climb a rickety ladder
Two stories to strip
A hundred years and untold layers
Of gummy, enmeshed tar paper
From his aged roof
We’ll finish tomorrow
The stripping, at least

Pittsburgh 2011 mission trip
Day 3, Monday

Sunday, March 20, 2011


Church, real church
Wall of sound
Flash of motion
Joy ignites my heart
Passion joins soul and flesh
As songs go on and on

Then the preacher begins
With a delicate whisper that turns
To a holy rage
As the congregation
Stands, claps, shakes
They holler their praise

And then there’s more
Always more

The preacher and the band
A seamless blend of
Prophetic words and
Pulsating sounds
I am enveloped, all of me
And then it’s done

Pittsburgh 2011 day 2

After a morning at Mt Ararat Baptist Church

Saturday, March 19, 2011


Anxious anticipation
Over preparation

Restless sleep
Early rising

Quick goodbyes
Peaceful drive

Intense transition
Stragglers arrive

Rude employee
Endless lines

Flight delayed
No surprise

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

I’m Ready

I promised Mom if she grounded me one more time that I was leaving. She never believed me. You gotta understand…a fourth grader can only take so much.

And don’t think I’m stupid. I’ve been preparing. I started saving my allowance and hiding granola bars. Thinking of what to take, where to go. I’m planning.

Parents are meeting with the teacher tonight, getting my grades. I know what’s coming. Two weeks of no TV, no games, no friends after school. Study time.

Can’t do it. Tomorrow, after school, when she sends me to my room, it’s time for action. I’m ready.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Lent, again -- a poem for Ash Wednesday

i have posted this before as a reflection on my learning and living within the season Lent.

Lent, again

Small Baptist church
Edge of the city
Family farms were gone
Ever widening streets
Car lots and early stage
Of strip malls
Good people
Almost "country folk"
My mom's people

They knew the Bible
They loved it
They tried to live it
No creeds or rituals so
They believed

Lent was bad, almost evil
Empty routine of
False religion
Catholics and Lutherans
Maybe some others so
Far from faith

Home is not so distant
Four or five hours down the freeway
Decades later, now about four

Yearly ashes to my forehead
The joy of sorrow
The smudge of death
The touch of some pastor
I hardly know

What was once forbidden
Now is my food, my life

I worry for a moment that I may later see
Someone I know at the
Store who won't understand

Six weeks Wednesday at noon
Sitting with Glenn
Sometimes others join us
A hymn or two
Short sermon
Some good, some not

Lunch in the basement
Church cookbook casserole
Creamy salad
Water or tea
Neither of us drink coffee

Talk of family and sports
Maybe the sermon
Church friends and politics
Work updates
We say our goodbyes

Giving up something, maybe
Remembering, anything to help

Holy Week, the beginning with
Sword ferns posing as palms
Maundy Thursday
It took a long time to
Understand the "Maundy"
Good Friday
It's trite,
But who ever thought to
Call it "good?"
The dark, quiet and waiting

Easter and
It's over
Day of joy
Get my life back, again
Not sure I want it
At this cost
The seasons end

I hope it will come again
Next year
Or maybe, I hope
I'll be here next year
To remember that
It happened
Jesus suffered
And I live

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Someone Else’s Story

It would be news, if it weren’t so common.

Local kid makes good. Until another small business fails. A lifetime’s dreams evaporate into legal arguments and red ink. Credit card living bleeds into personal bankruptcy. Divorce and distance from the kids; a typical chapter of this story. Suicidal thoughts fluctuate with counseling appointments and an increased dosage. Until the insurance dries up. A boarded building, an empty house. Another body in line at the mission. The one they used to ignore on the drive to work.

But it’s a recession. These things happen. They’re just supposed to happen to someone else.

In honor of Project Homeless Connect Thursday March 3 in Bellingham.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Guidebook Said

The guidebook said,
“Upon entering the park,
Go left.
People naturally go right.”
Seemed to work for us

Was that how
Robert Frost did it?
Went left instead of right
Avoided the crowd
And wrote a nice poem?

Monday, February 14, 2011

a child’s game

following Christmas vacation
our anticipation gradually builds
until the list is distributed
into our greedy hands

on a perfect white sheet
ditto, blue ink
the letters seem to melt,
fat and fading

I beg my mom to
take me to the store
to get the best cards
hoping for a comic favorite

socialism rules
it is a sum zero project
everybody gets one
enemies and friends

cards slip stealthily into
handmade, oversized pouches
covered in red, pink and white
taped to our desks

when the day arrives,
we watch the clock in agony
silently willing for time to pick up the pace,
for the party to begin

each year brings
a subtle awareness
that this is more than
a child’s game

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Your Best Self

Allowing a machine—or
At least we think, hope it’s a machine—
To take on the role of deity
With guarantees of happiness
And compatibility?

I laugh at the TV commercials
Which try to verify the power
Of their system
Parading testimonials of couples
Engaged or even married for a year or two

They have not faced children
Or a family death
Or a job set back
Or even trivial things,
Like holiday traditions with in-laws

Go ahead,
Create yourself,
Your best self,
And push the button
Maybe you’ll get your “happily ever after”

But proceed with caution
See if you can make yourself forget
That your 97% match
Crafted their image
As well

Monday, January 31, 2011

To Be a Family

In our mid-twenties,
We had been married a few years
What comes next for fully-fledged adults?
We looked into adoption
(There’s much more to the story here
but we’re moving on)
Maybe it’d be more accurate to say,
Adoption found us

An overwhelming world before us
Of social workers and lawyers,
Phone calls and “visits,”
Paperwork and classes,
Anticipation and confusion,
Prayers and tears,
Choices and acceptance,
Waiting and wondering

Time passed until,
In a stretch of ten months,
We adopted two sons
Spring brought Kyle,
Who would later become
the younger brother of Michael,
the older son who joined our family
the next winter

Our boys are now men
With children of their own
When we reflect over thirty years,
We see a thread of
Grace in the fog
That guarded and guided us
To become a united tribe
And to be a family

this poem is posted as part of the High Calling focus on adoption & foster care this week. check out:

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

As a pack

We were like tribal nomads
forgetting what society dictated at school
Giving into instincts and urges,
we reveled in our primal roots

We wandered the streets and woods as a pack
with an unspoken, but agreed upon, leader
Until a mother called us back to civilization,
tempting us with a hot meal or comfortable bed

We’d gather on summer mornings
and set off for Mt. Baldy
This was our name for it
Although it was really a butte

We’d pack pocketknives, BB guns, and matches,
stopping at Kienows to trade empties
for Shasta pop and Hostess pies
(A nickel a can; brand names were ten cents)

We’d walk through the relatively new
suburban homes to the trail
And make our way past shady trees
to the clearing on top

We’d celebrate and reenact the battles
of cowboys and Indians or the “big” war
Imitating what we’d seen on TV,
hurling slurs we’d not admit today

Wounds, imagined and real,
were part of the game
Becoming lore for friends
and our yet unimagined children

Occasionally we’d go over the top
down to a creek on the far side
It was someone’s farm, I realize now,
to catch frogs or salamanders

Some we’d maim or kill in ritual fashion
which I’d watch with a fearful pain
No one noticed I was unable
to participate or protest

The surviving creatures came home,
displayed in jars or tanks on dressers and desks
Unfed and neglected in murky water
they would die with little recognition

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Fish in a barrel

Lawyers are easy targets
For ridicule and jokes
(I know, I’ve told them,
And basked in the laughter)

Until you know one
Like my brother-in-law, Bob
The family calls him “a good one.”
A rare commodity to some
And words of reluctant
Acceptance for others
He does not help matters by
Doing that criminal defense stuff
When I read a story or watch the news
Seeing the carnage of another
Mad man (or should I say person)
Then Bob tells me the story
And I’m conflicted, wondering
What is truth and justice?
When humans play god.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

recession redux

this recession’s an enigma
as I sit in a place
that survives,
wait, it thrives
selling little more than
coffee at four or five
bucks a pop

a constant buzz
from the tables
a crowd at the counter
while cars wait
at the window
filled with those
too harried to step inside

I remember history book pictures
and family stories
my great-aunt “Arkie”
wiping her plate clean
reminding me to not waste
“we never know
what will happen next.”

Thursday, January 6, 2011

They’ll Never Ask Me

I’d love the chance, but it will never happen. Probably a good thing. If I was asked, I’d chicken out and rattle on with those overused praises. Spreading sunny futures throughout the room.

But in a daydream, I get to be honest and say what I want. To say something different, maybe make someone think.

I walk to the podium after the inflated introduction, let the applause drift. I clear my throat, hoping to discern the mic level. I say an obligatory thanks and then I let them have it. I tell them what I really think.

Let’s begin by realizing that you are not the greatest generation. Few of you will likely fulfill your hopes and aspirations. The world’s problems and selfish desires will wear you down to lives of blasé survival.

You will not solve all the problems that our generation hands to you. You will vacillate between cluelessness and overwhelming fear.

Remember that you are the generation who follows the societal declaration that everybody needs a degree. So we made it easy, dumbing down the curriculum until you can’t tell the athletes from the academics.

I pause for a breath and look into the audience. Instead of crying mothers and bored fathers, I notice murmuring. Whispers that lead to stirring. Administrators confer in the back and finally some brave soul shouts my damnation. Demanding that “someone” stop this.

How quickly I go from celebrity to target, the problem.

Before I can resume my address, the president places a hand on my shoulder, pulling me back, and leans into the mic.

“Thank you, sir, for those challenging and inspiring words. I am certain your hope was to join us in honoring this class and supporting our school. We will now move forward to the ceremony of conferring the degrees for this class.”

And once the problem has been identified and blame assigned, a sense of calm is interpreted as resolution. The ceremony, and all of life, returns to status quo, thank God.

Of course, take care and do not invoke that deity’s name at an official gathering in a public institution.