Archive for the 'reposted' Category

More Intimate for the Distance

30 December 2007

Sermon delivered at the UNMC on April 10, 2005.

I have always depended on the possibility of meaning in all experience. Nothing is so trivial that I don’t want to discern its significance and put it in a universal context. Every bite of an apple, every bus ride, every conversation, offers transcendent grace, if only we will choose to perceive it. The deeply-lived life is painted stroke by stroke.

In October I began my travels through Mexico and Central America. I was excited that my route through southern Mexico took me through the city of Oaxaca on last year’s Day of the Dead, November second. El Día de los Muertos is a very big deal in that part of Mexico — Memorial Day, Halloween, and a bit of Mardi Gras all in one — and is a vital event in the spiritual lives of many of Mexico’s indigenous peoples. For a person determined to draw meaning from the world, it offered an marvelous opportunity.

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El Dios que nos queda pequeño

30 December 2007

“Ustedes universalistas”, dijo J.M. Pullam acerca del año 1900, “están ilegalmente ocupando la palabra más grande del idioma. El mundo ya empieza a querer esa gran palabra, y ustedes universalistas deberían mejorar la propiedad, o marcharse”.

En aquel entonces, la gran tensión dentro del movimiento universalista era si el universalismo sería una fe cristiana, y hasta que punto. Al respeto Brainard Gibbons en 1949 se preguntó:

“¿Es el universalismo una confesión cristiana, o es algo más, una religión verdaderamente universal? Este asunto es el más vital que hemos enfrentado nunca, porque el cristianismo y este universalismo más grande son irreconciliables. Un decisión grave debe ser tomado, ¡y pronto! Si el universalismo no significa algo distinto y afirmativo, caerá hasta ser naderìa. Ni amado ni odiado, sólo ignorado”.

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Pastoral Prayer

30 December 2007

See also the sermon delivered on the same occasion.

We enter now into a time of prayer, spoken at first, and then silent.

Gracious Light, we are gathered to revel in your infinite refractions, that make for us an abundant life whose every moment carries the import of the ages. We would ask for the humility prerequisite to awe, and would respond with natural gratitude for your enduring and ever-giving love.

We pray for the earth, that we may still heal its scars and restore its splendor, and make it a fitting home for every creature.

We pray for those who bear transitions, particularly LM, as she leaves for college, and JS, as she searches for a job. May they confront every circumstance with energy and grace.

We pray for the forgotten and powerless, that they may know and claim their equal stake in the salvation of themselves and of humankind.

We pray for those who spend the night in wakefulness, in pain, grief or care. Remember the ill and the recuperating, particular MT’s sister SA, MS’s grandson KS, DS’s sister LS, and SM’s father D. Watch over them and their families, and keep them in your care.

We pray for those who have lost faith; that they may be sustained and comforted by your embrace. We pray also for those who walk oblivious to your touch, that they may know, by whatever name or none, the Miracle which composes all miracles.

We pray, O God of all Nations, for the whole world, that it may be delivered from its turmoil. Remembering the work that has yet been done, we give thanks for the succession of prophets, apostles, and martyrs, continued even to this very hour. We remember HJ, and all those who labor far from home for peace and justice.

Guiding Spirit of our souls, whom all worship under many names and diverse forms, we pray for your holy Church Universal, and for this congregation, that we may be delivered from hardness of heart, and show forth your glory in all that we do. Give us no victory but fellowship, and help us labor to build the Commonwealth of God, where nevermore shall we despair or dissemble, and where none shall be judged but by nearness to you.

For you are our Mother and Father, and we the children of your love, and naught can separate from you the souls which you have made and which you sustain forevermore.

The God Who Outgrew Itself

30 December 2007

Sermon delivered at the UNMC on August 15, 2004. See also the associated pastoral prayer.

“You Universalists,” said J. M. Pullman around 1900, “have squatted on the biggest word in the English language. Now the world is beginning to want that big word, and you Universalists must improve the property, or move off the premises.”

At the time, the great tension within the Universalist movement was whether, and to what extent, Universalism would be a Christian faith. Brainard Gibbons asked this very question in 1949:

“Is Universalism a Christian denomination, or is it something more, a truly universal religion? This issue [he continued] is the most vital Universalism has ever faced, for Christianity and this larger Universalism are irreconcilable. A momentous decision must be made, and soon! Unless Universalism stands for something distinctive and affirmative, it falls in[to] indistinguishable, negative nothingness—neither loved nor hated, just ignored!”

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Deconstructing my own pretension.

29 December 2007

I can be pretentious sometimes. This comes as a great shock to you, I know.

This pretension takes several forms. Sometimes it’s the subject matter. Even though my enthusiasm for Gustav Klimt and W.A. Mozart is genuine, it’s undeniably pretensious. The important thing to remember is that I do this from a broad and honest love of all these things.

(Sometimes, I mention things just to sound classier, but when I do, I usually just make up a name, to avoid being disrespectful of genuine artists and thinkers by using them for such selfish purposes. Jorge Federico del Campo, the late Bolivian poet, often did much the same thing.)

Just as often, though, my pretentiousness is in the way I express my interests. I make no apologies for this, either. I try to speak and write well, and I do make an effort for rid my speaking, writing, and manner of unnecessary pretension — as much as I can and still expess what I mean to. I am precise to communicate, not merely to be stuck-up: As a faithful minister of the Gospel of Strunk and White I try not to use more words than I need to and mean to.

Still, I often fail at this, because I have a love for the elegant turn of phrase. Witness:

WHAT I SAID: It has come to my attention that a number of people I’ve never met are reading my LiveJournal. (18 words, counting the contraction as one and “LiveJournal” as one)
WHAT I COULD HAVE SAID: Strangers read this. (3 words)

WHAT I SAID: There’s a good piece in the New Yorker about Arthur Rimbaud. For all you uncultured people out there, he was an important poet. (23 words, plus the patronizing air and the fact that anyone pretending to like Rimbaud is pretentious to start with)
WHAT I COULD HAVE SAID: Check out Rimbaud. (3 words)

Me: So it’s not just me being ignorant?
My Friend: Well, that probably makes it worse. (13 words)
Me: Not just me ignorant?
My Friend: Not just. (6 words)

Incidentally, I don’t think my friend is pretentious. Maybe if he knew more about classical music, he could be.

And that’s really the heart of it: I may be pretentious, but I do my level best to do it in an accessible sort of way. I’m like a doctor or a cop in that ideally, I work myself out of a job. If people were smarter, better educated, more cultured, more artistic, I wouldn’t have to be pretentious. I could focus on being self-absorbed. Wah.

Reposted from the old site: Tuesday, December 16th, 2003

A poem for New Year’s

29 December 2007


I work so hard on a cathedral of ice
that only my breath gives me hints of cold
My sweat freezes in whole drops
From hot-chocolate pillows
you see ice drip down my face
and don’t see coming cathedrals, like I do
Have you lived, who make snowballs
with gloves, and never
have felt the burning snow?

I run every morning under wet
boughs that curtsy their leaf-tips
onto my brow
On my cheeks appear drops of Polynesian seas
to jewel my ruddiness
All of my hopes are in puddle-reflections
but your eyes are up
and you don’t see yourself
in puddles

You see me walk barefoot
down the street
This asphalt-gold, clear as glass, burns my sole
What better salve than grass and dew
and new-felt fleeting injury?
You wear shoes on liberating
summer days so hot
that I take a shower and as soon as I am dry
I am sweating a good sweat again

I destroy my pile of raked leaves, quick:
before the wind can spread them again
and ruin my chance to fall into sweet
crunch. Do you trust in the solace
of underfoot crackles?
Unperturbed is your pile
—are all your things
that make no sound and have no smell
that never crunch or die

Reposted from the old site: Thursday, January 1, 2004


29 December 2007

Much of the time I feel like we never quite make up for the wrong we do. That’s why we all need, and by Grace attain, fullness outside the self. I’ve been looking for it in the wrong places: in the fleeting fulfillment of my own perceived needs and desires, and not in the palpable, sustaining Spirit that I used to see through the people I loved that left me so much in awe.

Those needs and desires are real, of course, and to dismiss them altogether is to set any hoped-for transformation up for failure. I still have fears, concerns, insecurities, hurts, and Things I Want to Talk About. But as long as I’m trying to be a little less self-involved, I’ll skip those: They’ll wait for me, or disappear.

In speaking with MKM over lunch last week, she suggested that I try letting go and stop grasping at imaginary threads of control. Now, equanimity has never been my strength. A part of me yearns always to act, to change, to be just a little better, until I claw my way to happiness—but so far it’s mostly just given me bloody knuckles.

I need to give up on earning impossible redemption and throw myself at the feet of Grace. I am in no position to ask forgiveness from anyone. All there is left is the openness of surrender.

I miss the honesty and fire that submission gave me. I miss being humbled by the simple goodness of people. I miss offering my gratitude in the guise of generosity. I want to be subject to people again. I want that to be my prime delight. Acceptance—of responsibility, of circumstances, of my own smallness—is the only way I see to exist geniunely.

This is a lesson I need every once in a while. How to make it stick?

Reposted from the old site: Friday, July 29th, 2005

The First Entry.

28 December 2007

Each journal entry carries the hope of being the first of many and the burden of prior false starts, as though regularity alone were a virtue, as though every sentence and every entry were justified only if it were followed by another.

I’ve never excelled at writing entries regularly. My last was 380 days ago, or so. This is partly from malaise, partly from business and an easy distractibility, partly from a fear of the banal. Some people write appealing words about their daily lives; I write better thematically. The chronological element is not series of events, but the evolving salience of competing and complementary themes.

I do feel a need to write more, but it doesn’t flow. I want to do lots of things here: I want to make a list of my failings, and talk about them, not as an exercise in masochism, but to understand them. I want to think about the people I know, and why my relationships with them seem so basically unsatisfying at times. I want to get my fingers back into practice doing good, honest writing that doesn’t have all those extra, superfluous, unnecessary, gratuitous, redundant, unneeded words that slide into my academic writing, despite a professed commitment to writing Strunkian prose.

So, a metaentry to exorcise hopes and burdens.

Reposted from the old site: Thursday, January 18th, 2007