Eternal Springs Hope

Last Wednesday evening my GC 101 (Christianity and Global Citizenship) class went to hear two speakers dialogue on the topic of Truth and Reconciliation after TRC.  The TRC is a commission established by the government of Canada to address the horrid legacy of Indian Residential School system and began shortly after the formal apology by the Canadian government in 2008.  The commission’s mandate was extended but will soon be complete.  Many of us are asking “What next?”  The dialogue was a propos to the topic of the class that day: Where do we find hope?

I had helped organize the dialogue, and so had some hosting responsibilities after the dialogue proper.  Consequently I had one of my colleagues take over my class until the point came when I would be able to get back.  It took twenty minutes or so and she had, in the interim, written the word “Hope” on the blackboard, and then invited students to come to the board and write words to respond to the theme of hope.  You can see the results:

IMG_20141119_210256IMG_20141119_210240

When I came into the class she told me it was now up to me to make some poetry with these words, so here it goes:

How can we sing hope?

Where will we find strength to suffice?

Whence reassurance and solace for our spirit?


How can faith forge a future?

Is it possible apart from forgiveness and its revelation of revolution:

a refusal to render eye for eye?  A freedom to

love the neighbor no matter what,

no matter where?


How can we love?

Love’s continuities, love’s capabilities, love reliabilities

escape me.  I fail to love even me.  I am undone

and so only won by the One whose

promise, whose

plan place me

in the divine palm.


And there, there in the nail scars

God’s trust in me thrusts even me

into love divine,

into faith fleet of foot

into holy hope.

Sharp and Wide

These days I am working on a book proposal.  The book is based on my sabbatical project from a few years ago and is academic in nature – although not overly technical.  The proposal is really a series of questions, posed by the publisher.  Writing a book proposal is a bit like writing a book, but rather different in certain ways.  The like bit includes an overlap of subject matter.  The proposal, insofar as it succeeds, reflects to the reader of the proposal what they will read should the book see the light of day.  There are usually questions about table of contents, competing works in the market, etc that allow the author of the proposal to draw on his or her work in writing the book itself.

But then there are the other questions; the different questions, well really, the different question.  “What are your plans for promoting the book?”  This question is then split into a series of sub-questions asking about social media, conferences and conventions, as well as professional connections that can be leveraged in order to sell your book should the publisher choose to take on your project. This bit is hard for me.  My guess is that it is hard for many if not most academics.  After all, our training generally is subject specific, and while we may know a lot about theology, or geology, or philosophy, not many of us have taken courses in marketing.  Consequently this question can be a bit vexing, but as with most things vexing, it reveals something about the self and invites authors to do at least two things.

First, it invites us to ask the question: Why does this book matter?  For those who aren’t steeped in the sometimes arcane disciplines of academic writing, this question seems like a no-brainer.  But academics, by nature of their craft, often have to put on blinders so they can focus on the topic at hand.  But the marketing question also forces us to step back and ask the “So what?” question.  Sometimes this question results in re-writing, or fine tuning, or re-casting our projects.

Second, the marketing question pushes us to think about the market itself.  Once upon a time academics lived at a kind of arms-length distance from the market.  Entrance to the academic guild meant that you worked with editors who were sympathetic to your discipline, and the paper market allowed them some sense of where your work would fit in the academic world.  But the market is now virtual as much as paper, and authors who care to think about their place in the virtual world are forced to think through the market.  What does it mean that my work has to vie for a place in an internet search?  What does it mean that there are readers visiting forums looking to find a free electronic version of my book?  How do I relate to the market, and how will I engage it?

It is easy for authors to lament these new challenges, but it need not be paralysing.  For those who rise to the occasion, their writing can be both sharpened and widened despite fear of losing sight of the subject matter in concentrating on the audience.  Moreover, those who bridge subject matter and audience receive a rich reward: that peculiar joy that attends being a way rather than a destination.

Tedium Knocks

Amidst beauty,

tedium knocks at my door.

Others’ trials tire me.  I

shrug.  This too will pass so why

doesn’t it pass me by?

Why do I find myself victim to

his oversight, to

her schedule, to

their, to their lives’ lunacy.

Yes, that is it: life.

Life raises its head in

dim din and beauty both.

A beauty such as this:

A sky cracked by tree’s bared crown

surrounds me, and I, I revel

in what is petty,

in poverty, even

in plenty.

Winter’s Reach

Not far from here,
sequestered in
forgotten cracks of
hidden boards below
decks scattered across
this city, winter
awaits. At just the
right moment
reaching out with
a tentacle of frost –
slipping across graying
once green grass – it will
Midas in silver and we will
awaken in a diamond.
And then, with purity, it will pounce
and pronounce us its subjects –
for a time,
for a time.

Reforming Language

Dear Readers, as a matter of course I do not post sermons, but I am going to make an exception this week.  I was asked to provide a 3 minute reflection on the Reformation and Language in chapel today, and thought some might be interested in reading my speaking.  Allen

In John 8:31 Jesus says:
If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples,and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.

This word “word” was of such importance to John and his community, and was of incredible importance to the Reformers studying John. The Greek word for word, logos, means word but so much more. It can also mean speech, subject matter, an accounting or reckoning as well as reason or motive. While all of these words have different nuances they all point to a linguistic common denominator. Language is at the heart of being human. God spoke the world into being and we are made in the image of God, so speaking – or more broadly – communicating is being human.

Communicating was a big deal for Martin Luther. Some years ago a group of us traveled to Eisenach in the former East Germany and visited the Wartburg Castle, where Luther translated the New Testament into German. We were told that, at that time, the German lands each had a dialect. Luther’s translation of the Bible was an important step in developing standard German, which he used to great benefit in communicating the Gospel: the good news, that Jesus is God’s word to us of grace; Jesus speaks to us of the unconditional love of God; Jesus is God’s unconditional love for us. This word was at the heart of the reformation.

Unfortunately, it is very easy for us to reduce this word to an idea, an idea that we can master – rather like the times tables. But the gospel is not an idea; the gospel is an event, a happening, something that cannot be orchestrated, nor manipulated. The gospel is all about God, and where God is at work, anything is possible. God cannot be put in a box, and God’s word cannot be manhandled. This is why Luther insisted that the Church was not a Federhaus, a pen house, or a house of writing, but instead a Mundhaus, a mouth house. Scholars will sometimes translate Mundhaus as house of speaking, but I like mouth house. It sounds more problematic, perhaps a little cheeky, and besides, it is very sensual.

Mouths, after all, are the loci of taking in and spitting out. They are the location of our ingestation as well as our protestation; they are the place of the kiss, and the curse; they are the smile, the frown, they are language incarnate; language in flesh. The church is a fleshy place and a mouth house is a house that is bodily in nature. Debbie Lou has spoken often to the choir of the role the body plays in singing. Of course, the same is true in speaking. Communication is a bodily event. And so, when we think about language, we think about bodies: my body, your body, the body we call the body of Christ, the body we call the cosmos, the earth, the universe; the bodies – all of these bodies – that God loves intimately.

The church is a mouth house, but I would be amiss to neglect to point out that a mouth that never stops speaking is cacophanous; sounds begin to screech and our ears weary from too many words, from too much sound. A motor mouth church wears its hearers down; bombarding them with cliches, with half truths, with pollyanna-like pious, plastic language. It is enough to make you want to shout “Enough!”

Language, like music, depends upon silence. The space between the notes, the consonants, the sounds makes hearing them possible, makes ingesting them pleasurable, makes repeating them desireable. Language without silence is noise, and we all have enough noise in our lives.

There is a certain freedom in knowing that sometimes, sometimes we can be like God can be: quiet, and that this quietness is not a betrayal of the gospel, but intrinsic to its nature. Sometimes, sometimes, what needs to be said, for now, is nothing….

Under Observation

The sky summons forth a cloud and
a watery angel – with fellows in tow – strides
across the sky purposely: ministering servants all.
This host (often portrayed as arrayed in white despite
their Prussian blue hues) shocks me.
Azure heaven meets verdant earth
in a horizon of promise.
I look up, and see
these angels
seeing me
thoroughly
through

From Author to Editor to Auditor

Patick Modiano, the 2014 Nobel prize winner for literature, expressed interest in learning what it was about his work that earned him this honour. He was quoted saying that “one cannot really be one’s own reader.” This aphorism, which seems at blush to be but a throw away line is anything but. It is an observation made by a writer who has honed his craft for many years. The line set my mind to thinking about reading my own writing.

Do I read my work? I certainly edit my work. Anyone who writes any amount knows that getting words on paper is but the tip of the iceberg that is writing. Below the written tip is an ice mountain of work: wrestling the right word into place; switching paragraphs hither and yon beyond the patience of the harshest editor of all – the self. But is editing a work reading it? Once again, yes and no seems to go as a best first stab at answering the question: yes our eyes scan the words and detect errors and distractions, but no too; no in the sense that I do not experience the same kind of dislocation I feel in reading other authors. And so while it seems that I can have the experience of entering my text as a reader, I do not have the experience of the text entering me – at least not in the same way that I experience that when reading the writing of others. When I read the work of others I have this gratifying sense of utter alienness; of being at sea as I ask what the author has in mind. When I write, by contrast, I struggle to get what is in me out, and onto the page. When I read my own work, this is what I read.

So it seems that I cannot really read my work, but it also needs to be said that I cannot but read my work: ignoring what I have put to paper seems impossible. Something of the self remains resident in my writing and so not attending to it is rather like ignoring a mirror: not impossible, but surely difficult. And as is the case with many difficult bits in life, asking why it is that I am drawn or repelled by this or that is surely a salutary experience. What is it about the mirror that arrests me? When I revisit what I have written I do not encounter someone vastly different (as can happen in reading your work) , but I do experience a sense of the self at a distance. Perhaps this is because writing, at least for me, is not so much an experience of saying what I think about this or that, but an experience of saying whom I am. This self, however, really comes to be known to me in my writing. What I had intuited becomes concretized in my text. And because it is hard to encounter the self on account of my proximity to my writing, I need others – I need others, other readers and editors. As I hear what you encounter in my texts, I am given a fresh chance to hear myself anew, to become my own “auditor” in the sense that the word auditor comes from the Latin word for “to hear”(and so someone who “audits” a course listens in on it). My readers make me an auditor, an observer of my own work because my readers hear me out and in their hearing I begin to see and hear what I have written anew.

In the end, while it might be the case I cannot really read my work, it surely is the case that I can “hear” it by grace of your reading. You become for me ears to hear and eyes to see my work anew and for that, I say thanks.