Help Me Be

help me beFor the past month I’ve been savoring poetry on my patio in the cool of early morning – though that locale has been on hiatus in our wondrous triple-digit heat. Added to the poetry savorings of Greek and Hebrew scriptures, of Rumi and Rilke, has been selections from Dale Fredrickson’s Help Me Be: Praying in Poems.

One of the reasons Help Me Be has been particularly resonant Message-of-the-Psalms-Brueggemann-Walter-9780806621203with me is that his poems follow the rhythmic beat of the Psalms as explored in my favorite wee book on the Psalms, Walter Brueggemann’s The Message of the Psalms.

Orientation.

Disorientation.

New Orientation.

This is our life, and the Psalms embody it, each rhythm captured, explored, sung, sighed, groaned, shouted, chanted, coughed and sputtered. So do Fredrickson’s poems.

No accident this morning that on the 4th of July as I could finally step out once again onto a cool patio, I opened to this poem.

You are standing on the banks of the sea.
The dusty wind whirls,
The salty sea smacks
Muddy banks.
The Horizon shimmers with hope for the free.
The Promises are near land, life, and liberty.

You hear the Pharaoh’s Chariots.
Pompous power that crushes lives,
Leather whips lashing horses’ hides,
Soldiers’ breaths slavery’s frets,
Horses’ hooves closing the gap.

Your feet sink into the sand,
Deeper and deeper.
You are stunned
That wasn’t the plan.

Your choice is not easy
Risky freedom or
Safe Slavery.
Do you step forward?
Or do you turn back?

You are standing on the banks of the sea
Knees shaking, Feet sinking, Fears gripping.

You are scared of everything that could be.
How the kids are going to grow,
If the cash will start to flow.
What the future might hold
Feeling loved when you’re old.
Standing strong when all is awash,
Living again with courage and panache.
Looking beautiful inside and out,
Being abandoned alone left out
Moving on when love is lost,
Finding meaning when dreams are squashed.

Your choice is not easy
Risky freedom or
Safe slavery.
Do you step forward?
Or do you turn back?

You are not alone today,
Your King leads the way,
Love has won the day.
Dance, Sing, Step, Play.
Old rule wanes,
Jesus now reigns,
Breaking these chains.

You are standing on the banks of the sea
What do you want to be
Slave or Free?

Brueggemann Psalms Framework

 

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Thank you, Harry. Peace.

Harry and some of the BookCellar crew

Harry and some of the BookCellar crew

I believe understanding and giving to other people is a gift that only comes when we have the courage to look closely and carefully at ourselves and discover the goodness, compassion, and forgiveness that resides there.

This was my friend Harry Krueger’s final Facebook post on June 3 of this year, five days before his sudden passing.

Harry’s presence graced the BookCellar for the past three plus years as a volunteer. It was just one little “nook” of his life, each Sunday morning (we all knew he would rather be birding!). But there he would be, faithfully, week after week, engaging in conversations with whomever happened to be present, dispensing quiet wisdom, peace, and the glorious love of God that he seemed to be diving into more and more deeply with each passing day.

Harry and the gang_2

Another angle on the BookCellar crew. I believe we all agreed Harry is the White Rabbit – only rather than being late he left early.

Clearly he was looking closely and carefully within, and from that accumulated and deepening treasure he poured out goodness, compassion and forgiveness.

Occasionally he even sold a book.

I’ve always told the volunteers in the bookstore that selling books is secondary. Don’t serve customers. See the people. Take time to engage, to talk, to listen, or to pray. Whatever is needed, whatever is called for. I like to say we’re the closest thing to bartenders in Christian culture. And Harry tended beautifully.

Harry "tending bar."

Harry “tending bar.”

Since his passing I had wondered how best to honor Harry in the bookstore. Before I had a chance to go far in my searching, fellow bookstore “bartender” Gina came up with a great idea. And I eagerly embraced it. And so our latest addition to our growing, colorful BookCellar mural is now on display right over Harry’s spot.

It’s a simple graphic Harry was quite taken with. When we first saw it, I said, “Okay, it’s a dove, but that looks like Arabic.” And it is. It roughly translates “love and peace.”

Breathe in love, exhale peace.

Harry's remembrance

Harry’s remembrance

Harry rhythms.

We’ll miss your face in the bookstore, Harry, my friend.

But your presence and grace will always remain.

You heart closed up in a chest, open,
for the Friend is entering you.

You feet, it is time to dance.
Don’t talk about the old man.

He is young again. And don’t mention
the past. Do you understand?
The beloved is here.

~ Rumi

Breathe in love; exhale peace...

Breathe in love; exhale peace…

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Who says talking “creed” has to be a dull business…

By nature I am one of those lugubrious optimists – liturgical on the outside, but Quest for the Creedanarchial on the inside. As the fool longs to play Hamlet, so this Hamlet has always longed to play the fool. I want to wear the jester’s motley, dangle a little stick with a fool’s head and a feather on the end, and wear rings on my fingers and bells on my toes. I want to scurry around in pointy slippers and poke my nose into our holy places – both the secular ones and the sacred ones. I want to enter the holy of holies and stand on my head so I can see it from a totally new perspective. If I can manage the gymnastics, then the floor may become the ceiling and the ceiling the floor. What seemed sacrosanct may turn out to be mundane, and what was mundane may burn with meaning.

I wish to stand on my head and see the world in a fresh way for two reasons. First of all, I get bored easily. I am sure this is a severe character fault, but I tire of seeing the world the same way all the time. This is the same reason I enjoy traveling, and why I once bought X-Ray vision glasses from the back of a comic book. The second reason I want to see the world in a fresh way is because it sometimes seems the whole world is as mad as the crowd who oohed and aahed over the emperor’s new clothes. If I can only catch a glimpse of the pink buttocks of reality I will not only be happy, but I might also get one or two others to enjoy the joke, and gasp with the freshness of everything.

~ Dwight Longenecker, The Quest for the Creed

I must confess – and since we’re talking about a book dealing with creed, that is a most appropriate way of expressing this – I must confess, this is not what I expected to encounter as I cracked open Dwight Longenecker’s book The Quest for the Creed: What the Apostles Really Believed, and Why it Matters.

I expected thick, stuffy, serious.

I expected the kind of theologian Robert Capon describes as those who are “usually such bores that all they do is talk you out of wanting even to breathe.”

Instead I found a jester standing on his head. With rings on his fingers. And bells tinkling on his toes.

Longenecker is a former Anglican priest who now serves as a Catholic priest. The ex-priest, priestly jester.

I’m half way through his book, and it’s simply a joyous, invigorating romp.

But it’s this self-description that arrests me.

Okay, I don’t know about the pointy slippers, the rings, or the tinkling bells – far too much attention-getting ornamentation for this introverted soul.

But I so want to go to there. To be that.  Such inquisitive, irreverent, holy questing is so at the heart of where I feel drawn. So at the heart of what I see havering to be. So at the heart of what all real theology should be if we could stop taking ourselves so seriously for just a few minutes. I would love to experience the freedom he reflects with each word in his book in each step and turn in my life. I have and do taste it, but how I long for more.hatter stand up

Now I want to kick off my fall high school American government class with a “standing on your head” exercise.

But perhaps a stand-up of the Hatter will have to do…

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Ah the smell of it…

book suicideSorry. I just couldn’t resist…

And in other news, thank you, Lee.

Yesterday she brought by an 1803 German Bible – a bulky beast of a book with locks and that is wondrously falling apart – just so I could smell it.

And the piece de resistance?

An even older German prayer book. Both used daily, year after year, by her grandmother.

Ah the smell of it…

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Give Yourself a Break and Read 24/6

24_6

CONTENT

I think a self-confessed workaholic gave me this book because he knew Matthew Sleeth’s 24/6 would be more my speed. Which means the workaholic needed the book more than I did. For several years I’ve had a growing conviction that American culture in general and Christian culture in particular increasingly doesn’t know how to stop. Like the White Rabbit we are all terribly late and always on the move. As Sleeth puts it, we are 24/6 creatures trying to function in a 24/7 world and it’s no wonder we are becoming increasingly frayed. Sleeth is a doctor and offers 24/6 as a much needed prescription of weekly rest – of really, truly stopping one day a week – and his prescription is spot on.

FLOW

Let’s just say Dr. Sleeth knows how to issue the medicine of Sabbath with a very effective spoonful of sugar. As hard as it can be for our pragmatic and driven natures to swallow the concept of Sabbath as a regular rhythm of life, Sleeth makes it roll right off the page.

INTEREST

In each chapter Sleeth spins tales from his personal experience that never failed to draw me in and have me wondering as I followed the story how it would lead into his thoughts on our desperate need for a revived practice of sabbath. Saying I was riveted would be going overboard, but he never failed to have my attention.

READABILITY

Very accessible to the “average reader” – though he does cite lots of scripture and clearly assumes a Christian reading audience (though everyone would benefit from the content – and from learning how to stop on an ongoing basis!).

LAYOUT

Wide margins. Good print size. Digestible chapters that never left me feeling bogged down.

Bottom line

Though my all-time favorite read on keeping Sabbath is still Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Sabbath, Matthew Sleeth’s 24/6 is on my shelf next to it. I ended up with a page of quotables from 24/6 that I will continue to draw on in my ongoing pursuit of healthy Sabbath – like this one:

Rest is thinking about all the things you could do on a Sunday afternoon and hearing a still, small voice tell you to just stop – and then taking a God-ordained nap.

How can you not like a book that includes the line, “take a God-ordained nap”?

Take and read. And then take a nap.

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