I start with a poem, not my own.

Field Notes for a Psalm of Ascent

Jane Zwart, Assistant Professor of English, Calvin College

Unto thee I lift up mine eyes, O thou that dwellest in the heavens. Psalm 123:1

Mimic the rustic who mistakes a hot air balloon

for a keyhole punched in the sky’s bright tin
and prays the old words Thy kingdom come.

Mimic the magi who watched heaven thrum
and dim, wondering what angels the novas
would toss from quiet into song.

Mimic the kid who carries a plastic flashlight
to the backyard and aims it upward, transmitting
a prayer in Morse code, first by clapping a hand
over an Eveready’s canned brightness, then
by letting its light go—never mind the stars’ unblinking.

Mimic the martyrs who rolled their eyes
not to mock their captors but because they knew:
earth’s thin ceiling is heaven’s vellum floor.

Mimic the skeptic who cannot sit through a sunset
without saying (in a manner more angry than glib, more
bashful than blasphemous) O God Almighty.

Mimic the Christ, who must have thought our constellations
backward but who stayed anyway, peeling death
from lepers, dusting Palestine off his disciples’ ankles.

Mimic the Christ, who must have scanned the sky
he meant to cross, then put on a cross. It was rooted where
no stars could dangle. Mimic him, the Christ.

A friend near Philadelphia, Tim Bickhart, sent this poem to me by a professor at Calvin College, Jane Zwart. He’d seen the last two stanzas in a letter that had gone out from the President’s office at the college and hunted down the rest. Turns out this was the Inaugural poem written by Professor Zwart for Michael Le Roy’s inauguration as Calvin’s President in 2012. [1]

I read and reread the poem. I’m not sure what possessed him to send it, but I’m glad he did. It was one of those perfectly timed gifts from someone out of the blue. He had an intuition that I might like it. So I’m sharing it here.

Mimic the rustic magi kid martyr skeptic Christ. He is more than all the challenges we lay toward him.

It’s become a trope among folks attracted to the claim that science has disproven Christian faith that believers indulge a primitive, even naive, view of the cosmos. It’s said that we locate some divine parent-figure in a physical space somewhere looking “down” on us—or at least that we let the beliefs of folks who once did believe that sort of thing still hold sway over us.

Maybe. But, in fact . . . no. We don’t. In fact . . . we “locate” the divine in a more metaphorical space than that: in wonder, passion, fascination, humility, weakness, glory, abjection, connection, compassion, urgency, patience, transcendence, presence, love. We “locate” the divine around the corner, in a word we hear but can’t physically locate, and to which we respond. We respond with a “yes,” and with a turn of our heads, and with a re-pointing of our bodies toward the other. A move to mimic.

[1] I’ve only been able to find this poem in an online version of the inauguration bulletin, and reprint it here because I like it so much. If there are copyright concerns, I’m happy to be informed and will gladly comply with any permissions requests expected.

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Blessed to be Chosen

With beauty before me may I walk,
With beauty behind me may I walk,
With beauty above me may I walk,
With beauty all around me may I walk.
In old age wandering on a trail of beauty,
Lively, may I walk;
In old age wandering on a trail of beauty,
living again, may I walk.
It is finished in beauty.

                        ~ Navajo prayer


On that Saturday I received an email from the second youngest daughter of Arthur J. Hubbard, Sr., a 102-year old Native American Presbyterian Christian who had just passed. Among the divided duties of family members at this time, this daughter was charged with finding the place for his funeral. Arthur was living in a town a couple hours away when he died. The last Presbyterian congregation the family had been involved in together, in downtown Phoenix, could not accommodate. They knew they’d need a large space, wanted a friendly one, and several of the family lived nearby. The Moderator of the Presbytery of the Grand Canyon, Rev. Martha Sedongei, herself a Native American Pastor, was asked to officiate. They were asking if they could use Pinnacle Presbyterian as their location. She and one of her dear sisters came to worship the next morning, to make contact with us.  One of our associates sat with them and discussed details. We wanted to extend this hospitality. 

As things turn out, this was far more than a small funeral for man who lived a noble and long life. Mr. Hubbard was well known as one of the few remaining Navajo Code Talkers who were instrumental in America’s victory against the Japanese. He was an instructor in the program. He was also active in a number of economic and cultural development projects among the Indian nations, was the first Native American elected to the Arizona State Senate, was instrumental in founding the Navajo band (a trombone player), an active life-long Presbyterian, father of 12, and more. To mark him in history, he was in the first class to graduate from the Presbyterian mission school at Ganado, on the Navajo reservation. That school is no longer active. As was said of him, he never sought glory, only saw things that needed to be done and set out to do them. 

His body was brought by an escort of Native American motorcyclists from Case Grande early Tuesday morning, with volunteers from more than one American Legion post waiting for him upon his arrival at the church.  Numbers of people came for a 90-minute visitation in the sanctuary, with food and hospitality prepared for folks as they arrived. The Navajo Band played outside, in his honor. The service commenced, in a rather traditional, even Anglo, Presbyterian style–but with just enough of a sense of Native American ‘family’ for anyone to know this was something a bit different than what we normally experience at Pinnacle. A long receiving line to greet the pastors ensued after the service. State legislators attended, along with a mixed group of Anglo and Native citizens–with a shared sense of Christian faith. The President of the Navajo Nation arrived with his own entourage, to give Arthur honor. Media from four outlets arrived to film and do interviews for broadcast on the evening news programs.

After the funeral procession left for the National Cemetery for a military burial, the community returned for a reception with speeches and memories for over two hours in the Fellowship Hall. 

If you’re interested, I’ve attached a film clip to this post below.

Not only were the Pinnacle staff remarkable in their efforts that day, but in extending this hospitality we might have discovered something important about our ministry. Native sisters and brothers spoke gratefully of the connection, spoke of feeling at home on our open and natural campus, and spoke of how welcoming they found our sanctuary with its flowing water, natural light, cross of native desert ironwood, stone floor, and stained glass depicting water and canyon. No symmetry in our sanctuary, but a feeling of nature born from the imagination of our architect, Jim Roberts, who himself grew up on Indian tribal lands where his parents were teachers. The choice was God-given, we were told.

So I’m left wondering. Are we not connected to each other, even when cultural encounters feel awkward and eclectic? Aren’t we open to learning from each other when experiences like death mark both our common humanity and our shared yearning for love and gratitude? Aren’t we better when we share a commitment to each other’s well being and not just to our own successes? Aren’t we the church when we embrace surprising encounters of healing memory, gracious celebration, and hope for reconciliation?

I received that email that Saturday as a request for accommodation, and so a bit of an imposition on other plans.  Tuesday was a day scheduled full of staff meetings, after all. Yet in God’s eyes, I was actually being given a wonderful opportunity. No, we were being given a wonderful opportunity. And it became so. In the end, it was a wonderful gift. 

How blessed we were, and privileged, to be chosen. May the church always be a place for such encounters, and may we have the wisdom to learn from them and let them change us.   

Fox10 News:
Former Senator, Navajo code talker Arthur Hubbard remembered

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A little more on “selfie”

Did a little more on the “selfie” thing last month, but forgot to post it here too. It went up on the Pinnacle Presbyterian pastors’ blog, Echoes (of the Word), on December 23: http://www.pinnaclepres.org.  Here it is:


Ok, I was thinking about the selection by US News and World Report and others of “selfie” as the 2013 Word of the Year, beating out “twerking” and a couple of other contenders. But Geoff Nunberg from UC Berkeley has written on this in a far more subtle and interesting way than I would have, so I’ll link his article (also available as an audio commentary on http://www.npr.org). It all still begs for some theological response, though–but maybe later . . . I’m thinking about Christmas now.

Christmas! That’s it, our celebration of the divine “selfie” imaged in the face of that swaddled baby in whose face we see God–redeemed of our narcissism, perfected of our brokenness, God depicting Godself through a self-gift of love.

Obscure? Well, maybe worth a little Christmas thinking. Look at Patrick Blower’s cartoon from England’s Daily Telegraph in an earlier post. Can you imagine? Funny, but poignant.

The great 20th century Jewish thinker, Martin Buber, once wrote that the dilemma of the modern person is that we’re doomed to attend our own actions as spectators. And he wrote that before “selfies.”

Don’t know what a “selfies” are? They’re those photos we take of ourselves on our smartphone with front facing lenses in various situations of our lives–ostensibly to post on social media sites so everyone else can see us spectating our own lives. They’re the new, pervasive, high tech version of the “wish you were here” postcards of the last century.

Beth McDonald on FM 99.9 in Phoenix pointed out one morning the way our selfies are often so distorted, with funny looking faces, torsos bigger than they are, arms strange because of the angel of the lens. We only come into view from a further distance. Up close, we are out of wack. There’s a sermon there, of course.

Are there any experiences that are so authentic, so real, that a “selfie” could never hope to show what you’re really experiencing in them? Can we see ourselves more clearly in relationship to something other than a screen containing our image? Does God relate to us free of the narcicissm that so devastates our abilities to relate to each other, free of the insecurities that force us to try to record our “place” in life, free of the endless abstractions and self-deceptions that can sometimes come when we feel like we are always looking at ourselves (or when we lack healthy self-awareness, out of some kind of fear)? Yes. I’m thinking of the image of God in the face of the one baby born in God’s image (and seen through our eyes) in Bethlehem. We have no snaphot image of that baby except as an imageless act of pure love–in the image of babies of many colors and faces inspired by our imagination of this one baby we have come to know (or may yet come to know) as God. The wisefolk who came to see this baby weren’t watching themselves watching him. They were searching, and were found. They were giving, and were given to. They were watching, and were seen by the One they were watching. And so by being seen, they finally saw themselves–and they saw themsleves in a way no camera could ever catch. The baby is God’s image of Godself, given to us as love.

This Christmas, take a moment and put the smartphone cameras down and sing a hymn, say a word of thanks to a presence you can’t see, and see yourself in the face of the Love that created you. Then you can wave and point and make a funny face!

Here’s the Geoff Nunberg article, if you’re interested:


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Malcolm Gladwell’s return to faith

David and Goliath is a good book. Here’s more of the story:


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A Christmas “selfie”

Ok, I was thinking about writing something on “selfie” as the 2013 Word of the Year, but Geoff Nunberg has done it far better than I would have. Still begs for some theological response, though–but maybe later . . . after Iget past Christmas. Christmas! That’s it, our celebration of the divine “selfie” imaged in the face of that swaddled baby in whose face we see God–redeemed of our narcissism, perfected of our brokenness, God depicting Godself through a self-gift of love.

Here’s a link to Nunberg’s NPR commentary on “selfie.”


Saw this after writing this post, by Patrick Blower in the Telegraph:



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From silence to song, another view.  Here’s a flash mob tribute to Mandela.  (I’m thinking we oughta bring Woolworth’s back to the U.S.)

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My response to Mandela

Here’s my response, in a sermon, to the death of Nelson Mandela.  It begins with reflections from Cap Dean, who was the Mission Director for US AID in South Africa from the middle of 1992 to the middle of 1996.  He is a member of Pinnacle Presbyterian Church, where I’m the pastor.  My sermon was preached at Pinnacle on Sunday, December 8.


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