Monthly Archives: June 2021

The Virtue of Imperfection


Ezekiel 2:1-5

Psalm 123

2 Corinthians 12:2-10

Mark 6:1-13

Prayer of the Day: God of the covenant, in our baptism you call us to proclaim the coming of your kingdom. Give us the courage you gave the apostles, that we may faithfully witness to your love and peace in every circumstance of life, in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

“Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given to me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” II Corinthians 12:7-10.

Much ink has been spilt in speculation over what Saint Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was. I don’t believe there is any way of knowing precisely what the apostle is talking about. Whatever it was, Saint Paul felt that his “thorn” was getting in the way, hampering his ministry and making him less effective than he might have been. Though he prayed for its removal, God let it be known to him that the thorn was there to stay. God’s grace is sufficient to sustain the apostle’s ministry, notwithstanding the apostle’s shortcomings. The effectiveness of the Word and the Spirit, not the apostle’s, must be the basis of the apostle’s confidence.

I am not sure that I have anything comparable to Paul’s “thorn.” But over the years I have discerned many things about myself that hampered the effectiveness of my ministry. Some of them I was able to change. Others, not so much. For example, I wish my preaching voice were a little more like James Earl Jones and less like Woody Allen. I wish I could rid myself of my blinking habit. I wish my teeth were straighter. All of these things would make me a stronger presence in the pulpit and in every aspect of public ministry. But God in God’s wisdom called me with a set of flaws without fixing them. As a result, I have often prayed, “God, I’m not up to this task. But it looks like I’m the only preacher this congregation has. So you will have to make due with me.” Somehow, God always did.

Perhaps that is how it is supposed to be. God knows we have seen more than a few mega church pastors, bishops and high profile church leaders succumb to financial improprieties, sexual misconduct and even predatory behavior. Even small steeple preachers like me have been guilty of such behavior. I don’t pretend to understand any individual case of such deplorable conduct, but I do know that power, even such power as the pastor of a small church holds, is seductive. Having people place their trust and confidence in you, come each week to hear what you have to say and invite you into the most significant times in their lives-it’s a rush. It is easy, so very easy, to forget that it’s not about you. It is easy to forget that you are a flawed and broken human being called to be a servant to other flawed and broken human beings and that you are, as Saint Paul points out, merely a “clay jar” carrying the healing balm of the gospel you need no less than everyone else. II Corinthians 4:7. So it is that Saint Paul and I have our “thorns” constantly getting in our way and tripping us up so that we can’t let our egos get in the way of what God is trying to accomplish through us. We need to be “weak” in order for God to be strong.

Paul needed his thorn in order to be a faithful minister of Jesus Christ. Any man who has the hutspah to tell people to immitate him has got to have one hell of an ego. So, too, I suppose my tenorous voice, blinking eyes and imperfect smile helped remind me that my ministry was not about me. My flaws made it harder for me to forget that such success as I saw in my ministry came from the faithful support of many devoted parishoners, the partnership of lay leaders who stood behind me when I needed them most and who were not afraid to tell me when they felt I was on the wrong track and, most importantly, the Spirit of God at work among us. Thanks to my many imperfetions, I can look back on over thirty-five years of ministry accomplished by the Holy Spirit in which I was privileged to take part. And thanks to my flaws, my ego didn’t mess things up too much.

Here is a poem by Edward Rowland Sill illustrating that it sometimes takes fools, clowns and those deemed laughing stocks to speak truth to power in all its purity.

The Fool’s Prayer  

The royal feast was done; the King

Sought some new sport to banish care,

And to his jester cried: “Sir Fool,

Kneel now, and make for us a prayer!”

The jester doffed his cap and bells,

And stood the mocking court before;

They could not see the bitter smile

Behind the painted grin he wore.

He bowed his head, and bent his knee

Upon the Monarch’s silken stool;

His pleading voice arose: “O Lord,

Be merciful to me, a fool!

“No pity, Lord, could change the heart

From red with wrong to white as wool;

The rod must heal the sin: but Lord,

Be merciful to me, a fool!

“‘T is not by guilt the onward sweep

Of truth and right, O Lord, we stay;

‘T is by our follies that so long

We hold the earth from heaven away.

“These clumsy feet, still in the mire,

Go crushing blossoms without end;

These hard, well-meaning hands we thrust

Among the heart-strings of a friend.

“The ill-timed truth we might have kept–

Who knows how sharp it pierced and stung?

The word we had not sense to say–

Who knows how grandly it had rung!

“Our faults no tenderness should ask.

The chastening stripes must cleanse them all;

But for our blunders — oh, in shame

Before the eyes of heaven we fall.

“Earth bears no balsam for mistakes;

Men crown the knave, and scourge the tool

That did his will; but Thou, O Lord,

Be merciful to me, a fool!”

The room was hushed; in silence rose

The King, and sought his gardens cool,

And walked apart, and murmured low,

“Be merciful to me, a fool!

Source: This poem is in the public domain. Edward Rowland Sill (1841-1847) was an American poet and educator. He was born in Windsor, Connecticut and graduated from Yale in 1861. There he was chosen as Class Poet. He engaged in business in California for about six years before entering Harvard Divinity School. He left his studies there to accept a position on the staff of the New York Evening Mail. Sill taught at Wadsworth and Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio from1868 until 1871, after which he became principal of Oakland High School in Oakland, California. From 1874 to 1882 Sill taught English literature at the University of California, but resigned in 1883 due to failing health and returned to Cuyahoga Falls. He devoted the rest of his life to literary work until his death in 1887. You can read more about Edward Rowland Sill at

Just a Face in the Crowd


Lamentations 3:22-33

Psalm 30 

2 Corinthians 8:7-15

Mark 5:21-43

Prayer of the Day: Almighty and merciful God, we implore you to hear the prayers of your people. Be our strong defense against all harm and danger, that we may live and grow in faith and hope, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

“Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” Mark 5:30-31.

If you are crowd averse as I am, you can perhaps understand the disciples’ reaction to Jesus’ inquiry. I have stood on many a crowded subway car shoulder to shoulder with people I have never seen before, bumping against them, feeling the heat from their bodies and covering my face to avoid droplets from their coughs and sneezes. Under these circumstances, you don’t smile, speak or even make eye contact with these strangers. You just wait for your stop and, when it finally comes, you get out of that car as fast as you can. You seldom think about or try to imagine that each person in that car has a name, a story and unique reason for travelling with you in the same direction at the same moment in time. Perhaps that is because people placed in such close proximity to so many other people feel pressed, violated and slightly claustrophobic. As a result, they become withdrawn and defensive. Or it may be that such intimate knowledge of so many individuals, each with their own triumphs, tragedies and dreams would simply crush us.

To Jesus, the woman with the ongoing vaginal discharge of blood was no anonymous face in the crowd. She had a face, she had a story and a desperate need, the depth of which not even she was aware. Her medical condition rendered her perpetually ritually “unclean.”  Leviticus 15:25-28. Accordingly, she would have been forbidden to touch anyone or anything that might come into contact with someone else, as this would render them unclean. Leviticus 15: 26-27. Obviously, she should not have been out and about in a tightly packed crowd like the one following Jesus. Furthermore, a woman’s intentionally touching the clothing of a strange man was, at best, a breach of propriety and etiquette. Small wonder, then, that she did all she could to remain unseen.

Jesus, however, will not allow this woman to slip out of his sight unacknowledged, unknown and as soulless as another body in a subway car. He knows the woman needs to know that she is known and that she has been healed of more than her medical condition. She needs to know, as does everyone present, that she is, and always has been, a precious child of God-a person Jesus addresses as “daughter.” Her touch does not render Jesus unclean, but he declares that she is and always has been clean in every respect.  

Hopefully that was not lost on the other desperate actor in this story, Jairus. Jarius, it should be noted, was a ruler of the synagogue. As such, he may have supervised worship services. Clearly, however, he held a position of honor and leadership in the Jewish community. Nineham, D.E., Saint Mark, The Pelican New Testament Commentaries (c. 1963 D.E. Nineham, pub. by Penguin Books, Ltd.) p. 157; Taylor, Vincent, The Gospel According to St. Mark, Thornapple Commentaries (c. 1966 by Vincent Taylor, pub. by Baker Book House) p. 287; Cranfield, C.E.B., The Gospel According to St. Mark, Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary (c. 1959 Cambridge University Press) p. 183. He would have been responsible for teaching and upholding religious standards in the community, including those governing ritual purity. He probably would not have approved of this woman going about in public in her condition of “uncleanness.” Perhaps his presence with Jesus was one of the reasons the woman was so fearful about being exposed.

Jesus publicly commends the woman for her faith and dismisses her with a benediction, calling her “daughter.” I wonder if these words were not also directed at Jairus, who summoned Jesus to save the life of his own daughter. The message here is obvious: “Jairus, I am about to have mercy on your little daughter. See to it that you show some compassion toward mine.” In short, I believe these stories, the raising of Jairus’ daughter and the “daughter” with the discharge of blood, are intimately related. Together, they force us to re-evaluate everything we think we know about what is “unclean,” taboo, immoral, socially unacceptable and untouchable.

When Jairus is informed that his daughter is dead, he is admonished by Jesus not to fear, but to believe. He is challenged to be confident, as was the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment, that nothing deemed unclean or untouchable by any law, custom or ritual is beyond Jesus’ cleansing touch. Jairus will need such faith. Jesus will soon take the hand of his daughter’s dead body-yet another breach of ritual purity (Numbers 19:16)-and raise her to life.

The gospels don’t tell us whether Jairus took this lesson to heart, but we should. Everyone has a story. Some have more of the trappings we associate with happiness and fulfilment. But even these seemingly happy stories can take a tragic turn-such as when your little daughter dies. Other stories are filled with heartache from beginning to end-yet somehow radiate a joy that transcends the worst of circumstances. There are stories filled with meanness, cruelty and hate, yet even these are capable of redemption. Some of their elements may yet be woven into the fabric of God’s coming reign of peace. Every story, however soiled it may seem in the telling, is holy. That is because it is not beyond the healing touch of Jesus.

Here is a poem about a life lost through neglect and indifference that seemed not to matter. The poet does not tell us how or under what circumstances the life of this young child or infant was taken. He may have been “collateral damage” from some military operation. He might have been killed in the crossfire of a dispute of which he was not even a part. He might have simply been allowed to starve in a squalid refugee camp while waiting for asylum. But his story, though forever unwritten, is still holy and to us who might have given him the gift of life, unknown and unknowable. It illustrates how every human story of which we remain ignorant impoverishes us.  

Missing Person  

You’ve never met this little one,

nor will you ever see him play

at children’s games beneath the summer sun

on this or any other day.

His drawings will remain unknown,

his songs and poems lost,

the seeds of his ideas, thoughts unsewn,

forever bound in winter’s frost.

The friends he might have had

can’t know they’ve been deprived.

They know too little to be sad,

or feel the crater in their hearts

he could have filled had he survived.

No one will catch his knowing glance,

the fire in his eyes.

No heart will ever know romance

with this young land beneath the evening skies.

All he ever was is what he might have been.

What we’ve lost we’ll never comprehend.

And that is fitting judgment for the sin

of indifference toward this child

whose life, just begun, is at an end.


Riding Out Storms


Job 38:1-11

Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32

2 Corinthians 6:1-13

Mark 4:35-41

Prayer of the Day: O God of creation, eternal majesty, you preside over land and sea, sunshine and storm. By your strength pilot us, by your power preserve us, by your wisdom instruct us, and by your hand protect us, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Mark 4:38.

The ocean is often employed as a metaphor for trials and tribulations of life. Consider, for example, the old favorite “Jesus, Savior Pilot Me.” Here on Cape Cod those terrors are frequently anything but metaphoric. This week Michael Packard, a fifty-six year old lobster diver, suffered a broken leg after having been swallowed by one of our humpback whales. Thankfully, these gentle giants, that feed principally on plankton, have no taste for human flesh. Thus, after twenty seconds in the whale’s mouth, Mr. Packard was ejected just as a cyclist might spit out a fly. He is now qualified to be enrolled along with Jonah and Geppetto as one of the few people swallowed by a whale that lived to tell about it.

With the exception of our reading from Paul’s Second Letter to the church at Corinth, the lessons for this Sunday all speak in some fashion about the sea and its terrors. In language echoing Babylonian mythology, the Book of Job speaks of God’s triumph over the sea and God’s power that “proscribed bounds for it.” Job 38:10. The psalm recounts the terror of seagoing pilgrims caught in a storm. In our Gospel we find the disciples in a similar predicament crying out to Jesus, “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” Mark 4:38. The ancient Israelites were not seafarers. They did not willingly take to the water. Only once in the Bible do we read about an Israelite taking a sea voyage. That story is recited in the Book of the aforementioned Jonah-and it did not end well.

Our love, fear and fascination with the sea is, I believe, grounded in what it tells us about ourselves. We are small, vulnerable and the universe does not care if we live or die. I experienced something of what the disciples must have been feeling one day out on Puget Sound fishing with my Dad. Dad was in most respects a cautious man. You would never find him scuba diving, hang gliding or scaling cliffs. He always admonished us kids not to take foolish risks with our lives. “A cheap thrill sometimes comes with a steep price,” he told us many times. But when it came to fishing, Dad threw caution to the wind. He would forge his way into whatever waters he had reason to believe the fish were lurking with the obsessive passion of Captain Ahab.

On this particular day the weather was calm, though the sky was dark and cloudy. We were already much further out in the water than anyone in a twelve foot aluminum boat with a five horsepower motor had any business being. Dad could see seagulls circling over a patch of water some distance out. He reasoned that the gulls were after herring that, in turn, had been driven to the surface by king salmon pursuing them. If we could get ourselves over to where the seagulls were, we stood a good chance of getting our limit. Dad was right about the fishing. It was great. In fact, we were so busy pulling fish out of the water that we failed to notice the wind picking up. Only when the waves started rocking the boat did it occur to us that we had best get ourselves back to shore.

On this particular day, Dad allowed me to run the outboard motor and steer the boat-quite a thrill for an eleven year old boy. Though his expertise was now sorely needed in the stern, there was no way we could risk changing position under these rough water conditions. So it fell to me to start the engine and steer us back to shore. I pulled the starter cord several times, but the engine would not start. It was then we realized that it was probably out of gas. While Dad took the oars and kept the bow into the waves so that we would not capsize, I struggled with the gas can and the cap on the motor. This ordinarily simple task proved nearly impossible with the boat pitching around in the waves. I am sure I lost more gas in the Sound than I managed to get into the tank. At one point I shouted out in rage, terror and frustration, “Can you just hold still for a goddam minute?” I don’t know who I thought I was talking to. But I recall how it suddenly occurred to me that the sea didn’t care. There was no malice in the waves. The Sound wasn’t “out to get us.” It was just doing what the sea does and we happened to in its way.

Obviously, Dad and I survived this adventure. I eventually got the engine going and, with Dad’s coaching, managed to maneuver the boat back to shore. We arrived home shaken and chastised, but alive and well. I couldn’t have told you where my faith was at that instant anymore than the disciples were able to answer Jesus’ question to the same effect. But in retrospect, I understand the mortal danger we were in and appreciate more fully our deliverance in which, I believe, God had a hand. I hasten to add that there was nothing here I would call miraculous, if by that one means an unexplained, unnatural and unexpected occurrence that could only be attributed to divine intervention. My father’s skill at the oars, his coaching and my following directions were clearly instrumental in getting us safely to land. While the water was rough that day, I’ve seen worse. Had the wind increased a bit more, this story might have ended tragically for us. So there was an element of “dumb luck” as well. Nevertheless, I am convinced that there was also a “God factor” in, with and under all of that to which I owe my life.

Of course, we all know that not every encounter with the sea ends as well as it did for the disciples, me and my Dad. The ocean floor is littered with boats that did not make it back to shore. One can pray for God’s deliverance from the storm and give thanks for it, but one can never presume upon it. When deliverance does occur, it needs to be seen in a larger context. No matter how dramatic and remarkable an act of deliverance may be, it amounts to nothing if the benefactor fails to recognize it for what it is. Deliverence is nothing more or less than the gift of more life, more opportunities to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God. It is this for which Noah and his family were rescued from the great flood; Israel brought through the sea to freedom from slavery in Egypt and the church called through the waters of baptism into Jesus Christ, sanctified and commissioned. Divine deliverance from the dangers of the sea is really no different than waking up in the morning. But such dramatic experiences can serve to remind us that each new day is in reality just such a miraculous deliverance. This morning you have been given the gift of another day, the day which the Lord has made for you to rejoice and be glad in it. So, then, what will you do with this day that you did not earn, do not deserve and have no right to expect another like it on the morrow?   

It is also important to recognize that deliverance from storms and other catastrophes are only temporary reprieves. One day there will come a storm you will not survive. The One who gives us our lives ultimately claims them back again. That reality should hold no terror for those who know that One as “Abba Father,” the God who numbers our hairs and has the burning desire and the determination to give far more than is taken. So in every storm, whether it be one of the many I pass through during the course of my life or the last, “In every high and stormy gale/
My anchor holds within the veil.”

Here is a poem about the terrifying power of the sea by Cleopatra Mathis, a power that puts us in our proper place of awe and thankfulness.

The Sea Chews Things Up

When I woke, the waves had gone black,
turning over the macerated
curd of the ocean bottom, heaving its sludge
onto the beach. Some storm far out, I thought,
had ravaged the sea, stirred up its bed,
sent the whole mess flying to shore.
At my feet I found a grave of starfish,
broken and gnarled among the fleshy
snipes and heads. Every shade of death
covered the sand. It looked hopeless
in the pale day but for the birds,
a congress of gulls, terns, and the rarest plovers,
calm for once, satiated, a measure of
the one law: this sea will claim it all—
feed them, catch them, grind their complicated bones.

Cleopatra Mathis (b.1947) was born in Ruston, Louisiana. Her father left when she was just six years old and she was raised by her Greek mother’s family. Her grandmother ran the family café. Mathis received her bachelor’s degree from Southwest Texas State University in 1970 and spent seven years teaching public high school. It was during this period that Mathis became interested in poetry. She went back to school to earn her M.F.A. from Columbia University and graduated in 1978. Since 1982 Mathis has been the Frederick Sessions Beebe Professor in the English department at Dartmouth College where she is also director of the Creative Writing Program. In addition, she is a faculty member at The Frost Place Poetry Seminar. You can read more about Cleopatra Mathis and sample more of her poetry at the Poetry Foundation website.

Of Pitch Pines and Mustard Seeds


Ezekiel 17:22-24

Psalm 92:1-4, 12-15

2 Corinthians 5:6-17

Mark 4:26-34

Prayer of the Day: O God, you are the tree of life, offering shelter to all the world. Graft us into yourself and nurture our growth, that we may bear your truth and love to those in need, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

 “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.” Mark 4:26-29

“With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” Mark 4:30-32.  

The most common tree on the Outer Cape region of Cape Cod is pitch pine. It isn’t the most beautiful or majestic evergreen, but I must confess that it has grown on me just as it has on the rest of the Cape. This scrappy, scraggly tree is perfectly adapted to our acidic, well-drained and sandy soil. The National Seashore that occupies most of the Outer Cape is dominated by forests of pitch pines, floored with a cushiony layer of needles and covered with scrub oak, beach plumb and hardy species of undergrowth that I can’t begin to name. It wasn’t always that way. The Cape was once dominated by dense cedars that blocked out the sunlight, leaving little opportunity for the smaller deciduous trees and shrubs to gain a foothold. You can still find a few patches of woods like these that have managed somehow to resist the pitch pine invasion. The forest around the Cedar Swamp Trail in the National Seashore at Marconi Beach is one such example.

The pitch pine was imported by European settlers. It’s pitch was used to make tar and turpentine as well as charcoal. The wood from these trees was used for firing steam engines and for brickyards. Once introduced on the Cape, pitch pines gradually began to dominate the landscape. Eventually, what was once a mixture of cedar forest and scrub land transitioned into pine forest. Ecologically, the Outer Cape is a place entirely different from the one on which the Pilgrims landed in 1620.

All of this brings me to Jesus’ two parables. The first is unremarkable. It reflects a reality of which every farmer and gardener is aware. You can prep the soil, plant the seeds at just the right depth and properly spaced. You can weed and water. But the growth is a matter beyond your control. Drought, blight, insect pests, flooding or hail can frustrate your best laid plans for a bountiful harvest. So it is with the reign of God. Disciples can seed the kingdom of God, but only God can bring it to fruition in God’s own way and in God’s own time.

By contrast, the parable of the mustard seed speaks not about the ordered practice of agriculture, but about the chaotic infestation of weeds. Though the mustard plant has always had its culinary uses, nobody in First Century Palestine would have planted it deliberately on any precious plot of arable soil. Like the pitch pine, the mustard bush is bent on dominating the field. It will transform your vegetable garden into a bird sanctuary.

Can we speak of the Kingdom of God as an invasive species? Is it like a non-native plant that sets down its roots, grows, spreads and finally transforms its environment? The analogy is a little discomforting, given that the pitch pine’s introduction to Cape Cod is tied up with the history of colonialism. I have no doubt Jesus’ comparison of God’s approaching reign with an infestation of weeds raised more than a few eyebrows as well. But maybe that is the point. The progressive Protestantism, in which I was raised, has always viewed the Kingdom of God as the endpoint of human development. From the darkness of barbarism, the light of Christ raises church and society up to a greater level of enlightenment. The realm of government, family and work are the arena for transformation of human existence along the arc of justice toward which the universe bends. The garden is, after all, a work in process. But what if God is not interested in the progress of the garden we envision? What if God has something entirely different in mind? What if the order, structure and patterns of regularity we reflexively defend are not the foundation for a fruitful harvest, but the servants of systemic oppression? What if revolution, not evolution is God’s intent?

In addressing these questions, a few things need to said. First, the reign of God is not to be identified with the church. It is the church’s mission to proclaim the reign of God, to bear witness in word and deed to that reign and, to the extent humanly possible, to embody that reign in its communal life. But the church is part and parcel of the current global environment and as much in need of transformation as the rest of it. If we forget that, we run the risk of equating ecclesiastical growth, programmatic success and societal influence with the transformative work of the Holy Spirit. It isn’t about us and what we are doing. It is about what God in Christ is doing. As theologian and preacher Karl Barth put it, the church is the crater left by Jesus’ death and resurrection. If we are not pointing to Jesus and the reign of God he proclaims, we are just an empty hole in the ground.

Second, just as we dare not equate the church and its programs with God’s reign, so too we cannot confuse our own views of what constitutes progress in the direction of God’s reign with what God actually wills. We have seen for the last few decades the corrupting effect of alliances between religion and political agendas. We know all too well the tragic consequences of the church and its representatives seizing the levers of power to make history come out right and so hasten the coming of God’s reign. Jesus rejected the use of imperial force to bring about God’s reign and so should his disciples. This is so because, as Jesus points out, we know neither day nor the hour of the kingdom’s revealing. Nor can we begin to guess the means God is using to bring it about. I don’t suggest for one moment that the church or disciples of Jesus individually are to be politically neutral (as though such a thing were even possible!). In politics, as in everything else, disciples of Jesus are called upon to love their neighbors, especially those deemed “least” in the human family. I think I have some understanding of what that should look like and the actions I need to take in order to bring it about. But I don’t have the advantage of seeing the universe from God’s long range perspective with which my own well meaning efforts might not be in concert and might even be opposed. Thus, I can never blithely assume that “I am on the Lord’s side.” I can only pray that the Lord is on mine and that through my faithful work, God is working a change in my cultural environment.

So what kind of environmental changes would I hope to see the nearness of God’s reign bring about? I would like to see an environment where racial slurs-even the dog whistle kind-no longer find a place in public discourse. I would like to see an environment where all lives really do matter so that people of color no longer have to work so hard convincing the rest of us that theirs do. I would like to see an environment where political candidates who make their case with reasoned arguments and without resorting to falsehoods, insults and wise cracks are rewarded with electoral victories. This is hardly utopian and far short of the glory of God’s kingdom to which the scriptures testify. But it would be a better environment than we now have. It would be a better environment in which to live, work and raise our families. And if enough of us feel the impact of God’s approaching reign, if enough of us can be convinced that the way things are is not the way they have to be, if enough of us start believing that there is a better way to be human, who knows? We might wake up one day to find the ecological landscape changed.

Here is a poem by Bin Remke illustrating how linguistic, cultural and family influences shape us and transform us along with our communities. Can you see the Holy Spirit at work in these media striving to plant the seeds of a better environment in which to be human?  

The Melting Pot

“Who are you to tell us how to live or why,
et cetera?”   No Man, of course, and not so tall   
as is the current fashion, nor smart enough
in the acceptable modern way, to enthrall

the crowd with stories of my life among
the savages where I was home and growing
baffled day by day, raging through the night
as if it were new music I made, groaing.

It came to me today at lunch, the sound
of women in the next booth, a voice like
Aunt Odile’s—whom I never knew well
nor did I like her, but not her spite

but her voice like home-grown fame, a touch
gravelly, a considerable groan itself, it seemed.
They spoke outmoded French around me, never
to me, except to taunt, I thought.   She leaned

above me, on those visits, speaking to Mother
in their private French, laughing.   A boy
surrounded by the sound of foreign tongues
knowing what wasn’t meant for him:   toy

temptations, suggestive coils of syllables.
I learned Latin, for Mass, and did love
its terrific laddered randomness:   
The Blessed hovering Virgin above

every station of a boy’s new path, hormonal
disharmonies, her praises sung into hundreds
the first Tuesday of every month: and yet
Latin could not expose such shreds

of glittering flesh as I found in French,
not like the living tongue whose tip twined
into an Uncle’s mustache as he leered
at the wrong Aunt and winked and a fine

distance crystallized loud there, then
gone. Crashing like German. Father’s family
spoke clear English among the bayous, boys
and girls of immigrants accentless happily

German through two wars, not counting
Civil.   I had the tongue for arithmetic
and spoke it beautifully.   I loved to count:   
precision’s a tempting career, clicking

into a future like an abacus ignoring
all those accents around.
I never learned the luck of any
but English, bland and bound.

But only yesterday I heard a word
the mechanic said in Czech
to his cousin—shop rag—clearly centered
in a welter of incomprehension, the wreck

of my car at their wretched mercies:   shop
rag.   And he wiped his hands and cried   
for me, shrugging like a cousin would.
I wrote a check. I drove home, or tried.

So does it count?   Am I a man of passion or
child of comprehension?   “Father of little lusts
driving myself home who thinks:   Buy some
sentiment, a little like love and she must

speak French this time. She longs
for you, you know; it isn’t just the money.
America loves you for yourself alone”
and so I go for professional help, honey-

blond hair and a disposition like
a happy banker, whose French for dear
sounds like dog; the cost of living
is going up, loving her here.

Source: Massacre of Innocents, (c. 1995 by Bin Ramke; pub. by University of Iowa Press). Bin Remke (b. 1947) was born in Port Neches, Texas. He began writing poetry while an undergraduate at Louisiana State University from which he graduated. He earned his master’s degree from University of New Orleans and his Ph.D from Ohio University. Remke taught at Columbus College in Georgia for several years and he edited the University’s Press’s Contemporary Poetry Series. He currently teaches at the University of Denver. You can read more about Bin Remke and sample more of his poetry at the Poetry Foundation website.