Monthly Archives: May 2023

An Open Letter to Amanda Gorman

Dear Ms. Gorman:

I read about how you felt “gutted” upon learning that a Florida school banned your poem, The Hill We Climb, for use in elementary school teaching and removed it from the elementary section of the school library. While I can understand your reaction, I think you should be pleased. My junior collage professor of Latin verse once told us that “poetry is by nature subversive and invites repression in countries throughout the world, but not the United States. In this country, the government does not censor poetry-because it knows Americans never read it.” You managed to do what my professor thought impossible, namely, get Americans interested in poetry, so much so that for the first time they are trying to ban it! Kudos on that score.

You should be encouraged by that Florida school’s ban. After all, poetry that is harmless is bland and boring. A poem that does not touch a nerve, unsettle the mind, challenge the status quo and make us a tad uncomfortable is like diet Coke. It’s just not the “real thing.” Your poem paints a bold and truthful portrait of what is, yet challenges us to dream of what might be. Naturally, that is upsetting to those of us who like things the way they are or who long for a return to some bygone era when America was “great” (as though that were even possible!). For those of us convinced that any sort of change amounts to our loss and that there is nothing for us at the crest of the hill, poems like yours strike a note of fear and anger. Sometimes, though, you have to open a wound in order to clean it and make healing possible. The ire evoked by your poem in that Florida school illustrates that it is doing exactly what a poem should.

Finally, nothing promotes a work of literature quite as effectively as a ban. You can be sure that, as soon as elementary school children learn that your books are forbidden, they will flock to them like flies to honey. Bans on literature do not work. They never have. Every society that has ever tried to ban literature has been on the losing side of history. Florida’s efforts to ban literature, censor teachers and stifle discussion of uncomfortable topics demonstrate that it has already lost the battle. Such futile measures make painfully clear that the champions of censorship know their ideologies, prejudices and worn out beliefs cannot withstand reasoned discussion and debate. Censorship is the last desperate, panicked attempt of a stagnant and dying society to save its collapsing order from the hurricane of revolutionary change. It will fail today as it always has in the past.

So, be comforted. Time is on your side. The future belongs to you. Your poem will be recited long after Ron DeSantis has been relegated to the dustbin of discarded demagogues like George Wallace, Lester Maddox and Strom Thurman. Truth, beauty and goodness cannot be banned.

Beware the Wind and the Waters!

As I have been strapped for time this week, I have not been able to put together a post for Pentecost Sunday. I am therefore re-blogging my Post from Pentecost Sunday, May 25, 2020. Hopefully, it still speaks an important word for the present day.

Peter's Outer Cape Portico


Numbers 11:24-30
Psalm 104:24-34
Acts 2:1-21 or 1 Corinthians 12:3b
John 20:19-23 or John 7:37-39

Prayer of the Day: O God, on this day you open the hearts of your faithful people by sending into us you, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for Holy Spirit. Direct us by the light of that Spirit, that we may have a right judgment in all things and rejoice at all times in your peace, through Jesus Christ, your Son and our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

“…[Jesus] breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit…’” John 20:22.

“[Jesus said] ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers…

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Patience as Divine Power


Acts 1:1-11

Psalm 47

Ephesians 1:15-23

Luke 24:44-53

Prayer of the Day: Almighty God, your blessed Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things. Mercifully give us faith to trust that, as he promised, he abides with us on earth to the end of time, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

“While [Jesus] was blessing [the disciples], he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven.” Luke 24:51.

“On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.” Second Article, Nicene Creed

The one singular event that influenced my thinking on this week’s texts and the Feast of the Ascension is the coronation of King Charles the Third. It is impossible to watch a ritual of such opulence and splendor without being impressed. It calls to mind the words of this Sunday’s psalm acclaiming God as king of all the earth.

God has gone up with a shout,
   the Lord with the sound of a trumpet.
Sing praises to God, sing praises;
   sing praises to our King, sing praises.
For God is the king of all the earth;
   sing praises with a psalm.

God is king over the nations;
   God sits on his holy throne.
The princes of the peoples gather
   as the people of the God of Abraham.
For the shields of the earth belong to God;
   he is highly exalted.

In all likelihood, this psalm was adapted from a Canaanite coronation ceremony, though echoes of its refrains can be seen in the coronation traditions of Israel as well. II Samuel 15:10; II Kings 9:13; and II Kings 11:12. See The Psalms, Arthur Weiser (c. 1962 S.C.M. Press, Ltd.) p. 375. In its final form, however, the psalm is clearly focused on the reign of God over all the earth. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” Psalm 24:1. The nations, including Israel, are but a “drop in the bucket.” Isaiah 40:15. All other claims of sovereignty are, at most, contingent. Consequently, the crowning of a British monarch is but a pale reflection of the worship of the One who needs no coronation.

No doubt the makers of the lectionary intended to juxtapose this psalm of praise with Jesus’ ascension. Throughout the centuries, this critical part of the gospel narrative has been portrayed artistically in terms of a glorious apotheosis. The above icon is an example of such art. There is nothing wrong in these portrayals, though they are sometimes subject to misinterpretation. One example is the now rightly disfavored, but once prominent tradition of extinguishing the Easter pascal candle on Ascension Sunday. Whatever else this practice might have intended to convey, it strongly suggests that the Ascension is Jesus’ departure to some distant place, only to return at some time in the indefinite future. Nothing could be further from the truth. The “right hand of God,” which is biblical shorthand for the agency of God in creation, is not located somewhere “beyond the blue.” To the contrary, the right hand of God is everywhere God is active which is, well, everywhere. Thus, Jesus is not leaving his disciples or the world he came to save. Rather, he is now more intensely present than ever before. As the hymn says:

      Christ is alive!     

No longer bound

to distant years in Palestine,

but saving, healing, here and now,

and touching ev’ry place and time.

“Christ is Alive,” by Brian A. Wren, Evangelical Lutheran Worship, (c. 2006 by Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; pub. by Augsburg Fortress) Hymn #389.

One of my seminary professors, Gerhard Forde by name, used to say that Jesus is God’s “isser.” That is to say, Jesus is God’s way of being present to creation. It is critical to understand in this connection that Jesus is not God. Rather, God is Jesus. The distinction is important because if we begin with the assertion that Jesus is God, we end up trying to understand Jesus by infusing him with all the attributes we think we know to be God’s. I believe that the great Christological debates throughout history have been complicated by this confusion, resulting in endless efforts to reconcile the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God with the Jesus who got tired and crabby, hungry and thirsty, bled and died. But as John the Evangelist reminds us, “No one has ever seen God.”  John 1:18. We know nothing about God beyond what God reveals to us. When an exasperated Philip said to Jesus, “Show us the Father and we shall be satisfied,” Jesus replied “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” John 14:8-9. Jesus is all the God there is.

Because Jesus is at the right hand of God, is the right hand of God, we know how God exercises God’s reign over creation. God rules the world through limitless love, unconditional forgiveness and eternal patience. This is not the god who appeals to our appetite for measurable progress, demonstrable results or easy solutions. Love will not stop bad things from happening to good people, prevent school shootings or end wars of aggression. It will, however, outlast them. I Corinthians 13:13. God’s might is God’s patience.

Most of the world would prefer a god who “fixes things,” solves problems, answers prayers for wealth, success and personal happiness. “Give us burly gods to pummel the world and us,” says the poet. The god professed by the late Tim Lahaye, a god who will simply rapture us out of our problems, violently destroy those we deem wicked and usher in a heavenly existence appeals to people who are angry, frightened, feeling helpless and who lack the conceptual tools for figuring out why.  So, too, the appeal of Hitlers, Mussolinis and Trumps who spew hatred against our perceived enemies and promise a better world built over their corpses. Human leaders of this kind have been too common throughout history. Thankfully, there is no god in their image.

If I were to portray graphically the miracle of the Ascension, I think I would show the resurrected Christ disintegrating into a billion particles that, in turn, infuse every molecule and every subatomic particle in the universe. For better or worse, however, graphic artistic expression is not my gift. I can imagine well enough. Draw or paint, not so much. Suffice to say, faith believes, even in the face of mass shootings, the threat of nuclear war and the continuing rise of white supremacy, that the Triune love poured out into the world through the faithful life, obedient death and glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ holds the universe together against all the powers of evil that would rip it apart.

Here is a poem by Father Daniel Berrigan with an expression of such faith and the difficulty of hanging onto it.



          why illness

an odious plague dispersed

settles again after deep knives made

of the loved face a tragic mask.


          why after one

tentative promise

raised like a green denial of death,

life resumes

its old mortician method after all.


        why men break

in the kiln, on the wheel; men made of the sun,

men sprung from the world’s cry; the only men,

literal bread and wine, the crucial ones

poured out, wasted among dogs. Wonder,

And the lees of men, the stale men, there

in the fair vessels, a mock feast;

take it or leave-nothing else in the house.


          at omnipresence of grey minds,

the shade of that made

O years ago, ash of the rowdy world.


          at incapacity of love;

a stern pagan ethic, set against Christ at the door

(the discomfiting beggar, the undemanding poor).


          woman and man, son and father

priest and sacrifice-to all right reason

one web of the world, one delicate

membrane of life. Ruptured.


Transcendent God does nothing.

The Child plays

among the stocs and stones

A country almanac

moon phase, sun phase


records and elements, grey dawn and red;

He sleeps and stands again,

moony, at loss, a beginner in the world.

History makes much of little, bet He

of clay and Caesars, nothing.

There is no god in Him. Give us burly gods

to pummel the world and us, to shake its tree

quail and manna at morning!

Wonder, wonder,

                           across his eyes

the cancerous pass unhealed, evil

takes heat monstrously. What use

the tarrying savior, the gentle breath of time

that in beggars is continuous and unruly,

that in dumb minds comes and chimes and goes

that in veins and caves of earth

sleeps like a tranced corpse, the abandoned body

of violated hope?


given such a God, how resolve the poem?

Source: Selected & New Poems, (c. 1973 by Daniel Berrigan, pub. by Doubleday & Company, Inc.) pp. 133-134. Daniel Berrigan was born May 9, 1921, in Virginia, Minnesota. He entered the Jesuit novitiate at St. Andrew-on-the-Hudson, New York in August 1939 and graduated in 1946. Thereafter, he entered the Jesuit’s Woodstock College in Baltimore graduating in 1952. He was ordained the same year and appointed professor of New Testament studies at Le Moyne College in Syracuse in 1957. Berrigan is remembered by most people for his anti-war activities during the Vietnam era. He spent two years in prison for destroying draft records, damaging nuclear warheads and leading other acts of civil disobedience. He also joined with other prominent religious figures like Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to found Clergy and Laity Against the War in Vietnam. In February of 1968 he traveled to North Vietnam and returned with three American prisoners of war he convinced the North Vietnamese to release. Berrigan died on April 30, 2016 of natural causes at a Jesuit health care facility in the Bronx. He was 94 years old.

Cosmic Christ and the Confessions of a Former Evangelical Christian


Acts 7:55-60

Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16

1 Peter 2:2-10

John 14:1-14

Prayer of the Day: Almighty God, your Son Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. Give us grace to love one another, to follow in the way of his commandments, and to share his risen life with all the world, for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6.

          That verse has followed me throughout my whole life. It has shaped the trajectory of my thinking in numerous ways at different stages of my development. I have known the verse from early childhood and probably had to memorize it in Sunday school. It was a staple in Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod teaching, the church in which I was raised. The emphasis back then was on the second sentence: “No one comes to the Father except by me.” The way, the truth and the life consisted in understanding and believing the correct doctrine concerning Jesus Christ. Thus, purity of doctrine was essential. Though our pastors and teachers grudgingly admitted that other protestant traditions and perhaps even a few confused Roman Catholics might hold elements of the gospel sufficient to constitute saving faith, the only way to be absolutely sure of your salvation was to hold fast to the doctrine professed in our Lutheran Confessions, the essential bones of which were spelled out in Luther’s Small Catechism. In my mother’s day, memorization of the entire Catechism was a prerequisite for confirmation. Thankfully, by the time I was confirmed, memorization of the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostle’s Creed and several key Bible verses sufficed.

          In my freshman year of high school, I had my first encounter with “evangelicalism.”[1] I met a group of kids loosely associated with a 1970s movement then called “The Jesus People.” They had a very different take on the captioned Bible verse. Their emphasis was on the first sentence: “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Jesus, they believed, did not simply teach or embody abstractly the good news of the gospel. Jesus was the good news. Salvation was not about believing the right doctrine, but rather trusting the right person. Faith was relational. Thus, the issue was not “what do you believe?” but “who do you trust?” The critical question was, “have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior?”

          This new community had much to commend it. It seemed to offer everything I did not know I was looking for in my own church-a living faith and a group of people seriously trying to follow Jesus in the carnivorous world of high school. This group was made up of believers from several different churches. We met each morning before school began in one of the class rooms for a prayer meeting led by Father Joe. Father Joe was a priest from our local Roman Catholic parish who had received “the baptism of the Holy Spirit,” an experience of renewal accompanied by speaking in tongues. In these meetings we bared our souls, offering up prayers for help in our own trials, for one another and for our unbelieving fellow students. Witnessing to our faith was a large part of what we did. Our lockers had bumper stickers reflecting bible verses or just the name “Jesus.” When these were defaced, we simply replaced them, prayed for the vandals and “rejoiced that we were found worthy to suffer for the name.” If our witnessing was intended to win converts, it was not particularly effective. But it led to many lively conversations in locker rooms, tables in the cafeteria and the hallways about faith and the things that matter.

          Ironically, the same Jesus that drew me into the evangelical movement led me out of it. That journey began at my encounter with Rev. James Cone, who preached at an assembly held by my junior college. He spoke eloquently about Jesus’ solidarity with the oppressed and discipleship that calls his church to do the same. It would be decades later that I finally read his classic book, A Black Theology of Liberation, but his powerful witness was enough to turn my thinking in a new direction. No longer could I view Jesus as “my personal Lord and Savior.” He is, as John’s gospel makes clear to us, “the savior of the world.” I now understood that discipleship was not about rescuing as many souls as possible from a sinking ship. Discipleship is joining with Jesus in saving the ship.

          I should also add that, just as I was changing my perspectives, evangelicalism was evolving in a new direction. The evangelicals I found myself associating with in college seemed to lack the freshness of newfound faith that drew me to my high school group. They seemed less interested in Jesus than in ending abortion and bringing prayer back into the public schools. They were critical and fearful of the outside world. Indeed, they viewed the school (a Christian one!) and its student body and professors as mostly hostile. Theirs was very much an “us against them” mentality. Bible study, rather than a means for deepening faith in Jesus, focused instead on the approach of the “end times,” the coming “rapture,” “demon possession” and signs of the antichrist in every headline. Perhaps this dark side of evangelicalism was always there and I just did not notice it earlier on. But in any case, it did not square with following the “way, the truth and the life” of the Jesus I had come to know as savior of the world and the God who hates nothing God has made. By the end of my junior year in college, I was done with Intervarsity, Campus Crusade and the small group of prayer partners in in my dormitory.

           I cannot possibly catalogue all the friends I have made, teachers I have had and books I have read that have and continue to influence my faith journey. But more than anyone else, Paul Sponheim, Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology at Luther Seminary, shaped my thinking about Jesus as the cosmic Christ, as the incarnation of God’s creative and redemptive love. Jesus is God putting God’s skin in the game we know as human existence. As such, the life he lived and the death he died and his resurrection to which the scriptures testify matter-and not just for those of us who believe in him. If Jesus is who the scriptures say he is, the eternal Word which both is with and is God (John 1:1); the one through whom God created the world (Hebrews 1:2); the one in whom all things hold together (Colossians 1:17); then the salvation he brings is universally applicable, politically oriented toward justice for the oppressed, socially oriented toward reconciliation and ecologically restorative.

In view of all this, it should not surprise us, indeed, we ought to expect that we will find the work and wisdom of this Word through which the Spirit of God is released into the world among people of different faiths and those of no faith at all. Again, if Jesus is who we say he is, how could it be otherwise? Thus, to say that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life through which all come to the Father is not, as so many assume, an exclusion of those whose doctrine is not quite right or who have not explicitly “accepted Jesus as personal Lord and Savior.”  As Jesus himself testified, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold.” John 10:16. It is for Jesus and his lifegiving Spirit to form all of humanity into a single flock. We, for our part, have no idea how that will happen or what it will look like in the end. Ours is simply to bear witness in word and deed to Jesus and live as best we can into the just and gentle reign he proclaims.

          Though I classified myself as a former evangelical in the title of this post, that is not entirely accurate. I am still evangelical in all the ways that I believe are important. I still believe that faith is relational and that, as important as doctrine may be (and I do believe that it is important), it exists to serve, guide and nurture our faith in Jesus Christ. I still believe that theology, whatever brand it might be, is not worth the trees sacrificed to print it if it does not have as its end forming the mind of Christ in communities of faith. I still believe that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life and that all who trust him can be assured of abundant and eternal life. But because Jesus is at the right hand of God, the life he promises is bigger than my own personal needs, bigger than the church and bigger than anything our Creeds and confessions can contain. One thing I have learned is that, whenever you think you have Jesus all figured out, you discover you don’t.

Here is a rendering of the well known Prayer of St. Patrick that I believe captures what it means to be a disciple of the Cosmic Christ.

The Prayer of St. Patrick

I arise today

Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,

Through belief in the Threeness,

Through confession of the Oneness

of the Creator of creation.

I arise today

Through the strength of Christ’s birth with His baptism,

Through the strength of His crucifixion with His burial,

Through the strength of His resurrection with His ascension,

Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.

I arise today

Through the strength of the love of cherubim,

In the obedience of angels,

In the service of archangels,

In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,

In the prayers of patriarchs,

In the predictions of prophets,

In the preaching of apostles,

In the faith of confessors,

In the innocence of holy virgins,

In the deeds of righteous men.

I arise today, through

The strength of heaven,

The light of the sun,

The radiance of the moon,

The splendor of fire,

The speed of lightning,

The swiftness of wind,

The depth of the sea,

The stability of the earth,

The firmness of rock.

I arise today, through

God’s strength to pilot me,

God’s might to uphold me,

God’s wisdom to guide me,

God’s eye to look before me,

God’s ear to hear me,

God’s word to speak for me,

God’s hand to guard me,

God’s shield to protect me,

God’s host to save me

From snares of devils,

From the temptation of vices,

From everyone who shall wish me ill,

afar and near.

I summon today

All these powers between me and those evils,

Against every cruel and merciless power

that may oppose my body and soul,

Against incantations of false prophets,

Against black laws of pagandom,

Against false laws of heretics,

Against craft of idolatry,

Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,

Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul;

Christ to shield me today

Against poison, against burning,

Against drowning, against wounding,

So that there may come to me an abundance of reward.

Christ with me,

Christ before me,

Christ behind me,

Christ in me,

Christ beneath me,

Christ above me,

Christ on my right,

Christ on my left,

Christ when I lie down,

Christ when I sit down,

Christ when I arise,

Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,

Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,

Christ in every eye that sees me,

Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today

Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,

Through belief in the Threeness,

Through confession of the Oneness

of the Creator of creation.

Source: Though attributed to the legendary Irish Saint Patrick, no one knows the precise origin of this beautiful expression of faith which appears in many abbreviated forms and has inspired numerous hymns, including “I Bind unto Myself Today,” by Cecil Frances Alexander in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, (c. 2006 by Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; pub. by Augsburg Fortress Press) Hymn # 450.  

[1] I will not attempt a comprehensive definition of the term “evangelical” as it applies to a distinct Christian tradition. As with all movements of any sort, there is a great deal of diversity among evangelicals as well as some dispute over who belongs there and who does not. Moreover, many of us “mainliners” also lay claim to that term with our own take on what it signifies. From my own experience, it seems that one common denominator is the belief that a genuine Christian is one who has made a conscious decision to accept Jesus Christ as savior.