Sunday, May 31, 2009

From an Upper Room

Sitting on a street bench, acting homeless
Thinking 'bout the women I never knew
Trying hard to pray, my prayers thoughtless
How can anybody pray without you?

Life is getting tighter, people sounding
Bored and boring; my spirit's in the lurch
Everywhere the careless sins are mounding
All I want to know, friends, is where's the church?

Someone's gonna help me, someone broken
Free me from the bond of the upper room
Getting to my head the word soft-spoken
Shattering this heart of untimely gloom.

I'm going to the land of power and glory,
Bidding John the Baptist a short goodbye,
Going to retell a living story --
If I only had the guts just to die!

Outside on the town the trees are blowing
Unexpected rain, it comes softly down
Some can know which way the winds are going
Others only feel the force and the sound.

Stranded on a one-way track to nowhere
Giving all I've gotten or none at all
I make believe I'm home and never go there
Practice how to stumble but not to fall.

Sitting on a sidewalk sideshow corner
Thinking that the future day nearly looms
Gonna pray for her but never mourn her
Nothing left to see in the upper room.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Risin' Blues

The lovers of God were all wondering when
They would see Jesus in glory again
And Jesus rolled his eyes and said "Foolish young men!
You'll never know, but it's all right -- you'll have my Spirit."

And moving on up to the clouds of the sky
Jesus was taken and it caused them to cry
But two outlaws came and told them "You're looking too high.
Your Jesus went a-ramblin'. Don't fear it."

Dreaming all the time, I'm searching for the clues
My body it's hungry, my soul's a purple bruise
I live in the house of the rising blues.

A man from two worlds in a house painted white
Kisses his wife and daughters good-night
Then picks up a Bible and the Bill of Rights
And sighing prays to God or to Lincoln

While under his feet a legion of pigs
Roots in his garden and orchard of figs
And a creep calls to the window "Death to the Whigs!"
And he wonders what the neighbors must be thinkin'

Every single hour there is nothin' but news
Our circuits are loaded, we're gonna blow a fuse
Livin' in the house of the rising blues.

The architects of the invincible zoo
Built camels by committee and elephants, too
Led the creatures to the gate but could not get them through
Now they sit and curse and wish they'd studied magic

Alexander the Great sat down next to a bum
The bum looked at him and asked "Why have you come?"
And Alex said "I need your prayers, now give me some!"
The bum replied "Well, isn't that tragic."

People workin' hard, people pay their dues
People wanna live, but they don't know what's the use
Livin' in the house of the rising blues.

Jesse James went to the chapel and left with a wife
He loved her more than money and more than his life
Then one day a banker pulls on Jesse a knife
And says to him "Your woman has unmanned you!"

Jesse gathers his horses and men for to steal
Stopping him, his weeping wife says "Think how I feel!"
But Jesse says "You cannot help the way I deal.
Try to be happy bein' unhappy, can't you?"

Walls are closin' in, I'm drunk without the booze
I need some kiss to wake me, but I don't know whose
I live in the house of the rising blues.

The deaf, dumb and blind men didn't want to be healed
Snubbed doctors and pastors, the best in their field
Said "The wages of sin can never be repealed"
And shuffled with the prophets to the temple

I walked with the homeless to the twentieth mile
Kids were turning cartwheels and backflips in the aisle
Camera crews and cheerleaders were tellin' us to smile
Oh, I wish that it were only that simple

My last friend gave me some brown walkin' shoes
You're given your friends, you really can't choose
Livin' in the house of the rising blues.

The dark horse rides a quiet carousel
The puddles are pooling and the fairgrounds smell
They say heaven is three days away from hell
But who knows if anyone has been to either

I live with a girl who once brightened my day
She's tall as an angel and light in her way
She says she's my friend and my friend she will stay
There's nothing left to do now but to leave her

Some of them lovers go in threes and twos
Some stay alone and hope the others lose
I live in the house of the rising blues.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Psalm 143

God who hears, hear me!
There is no one else who can listen.
There is no one who can be trusted to listen.
Speak to me because you know,
You make right, you are loyal and true.
What I ask you to do I could never ask another.
I could die to be made right, but I want to stand and live before you.

Some devil has snared me.
The demons have beaten me and brought me down to the ground,
And even below the ground, deeply dead,
Where in the darkness nobody knows me, and nobody ever did.
My spirit sits still, vanishing into a vacuum,
And my heart is a burned-out star.

It didn't used to be this way.
I know what you have done for me,
Recall so many things that worked out wonderfully.
So I reach out to you, dry inside, so dry.
God, I want to drink like the desert drinks the rain!

Now, speak to me now, God!
This spirit cannot survive on its own.
Show yourself, show me or know I will fall and never rise.
Like a lover wake me with your gentlest kiss,
And ever will I lay down with you.
Set me on my way;
For you I rise and watch and pray.

God, free me from my foe!
I have nowhere else to go.
Your will I want to know,
You are the one, my need.
You bless, you breathe, you lead,
You guide me to the mead.

God, you are God. Give me your life.
You will make right this soul gone wrong.
You are the love of loves.
Destroy these demons.
Destroy this death.
For I am yours.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way

One year ago I graduated from Boston University School of Theology with a Master of Divinity degree. This was my valedictory address, prepared for the convocation and hooding ceremony. Given at Marsh Chapel, Sunday, May 18, 2008.


I would like to share with you a poetic meditation based on the Gospel according to John, chapter 14, verses 25 to 31. Before he was arrested, imprisoned, tortured, and executed, Jesus shared one last meal with his friends. Jesus knew this could be the last time he would be physically present with his disciples. And yet during this meal he promised them that they would never be left alone, for God’s presence would remain with them always. Jesus promises his friends that God will send them the Holy Spirit. Jesus also leaves them his peace and bids them to have courage, for he has already overcome the worldly powers opposed to God. And then in verse 31 he says, “Rise, let us be on our way.”

Rise, let us be on our way.

We are a people on the move. We were made to be sent.
For this we have been taught. For this we have received the Spirit.

Now sense the Spirit ringing your mind with light and coursing your heart with warmth. Feel the Spirit harden your hands for the work to be done.

Rise, let us be on our way.

I am going away, and you are going away. The place you are going to is not here. This place is not your home. It is your time to go. It is your place to go. The world can little afford the absence of your presence.

Now break out of bare ruined choirs and locked upper rooms where you sit with closed hearts and closed minds behind closed doors, and break into life and confound this bounded world. Bear God, bear soul, bear peace. Bring the sanctuary into the street.

Encounter and transform; be encountered and be transformed.
May our love for God humanize us. May the love of God sanctify us.

Rise, let us be on our way.

Do not say you do not know where we are going.
We are going; heaven knows where we are going,
but we’ll know we’re there.
And we’ll get there; heaven knows how we will get there,
but we know we will.
We will. I may not get there with you, but we as a people will get there. We’ll know we’re there. Some call it the Promised Land. Some call it the beloved community. Some call it the reign of God. Do not say you do not know where we are going. Lift up your eyes to the hills and behold the presence of the mountains.

Be well and be at peace, for God is with you.
Do not fear, and do not cower. Who has power over you?
Jesus says, “You have power with God.
So walk with me. Walk with me. You want me to walk with you.
Will you walk with me? Do not say a word, be the word; let there be less talking and more walking.”

Rise, let us be on our way, and we will dare as the world watches us make a place out of no place and turn over every sinful certainty. We will see the circle widen. We will have no small God. We will have a beautiful Jesus. We will have a Spirit that witnesses with our spirit but blows wherever it wills. We will reach out to our cultured despisers who scoff at the Spirit and show them that we are delighted by diversity, unbothered by relativity, and intoxicated by glory. We will risk our life with passion.

Rise, let us be on our way past threats of death, past the idolatries of ideologies, beyond the godless fundamentalisms of the believer and the unbeliever. We will stop telling and selling violent stories that cannot save.

Be on your way, you loyal rebels. Disobey the command to go to war, the command to protect your privilege, the command to shun the stranger, the command to be afraid. Disobey the world so that the world may know how much you love God, who loves the world more than we can ever know. Disobey so that you remain in the world but not of the world, but disobey because you are always for the world. Disobey the world because you obey the Spirit of life, the God of love. Disobey the world because you are the world’s greatest lovers.

Will you love with me? Will you rejoice with me? Will you go with me?

Rise, let us be on our way.

It will be hard, I know, and the road will be muddy and rough.
It leads to heartbreak, it leads to hunger, it leads to rags and spare change on surly streets, it leads to burning sun and freezing moon, it leads to prison, it leads to the hospital, it leads to the gates of delirium, it leads to shattering insanity.
And it leads to the grave.

And still we rise!
Be on your way, you nation of priests, you school of prophets,
you children of Dr. King.
Rise, you young seminarians, let us be on our way.
Rise, you children of Africa, Asia, the Americas, and Europe, let us be on our way.
Rise, all you glorious children of precious dignity and sacred worth, show your beautiful, different, natural colors to the world.
Rise, all you thirsty ones, and cause justice to roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. You know that truth is served when truth is done in love. And when you do love, you, too, are in the way and in the truth and in the life.

Be on your way to see the sick and the poor and the pained and the lost and the lonely and the loveless and the captive and the shut-out and walled-in, raced-in, sexed-in, gayed-in, and all the tired, tired, tired people, and see yourself inside their homeless skin and see reflected in their sad and broken eyes the incorruptible, indestructible image of the God who made both of you and never cease to cry out far and forever, “Rise!”

But we remain for a while. We exist between the times. We have seen Thursday’s joy become Friday’s tragedy. Now we are a people of Holy Saturday longing for the dawn of Sunday all over the world. We believe Saturday does not last forever. Saturday is a book we write between death and life.

Soon we will close the book of Saturday. And we will not remain here.
We will rise. We will rise. Rise. Let us be on our way.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Empty Tomb Blues

I got up one morning on the wrong side of my mind
I said I got up one morning on the wrong side of my mind
I didn't want to tell you, but these blues won't get behind

Some walkin', some runnin', some ridin' -- I just stand still
Some walkin', some runnin', some ridin' -- I just stand still
The angels have deserted me, and I know one day you will

My master's up and gone, my master he's not here
My master's up and gone, my master he's not here
He told me to have faith -- he left me holding emptiness and fear

My friends got nothing, those folks lost their home
My friends got nothing, those folks lost their home
And they've been down so long, no one will let them roam

Some dream of queens and kings -- I only dream of you
Some dream of queens and kings -- I only dream of you
But this dream of mine's not yours, so what good's it gonna do?

I ain't blaspheming -- I'm like God's only son
Said I ain't blaspheming -- I'm like God's only son
I'm bringing you true love, but no one loves me none

I'll keep singin' a mean old nasty song
I'll keep singin' a mean old nasty song
The women ran and told me things I thought were crazy wrong

Do you love me? O God, you know how I do
Said do you love me? O God, you know how I do
I loved you all I could, I loved you all I knew

I got up on Monday on the wrong side of my mind
I got up on Monday on the wrong side of my mind
Pray Sunday comes again before the devil steals his find

I lift up my eyes to the hills, skies are all cloudy and blue
I lift up my eyes to the hills, skies are all cloudy and blue
I see the shade is falling -- O Lord, help me do!