Parking Garage

The quiet here
surprises me.

Less than a mile away,
Rush hour is gearing up

But here, on the ground floor
beneath tons of concrete

I almost hear
The kind of quiet that greets
the first morning
of camping

The patient quiet of glass
supporting the
heavier-by-the-second lean
of a young child
held between gasp and gravity.

A floor above, a wind shuttlecocks its
way east, followed by an engine’s soft whirr.
But when, beneath tires,
A metal grate exhales
not quite a crack, not quite a cough,

and the muscle-memory of aging suburban
planning and investor initiative,
restores the equilibrium of this place.
Yet I hear my own voice, clear as a bell,
the air too still to allow a second echo.

A Full Second

“Time may give you more than your poor bones could ever take”
–Iron and Wine

On my way to meet someone else
in the Alzheimer’s ward

I stumble upon two strangers
(to me, at least. Perhaps they
were strangers to one another
an hour before; perhaps they will
be strangers again in an hour).

His wheelchair is turned so that he
can lean in, full bodied, cradle her
face in his hands, lean across her
chair’s armrest and one of the big wheels
and gently kiss her.

I see his smile, but her back is turned.
She confesses her love for the first time.
At least–for the first time today.

The stolen moment passes, and he says
“I should tell my wife.”

And she replies.
“What, you can’t have more than one?”

And he is puzzled.

“I don’t remember.”

Hours later, I stop by to pick up a pizza
for dinner. There’s a wait and I sit at the
bar. I am thinking about my day. The heart’s toll

and the slow trudging steps of the ward are replaced
by whip-quick spins of a place where I cannot tell
where the kitchen ends and the dining room begins.

A couple across the way talk about their
day, as well. They are not as young as they wish to be,
but they are warding off the gray.

It was long for a Friday, he tells her. She asks
him how she looks in her dress. She feels
that she has gained some weight over the summer.

“Do you remember the dress with that pattern?”
she asks. He doesn’t.

Not long after they leave, she has forgotten her purse.
It hangs over the back of her barstool. I tell the bartender
and he keeps it safe.

My pizza arrives. The bartender reads back the order, asks if that’s mine.

It is a full second before I can say yes.

A Pastoral Letter for a Time Such as This

Beloved Friends,
I am writing to you from Lisa’s and my home, where I sit comfortably after a great day—a day during which I had the honor of sitting with some of you and learning more about your stories, I shared some time with Jonathan making plans for the coming months, and I was able to do some study and reading.
In spite of that—or perhaps because of that—while I sit in our dining room, I am thinking of people who did not make it home.
I am thinking of men and women whose deaths we have seen recorded on cell phone video, and who never made it home from traffic stops, from parking lots, from places they found dangerous, from places that filled them with fear.
I am thinking of men and women who take vows to serve and protect, who live for and live up to those vows, who died in the line of duty.

And friends, I am thinking of you.

If you are like me, you’ve spent the day in a bit of haze. Perhaps you’ve been angry. Perhaps you’ve been filled with despair. Perhaps you’ve wanted to march in the street. Perhaps you’ve wanted to circle the wagons, batten down the hatches, and protect you and your precious loved ones. Perhaps you feel isolated by the swirl of opinions and politics that surround us.

If you are like me, you’ve rattled off a thousand reasons, explanations, and what you hope are answers. If you are like me, you’ve been sitting with uncertainty and questions that can only be met with silence. Perhaps a long-held belief was shattered over the last few days. Perhaps a long-held fear was confirmed.

No matter where you find your thoughts, dear ones, I am thinking of you, because you are the Church.

As a people called by God to be the healing, hope-giving Body of Christ, there is much ahead of us. As Disciples of Christ, people who claim to be called to look for and work for wholeness in a fragmented world, there is much work to do.

But if you are like me, you feel the need, on a day like today, to listen, to pray, to breathe deeply, to turn to those who know you best, to re-read the poems, the stories, or the sacred texts that bring what is precious to life for you. You need to grieve before you work.

Perhaps you are sitting with the possibility that you or someone you love might be mistaken as a threat because of skin color, and not make it home.

Perhaps you are sitting with the possibility that someone you love serves in law enforcement or in another career that hinges on trust and vulnerability, and there are times when you feel the ring of a telephone in the pit of your stomach.

Perhaps you grieve the thought of what you thought our nation was, and that seems so far away. Perhaps you grieve the easiness with which hope once came.

As I have been sitting at the dinner table with all of this, I have been thinking of another table: the one we approach every Sunday, and I remember your faces—

You who bring communion and comfort to our homebound members.
You who make room for strangers, who feed the hungry.
You who fill our church and our world with beautiful image, detail, or song.
You who heal broken hearts and broken bodies.
You who curate our collective memory.
You who educate our community’s children.
You who advocate for one another, for our city’s most vulnerable, for people you’ve never met.
You who live quiet lives of integrity.
You who are still newborn, all possibilities before you.
You who have cared for me.

Beloved friends, in this tender time, the Holy One pulls us close, even as the one we name the Christ calls us out into the world to be peacemakers. May this care and call embody the work we do in Christ’s name.


For Alton and Philando, ask the right questions.

“Asking existential questions is a luxury.”

Words to a friend from last night, as a group of us sat and talked about life, still-palpable griefs, hopes for children, and questions that remain unanswered–both in figuring out details and in asking those “BIG” questions about what an incident says about our humanity, our world, and our universe.

It was a flip phrase–meant not to dismiss the importance of asking big questions (we were a group of clergy and a heath psychologist, after all) but to emphasize that, in the midst of crisis, there are questions of survival, of maneuvering legal and social service systems, of mental and physical health, of justice as a concrete event that deserve attention and must be addressed before we turn to the speculative, imaginative,  and philosophical/theological.

Today, as I woke up to the news of the death of Philander Castile, on the heels of the death of Alton Sterling, two more names added to a litany of names of black men and women who die in encounters with law enforcement, I thought of an essay I wrote about a year ago which was theological, speculative, and tried to parse the Babel-like confusion of America’s failed conversation on race in light of Ferguson and the #Blacklivesmatter movement.  I wondered if I might have a responsibility to write something similar today.

When I write, I try to be a reasoned, thoughtful voice.  I try to recognize the levels of privilege that shape who I am, how I encounter the world, how I write.  I try to be fair, open to the limits of my own perspective and critique that names those limits.  I suppose I think that makes me a good moral voice, as a pastor, hardscrabble theologian, an advocate and ally.

But today, I keep coming back to the words I shared with my friend.

Existential questions are a luxury.

It’s a reminder, perhaps even a rebuke, to the ways I let my mind betray my heart.

For today, I don’t have good words.  I don’t have sophisticated, heady questions.

I feel foolish for ever asking them.

Today, I have angry accusations.

I have accusations that I want to lay at the feet of our entire culture–accusations that zero in on our gun culture, the ways we portray and conceptualize Black Men, the ways we portray and conceptualize our Police Officers, the way we understand accountability.

The way we, myself included, excise ourselves from the accusations concerning America’s original sin: Racism.

As if our respectability saves us.  As if our ability to write reasoned critiques, smarty-pants answers to difficult questions means that I don’t benefit somehow from the very same culture that bloodies a man’s shirt, kills him with four shots, at the moment he reaches for his license and registration.

So today, I sit with my mixup of anger and sadness.  I collect my accusations and I find my way to a mirror.

But I look to tomorrow.  I will allow my own vigil of anger to pass, and I will look for better questions to ask.

If we are to be anything better than a culture that hammers out a litany of names of dead men, then we must ask better questions:  Critical questions about who gets treated differently under the law, why we ignore the statistics that buoy the claims made by people of color about equal protection under the law.  Measurable questions that lead to policy changes.  Questions about our behaviors that make us better allies.

Our questions cannot give way to ruminating.  Our questions must give birth to change.

Ruminating is a luxury.

Change is what we are called to do.








A Prayer for Orlando

Holy One
It is a familiar grief that we bring before you

How Long,
O Lord

must we etch out the same words?

Words of sorrow
Words of angry grief

and words of disbelief at something that we watch happen again and again

repeated like a sick litany of hate.

We bring our shock, our own agony before you.
We bring our callousness—something that has grown from violence made all too familiar.

Please take these things we bring you,

Gracious God,

for we bring them

that you might remind us

That while it is human to feel shock

It is human to protect ourselves
to cocoon ourselves
from those things that hurt and disturb us

You call us

to be your children
and to be your children is

to remind others that
they are your beloved family, as well.

Forgive the ways we turn away from those who suffer

Forgive the ways we participate in their suffering.

Forgive the way we worship violence
and make idols of the tools of violence.

Forgive us the ways we are unable to forgive
those who seem unforgivable.
even those who perpetrate mass violence

God, we bring not only this

but so many things before you

Our own grief and trauma, from violence we’ve experienced and perhaps never even named

Our own guilt and anguish, from violence we’ve committed.

We bring ourselves, Gracious God.

and we bring all of your children

The young, the old, those who were born
with this morning’s sun,

those who will return to you soon.
May they all be safe in your arms, Holy one.

May you teach us ways of building sanctuary

May there be peace

May there be peace

May there be peace.


My dog digs
trying to set down
she digs up glass

This was an empty lot
for years.

In the short-off
distance, a neighbor
sings that she is a “poor
wayfaring stranger.”

She’s digging in, too.
Her roof is a week old.
brand new.

She ain’t going nowhere.
Not anytime soon.

Walnut Street Bridge #1


Sun sets.
I watch
glass roll

into stone
into water.

It is gravity’s
on me.

For when water
rolls down
it etches the story

of the years into
each rock
but glass moves
only at the pace
of what it reflects

Carving fragile memory
out of light itself,
a split second psalm
for the one who stops
to see.