Good Friday

Morning coffee comes to our cells,

We are not in jail, we are monks of the pandemic

“Go to your cell. It will teach you everything.”

This time can teach us, too.

We can go to Good Friday here.Jerusalem

 

 

By three o’clock, the world shaken,

The darkness a shadow across our souls,

the failures and oblivion of us all fully revealed and judged.

By three o’clock, the thieves will have died, too.

The crowd dispersed, the disciples disheartened,

His mother and the Beloved Disciple,

Having to keep their distance, wait to receive His body.

All will descend into silence.

 

Even Easter will begin with a graveyard disruption

A woman alone

And disciples hiding behind locked doors.

We can do this.

Call and Response: Excerpt from Poems, Prayers and Unfinished Promises

In December, Mossy Creek Press released my new book, Poems, Prayers and Unfinished Promises.  I have been so gratified by the readers’ enthusiastic responses.  From time to time, I want to share a few excerpts with readers.  Since we are in the Lenten Season, I share this prayer, found on page 48:

A Prayer for the Beginning of Lent

Based on Psalm 42:8-11COVER PIC jpg

As a Baptist kid in the South, I had never heard of Lent, but I understood “call and response” instinctively. Someone sings and you sing back to them. In southern gospel, it was often something the basses and altos did, little descants under the melody, like a man and woman when they really speak and hear each other’s hearts. That’s the Lenten journey to me—get quiet, listen and when you finally pick up the song, sing back. You really have to train your ear to hear it.

“By day the LORD commands his steadfast love and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. I say to God, my rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I walk about mournfully because the enemy oppresses me?” As with a deadly wound in my body, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me continually, “Where is your God?” Why are you cast down, O my soul and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.”  Psalm 42:8-11 NRSV

 

Continue reading Call and Response: Excerpt from Poems, Prayers and Unfinished Promises

Our new book: Encountering God in the Prayers of Others

Encountering God in the Prayers of Others is
our latest collective effort. It springs from experience
in our spiritual lives of prayers
composed by others that have “spoken” to us.

The Trinity group is a self-named group of friends, all Ph.D. grads

CONTRIBUTORS Paul Basden, R. LaMon Brown, Brad Creed, Gary Furr, Fisher Humphreys, Dwight A. Moody, Richard Francis Wilson
CONTRIBUTORS Paul Basden, R. LaMon Brown, Brad Creed, Gary Furr, Fisher Humphreys, Dwight A. Moody, Richard Francis Wilson

in theology or closely related fields who have chosen to journey together theologically for 25 years. The group was initiated by our teacher-friend Fisher Humphreys.  It includes missionaries, pastors, college and seminary professors and a chaplaincy supervisor.

Through the years, we have created a space, meeting once or twice a year for multiple days, to have intellectual, spiritual and theological freedom to read, study, comment, question and debate any subject together that interested or troubled us. The glory of such freedom has enhanced all of our lives.

One of our founders, Philip, died six years ago this March. He was the first close friend some of us had lost, and he was in so many ways a force and center of our group. His loss was enormous, but we carried on. That experience, of walking with a friend to his grave, literally in my own case, was profound. And it mirrors what happens in the theological journey—it is always, inevitably, personal at the same time that we seek the loftiest and most universal of vantage points from which to do theology. Continue reading Our new book: Encountering God in the Prayers of Others

Elvis–tragic hero, addict, mystic

Just finished a bio of Elvis Presley I picked up a few years back and had sitting on my shelf by novelist Bobbie Ann Mason.  Elvis is one of those figures whose presence is culturally ubiquitous, so the danger is greater that we think we “know” him, only to discover that we do not know this person at all.

I felt the sadness that so many musical biographies have evoked in me in recent years—bios of Johnny Cash, Bill Monroe, the Carter family, Eric Clapton, the great blues singers and Hank Williams.  One common thread in this tapestry is the lonely road of fame.  No one knew this more than the King.

If Hank Williams was the first true country superstar, Elvis rocketed down a road no one had ever seen before. Mason’s telling is masterful, even if the story is familiar.  What was new to me was all the dabbling in Christianity and Eastern religion Elvis did, even as he descended into the world of drugs.  If he was the true king of Rock and Roll, he was also the archetype of addictive splitting off into separate selves, isolation from loved ones, and disconnection from life.

At the same time I was reading the Elvis bio, I was also working through The Addictive Personality by Craig Nakken.  He quotes a plaque on a friend’s wall that says, “Fooling people is serious business, but when you fool yourself, it is fatal.”  Elvis’ story is one of a young man whose musical genius could not be suppressed, but whose spiritual and emotional life and growth were assaulted from every angle in the process.  He lived in a prison of impossible expectations, wealth and adoration.  He made the great mistake of addiction: confusing intensity of experience with emotional intimacy.

I love Elvis.  He met the Beatles on my eleventh birthday, August 27, 1965, for the first time, a symbolic joining of the two great musical rivers of my boyhood.  It was a disastrous meeting, one that was filled with misunderstanding and misinterpretation.  They came to offer him homage and he became threatened by it.  Rather than the joyful intersectionElvis between “Colonel” Parker and Ed Sullivanthat might have happened the two roads diverged instead.  Elvis spiraled deeper into isolation in the coming years,  into paranoia and bizarre behavior, drugs, control by the manipulative Colonel Parker,  the succession of vapid and empty movies,  and the banality of Vegas.  But ultimately it is Elvis himself who sat so uneasy on the throne he was handed so early in life.  He once described himself as “hanging on my own cross.”

Another book I have read in recent months, is Elaine Heath’s The Mystic Way of Evangelism.  In it, she describes the three classical stages of the life of prayer—Purgation, Illumination, and Union with God.  Purgation is a dark and terrible place, but also a holy one.  It is a time in which the pilgrim often falls into dryness, spiritual uselessness, and darkness.  Yet it is also the very place out of which great newness comes.  When Elvis came to his darkest times, they were also the moments that offered the possibility of new and different life, had he somehow been able to turn away from the monstrosity of fame.

I was struck by the interesting intersection of these three books—Elvis, the secular child of the South, disconnected from all real relationship and the people who would love him by the fame and fortune that came with his talent, the addict who destroyed himself in the process of expressing the passion in his soul, and the seeker who sought, if only now and then, to cry out against the commercialization and worship that ultimately pulled him into chaos.  He read books on religion, seeking to discover some deeper place in his life, and to draw the spiritual core of his early life into his music and thought.

Finally, the forces who made money from him and rode the train of fortune on his back were too great for Elvis.  Even worse, Elvis’ own craving for acceptance and love from the world without was greater than the fragile quest for peace could withstand.  Yet in his comebacks the “voice” that was authentically emerged again and again.  A cry, “Listen.  I have something to say.”

Tragic hero, addict, mystic.  What burst through that boy in Sun studios when he sang,  that voice and passion that connected so deeply and bridged segregated musical worlds, still reminds us—finding our own voice is a painful, intense, risky business.  It is life and death, and best undertaken with spiritual roots and a few dependable guides along with us.   I kept wishing that someone close to the King had been able to tell him the truth and that he had listened.  We lost him too soon.