Posted in Poems

The Shapers

Last night I dreamed the Shapers came around again.
They dropped by the cottage as we were sitting down to dinner.
I invited them in.

Jesus and I laughed about the first time I gave my life to him down deep inside a sleeping bag trying to make the tears come while my mocking friend pulled the covers back to see what I was doing. It was he who had told me that I could not eat the Lord’s Supper unless I was born again.

A rocky start I guess, but honored nonetheless. Jesus loved me for who I am.
And I began learning
to love myself and everyone around me,
It and I always turning, turning from truth and back again.
Jesus loved me for who I am.
I still do, he said.
My Shapers and I bowed our heads in silence while the Prince of Peace broke the bread.

After grace, I turned to Dr. King.
“I’m Martin to my friends.”
He pointed at his head and then they all showed me the places where the bullets and the nails had gone in.
Loving your enemy is no guarantee he will reciprocate or give love back again.
I used to wonder whether I would go up and out like Martin.

I grew up in Mississippi and I met him though his people,
still getting used to the changes,
showing patience with the foot draggers,
paying no mind to the word daggers, the tut-tutters and finger waggers,
so willing to forgive and forget.
Martin smiled. “I have a dream,” he said.
“And the dream ain’t done being dreamed yet.”

Next I spoke to Gandhi.
“Please pass the Satyagraha.
I need some more spices from the mouth of the Mahatma.”
So we spoke of truth and love, with a dab of philosophy,
how the tooth for tooth just leaves everyone’s mouths empty.
“Did you like Ben Kingsley and the length of the movie?”
“Not bad,” Mohandas smiled. “Though I would have made it shorter with a little less of me.”

My church saw the movie together.
I was young, and it was long, but my life was changed forever.
I remember how I cried,
how it felt to be with the adults outside
at intermission talking peace to the cool Southern night air.
I’m still figuring out how to be salt of the earth and
where.

“How are you, Romero?” I asked.
“I’m well,” he replied.
I told him of the time I spent at the church where he died,
how I wore a black cross around my neck for years in solidarity with his people, who shared their hopes and
fears with a naive college student, how we cried and laughed,
how reading Exodus could make you disappear,
how the soldiers who killed the priests shot up his photograph. “Monsignor, you were more alive dead than
you were before.”
To which he said, “My son, that is the essence of resurrection.”

After that I spoke to Menno and thanked him for my heritage. “I would gladly have been martyred like these,”
he said. “But I did not have the privilege.”
“How does a mortal, fearful man have such courage?” I asked.
“Be faithful. Life is in God’s hands.
Do not take upon yourself what is the Creator’s task.”

After too short a time, it seemed,
they pushed back their chairs to take their leave from my dream.
“We have far to travel yet,” Jesus said. “And many more Shaped to see.”
So I bidst them farewell and thanked them for their lives.
They laughed and laid their hands on me.
“Freely given, child, freely receive.”

When I awoke, I lay still for awhile and listened to her breathe,
this woman whom I’ve known for a short time who is already shaping me with her love, encouragement, and commitment to peace
in our lives together and communities.

I thought of Mom and Dad, my friends and my family,
the shapers I carry inside from their stability,
the learnings and the laughings,
and our shared history.

These are my Shapers, the makers of me,
the famous and the not so well known
who have scribed these patterns on my bones.
There are many, many more unmentioned, and more shapes for me to see,
for I am a grateful man who contains a wonderful
geometry.

September 2003

Posted in Musings

On A Reading of Isaiah In Front Of The White House

On a reading of Isaiah in front of the White House: Prophesy to the wind concerning the inevitable in hopes that it will come a few days early (3/2/92).

In the early 90s, during my first sojourn in the Washington DC area, I was convicted to stand in front of the White House and read the entire book of Isaiah aloud. The reflection above arose out of that experience. I remember that as I read I was astounded at how pertinent the words of this ancient prophet seemed to be to the current state of the country. While I am quite sure the president at the time was unaware of my presence or the words I spoke to the air, there was a sense that the words had an innate power that was released in their oration. Somehow, I began to believe that the retelling of these prophecies had the ability to shift something in me, and perhaps, in the world around me.

A few years before in that same place, on the anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, I had chosen to help build a Central American village on Pennsylvania Avenue to call attention to the covert US war in that region. Along with several others, I chose to be arrested as a further sign of protest and solidarity with the people I had come to know during my travel to Central America and work in the US Capitol.

The Bush years did not seem so very different from the Reagan years and perhaps that is why I stood before the wrought iron gates of the White House on a cool morning in the fading days of winter. I opened my Bible, turned to Isaiah, and quietly began to read.

I doubt the Hebrew prophet had any idea his words would be written down, let alone be read aloud in English in front of a different kind of palace in a kingless nation by a Mennonite man from Mississippi. Isaiah of course was speaking to a very different people, time, and place. Any attempt at getting at the meaning of his words must first be grounded in the historicity of the prophecy and why the prophet spoke the words to the hearers of his day. Yet, Isaiah is no less different than other scripture in that while having one meaning within the original context of its writing, it can continue to resonate with current hearers of the word. While aware of the original meaning of Isaiah, the early church also found new meaning in the prophet’s words as they read Isaiah within the framework of their encounter with Jesus. The Servant Song in Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is one example of this. Isaiah is speaking to the nation of Israel concerning its exile, saying that its suffering will have the unlikely outcome of “astonishing the nations.” The church saw this suffering servant in the person of Jesus whose life, death, and resurrection exemplified the continuing liberation of all peoples by YHWH.

Fast forward hundreds of years later and you find me outside the White House reading these same words . “See, my servant shall prosper . . . kings shall shut their mouths because of him” (Isaiah 52:13, 15). At that time, new meanings began to be revealed and they continue to be revealed today.

Recently, I have begun to feel an urge to make another pilgrimage to the White House and take along a certain prophet with me. The beauty of scripture is that it is big enough to contain multiple meanings that are not necessarily contradictory. Isaiah and the other voices of the Bible continue to speak to God’s faithfulness and God’s never-ending love and saving work throughout history. It is a word that we need to continue to hear each and every day, regardless of our particular moment in time and space.

So perhaps not too long from now you may find me in front of the White House again, reading aloud from Isaiah, “prophesy(ing) to the wind concerning the inevitable in hopes that it will come a few days early.”