Ghazal for America, 2018

Ghazal for America, 2018

Tell another tale: build a wall high and thick, brick by brick.
Kill the sick, grab the chick. That’ll make us great again.

Parched of reason, we’re Jonesing for more Kool-Aid.
Guzzle it down, quick now. We’ll never be sated again.

Men with power suffer blood drain from the brain, get too
keen on their peen, can’t they just stay home and masturbate again?

Editors drop fly attracting dung bombs defining reality in six words
or less. Fire all the headline writers and tell it straight again.

Send Sherman to march on Congress, leave no regulation unturned,
un-spurned, burn it all down faster than dems can create again.

Elected hoods robbin’ from the poor muse: sure would be nice
to tax ‘em and leave ‘em, to the rich we can donate again.

Politicos drain from swamp, leave billionaire snakes,
racist rats and nationalist alligators to alienate again.

Jesus must have said love your guns and your money as yourself.
How else would the Christians fall for the bait again?

Sticks and stones might break our bones but AR-15’s are harmless –
just ignore the dead children – can we ever close the flood gate again?

Not my fault says the bitter twitter assault. So bad, so sad
our prez eloquently opines. Will the abhorrent torrent ever abate again?

Go grand with your claim, never accept the blame: surely it must be
the black guy or that nasty woman. See how easy it is to hate again?

From seeds of integrity we harvest trees of fake news,
putting truth beyond our ken – and so we obfuscate again.

©2018 Kenneth W. Arthur

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A couple thoughts on discernment

“The place God calls us is the place where our deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

– Frederick Buechner

At the beginning of each new year, it is customary to make resolutions and reflect upon our desires for upcoming year. A big part of discerning the call of the Spirit is to simply listen and reflect on God’s voice in our lives. Discernment means to live attentively while intentionally listening for the Spirit in our lives. It will eventually lead us to decisions and actions but it’s not necessarily about getting there in an efficient manner. It’s more about sitting with our questions and dreams and listening for God’s guidance. It’s about asking what God wants for us, not from us. It’s about being true to ourselves and to our chosen spiritual community. Discernment is something we do both individually and together.

There are many ways we might listen for God’s voice. Take some time to think about what works best for you. Most of our spiritual practices are about listening and communicating with the Divine Spirit within, that loving wise voice deep in our hearts that wants the best for us and this world. Common practices include prayer, meditation, and reading scripture. However we talk to Spirit, though, we also need to make sure we take time to listen by building some silence into our spiritual practices. Try to let go of ego and cultural pressure to think and act in a certain way and listen for what Spirit is trying to tell us. Try not to analyze everything to death. Thinking in logical practical terms is a good thing but not if we stay so much in our heads that we stifle our hearts and our creativity. Do something artsy as part of the listening process. Draw, write a poem, journal, whatever works for you.

As we’re listening, how do we know we’re hearing Spirit? How do we know we’re tapping into Divine intention? Perhaps we start to feel excited instead of fearful, challenged instead of overwhelmed, energized instead of tired. We might feel a sense of peace and clarity. Maybe something will just feel “right,” as if it was meant to be. Spirit can be subtle. It might not be easy to hear over the din and hubbub of our daily lives, the political turmoil, and everything else going on in the world. That’s why we need to not only be attentive but intentional. If you don’t already, set aside some time, maybe each day or a couple of times a week, to ask Spirit a question and then listen for the answer. It might be most helpful to ask the same question multiple times and in different ways.

(This short reflection was adapted from a slightly longer one I wrote for my church’s newsletter on January 5, 2018. The church’s website is

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Preparing the Way for Peace

What do we mean when we talk about peace? Are we referring to a political peace, the absence of war and violence, or an internal peace, a deep spiritual contentment? Sometimes peace gets defined as a lack of violence but I wonder if it wouldn’t be better defined as a lack of fear. Jesus connects peace and fear more than once in his interactions with the disciples. We often let our fears control us whether we realize it or not. We shop like crazy because we fear not having enough. We think power means prestige because we fear not being in control. And when our fears make us desperate, we turn to violence. But we can achieve peace if we stop letting our fears run our lives.

A first step in preparing the way for peace within ourselves and in the world is to follow the model of John the Baptist who prepares the way for Jesus, whom we might call the bringer of peace, with a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin.” This is just a church-y way of saying that to turn to God (i.e. repent) we need to take that which separates us from God (i.e. sin), our fear, and remove its power over us, leaving it behind. To do that we need to name our fears, recognize, and confess them so we can leave them behind. Naming something can reduce its power over us. To leave our fears ignored, un-named and un-challenged is to leave them in charge. In naming and rejecting the power of our fears, we repent, turning instead to the Divine, to God. We put our trust in the power of love that is our very nature as children of the Divine.

There are a couple of other tools that are helpful in preparing our hearts for peace as well. The first is the practice of non-judgement. Jesus teaches us not to judge others. When we spend too much time and effort on judging people and situations we create fear, anger, and disappointment in ourselves instead of living in peace. We do need to make judgements sometimes but what would it be like if we were extra-slow to judge people and situations as bad or good, right or wrong, as just or unjust? Might we be able to see others in a new perspective? To be more compassionate for what others are going through? To avoid self-pity and depression, always thinking how unfair life is?

The second tool is mindfulness. What if we took just a little bit of time each day to not worry about the past or the future but just live in the moment? Take five minutes today to just pay attention to what’s going on around you, hear the sounds you might normally ignore, look for something that’s always been there but you’ve never noticed before. Engage all of your senses. In that moment, realize that you’re alive and that God loves you. In that moment, when you don’t worry about past or future, there’s nothing else you need. There is nothing to fear. And because in that moment you fear nothing, you let a little peace into your heart.

(I originally wrote this short reflection for my church’s newsletter. It was inspired by my sermon from Sunday, December 10, 2017. The church’s website is

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Doubling Down

Doubling down is a betting term that involves taking a risk for increased reward. It can also mean to become more tenacious or resolute. In the Parable of the Talents found in Matthew 25:14-30, we can find examples of both. In the parable, a rich landowner entrusts funds to three servants and then goes away on a trip. When the landowner returns, he finds two of the servants have invested the money and doubled it. The third servant buried the money, neither gaining or losing. In accounting for his actions, the third servant basically calls the landowner a tyrant and says he buried the money out of fear. The landowner gives the third servant’s money to the first two and then has the third servant banished, declaring that the rich will get richer and those that have little will lose it.

The first two servants in the parable took a risk, invested their funds, doubled the money, and were rewarded by the landowner. In a way, they doubled down and it paid off. These first two servants are often portrayed as the good guys in this story because we almost automatically interpret the landowner as analogous to God. In this view the first two servants took risks with the gifts they were entrusted with and multiplied them. To be willing to take risks on behalf of the Divine is not a bad lesson.

However, what if the third servant is right? The landowner concludes the parable with the declaration that the rich will get richer but this isn’t what Jesus teaches us elsewhere. Jesus consistently teaches that God will humble the powerful and lift up the poor, that wealth is more problem than virtue. So, what if the landowner really is a tyrant, not meant to represent God at all in the story but instead meant to be just what he is named as – an unfair and dishonest business person? Then, the third servant becomes not the lazy servant but the hero of the story because he refuses to use the money he was given to participate in the systemic evils of the economic system. And, when called to account, he doubles down. He becomes more tenacious and resolute even though it costs him all that he has. What if acting in the manner of this third servant is really what it means to live in the kin-dom of God?

We always come across those forks in the road where we have to decide which path to take and we have to struggle with the indecision and fear, much like I imagine that third servant did. We have to struggle a little to hear God’s call for us. Perhaps this parable is telling us that to follow God’s way of love, to live in the kin-dom, is to face our fears and walk through them, even knowing that things may or may not work out as we want. Because it’s the right thing to do and because, well, what if we spoke truth to the world and it did work out? What if we created new life where before there was death? What if we created a flourishing, abundant world of love, peace, and justice?

God’s kin-dom is a way of life, a way of living into the future. There may be delays and distractions. There may be failures along the journey. But there is also the promise of new life, the promise of something always waiting to be born again. Jesus’ own story doesn’t end with death but with resurrection. Let us be kin-dom people, putting our trust in God and walking God’s path boldly, walking tenaciously and resolutely through our fears into the promise of new, abundant life. Let us be the seeds from which God’s kin-dom of love and justice grows.

(I originally wrote this short reflection for my church’s newsletter. It was inspired by my sermon from Sunday, November 19, 2017. The church’s website is

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Called to Serve

Jesus calls his followers to be servant leaders: to lead others by serving them, by doing for them, by acting out of concern for their well-being. This leadership model reminds me of Martin Luther King, Jr’s statement that no one is free until we are all free. By calling us as servant leaders, Jesus asks us to work on our own freedom by freeing others from whatever injustice holds them down: racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, violence, poverty, and on and on. Until we can free our neighbors from these evils, we cannot ourselves be free of them.

This is the vision of a world free of injustice, filled with love, peace, and hope. It’s what we mean when we talk of the kin-dom of God. But is such a world really possible? I trust in God that it is. If we can envision it we can build it. When we begin to live by the principles of the kin-dom (love, justice, and peace) then the kin-dom begins to exist within each of us. Born within our hearts, the kin-dom begins to grow in the world.

We answer this call to be servant leaders by humbling ourselves in the service of others and not worrying about what we get out of it but serving out of compassion and concern. This type of leadership by example is sorely needed in our “me-first” culture. Jesus’ call to servant leadership stresses the equality of all, that we’re all equally important in God’s sight. It also acknowledges that our true leader as Christians is Christ, God’s word of love to the world. Above all else, we are led by Love.

There are also temptations and dangers when we start to think of ourselves as leaders. We can fall prey to hypocrisy, not practicing what we preach. We can get attached to the power and the praise, becoming all show and no substance. We can also give in to greed, serving only those who can give us something back. A strong relationship with the Holy Spirit can give us the strength and courage we need to help us avoid these kinds of temptations as we answer Christ’s call to work for a justice filled kin-dom.

As followers of Christ we are called to be servant leaders, to serve where, as Frederick Beuchner says, “the place of our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” By beginning to build the kin-dom within ourselves by opening our hearts to the strength of the Spirit and by offering ourselves as God’s servants in the world, we can make God’s kin-dom a reality. We are called to serve. How will we respond?

(I originally wrote this short reflection for my church’s newsletter. It was inspired by my sermon from Sunday, November 5, 2017. The church’s website is

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