Forgiveness from the Heart

Forgiveness is so important in good relationships, whether with God or with each other. So why is it often uncomfortable to talk about? I think this is partly because forgiving requires open, honest, and intimate communication about our emotions and so many of us find that very difficult. Of course, in church forgiveness is connected with talk about sin and therefore is also connected with the spiritual baggage we gain when the concept of sin is misused, as it often is. But forgiveness is critical for restoring damaged relationships. Forgiveness at its best is transformative so that the past need not dictate the future. In other words, forgiving can open up new possibilities in our lives.

Forgiveness is an act of courage. It can be surprisingly difficult to let go of pain and bitterness, anger and resentment, shame and guilt – even when these things threaten to consume us and deaden our spirits. But practicing forgiveness is important for our spiritual health and it takes practice. We often have to do it more than once. It takes time and persistence. Perhaps this is why Jesus tells Peter to forgive 70 times 7 times (that’s 490 times!). That’s an abundance of forgiveness!

When we can’t forgive, we are asked to keep forgiving anyway until it wears down our walls of pain, hate and bitterness. Each time we make an effort to forgive is like taking a hammer to those walls. Even if they don’t come down at first, Jesus tells us to keep forgiving, keep hammering, until the walls are gone, until the way to restoration is clear. To forgive seventy times seven times is to practice forgiving until it becomes ingrained in our very souls. To forgive from our hearts is to make God’s love the ruler of our hearts, not our pain and bitterness. To forgive from our hearts is to free ourselves from the grip of the past, to make possible the restoration of relationship that might otherwise be lost, and to open the future to new possibilities. Whom are we being called to forgive today? For what do we need to be forgiven?

(I originally wrote this short reflection for my church’s newsletter. It was inspired by my sermon from Sunday, September 17, 2017. The church’s website is http://www.phoenixchurch.org)

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Out of the Ashes Reading

Here’s a reading I did for my book “Out of the Ashes.” Enjoy!

Note that toward the end of the reading I read a poem which contains some adult language.

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Take As Long As You Need

Take As Long As You Need

Apparition of my dreams: forget your temptations of glory.
Give up on me! Do not entice me to ascend this mountain
when I cannot perceive the peak covered in cloud.
Courage melts under scrutiny of daylight, a dusting of snow,
while your seduction beckons and frightens, leaves
my soul cowering, that outstretched hand might strike.

Yet in my heart a numinous chime does strike,
sends me fishing for deep reds and lush yellows of glory
in proud display, a poem peacock of autumn leaves.
Stunning sunset, prismatic waterfall, majestic mountain –
fool’s gold, hopeful beginnings buried under the snow
of cliché. What radiance can break through this cloud?

Always, swells of inadequacy surge forth to cloud
the tango of words. Adjectives and adverbs threaten to strike,
afraid to blemish paper with ink as exhaust grimes fresh snow.
Take as long as you need to collect the implements of glory,
my vision. Endless is the gravel-strewn passage up the mountain.
Barefoot, we must tread warily lest a scar the trek leaves.

Expand the table for the coming feast: add leaves
of synonym and simile, metaphor and imagination, a word cloud
to rain down possibility before the looming mountain.
For a moment, words turn bold and strike
out in search of perfect pitch, promised glory.
Despite ill forecasts, uncertainty has not yet begun to snow.

When it does, shovel and fine brush shape a carapace of snow,
a fortress that protects heart, defends against the obtuse, leaves
room for artful breaks, gives words freedom to glory
in veiled meanings, crafts a holy sanctuary no umbrage may cloud.
To placate the poetry gods, oh muse, title thrusts from shell to strike
the beholder, provoking a private pilgrimage up the mountain.

Chilled as a winter eve, I huddle in the shadow of mountain,
appraise the guidance of my foot prints in snow,
secretly hope none attend my trail but instead strike
off on a new course, not to accept the inheritance my word leaves
but to amble into mystery, for the peak will ever be in cloud.
Only the strenuous slog toward justification grants a florid glory.

Is the face of God to be found on this mountain? Is there glory
in the gathering snow storm? In forming molecules into a poem cloud?
For hope of the odd elegant phrase, I strike this bargain: doubt never leaves.

©2017 Kenneth W. Arthur

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Building God’s Church

Every building needs a strong foundation. The bigger the building, the deeper and stronger the foundation needs to be. Strong foundations aren’t just important for buildings, either. We would probably agree that one needs a good education as a strong foundation for a fruitful career and that love and communication are needed to form a strong foundation for a lasting relationship. Well, when Jesus says in Matthew 16:13-20 that Simon will be known as Peter, which means “rock” in Greek, and then talks about building the church on “this rock,” it makes me also think about the foundation of the church.

We’ve all heard about the so-called decline of the Christian church over the last 10-20 years. It makes it tempting to ask if the foundations of the institution of the church is showing cracks, perhaps rotting away? Is the church really in danger of collapse as some fear? Maybe it’s past time to inspect the foundations of our churches. What are the foundations upon which the church has been built? Or, perhaps we need to first ask what are the foundations which Christ intended for the church?

Some people understand Jesus to say that he will build his church upon Peter the person. But what if instead Jesus, in the scripture above, means that he will build the church upon the revelation that Peter had just shared, the revelation that Jesus is the son of the Living God? What if that revelation, which we are further told that Peter learned directly from God, is the bedrock of the church? Perhaps what Jesus is saying is that he will build the church on our firsthand, direct experience of Jesus as the loved and loving child of the living, relevant, still-speaking God. Perhaps the bedrock of the Christian community is to be built on the personal revelation of God’s love through Jesus.

The church is, of course, not a building but a way of life, a community of people. It is meant to be the beginning of God’s kin-dom on this earth, an example of what the world can be and of what it means to walk God’s path. It’s where we come together to practice being the world that God intends us to be, a place of love and justice, a place of hope and peace. We fail at this a lot, which necessarily leads us to inspect our foundations. But, coming to know the revelation of God’s love in Christ, we can build the church upon that love. Community based on God’s love is built on a firm foundation that will last. If we build the church, our lives in Christ together, on the foundation of God’s love, if we truly love God and our neighbor and make that the foundation of who we are, we have nothing to worry about.

(I originally wrote this short reflection for my church’s newsletter. It was inspired by my sermon from Sunday, August 27, 2017. The church’s website is http://www.phoenixchurch.org)

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Under-stars

Under-stars

Off the two-track
to nowhere important
sun retreats into forest,
the day kilned and left to cool,
no longer malleable.

Yet light dominates
veil of night:
embellished by myth and meaning
bulls and bears roam
herded and hunted
on overhead canvas
painted with pin
dipped in glimmer.

Father, son converge
under dappled dome,
dissolve, droplets of dust
in an ocean of star-wonder,
anchored by occasional trailing beacons – 
planes, satellites – 
whispers of self-significance.

In the thinning spring eve,
they stare, mesmerized
by yellow-orange tongues
that flicker, crackle,
reach out, lick at the darkness,
taste the flavors
of a precious life.

Do they talk?
	of the Tigers,
	where fish strike,
	where black flies bite?
Do they dream?
	of a past fallen away,
	present unclaimed,
	future unframed?
Do they wonder
under canopy of stars
what star lies under?

©2017 Kenneth W. Arthur
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