June 5, 2008

I’ve come to appreciate Roman Catholicism as the potential via media for all branches of Christianity. While the Orthodox argue (quite persuasively) that Rome isn’t the “Prince of the Apostles” and that the Pope isn’t the only “Vicar of Christ”, and the Protestants argue (pretty well) that there are other ways of determining authority, we still owe some respect and reverence to Rome.

The Orthodox should not forget that Rome was the prima inter pares, the first among equals, of the first thousand years of the church. Rome was the capital of the West, even years after Constantinople became New Rome. Rome had to keep the crumbling empire together, often faced by near constant attacks or threats from the Germanic tribes, Huns, and others. The Roman church was the only de facto institutional vestige of the Empire in the West. No wonder the church developed the way it did in the Middle Ages. It’s easy for Orthodox to criticize Rome for theological deficiencies, but they should have more of a balanced view of how these things came about. The schism should not be a permanent state of affairs — “Western Christianity” isn’t a permanent whipping boy. Orthodox seem to care more about preserving their traditions than uniting followers of Christ from outside their tradition.

Protestants berate Rome for a whole host of other reasons, but these too are quite often overstated. Rome is not a false church, forcing legalism and false doctrine down the poor, unsuspecting throats of mindless, lifeless masses. Rome is a living church with a checkered, very human past, but it is also constantly reforming and renewing itself.  Protestants owe so much of their understanding of the faith to their Roman heritage. Our views of heaven, hell, sin, the Trinity, the Bible, justification, original sin, etc. have all come to us directly from Rome via such luminaries as Augustine, Aquinas, and Anselm. The Reformation produced a Counter-Reformation in the Catholic church that has not yet ended. The Vatican councils and much ecumenical dialogue have been extremely helpful in uniting Rome with many other Christian traditions in more visible ways. I do not believe that Martin Luther would have been excommunicated from Rome had he lived in our time (Hans Kung?). That’s why many prominent and unknown Protestants — Lutherans, Mennonites, even Reformed Christians have gone back under the ecclesial authority of Rome. The Reformation was only temporary.

I believe that because of its special historical and common-cause relationships with the Orthodox and Protestant traditions, Rome will be the center of any future rapprochement between communions. If there is one person whom Christians around the world could point to who embodies that unity and challenge, I would look no further than the Pope. He seeks to fulfill Peter’s role as the spokesman for the apostles, and I think he fits it better than anyone else. It’s not about who has the perfect tradition, even though tradition is immensely important; it’s about who is willing to bridge the gap between all who claim to follow Christ, and work to proclaim, embody, extend, and participate in His kingdom on this earth here and now.


that dark afternoon

May 31, 2008

That dark afternoon
her only sister passed
into the abyss –the opaque
expanse where ocean meets sky.
In the dark fog of her last breath
she exhaled.
I called that evening
when she had already left.
Grief was bending the tone
of her sister’s voice.
Yet above and beneath
the sorrow was a steady candor,
the echo of a deep well — a life
surrendered long ago
to the beyond.

the charred tree

May 31, 2008

Blackened ash, charred
to the stump, the branches
the cracked splinters
now bear witness
to the new green vibrant
covering on the hillside.
Incapable of life as a stone,
yet subject to decay.

dry bones

May 31, 2008

Dry bones —
warm heat draws
life away,
live marrow unknown in the core.
Sinews, tendons, vessels, veins –
years ago moved in ways
unaware of the floating,
hovering edge of death.
I once heard that the skull
is not a symbol of fatality
in most cultures,
but the most permanent sign
of the human face,
anonymous individual shapes
lasting beyond ages.
Do these bones wait for life beyond?
or are they spent
and done?

the second look

May 31, 2008


The Second Look
Make my face not twitch,
my lips not tense.
Cause my eyes to find a
steady place to meet.
Make my voice strong and sure.
Banish the fear of being accused
of what I’m not sure I’ve done.
Or at least making every effort
not to do again…

a better resurrection

May 29, 2008

by Christina Rossetti
I have no wit, no words, no tears;
My heart within me like a stone
Is numb’d too much for hopes or fears;
Look right, look left, I dwell alone;
I lift mine eyes, but dimm’d with grief
No everlasting hills I see;
My life is in the falling leaf:
O Jesus, quicken me.
My life is like a faded leaf,
My harvest dwindled to a husk:
Truly my life is void and brief
And tedious in the barren dusk;
My life is like a frozen thing,
No bud nor greenness can I see:
Yet rise it shall—the sap of Spring;
O Jesus, rise in me.
My life is like a broken bowl,
A broken bowl that cannot hold
One drop of water for my soul
Or cordial in the searching cold;
Cast in the fire the perish’d thing;
Melt and remould it, till it be
A royal cup for Him, my King:
O Jesus, drink of me.

bob marley

May 22, 2008

Bob Marley is one of my all-time favorite singers. I love the layering and complexity of his music. Each instrument, singer, shaker, conga, drum — everything fits so well, but often theydo things unexpectedly or unconventionally. It’s great how reggae makes the bass play the melody and the guitar keep rhythm. I especially like how most of Bob Marley’s music was before everything became too electronic, so each instrument is a live instrument. Each performance was such an intense, communal, and unique experience.

His lyrics speak of poverty, God, love, brotherhood, and so much more. It’s really rare to have popular singers come from the third world and address the unique concerns of the poor in such an intimate way. Sure, U2 and others are great for bringing issues like this to the fore, but they can never see poverty from the bottom looking up. In this way, Bob Marley’s music fits in with the rich African American tradition of spirituals, gospel, jazz, and the blues. In all of these musical styles, there’s some kind of beauty or joy that comes out of the expression of one’s unique life struggles and experiences.

Too bad Bob died so young. He did a lot in 36 years……

har mar superstar

May 20, 2008

This is one Har Mar Superstar video that I can post without compromising my sense of decency……

This joker owes his career to Ron Jeremy. At least he can sing (and dance?), so he’s not a total joke.

i want to learn welsh

May 19, 2008

……just to be able to read this poem in the original:

What does it mean to be human?

by Waldo Williams
What is staying alive? To possess
A great hall inside of a cell.
What is it to know? The same root
Underneath the branches.
What is it to believe? Being a carer
Until relief takes over.
And to forgive? On fours through thorns
To keep company to an old enemy.
What is it to sing? To receive breath
From the genius of creation.
What’s work but humming a song
From wood and wheat.
What are state affairs? A craft
That’s still only crawling?
And armaments? Thrust a knife
In a baby’s fist.
Being a nation? What can it be? A gift
In the swell of the heart.
And to love a country? Keeping house
In a cloud of witnesses.
What’s the world to the all powerful?
A circle spinning.
And to the children of the earth?
A cradle rocking.
Translated from the Welsh by Menna Elfyn

Conscience poem

May 16, 2008

This poem just about sums my life up as a Christian:

Conscience, by Grant Thorpe

Ah conscience tutored in the ways of
Practised in the ways of
Raging still until each aberration
Is made good
And raging too until
Each thought is
Pure and steady

Ah conscience never satisfied
Working on until
The flesh is limp and
Mind exhausted
Urging on to kingdoms that will
Compensate and camouflage
The lack that still remains

Ah conscience
Meet your Master
Even God
Not with face all stern
And whip in hand
But in the face of Christ
Sin bearer

See there the
Thefts, adulteries and murders
And many lesser crimes
All lovingly embraced and borne
Before the Father’s holy love
Not one wild deed
All atoned, all washed
Not one thing left to lurk or spoil
The reconciliation

Meet your Maker
Who decreed that love
His love
Be motive all alone
To move the race to duty
And to zeal.

Make me acknowledge only
My great need of
Exposure to the very heart of God
Pulsating with affections
Great and tender
Tell me when I err
In this respect alone

Do not
Stir up to
Greater deeds to
Compensate, annul or
Catch up with the past
It is against my God
I sin
‘Gainst him alone
And sin against
His loving me
And ‘tis to move against his love
To look for other
Things to change

Ah crime of deepest import
Ah deed of greatest shame
To have thought his love austere
His pleasure hard to gain
And to have turned
To idols
Enamoured so with idols
That his love laid

Tell me of this
Alert me at first sign
And turn your vigilance to
Any wandering from grace

Ah conscience
Be you tutored by the cross
Of Christ
Do not presume to have
A charter outside this
Call sin what God calls sin
That sin to death
Which spurns his grace

Alert me then alone
To seek outpourings of
That love—none else
What business do I have
With deeds which merely satisfy
Or my longing for
Relationships—patched up and thin
With no true love?
Require of me alone that
I ask, receive, be thankful for, and give
His love.

© Grant Thorpe, July 1991, August 2002