Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Parker Palmer, one of my favorite teachers, offers this insight into teaching

NOBLE VOCATION.  Thinking of Father Larry Voelker, I’ve been reflecting again on the influence good and bad teachers have had on me.  Do you recall your best teacher?  Your worst?  Each teacher seemed to have different strengths or capacities, different liabilities or vulnerabilities. Some of my best teachers are those whom I have never personally met, but I’ve encountered creativity, insight and connectedness through their writings.

CRITIQUE OF TEACHING. I've been impressed with teachers who are able to positively critique and challenge the status quo in education and press for a renewal of the heart of teaching.  Parker Palmer is one such teacher.  I first encountered his insights on teaching and learning in To Know As We Are Known.  Whether I am a preacher, a teacher, a coach, a parent, or a partner (or all of these), paying close attention to what Parker Palmer has to convey in a more recent book, The Courage to Teach (Jossey-Bass, 1998), may yield important possibilities for a recovery of teaching and education.  Here's a favorite quote from Palmer's book:

WEAVING CONNECTIONS. "Good teachers possess a capacity for connectedness. They are able to weave a complex web of connections among themselves, their subjects, and their students so that students can learn to weave a world for themselves...The connections made by good teachers are not held in their methods but in their hearts--meaning heart in its ancient sense, as the place where intellect and emotion and spirit and will converge in the human self."

THE HEART A LOOM. "As good teachers weave the fabric that joins them with students and subjects, their heart is the loom on which the threads are tied, the tension is held, the shuttle flies, and the fabric is stretched tight. Small wonder, then, that teaching tugs at the heart, opens the heart, even breaks the heart--and the more one loves teaching, the more heartbreaking it can be."

OUTCOME: THE FABRIC OF COMMUNITY. "The courage to teach is the courage to keep one's heart open in those very moments when the heart is asked to hold more than it is able so that teacher and students and subject can be woven in the fabric of community that learning, and living, require."

Saturday, June 26, 2010


I grew up in America
revealed as Interstate,
ribbons of engineered
concrete weaving through
woodlands and fields,
bypassing burgeoning cities
or whisking us safely through
them on our way to
desirable destinations.
If it’s not immediately accessible
from an Interstate exit,
does it really matter,
does it exist?

I hope it’s obvious I do not view American life via an Interstate anymore.  Interstates, it seems to me, have simultaneously opened up travel in America and dumbed down the collective American soul.  The best, worst and most interesting of America is not seen or accessible from an American Interstate.  And yet, most of us choose to drive Interstates most of the time.  Why?  They’re usually the shortest and fastest route between where you are and where you want to go.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Father Larry Voelker, pastor of Holy Cross Parish on the Near Eastside of Indianapolis for the past decade, died last week.  He was a friend.  For six years, I was part of a weekly breakfast table fellowship with Larry and a handful of fellow Protestant pastors who shared urban church challenges.  He consented to serve on the Board of Directors of Horizon House, the homeless day center I directed.  Larry was also a spiritual director to me, listening carefully, attending to my journey and offering gentle guidance.

Farewell, Father Larry.

Thank you for sharing part of your journey with me, with us.

Your brokenness and inwardness and intelligence and humor and faithfulness linger with me.

That you embraced the parish in which you were assigned for the closing chapters of your service—a sometimes troubling inner-city neighborhood—still speaks volumes to me of your faith and sense of vocation.

I will cherish the book you loaned me years ago (which I never returned), titled When Faithfulness is the Bottom Line. I think it reflects your witness.

Thanks, again, for making Tuesday morning breakfast at Brother Juniper’s on Mass Avenue a priority all those years. I do not know if the rest of us contributed anything to you, but you blessed us.

I recall you saying that you made hundreds of decisions each week and not all of them were the correct ones, but that when you erred, you always tried to do so on the side of compassion.

I recollect the numerous times in conversations that you shared what the Abbot at Gethsemane Abbey told you: “There really is only one sin. It is to forget that I am a child of God.”

That you memorized and recited the full Gospel text before your homily each Sunday morning inspired me to try to do the same.

I marvel that you invited me to preach the morning sermon at Holy Cross at a time in which church authorities were making moves to limit the pulpit to their own ordained.

I laugh again at your stories about riding with Indianapolis police officers on night patrol. When a parishioner picked up for propositioning an undercover cop during a prostitution sting saw you in the squad car, he said, “No, Father Larry, not you, too!” During another prostitution sting you overheard a perp declare, “I should have known it was a cop; she had her front teeth.”

I consider anew your response to me when, while serving as Executive Director of Horizon House, I shared with you that I was thinking about returning to pastoral ministry: “Why do you need validation from the church for your servant leadership in the community?”

Your witness rings true and lingers with me and many others. We’re grateful for your journey and that it made a difference in ours.


Homelessness reveals the nature of the powers that be

“Homeless [neighbors] perform a critical theological function in our society: they unmask the deadly ways of the powers by embodying the realities and consequences of our economic system. This is why it is so important for middle-class folks to spend time with people who live on the streets: our own freedom—our very life—depends on it. Once we have spent time with homeless [neighbors], once we have heard their stories and seen their suffering, we can no longer be fooled by the powers-that-be.” -- Charles Campbell

Thursday, June 17, 2010


How do we respond to our complicity with suffering?

We’re way beyond
past naïvetés
that excuse
and justify.
We’re in territory
of responsibility,
amid raw choices,
ethical dilemmas,
spiritual strongholds.
We’re in deep,
over our heads with
the future hanging
in the balance.

Yet we play
games of disguise
with ourselves
and our neighbors,
feigning sincerity,
acting as if all is well
(or nearly so),
as if our desires
and possessing
were disconnected
from any foreboding
impact beyond,
as if we were unaware
our choices destroy.

But love opens
eyes as well as hearts
with an ever widening
peripheral vision,
revealing connection
and complicity,
inviting confession
and repentance,
fueling hope
and possibility.
Love turns us
toward our neighbors
for a painful embrace
that heals the world.

Thursday, June 3, 2010


In the decade since I wrote this poem, casualties have needlessly run into hundreds of thousands of lives

If we must use violence
in our pursuit of justice
let us not celebrate it.

Let us not revel in our ability
to destroy the earth
and its creatures.

If we must kill to preserve freedom
let us know that our debt to the fallen,
even to our enemies’ blood
and to their children’s children,
binds us anew.

If we must use violence
in the name of God
let us cry out for heaven’s mercy
even as we presume God’s blessing
and act for reconciliation
even as we engage conflict.

Lest violence seduce us completely,
its shadows claim our souls
and might become the
hollow foundation of right,
let us renounce it now
and spend our lives for peace.

I wrote this poem in November 2001, in the wake of President Bush’s vow to use violence to avenge lives lost on September 11, 2001, and to attempt to achieve justice and security with an all-out a war on terrorism.  I thought of it several years later as news surfaced about more Department of Justice memos directing American intelligence officers to exact information from detainees by specific acts of torture.  American torture has stopped, we’re told, but America’s elected leaders continue to bless and fund unwinnable wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  The Obama Administration is now deeply complicit.

It is apparent that those who have embraced orchestrated violence as the leading way to try to end violence are increasingly becoming the very thing they hate—addicted to and purveyors of needless violence and killing.  Even as President Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize he justified a continuation of Bush war policies with only mild modifications.  The seduction continues.

I thought of my poem again over the Memorial Day holiday as some would-be zealous patriots exalted militarism as the essence of what it means to be free on a day originally and distinctly set aside to humbly honor all who have died and whose loved ones have been forever disrupted by the devastation war leaves in its wake.