Submission

Here are samples of my writings. The Temple and the Bell. A Chaplain's Reflections From the Frontline: COVID 19. Kenosis/Solidarity. Go Ahead, Cast the First Stone. God Say a Word.

The idea is that there would be a poem or a story. A prayer. And a few journal reflections. 12 Sections. 4 pieces per section in order to travel the year. 4 weeks. 12 months.

Enjoy. Roger

The Temple and the Bell

Somewhere there is a temple,

Buddhist or Christian,

on a hillside

overlooking the persistent

crashing ocean waves.

And in that temple is a bell.

It rings before the morning prayer.

It rings before vespers.

The monks put away their brooms,

The nuns file away their papers,

and they make their way to the chapel

to chant and to pray.

The sound of the bell

is the breaking through of eternity

in the everyday chores of life.

The sound of the bell

has lived on this hillside

for generations,

during the floods,

and when food was scarce,

and when the wars came.

The bell knows its work.

To signal the coming of the next thing.

To call the ones gathered to mindfulness.

To remind each one of their beat and beating heart.

To sing a song of hope and remembrance and gratitude.

To bring them back to their deepest selves.

You are the temple and the bell,

you help me to see the way home.

A Chaplain's Reflections From the Frontline: COVID 19

As a chaplain, my first COVID 19 death was a couple of months ago. He was the second person in my county to die. He had been at our hospital’s ICU for a week or so, going downhill quickly.

When I first saw him, on a late Wednesday night, he was upside down (to help his lungs) in a suspended bed. Last, last ditch efforts.

For days, only his wife had been able to see him, but she couldn’t see his face. By the time I started working on a Wednesday overnight shift, he was very close to death. At least his wife had been joined by his two sons.

I was called in around 10 p.m. to support the family. COVID 19 was new then, and no one knew what to make of it. The family of this man, healthy until all of this, was convinced that somehow medical technology and know how could save his life.

As I arrived, the wife was going in to see her beloved. The nurse lovingly put a gown on the wife, tied it in the back. Lovingly put a PAP-R on her, making sure it was secure so the wife would not get this awful disease. Everyone, everyone knew this would be the last time that woman would see her husband alive. The two sons put on their personal protective equipment and joined their mom and dad in his room.

For three hours they stood there—talking to him, sharing stories, telling him he was loved beyond measure. At 1 a.m., I saw the same nurse take off the wife’s gown and PAP-R.

People ask me: Roger, where do you see God in all of this Covid madness?

I say: I saw God, in the form of a nurse, lovingly tending to a wife seeing her husband for the last time. A wife in shock and denial and grief and overcome by it all, overwhelmed. And I saw God hug the woman, once the man had been turned over and liberated from this wild unexpected world.

I’m playing a lot of tennis.

I’m watching shows like Laurel Canyon, about the music scene in the late 60s—Neil Young and the Monkees and the Mamas and the Papas and of course, the queen, Joni Mitchell. So what that I cry and cry when Buffalo Springfield sings: Something’s happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear. There’s a man with a gun over there, Telling me I got to beware. I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound, Everybody look what’s going down.

I’m crying more than usual. I took a random Friday off and then I had off Saturday and Sunday.

QuestLove and his almost nightly DJ gigs on Youtube (The Roots, subscribe already), he is keeping me alive. Sometimes he spins Prince. Sometimes Janet (the queen as well). Sometimes music for the revolution.

I wrote a letter—spastic and ADHDish until a Mennonite got his hands on it and cleaned it up. A letter for white clergy to sign. “We are a collection of white clergy/faith leaders who live and serve in Colorado Springs, and we are writing to lament our complicity, to repent of the conscious and unconscious ways we’ve benefited from structural racism, and to commit ourselves to the continued work of undoing white supremacy.”

And I got a few of my friends to sign it, and then we got an advocacy group to help us spread the word. And we will see what else might come of it. My friend, a pastor and a professor and a woman of color, wishes to launch a national commission on truth and conciliation. That too is in the letter.

It is my little world and I have to do something to shine a light in it.

Oh, and maybe most importantly, I am studying the Interior Castle by Saint Teresa of Avila. I am asking for clarity. I am sitting with the silence. I am trying, with humility and prayer, to enter that first mansion, or the second, or the third, or maybe even the fourth. The fifth? Don’t be silly. The sixth? Forget about it! The Seventh? Don’t even start with me.

(Who knows? Maybe I’m still outside the castle. Lord, hear my prayer.)

As that study wraps up, I am attending an online reading group on Bonhoeffer. I am putting feet to my prayers, marching on occasion, chanting, holding signs. I am trying, with conviction and courage, to enter into the space of this great Bonhoeffer quote: “There remains an experience of incomparable value. We have for once learned to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcasts, the suspects, the maltreated — in short, from the perspective of those who suffer. Mere waiting and looking on is not Christian behavior. Christians are called to compassion and to action.”

One foot walking in contemplation and prayer. One foot walking with the suspects and the maltreated.

It is all I know to do.

When the woman came out at 1 a.m., her husband now dead, surrounded by her two sons, she looked at me and said: What more should I have done? Silence. What do we do now?

Kenosis/Solidarity

When I first read Bonhoeffer:

There remains an experience

of incomparable value.

We have learned to see

for once

the great events of

world history

from the perspective

from below—

of those who suffer,

the outcast,

the reviled,

the tortured,

the powerless,

the maltreated,

When I first read that

I thought about

those people,

those others,

the ones on the wrong side

of the tracks,

Imprisoned

Enslaved

Forgotten.

Those people, indeed!

Allow me, dear reader,

to show you my superman,

uber mensch cape!

Roger saves the day!

What I didn’t realize,

foolish youth,

Was that I had to identify

And acknowledge

and name

the parts of me that were

Outcast,

Tortured,

Reviled,

Powerless,

Enslaved,

Forgotten.

And only once I grieved

and wailed

And cried out,

why God, why?

Only then could I let go,

engage in the deep action

of kenosis, the very heart

of the Jesus project,

in order that I might be filled

with the humility and self-awareness

Necessary

To be in solidarity,

with even one other person,

Whose dignity reflected

the very alterity of God.

A PRAYER

Courage for the Journey

In the moments of our deepest fear,

may we find strength for the journey

and courage.

In the moments of our confusion and uncertainty,

may we find clarity —

clarity of heart, clarity of mind,

clarity of spirit.

In the moments when we don’t know which way to go,

may the path be found and the courage to take the first step

and the next.

With God’s help and grace.

Amen

Go Ahead, Cast the First Stone

The playbook has always and forever been about power. About getting what is yours. No matter what. No matter the cost. No matter who gets hurt.

The playbook pits us one against the other. A zero sum game Winners and Losers.

The playbook says: Look out for number one. Trust no one. Go it alone.

And into this playbook comes this half-mad, visionary, healer, going on and on about what the kingdom of God looks like. And forever and always hanging out with prostitutes and canaanites and women and tax collectors. Whispering, shouting, the whole time: This is what I’m talking about—the beloved community, the kin-dom of God is full of rejects and outcasts and losers. Now, let’s be clear, rejects and outcasts and losers *with heart* who can see the Beloved in the face of the one right in front of them.

One day, while teaching in the temple, a group of guardians of the law came to Jesus and presented to him a woman caught in the act of adultery. The law says that we must stone her. What do you say? He knelt down and began to write and draw with his finger on the floor.

I like to imagine in that moment that he was writing: Forgive them, abba, they really don’t have the slightest clue what they are doing.

Let the one without sin cast the first stone. Go ahead.

He went back to writing. This time I imagine him writing: What am I supposed to do with these people?

When he looked up all of the accusers were gone. “You’re still here!” “Yes.” “Well, above all love. Go, get yourself together and be at peace. You are loved. God go with you.”

The authorities were always having trouble seeing the Beloved in the face of the ones in front of them. Jesus was always reminding them to look deeper.

God, for your sake, make us all humanists. Seeing the Beloved, seeing You in all your glory and all your pathos, in the outcasts, the rejects, the forgotten, the tortured, the lost, the confused, the mangled, the hated. And let us, in our moment of rejection and in our moment of greatest accomplishment, see You in our own outcastedness, our own rejectedness, our forgottenness, our tortured parts, our lost parts, our confused parts, our mangled parts, our hated parts. Give us courage to hold them up to the light, cupped in our hands, so that in that deep recognition, we see how much these give us compassion and empathy and love, for all of creation. Amen.

When Bonhoeffer was imprisoned, he wrote in a letter ‘only the suffering God can help.’

Archbishop Romero, of El Salvador, was converted to the God of nonviolence upon seeing the grave of a martyred, assassinated priest. From then on, he saw Christ in the eyes of the poor and the homeless children, all around him. He saw them fresh and anew and saw them through the eyes of love. In the naked, the distraught, the imprisoned, the tortured, there was Christ and his second, third, fourth coming, over and over, calling us to a fellowship of love and brotherhood and sisterhood. The beloved community, the kin-dom of God. Right here in our midst, right now in our time. God, for your sake, make us all humanists.

God Say a Word

Exodus 20, the 10 commandment chapter, begins: And God spoke all these words…

Immediately followed by words right from God’s mouth!

It’s so straightforward. So simple. So direct.

I’m sitting here jealous because in all of my days God hasn’t spoken to me like that. Even when I’ve felt enveloped in the light of God’s grace and care—one time I was driving out on I-95, going to see my friends for Thanksgiving dinner and the Indigo Girls were playing on the car CD and I felt such light surrounding me.

In that moment, did I feel that I was loved? Yes. I was seeing my friends that have been dear to me since I was in 3rd grade. Did the beautiful blue sky and the crisp fall air heal me? Yes. Was it the musical stylings of Amy and Emily, the Indigo Girls in all their glory? Yes.

And, it felt like more than that. It felt like being held in divine love.

There were no words. No words from God. No words at all. My contemplative friends would say: Of course there were no words. It’s post-words. It’s beyond words.

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Roger Butts

Roger Butts

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Author, Seeds of Devotion. Unitarian Universalist. Ordained 20 years.