Forty years ago this fall, when I became a member of Second Presbyterian Church of Kansas City, Barbara Loots was my sponsoring elder. Which mostly just meant she showed me around and encouraged me to find my place in that community.
At the time I was a Kansas City Star columnist and she was a writer at Hallmark Cards. Her job, as she once explained, was to find a fresh new way each day to say "Happy Birthday." While my job at the newspaper then was to find a fresh new way each day to say, "Ain't life funny?"
We've been friends over all those years and I've long admired Barb's many skills, including her ability to lead the adult Sunday school class I regularly attend and to write striking poetry that often actually employs rhyme and such formal poetic forms as the sonnet.
What I now realize I have underestimated about her is her ability to be funny in print. Funny and engaging and poignant, along with deeply serious -- sometimes all in the same poem. Her terrific new book of poems, Windshift, has many examples of what I mean.
One of my favorites is "When the Water Went Down."
When the water went down, old Noah
was left with a world to tend,
the same wild seed to nurture,
the same ploughshares to mend,
the same chores every morning,
the same wife in his bed,
the same unanswered longing,
the same desire and dread --
but no one to shake his fist at,
no secret cause to gloat.
And Noah yearned for a reason
to build him another boat
There are several poems in this volume drawn from stories and characters in the Bible, from Rachel to Michal to Bathsheba. And there are biblical characters in some poems that one is hard-pressed to find in the Bible. Such as in "A Cat Recalls the Exodus." It is clever, engaging stuff.
She ponders retirement and love and colonoscopies and, well, life in her verse. And the reader comes away refreshed and feeling rather more in tune with life and its odd mysteries than when the reading began. You can find all those serious subjects in her poems, but I will leave you with one more lighter poem that I wish I had thought up myself. It's called "Care to Remember?"
René Descartes drops by a bar
To quaff a couple beers.
The barkeep says, "You want a shot?"
René Descartes says, "I think not.
And POOF! He disappears
So just for fun (and contemplation), buy your Valentine this small jewel from Barbara Loots (rhymes with oats), and laugh and cry a little at the lovely, puzzling world.
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WHEN CHURCHES ARE SILENT IN THE FACE OF EVIL
When hundreds of sexually abused gymnasts were being taken advantage of by the now-convicted Larry Nassar, where were their faith communities? And where have they been since all this has broken into public view? It's an excellent question raised by this RNS piece, which notes that the first woman to come forward, Rachel Denhollander, says she lost her church in the process, though at the moment we don't have details about that. But clearly sexual abuse is a matter religious leaders should be speaking out against, in addition to supporting the victims of it in various ways. Of course, that's easier to do when some of those same religious leaders haven't been active sexual abusers themselves.
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P.S.: I hope some of you will sign up for one of two sessions I'll lead in late April at Kirkridge Retreat Center in Pennsylvania on how to discover faith by traveling through the valley of the shadow of doubt. Details and a chance to register are here. The sessions will draw on my latest book, The Value of Doubt: Why Unanswered Questions, Not Unquestioned Answers, Build Faith.