Monday, November 23, 2015

Reflections on a trip to Armenia October 2015: people, faith and landscapes

Driving in a tour van over potholed roads amidst grand landscapes of undulating volcanic plains, roadside chapels and a myriad of crosses wave hello.  And surrounded by the population of the world’s oldest Christian nation, filled with stories of oppression, loss, survival, deep faith and a penchant for extravagant welcoming and gift-giving to visitors…you would expect there to be a Holy mountain…and there is…on the horizon in almost every corner of the land, stands Mt. Ararat. 

And the people, who call themselves the Hay, and their country Hayastan…talk about Noah’s Ark and his descendants settling in the region, as if it was yesterday.  The only thing that comes close to overshadowing the power of the mountain, is the memory of the Armenian Genocide, enacted by the Turkish government between 1897 and 1922.  With the death of over 1.5 million Armenians and the theft and destruction of thousands of churches, monasteries, homes and villages…the Armenian people who survived in what is just a small semblance of the land they once populated, hold onto their mountain, their story and their faith.  It defines them.  It enables them to move forward, it gives them strength of character and all of it lets visitors know that they are somewhere special when they are surrounded by such people.

Visiting 1500 year old monasteries and hearing Old Armenian liturgy chanted and sung among their walls, it all reverberated in our minds as we tried to breathe in the country in just 9 days.  And if the people of Armenia, their faith, and the landscapes that they live among weren’t enough, then there is the Jinishian Memorial Foundation.  The worldwide Christian organization that organized our trip with the help of the World Mission Initiative out of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and they helped to raise our awareness of the Armenian people’s story and their Genocide.


 On a daily basis, their outreach work gives the Armenian people safety, hope and work not only in Armenia and the Middle East but even in America.  From civic dialogue projects at universities to debate clubs at middle schools, farming cooperatives that began with donated seed money and now build their own kindergartens, to organic fertilizer initiatives and local pottery businesses, from hospitality and electrician training centers to housing projects…the Jinishian Memorial Foundation (, works from the ground up to give the people hope, encouragement and a sense of purpose in places around the world where the economy struggles and people strive to make a better life for themselves.  And we were honored to be shown bits and pieces of all of these endeavors. 


But if the touring, worshiping and the education weren’t enough, the people of Jinishian and other Armenians that we met, invited us into their offices and their homes, they told us their stories and introduced us to their families, they fed us a multitude of new and interesting foods and they gave us gifts to take home back to America...we prayed with them and for them...and they prayed for us! 

Armenia is a country with a people amidst majestic landscapes that tell a story of thousands of years of trial and tribulation, success and honor, faith and love.  Surviving Persian, Islamic, Turkish and Soviet empires…the people seem eternally resolved to be their own their own country...with their own language. 
They’re remembrance flower, the forget-me-not, calls the world to recognize the tragedy that was the Genocide, the motto that goes along with it, “remember and demand”, calls Armenians themselves to never forget where they have come from, what they have survived, and invigorates them to share their story with the whole world, including a small group of 8 people from Pennsylvania, New York and Colorado. 

And whether toasting their families, or us, at a table filled with way to much delicious food, or driving our group hours away from the capital of Yerevan to share the story of a thousand year old church, their national pride was infectious.  I wish I had words to say a bigger thank you, a smile that could extend across oceans or a way to share my new fond love for a people, a faith and landscapes that took my breath away and stirred my heart. 


 Perhaps, my small memento here gives some semblance of the beauty of all that we saw and heard and experienced.  Perhaps, it helps to remind us that the church and it's people in Christ, are spread out all over the earth...and that the Holy Spirit continues to bring us together in new and creative ways.  And maybe, you also will feel drawn to experience it all yourself one day, in Armenia.  All I can say is, Go…and let the people, their faith and the landscapes draw you into their embrace.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

A poem for Pittsburgh

Unrusting Potential
City of steel,
buttressed with bridges,
champion structures rusted to the river side,
even the mutated catfish know it waits to be reborn.
And many who survived the slow smoky death
of job after job, flushed into dirty waterways alongside
their golden fantasies,
though once blackened by chemical obfuscation,
they slowly open new eyes, yearning
for a city, not lost in the annals of time.
And perhaps they find a new burgh that floats
onto the ocean of their summer dreams,
where the tide cleans away the asbestos nightmare,
 leaving breathable daytime, and a smile
of ironclad proportions,
all amidst a gathering of reunited spirits
and tempered by a gentle, hesitant hello.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Easter hope poem a day later...

He is Risen...He is alive...He is Lord...He is coming...the paradox of tension is that Jesus exists in all these ways and times at once...He was, is and is to come.  Happy Easter!

He Comes

Keep silent mortal,
Eyes open,
Lamp held out before you
Patient in faith
He comes.
Keep awake mortal,
Heart open,
Hands outstretched in worship
Humble in your steps,
He comes.
Keep loving mortal,
Doors open,
Ears awaiting a shout,
Devoted in Truth
He comes.


Saturday, April 4, 2015

Thoughts of Fragile Faith on Holy Saturday

I can only imagine the thoughts and fears of the followers of Jesus the day after his crucifixion...before the resurrection.  But I am sure that all of us who believe have had moments of doubt, fear and worry in our walks of faith.  This poem speaks to some moments like that in my life.

Fragile Faith

I turned the light of hope
On in my life
Only to find
That the shadows still surrounded me;
Eeking their way under
My daily prayer,
Slipping past my angel consciousness,
Hardening my heart,
Weakening my defense.
And sometimes the last flickering match,
One spectral image,
Gets caught in the dizzy wind
Of heavy night dreams,
Fluttering out,
Leaving me in blackness,
And then the fear comes.
It seems huge in the dark
Engulfing all I know,
Smothering the faithful remnants
Into nothingness, ash by ash,
Until I cry out again to God.




Friday, April 3, 2015

Poetry for Good Friday

In honor of the Passion of Jesus Christ this Good Friday...and onward up to Easter Sunday...I will be sharing a poem each of the next three days.  They are included in my poetry collection titled after the name of this blog, and are a spiritual collection written over the last 20 years.  May you find a moment of reflection, truth or something in reading them.  Have a Blessed Easter!

Once a Man

A man once said
the Word burned
in his bones
for want of release,
and I had ears
and heard.
A man once cried
to the heavens,
to his Father,
for want not to drink
of the cup,
and I had eyes
and saw him,
nailed in infinity,
suffering for our eternity.
And I cried
and he lifted me up,
he walked with me,
he surrounded me
with his love and
guided me with his shield.
He wrote upon my heart
the first moment
my soul had breath,
and my purpose was foretold.
I awoke
searching for it,
yearning for it,
aching to realize,
And when I did
the immensity of it
made me quiver,
wanting to fall,
to hide, to run.
But I too
must carry my cross
and follow him.



Thursday, January 29, 2015

Birthdays, time and ageless wisdom from 80's movies...

So today is my birthday.  I haven’t posted a blog in four months…quite frankly because, wow time moves quickly at this age and I hadn’t really even noticed.  I have reached that age that my mom likes to joke that she had reached and never moved on from. It was funny a long time ago, then it was cute…and today…well now I have reached that age.  Damn…the yesterdays have moved fast…I still remember the night out with the boys at Fieldhouse on my 21st , hanging with family in Chicago  on my 25th and the delicious steak on my 30th with friends from the Berg in Columbia.  I used to be good at math.  But somewhere between the confines of finite numbers and bleary memories…I am still trying to figure out how I got to 39 so fast. 

Time has literally and figuratively been on my mind a lot for the last year or so….theologically, biologically, emotionally.  Movies, books, blogs and discussions.  Renowned physicist  Morgan Freeman taught me on “Through the Wormhole”, that apparently as you age, time actually moves faster as you age, proportionally of course… so that by time you are in your 80’s…you seem to be ageing twice as fast as when you were 16. Oh, and if you want time to slow a bit more…move to the top of a mountain, or get in a plane or spaceship that goes real fast.  I plan on taking a spaceship to Mt. Everest…just to check that math. 

If you know your Bible, you will remember Jesus telling us to basically not worry about yesterday or tomorrow, that today would be enough for today (Matt 6:34)…easy enough for the Son of God to say huh!? And if you like sci-fi or physics, there are a plethora of explanations in books and movies as to exactly what is going on in time or through time…recently the movie “Interstellar” for example…let that warp your mind in time for a bit.  Equations and overly smart scientists can talk all day (and they will)…yet it doesn’t stop the itching in my head or yearning in my heart to understand…HOW can it truly have moved so fast?

Or is it really moving at all?  Perhaps it is closer to that “eternal” now.  Maybe the back-log of memories just makes us feel like we are moving through time…holding onto the important things too long sometimes…and others not long enough.  Maybe we are just floating in the space between memories? They say that more often than not, dying people, or people who have been brought back to life, these people say to hold onto the important things in life…the people and loved ones around you.  I think that was what Jesus was probably getting at with his thoughts on “today”. 

So today, join me…hold on, to today…to that which burns through your inner being, that which carries your soul from the first light of day at the dawning of your alarm clock, to the last wavering thought upon your pillow at night.  Carpe Diem…”seize the day”…may be too much of a cliché (but you got to love Robin Williams quoting it in Dead Poets Society)…but at my age, clichés are just moments that remind me of things that meant something to so many people, there was just no better way to say it…so who really cares if it is a cliché!?   Seize it!

I think as I stare into the long avenue of the 40’s coming at me…I will choose rather to seize it, bite into it, chew it, breathe it in…live it, and keep going.  I plan on learning French, writing more poetry, reading more books, seeing more of the world with my lovely wife, making new friends and even having deeper and more intense conversations with God.  Who knows, maybe God will finally tell me what this time thing is all about?  But until then, I am and will be…the time I make of the day I live...again, for the 14,235th time…and on…and on.

But you don't have to take my word for can always refer to the ageless, sage-like advice of Ferris...