Sunday, December 22, 2019

Life Unstifled

Slow walk
     my breath
          hold it
Pause fretting to allow
     fragments of light
          from the periphery
Pulsating glimpses of
Life stories unstifled
     hope lifted from
Enfold pernicious
     despair into
          love reservoir
Reminder to
     control the focus
          decide the feeling
Standing off balanced
     in the mud
          seeing still the stars
Once and always
     move forward with         
         hope infused story

     Kang Koo Ri was lifted from the lifeless form of his mother in a valley of death and taken to the
orphanage. He would not--could not smile until the little girl broke through. When I took the picture
during the forgotten war in 1952, he was more like the little boy who couldn't stop smiling.  I was reminded of their story when I wrote this poem.
     *I tell more of the story in my YouTube video "The Little Boy Who Wouldn't Smile".

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Soul Focus  
6,544 miles away
     fifty years in
          the rear view
Pilgrims welcomed
     contemplation imprinted
          to emerge time to time
Zazen discipline
     introduced redirecting
          wandering minds
Weary travelers
     surrendered to the moment
          eased the soul
Truth pulled through time
     meandering life choices
          now reliving moments
Footnoting the negatives
     counting the Yes
          opening to the possible
Emptying the trash of
     misused dreams
          restarting the balance wheel
Worth the trip
     still surprised by joy 
          a clearer focus
Fifty years
     and counting

     It was the winter of 1969. A down-in-the-dumps student was hiding out in the campus ministry lounge. I was her campus pastor. I pushed, "What would you like to do, where would you like to go?" Finally,  a timid tearful response, "Japan, I suppose, but that will never happen." I ran with that.
     Long story shortened: the next summer, 16 of us, mostly students, took a self-guided independent tour in Japan. We booked our own travel and made our own arrangements with friends we mostly met along the way. 
     We spent a night in a Zen Buddhist Monastery on Lake Biwa. At 4;30 in the morning a monk beat on the prayer board, calling us to a Zazen meditation practice that brought the three week trip into focus. The student said it was the best part of the whole trip.                                                                                  Max

         Cannot avoid death
          Moments passing
          Value this moment
          Things change quickly
      *Prayer board inscription

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Inspiring Truth
Sitting alone
     warming sun
          windshield filtered
Sifting ideas
     through unfocused
Mindless images
     without traction
Through an opening
     distant door with
          all due deliberate speed
A wheelchaired young woman
     self-driven determined
          focused my glance
Rolled to a driverless
     car door opened pulled
          into position sitting
Deftly disassembled
     placed chair behind
          drove off
Left behind
      an image
I was left
     with no complaining
           for now

     The young woman had been shopping in the Supermarket. My wife saw her in the store and was struck by what she took to be an almost defiant I dare you to try to help me attitude. We will never know the back story; why she was in the wheelchair, what her personal life is like, none of that.              
     However, we can safely assume that here was a person taking charge of herself and not wasting time in self-pity. Her story is her story and I can leave it at that. My takeaway is a rewarding afternoon. 

*3.6 million wheelchair users in the United States is is a fact. $2.9 Billion wheelchair industry is a fact. The undetermined number of persons who choose not to be defined by any so-called handicap is the inspiring truth.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019


On the descent
           through the cloud
                no visible data
A moving finger
          vaporizing as it wrote

Now to story repair
           age privileged
                life revisiting
A revisionary pause
           regrasp the dream
               unleash the spirit

Look again
           love the story
                coasting permitted
Live it another way
           going gracefully
                into the dark night

Sing the song
           in half-light
                syntax recast
Meandering paths
           palpitating dreams
                nothing left to fear

                beyond the horizon
I had to shut down my laptop as we descended so I saved my file to the Cloud. and watched the soft damp clouds outside the plane dissipate as the runway came up to meet us. Thus began this poem.
At my age I have the privilege of taking a look at a long past as I consider my disposition to face my future.
This poem is my reflection and my offering. 
     Max Hale

Monday, October 28, 2019

Thank You for Your Service©

The Lord called and young 
     visionaries answered 
          hearts spilling over hope 
               energy in a rising tide
Raised a voice for the good empowered
     community practiced hospitality
          absorbed hostility showed a path
               for a better world
Old now in touch with
     a different reality 
          vision yet diminished capacities
               lonely in the crowd haunted with
                    was it worth it
Thirsty for a welcoming word from
     someone who remembers the alleys and knows
          how to say thank you
Enter stage left
     a pastor unhindered by full time
          duties sets out to feed grateful hearts
               hear bygone joys and troubled 
                    dispositions offer clues for clearer paths 
Annuitant Visitor upspirited returns home
     more visits to superannuated 
          servants later
In cities hustle in unfurnished plains
     beyond the mountains
The good and faithful will be
     warmed by the smile and hear
Thank you for your service
     on behalf of a
          grateful larger church

*The poem was inspired by a trip I took with my wife, Maurine, to visit retired clergy and/or their spouses in western Nebraska. We traveled over 1100 miles in that visit and visited 12 folks. Maurine, a retired clergyperson herself, is one of many Annuitant Visitors whose mission is to check-in annually with the over 6,000 retired clergy in the UCC, to listen and say thank you.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

My Mother's Secret

Shared with Trembling Love

A swift hit of nicotine hidden
     in a small can unlabeled snuff
          may be Garret Sweet
Unrevealed to curious eyes in a
     coin purse tucked
          in her handbag
Kept her secret
     and nobody knew
I tell it now fearful of her chastising
     from beyond the chasm
I honor her memory but
     cannot resist the primordial
          urge to tell story
Between a chuckle and
     a tear I tell what I
          know is true
Remnant bit of nicotine
     potent still perhaps
Transparent love for her
     children always

     Mother was scrupulously clean and morally straitlaced yet tender and gracious in the moments that counted and she was guided by gentle humor. Although quite vocal about her politics with which I almost always totally disagreed, she was a very private person. She would not have found it funny to learn that I knew and shared news about her surreptitious use of snuff, a minor moral indiscretion, if you will. But this is such a good story that I had to tell it. I will pray for forgiveness if I have to.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

We Must Not Go Back©
I gave a ride to
     a student of color
The Mayor said why don't
     you go back where you came from
          I was closer home than he was
               so I reminded him
Half a century later xenophobia
     fans the flames still
          shreds human dignity
               incites the worst
Fed by incipient racism
     metastasized in culture
          all are victims
Relentlessly searching
     for an antidote
Racism our national debt
     pay it with justice                                           
          underwrite our future
It costs too much                                                                 
     to go back

When I had my Dad's old 1964 Volkswagen truck restored, I replaced the small outside rear view mirror with a much larger one. I knew that if I was going to drive it with its fifty horsepower engine I needed to have a clear view of what was behind me. That old truck became a treasure trove of stories but more than that, it became a metaphor. It is enough for me to say here that as important as the past is, if we don't learn and move forward we lose our way. There's nothing new in today's blood-letting racism and bone-chilling attacks on all those who differ from the perpetrators who themselves have lost their way. Except that we are gradually but surely accepting it as normal. It's enough to make one cry-- or look for a way out. We see our past clearly. Here's to new dimensions.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Give Away the Guns

Life Support©
by Max Hale

Take away the guns
so simple
until it's not
Breath slowly
Mine to keep or
give away
Choice be the neighbor
welcome everyone
who welcomes everyone
Culturally multi-task
punish perpetrators and
sponsors take guns
succor survivors
This day's bloodletting worse
than the day before and
so it is every day
Shattered trembling we go
not gentle into
dark violence
Unmask offenders
Rip off the mask of political
Apply tourniquet
stop the victim's bleeding
spring the trap of
Growth allowed on common
ground respect fills
open spaces
Live together in peace
shrivel in despair
Give up the guns
safer without them

Thursday, July 4, 2019

I Pledge©

there was a war
     it's always the case
I decided to go
     wore khaki and saluted
          a reluctant warrior
               carried a gun
     people went crazy shooting an M-1
a past unredeemed
     present dishonored
          thoughtless patriotism
               unshackled prejudice
                   gorging greed
     defend against all such enemies
engage in search for an antidote
     dance with the stranger
         respect the unloved
              challenge the unloving
honor the veterans
     of war
honor the veterans 
     of peace
the pledge
       revised and extended 

     I joined the National Guard my senior year in high school and thus began a life-long oft-time
troublesome relationship with the military and, at one time, I considered becoming a conscientious objector. I served in the Infantry in Korea during the so-called "Forgotten War" and later surrendered my M-1 in return for a Chaplain's Cross and retired from the US Naval Reserve after twenty years of service. During the Vietnam War I was also a full-time Campus  Minister.
     I honor the decision of those who serve in the military to defend democracy and protect the values of this country. I also honor those who conscientiously resist serving in the military to follow a higher calling as they understand it.
     I am disturbed at the too narrowly defined patriotism and jingoist diatribe that is all too often on display in our Independence Day observances. 
     I wrote the above poem this afternoon but it reflects a life time of rethinking. I offer it not to agitate but to encourage reflection.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Life less on the Border©

While the coffee is still hot

     evidence incontrovertible
          unrelenting anguish
Little lives rubbished
     caring capability paralyzed
Blanket hot wet
     covers my head
          breathing restricting
I cry because I may get over it
Time to dismiss blue devils
Quicksand wisdom
     move sideways
          toward reliable compassion
Refabricate my life
     to fit God's dream

I must center myself before I open myself to the morning news. Otherwise I'm sick the whole day. Families ripped apart, children in cages, decent people turning savage: we're losing our grip on humanity. I know it doesn't have to be this way. I also know it is possible to lose my compassion. That frightens me. I have been told that if one is ever in quicksand the secret is not to panic and move deliberately slowly sideways to solid ground. I can, I will control my rage, dismiss the blue devils of depression, wipe the tears and look for an opening for compassionate action.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Canyon Reflection

Slot Canyon©

Earth surrenders
        Crevice slices deep
       Light shaft pierces
         Holy Space
     Slow down the mind
Relax into awe
Be still
Soul-ride the light
              Out of the hidden canyon

   Nearly twenty years ago I took these pictures in Antelope Canyon. Alluvial erosion and fast-flowing flash floods have, over millennia, sculpted natural corridors through the soft sandstone. Even on an overcast day, shards of light manage their way down to illuminate the dark. I found the scene fascinating then.
  Today, I've come to see the light in the canyon as a metaphor for life and most helpful in the darkest days. The first century mystic reminds us, "...The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness: the darkness couldn't put it out."
(John 1:5 The Message)  

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Gees Bend, Alabama 1968©
Purdue University students experience soul rich hospitality from economically poor hosts as they spend the night in an isolated African-American community. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Reflecting on moving from Mardi Gras to Ash Wednesday in New Orleans with Purdue students fifty years ago. What it meant then, what it means now.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

The Day I met Martin Luther King, Jr.©
Every year about this time, I remember the day I walked into the office of the Montgomery Improvement Association and shook hands with Dr. King. It was of no consequence to the Movement but it was a pivotal moment in my life. I share it with the hope that all of us can take the continuing struggle for universal civil rights personally, in our own way.
The first African-American enrolls in Auburn University ©
Nearly thirty years after I met Harold Franklin as  he registered as a student at Auburn, we met and recalled those tumultuous times. 

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Race. It's all how one looks at it.©

  3 Lessons of Revolutionary Love in a Time of Rage