Walking Over The Chicago River and Why Christians Must Read Poetry

I was walking past the Sears Tower last summer in downtown Chicago. I don’t remember the time but the sky was dark. I was trying to find the train station to catch a train to Milwaukee to see a Brewers game against Cincinnati the next day.

As I crossed over the Chicago River I paused and looked over the edge. It’s width was the size of a five lane street, by the way it moved–as if more than alive, almost alert of my presence–I was overcome with a sense of foreboding, that I was looking into the face of Power itself, this mass of black water flowing. I wasn’t scared, I was almost in awe that something could have such silent depth.

I came upon this poem by Alan Grossman entitled “The Woman on the Bridge Over the Chicago River.” The scene is set next to The Wrigley Building on Michigan Ave. on the north side of downtown (I was in the south side). Here’s a Google image of the poem’s location.

As you enter downtown along the bridge you see the Fort Dearborn Massacre sculpture (technically a bas relief), which you can sort of see in the center of this picture.

Here is what it looks like.


I talk about this bas relief in my fictional story “Crossing Burnside” which is still up on my myspace here.

I’m regressing a bit, but I didn’t actually make it to Milwaukee last summer. I ended up in a Park Ridge Lutheran church falling asleep to the pastor’s sermon.

I don’t completely understand Grossman’s poem. You can read the poem here, it’s on pages 3 and 4. It’s a sad poem about things that cry. Nature, eternity, time, roses, the wind, the moon and the sea. And then a little boy is crying, and I think a woman jumps off the bridge into the river, and the poem ends with the boy yelling down the street, while his words echo off the buildings and are “translating to the long/Dim human avenue.”

The reason I bring up the poem is that I’m going to begin a series on poetry. I’m not a big fan of reading poetry and that is unfortunate because the Bible is full of it. In fact, one way that God communicates His love to us is through the use of metaphors and images: poems. And being able to understand them, appreciate them, and discern them is an important way to grow intimately with God and to know who were are and what our purpose is.

I’d say reading poetry is crucial to our faith and journey. The problem is that poetry is difficult and forces us to think and feel in ways we aren’t used to or comfortable with.

I won’t be limiting the series to poetry because I’ll also be discusses reading in general. How we as Christians must be good readers while teaching and encouraging strong readership among our children and community. Our focus verse will be Romans 12:2 where Paul says we must be “transformed by the renewing of our mind,” and the implications of that command. I’ll also be using Edward Hirsch’s book How To Read A Poem: And Fall In Love With Poetry as a guide because there are many things we can learn in reading the Bible from learning to read poetry.

I recommend reading Grossman’s poem and then coming back for the series beginning Monday.

My Hatred For Secular

When a ten year old boy told the pastor he wanted to pray for the football teams prior to the Super Bowl, that they would be safe and it would be an exciting game, the pastor scoffed at his request and while praying said that God did not care for such secular things. I wanted to hit the guy.

I hate the word secular. I despise it with all its connotations. I abhor the word in its current use because of the inherent thinking errors that accompany it. What is said to be secular is often thought unspiritual.

The word secular is derived from the Latin saecularis meaning:

1) Lasting or occurring for a long indefinite period of time. Chiefly found in scientific applications, of processes or phenomena: the secular cooling of the earth, secular change of the mean annual change of the temperature .

(2) Non-spiritual, having no concern with religious or spiritual matters . In medieval and Late Latin, saecularis was particularly used of that which belongs to this world, hence non-spiritual, lay, and secondly in the wide sense of anything which is distinct, opposed to or not connected with religion or ecclesiastical things, temporal as opposed to spiritual or ecclesiastical . Thus property transferred or alienated from spiritual to temporal hands is said to be “secularized”. (from here)

Nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, is secular. Everything, and I mean absolutely everything, is spiritual. And of course I don’t mean it in the way described above, I mean it in the way it is currently use among religious folk. Even when people consider themselves secular, they cannot escape the fact that they are hand made by God, that they live in a world and breathe the air designed by a spiritual God. We are all spiritual beings. Even when we’re not aware of it.

The connotation (the implied meaning) of secular is that it’s something bad and sinful. When we make the mistake of letting this implied meaning poison our thinking we then begin to see things as sinful and not sinful. Bad and good. And we start attaching labels. Church on Sunday (religious=good), Football on Sunday (secular=bad), a book bought at the Christian Book Store (religious=good), a book bought at Borders not in the religious section (secular=bad), all six seasons of Growing Pains (Kirk Cameron=good), all four seasons of The Office (secular=bad).

Our thinking becomes so black and white we lose the ability to see God everywhere. We limit him to specifically designed places in space that are previously consecrated or stamped with a Dobson approval.

The Pope’s recent statements follow this framework:

[The Pope] later warned, in a speech to American bishops, of the “subtle influence of secularism” that can co-opt religious people and lead even Catholics to accept abortion, divorce and co-habitation outside of marriage…“Any tendency to treat religion as a private matter must be resisted,” he said.

And any tendency to treat secularism as not a religious matter must be resisted. We are called that in everything we do, we do it to the glory of God. That means playing football, watching television, driving our car, talking to people, buying food, walking our dog, working in the office, everything, everything.

Next time you hear the word secular, stop and think how it’s being used, and what’s being implied.