ChapterOne; The Story Starts Here and There
This is the story of the start of the space we call the Shepherd & the Knucklehead…because beginnings matter.
I love beginnings, I always have…the beginnings of a season, September (even more than January); a new semester of school; a new friend or the next dream…the work of imagination. But beginnings are so much more than just something started. They almost always call.bring forward much that has come from what was before and even what might have been an ending. One of the things I am learning again is that every new beginning comes from some other, maybe lots of some others, beginning’s end . “The end is where we start from” T.S. Eliot reminds us.
The beginning of something or someone is never really one thing…seems like layers of endings.beginnings and middle places. This is true about the story of the beginnings of the Shepherd & the Knucklehead. So maybe we should begin by talking first about the endings. One thing I think I know about endings is that they often begin with discontent or dis-ease of what was once a beginning. My seasons of discontent sometimes stretched out over decades…it takes that long to sort them out and find the bottom…to get to the tears of things that feel so dissonant. “Everything is patience” Rilke reminds us. The waiting is the hard part….especially when you are waiting for the answers…because the answers never seemed like enough even after they came to you. Rather than getting into explaining these chapters of discontent…I will just say them; try to call them by their right names. Maybe the first one was around my faith. There were years that felt longer than years of chasing the answers around who God was, who human beings are and how they find each other. Then there was my education…I was rewarded for how much my term papers weighed, not content or getting to the questions or substance of things. Then there was my work, our work, the place where we get paid for answers and are sometimes told straight out that we are not being paid to think or ask questions, just do the work. I think I will stop here…it’s wearing me down. The decades of dissonance, for me, was the beginning of the end of settling for just answers and the beginning of a growing love for the “questions themselves” and the rich possibility of “living into the questions”. So these are some of my endings that formed and framed the beginnings of this magical space we call the Shepherd and the Knucklehead. What is next, what I call the space between the endings and beginnings, are four stories that deeply informed what I understand now about holding space with the others in the mystery, chaos, the not-knowingness of the middle places…the questions.
A good friend, Heather Webb, author, then a professor at Mars Hill Graduate School, wrote an article for the Mars Hill Review…a conversation, really, with author David Tomlinson. David was a leader of the British House Church movement who experienced a period of disillusionment with the evangelical church…he has continued to give himself as an “unofficial rector” for a large and growing number of disenchanted evangelicals and faith seekers at a downtown London pub called of Holy Joe’s. He learned that making space available, what I call “holding space”, for folks was a powerful way to meet the people Jesus misses most. He also discovered that he was not alone in his growing belief that there were a lot of people who had just plain given up on the church and barely hanging on to what diminished beliefs they had. David’s experiences and mine, I might add, left us with the feeling that the church pretty much held the answers and the ways to get to them. Questions? I’m sorry, but we have just run out of time, but come back next week and we’ll try to make more time for that. The churches I grew up in and served as elder/pastor left little room for honest doubt, mystery and the work of imagination around our faith. I have not met David…yet, but my hungry, thirsty heart resonated with the way he was showing up with/for the misfits, the wanderers and wonderers. It got me thinking…what would that look like here in Seattle, maybe the most un-churched region in the states. I mused, sat with, scribbled about the hope and possibility of such a place and a way of being together.
It was also in this same season of discontent that a little book of letters by Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, landed in a very dry place in my soul. Even more specifically…this passage, these words to the young poet Mr. Kappus. “You are so young, so before all beginning, and I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given to you because you could not live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now.” A certainty increased in me that an extraordinary way of entering sacred space with others might be around the question with the hope and possibility of living, “experiencing the answer some distant day”. This was a very good beginning, but not the end of the musing on these matters. By the way, Rainer Maria Rilke is one of our patron saints and continues to inform us how to be together in the question.
Yet another part of the start of the story happened to me, same season, on the far side of the country in the small town of Haledon, N.J. just down the hill from the Paterson School of Music. I got there from here while working near there and on the hunt for a stellar pint...a good craft micro brew. The Pacific Northwest holds, produces and enjoys an unbelievably deep.wide range of craft beers. Ben Franklin once said, “God must love beer because it makes men so happy.” I so agree. It not only carries happy, but two beers make for great conversation. I just attended the launch and opening of a new small brewery @ S. Lake Union by a new friend Joel Vandenbrink…the name, Two Beers Brewery…Joel gets it and beer was amazing.
I digress, back to the start of the story. I had a decent dinner up the hill from Haledon and I was whining to the pub tender about the lack of good pint as he was serving up his “dark, craft beer” offering of Sam Adams, I am wincing as I write these words. However, as any pub tender/priest worth his salt will do…he also served up hope.possibility. He said, and I trembled as I listened, “ just down the hill…maybe 20 minutes from here, is a very small establishment called The Shepherd and the Knucklehead. They have a line of handles, micro-brews that will satisfy you, even some from the Northwest I think.”
The name the Shepherd and the Knucklehead was running about wildly inside of me. Even if the handles were bad, the story of the name was enough to drive me there. Well, an hour and a half later, I was still not there. I took courage, asked for some direction…and there it was…smallish and narrow indeed. Out front hung a small funky, old sign bearing the name and a shellacked image of Jack Kerouac, beat poet and patron saint of The Shepherd and the Knucklehead. I pushed open the weighty, soiled wooden door into a long narrow room. Jim Morrison of the Doors graced the juke box with Riders on the Storm. It stopped me…this was going to good. I looked over to my right, a quick read on the handles made me smile from a deep place; Deschutes; Redhook; Sierra Nevada and Dead Guy ale…and more. I was home. On the left were a young couple BEING together in one of two booths. The wall bookshelf held the tattered works of Kerouac, Frost, good poets and some classics. I sat down at the second stool of an 11 stool bar and just listened hard for the character of this space for maybe 20 minutes. In some ways, mostly what I was hearing, feeling was not about this space in particular at all, but being born out of the stories, letters, experiences of those that informed this story.question I was living into that evening. A professor.artist type was scratching the words he was hearing on a pad on stool number 5. I was getting thirsty. I had come a long way, gotten lost along the way, for handles such as this and it seemed no one was working there that cold October night. So I asked the professor type how I could land one of those fine craft beers in my hand. He pointed me to the proprietor, Oliver Wendell Tweed, at the end of bar on stool 7 who was deeply engrossed in one of the old books from the shelf. I think it was a slow night, which worked for me, because I had a lot of questions. Questions about the story of the name, what happens here, who are you, really, Oliver Wendell Tweed (not his real name) and how did you get here from there. Over a couple of stellar pints and a couple of hours or so, we talked, listened, laughed and wondered. It changed both of us in ways we are still learning and growing into.
I suppose you want to hear the telling of the story of the name, so here you go. I guess we should start by telling what the name means to author Chris Schiavo aka (Oliver Wendell Tweed) proprietor of the Shepherd and the Knucklehead pub in Haledon. BTW, I have his permission to use the name using an ampersand instead of the word and. To Chris…it is about the celebrating the duality of man. On my flight home these words naming the paradoxical nature of whom we are as human beings in our most human beingness became larger inside of me. It resonated with a deepening sense that the juice of life is lived in the space between. In the middle places between darkness and light; the sacred and the secular; the natural and the spiritual; shadow and light. The questions are in the middle of life lived; hope gets lost and found in the middle. It also came to me that we don’t like the middle of things…not knowing, wondering. In our brokenness we huddle around the ends or the beginnings because we know them, it feels safe. It is not, I am learning.
The fourth story happened to me in remote villages.hills of Honduras. I was with a group of 10 or so really good fellows as a concierge…photojournalist. They were there to visit villages.indiginous peoples who hoped to be chosen to live on and own the land they would work and become self-supporting along the way.
On the way to these places, and on the way was a long way, I found myself pulled into, capturing images of Honduran children standing in doorways and windows looking out into the light of that day. Behind them, always, was dark, shadow..absence of light. The door, the window was in the middle. I asked our indigenous guide, Norma, about the children. It was my sense that hard things happened in the dark places, shadows. Norma said yes, they happen all the time. Village after village, hut after hut the children came forward to the light…to stand in the the space between. In the coming back to these haunting.hopeful images, words came out of the ground of me and I wrote this poem…except for the last words, I did know the end of the matter of what I was feeling. Over a strong cup of Joe and good conversation, I read the words I had to my son Micah…he had the last word; we wrote it down…here it is.
The Space Between
So much life lived on the line
the sometimes thin…sometimes long…sometimes wide
on the side of light…land.hope.life
in the absence of light,
even color is found wanting…dimmed
in the shadow…despair.hunger, a lost and foundness
at the door…the edge of light, in the space between
is where Christ is most present
What is our place, yours and mine with the ones who live in the space between?
The truth is…we are the ones in the space between…some of us all the time and all of us some of the time. In the afraidness, the frailty of our human beingness we work hard at getting out of the middle places where mystery and the questions live. And at the end this will be counted as loss of life. I will talk more about this in a subsequent chapter.
One of the most significant.valuable things that happens at the shep.knuck is the way we give folks ways to enter these human being questions. …the spaces between. We begin by clarifying the holding of our space…my place with them as priest/poet and our place together as inquirers…wonderers. The first window to the question comes through music~poetry~film~ theatre~art…these entries open the heart. i.e. Steve or Kristy , anchor (singers.songwriters) will sometimes write a song that they have lived, telling the story of getting lost and found in that particular question.
What are these questions? We will visit.enter some of them in the middle of the book in the context of real time.real life Shep.Knuck experiences. You might also be thinking…how can we start.sustain conversations like this in our neighborhood for the misfits…wonderers? That will come at the end of the book and “the end is where we start from”.
So these are the stories that tell the story of the beginnings and the middle of the Shepherd & the Knucklehead. I think it is one of the never-ending stories of my life. Come, walk.sit with me and we will wonder.wander into the spaces between and the questions we could live into. It’s always good to remember that all those who wonder are not lost. ..parker, I wonder all the time...