Remembering Shirley

I was weeding out my files the other day when I came across a poem I wrote in memory of Shirley Guthrie, long time theology professor at Columbia Theological Seminary and author of the classic book Christian Doctrine who died of cancer in October, 2004.

A story I wrote for the Presbyterian Voice about Shirley’s death and how he’d be remembered can be accessed here:(

I whipped up the poem a couple of months later and read it as part of a creative writing assignment for a January term class on Children’s Spirituality. While the poem is not quite appropriate for a 10 year old, it does have a child-like whimsey to it. And it honors a good humored theologian who never took himself too seriously and never hesitated to claim that he was a child of God in life and in the midst of death. I hope he’s having a blast in Heaven’s Tap.

“Heaven’s Tap”

Up in the clouds where the angels have been known to take drunken afternoon naps is a pub called Heaven’s Tap.

It’s a grand ole place just inside the pearly gates where the beer is cheap and the conversation is first rate. It is after all filled with a lot of theological debates.

They come in one by one as its deemed their time. They pour pitchers of ale, brandy or wine. But the drink doesn’t matter as long as it has fun with mind, tickles the tongue and pulls forth a rhyme.

And of course it’s always good to have friends very near and enemies even nearer. You never know what you’re going to get considering God is the ultimate grace-bearer.

Oh there are some beautiful arguments to see, so try not to scoff at it if you please. They go round and rounad about philosophies, doctrines and theologies as old as Origen and Socrates.

Barth will say it’s “Scripture that connects us to the Creator”

But Tillich will argue, “No, experience is greater.”

Luther will say, “Christ is in and under and around the bread and the cup.”

And Calvin will argue “No, It’s the Holy Spirit that lifts us up.”

Meanwhile in the corner of the room Zwingli pours the wine while Wesley takes a gulp warming his heart just fine.

And the feminist and liberation scholars ar there too. They poke their heads in the conversation to make a point, just a few–to clarify, to counter, to haw and to hem, lend a good insight every now and then. And sometimes they pass around a joint or two just to make amends.

But soon, in walks a stranger, one of the recently deceased with a jingle in his pocket and a blue sweater that is creased.

He sits down and wraps his legs around the bottom of a chair.

He orders a beer and lights up a pipe with the easiest of care. Then he sits back and smiles, eager to hear the rhetoric that is filling the air.

So they turn to him for some words of wisdom when they are stuck in a fight, and he says to each and every one of them, “That sounds just about right.”

And they raise their glasses and cheer, shouting, “Oh what a party it’s going to be in Heaven’s Tap every day and every night!”


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