What I Learned from the Presbyterians

It happens this way …

On the evening of January 15, while my students and I gathered in our local library for another meeting of the Happy Valley Poetry Society, one of our dear members lay dead on the floor of his home a few miles away. Sam Cole, one of the goofiest, dearest men I’ve ever met, suffered a massive brain bleed that day, and his wife Jane found him when she returned home from some errands.

Two ironies:

  1. Sam had been given a sparkling bill of health by his doctor the day before.
  2. This was the first class Sam missed since we started our group last April.

That morning at 8:53 a.m. Sam had sent me a poem for class discussion. Unlike the quirky humor that filled his previous work – he aspired to be a stand-up comic – this one was nature-based. Since he wasn’t there to share it, I read it out loud to the class and we ooh-ed and aah-ed at the imagery.

Here’s the poem:

The Stream

by Sam Cole

This month gurgling around

mossy green rocks and boulders

sparkling by day and moonlight

shoulders caressing ferns and old tree roots

calm for its water skippers

while lichened oaks, elms, and alders shadow it.


But next month riches of forest rain

fill its one deep pool

no longer home to minnows and summer camp kids

now ready for spawning salmon to rest

before their final moments upstream.

Here, room waits for all.

No questions asked.


Those last two lines are killers, no? How prophetic!

Yesterday Sam’s church community at Milwaukie Presbyterian held a memorial service for him that was just stunning in its outpouring of love for this man who played several integral roles in the church.

The church’s leader is a young woman: a charming person whom you’d love to be friends with. After the service, we had time to chat and I felt embraced by her loving energy. How blessed that church is to have her.

Rev. Katie had done a scriptural reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans in a translation that almost made me jump out of my seat. She told me later it was from the work of Eugene Peterson in a version of the Bible called “The Message.” Peterson tries to make the language sound like the original Greek and Hebrew would have sounded to the original listeners and readers.

I found the translation on line for free (https://www.biblestudytools.com/msg/) and am going full-blown ecstatic reading it.

A tidbit from Romans 10: 9-20

9. Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good.

10. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.

11. Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master,

12. cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder.

13. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.

14. Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath.

15. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down.

16. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the  great somebody.

17. Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone.

18. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody.

19. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”

20. Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness.

“Don’t fake it … practice playing second fiddle …no cursing under your breath …don’t be stuck up… don’t be the great somebody…”

Wow! There are poems to be written here.

God speed, Sam! I know you’re delighting the angels with your goofy poetry and stand-up comedy. We will miss you.

Milwaukie Presbyterian Church

Milwaukie Presbyterian Church