Holy Molé! An Interview with Dale Fredrickson

This one is for everyone. This week at Velvet Ashes we’re visiting with authors of books that we think will add value to your life and experience serving cross-culturally. At first glance, you could wonder why a book of poetry made the short list, and I’ll tell you, it’s because poetry has the unique ability to make us more ourselves, and ourselves being formed ever more into the image of Christ, is the most we can ever hope to offer the world.

Please welcome Dale Fredrickson, pastor and poet, author of Keeping Pulse: Poems for the Heart. If you’d like to engage in this conversation in the comments, you’ll be eligible to win a copy of his book.

Dale, tell us about yourself: what are your interests and vocation? when and where did poetry capture you?

I recently watched the Netflix show called Chef’s Table where they shared the story of Enrique Olvera’s famous dish called Molé Madre, which translates the Mother of Molé. Isn’t that a great name? As the storyline unfolded I was transfixed.

Traditional Mexican mold is made with chilies, tomatoes, dried fruits, spices, nuts and tortillas. Enrique honors this traditional cuisine, letting the ingredients age, and then he adds his own novel ingredients like bananas, hibiscus, and apples. The result is a delicious fusion of tradition and innovation. “Mold Madre is a breathing, living being,” says Enrique. For 400 years this dish has been growing and developing in fresh and unique ways. This is where we pause and say together, “Holy Molé Madre!”

My mind began to compare making Molé to Christianity to my love for poetry. In the same way the honored traditional mole has developed, the ancient way of Christian life continues to develop. Blending tradition and innovation is not to be feared but wisely crafted into something compelling, something that brings more meaning and purpose to our lives.

This is why I am on the planet. Like Chef Olvera, I take the rich traditions of Christian Faith and cook them carefully with new and fresh ways of thinking about God. The result is a fusion of tradition and innovation that wakes the senses and expands possibilities. Often, as I think about an aspect of Christian Spirituality and Faith I am looking for ways to communicate that aren’t stale or clichéd. I find that only poetry with its use of images and cadence, its vulnerability and strangeness, have the power to open up faith for us in new and fresh ways. So yeah, that’s the best way I can explain my vocation as pastor and poet. One more time: “Holy Molé Madre!”

What inspired this book? Who is it for?

Have you ever been in a hospital room and noticed the heart monitor? Did you pause and hear that thump-thump, thump-thump? When you hear that beat, you are hyper-aware of the gift of life. There’s actually an eerie sense of wonder about that rhythm. A few years ago, a family asked me to join them in the hospital as they said goodbye to their 88-year-old dad, grandpa, and great grandpa. As he lay there with the steady beat of his heart pounding, his family popped open a bottle of wine and for over two hours, shared stories. There was laughter and tears, joy and grief. I stood in the background in awe of this beautiful moment and when it came to an end we held hands and prayed. I drove away from that hospital with tears in my eyes and I couldn’t stop thinking about the power of the human heart. I’m not talking about the heart as a blood-pump but the heart as the vital center of thoughts, actions, and emotions. The heart as a metaphor for our highest loves, the life force of our being. I was so moved that I decided I would write a series of poems that reflected on the heart. My book is really an extended reflection on Proverbs 4:23 – “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.”

The poems in this book forced me to think about the role of emotions in human life. I came across a philosopher who wrote: “Emotions are engagements with the world that give us insight into the world.”[1] This idea suggests that emotions are not secondary reactions but essential to human living and that they have intelligence that leads us to deeper purpose and meaning. This idea began to open things up for me and with each poem I attempted to explore what my emotions were teaching me about being a dad, a son, and a flawed human who experiences joy and sadness, hope and despair, beauty and love. The result was Keeping Pulse: Poems for the Heart.

This book is for anyone who hungers for a deeper spiritual experience. It’s for those of us who want a Christian Faith that moves beyond easy answers and leads us to beauty, mystery, and ultimately a love for God and others that transcends differences. I wrote these poems to be read slowly, thoughtfully, and in short chunks of time because that works best for most of the folks I know with full lives.

What potential does poetry have to shape and inspire us? Why does it matter?

Poetry breaks and builds up; it keeps us attentive to the wounds and the wonders of life with God. There’s something very important about the musicality, memorability, and imaginative power that poetry offers us. The strangeness of poetic language can often help us to see things in new and fresh ways or poems can gift us with a word of hope in a season of pain. Poetry is an ancient art form that carries with it the power to slow us down, give us hope, and heal our lives. As the Poet, Marie Howe said, “Art helps us to let our heart break open, rather than close.” My Grandma used to read me the Psalms, some of the best poems ever written, just before she tucked me into bed. I remember how those faith-filled poems could break me open and put me back together again. With just a few lines my heart had to name my loneliness, my despair but then suddenly the poem would turn and I would be flooded with a sense of community and hope. Poetry is a refuge for us in a world that often is wild and unpredictable. Poetry is the sustenance we need in order to live healthy, flourishing lives.

Many thanks to Dale for being with us today. Now it’s your turn:

How has poetry opened faith for you in new, fresh ways? What experiences have made you reflect on the heart as a vital center? 

Leave a comment to be entered in the drawing to win a copy of Keeping Pulse.

—————————————–

Dale is a pastor and poet from Denver, Colorado. He’d like to inspire the entire world but finds that inspiring himself and his family and friends is work enough. He writes and speaks about beauty and misery and his favorite story is the one about how love surprises us in the end. He serves as the Lead Pastor at Lakewood United Methodist Church in Lakewood, CO where he fails a lot. On his best days, he lives by Samuel Beckett’s motto, “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” To learn more about Dale and his other projects check out his website www.dalefredrickson.com.

[1] Solomon, Robert. True to Our Feelings: What our Emotions are Really Telling us; (see pages 1-10).

31 Comments

  1. Mel February 15, 2017

    Thank you for so clearly reminding us of the role of poetry in life. There was a time when I wrote it, myself. But then I stopped. I would like to start again, but it can’t be forced of course… I’d love to be entered to win a copy. Thank you

    1. dale February 15, 2017

      Hi Mel! Thank you for reading and I really hope that this post and my poems encourages you to pick up the pen again. There’s so much healing and freedom there. Dale

    2. dale February 15, 2017

      okay, maybe the picture is normal size now? Maybe? Sorry Mel.

  2. Kaylene February 15, 2017

    Dale, thanks for sharing. It is wonderful to see modern Christians who write wonderful poetry as both an act of worship and a way to draw other people into the love of Christ and a place of spiritual renewal. One thing I love is the reminder of poetry as ancient art. Just as we may each prefer different styles or periods of art, so we may each prefer different styles of poetry. Friends, if you enjoy writing poems or would like to try it, don’t feel limited to modern free verse conventions. Find the style that fits your voice well and pour out your heart. This, too, can be your offering to our God.

    1. dale February 15, 2017

      Hi Kaylene,
      Thank you so much for your thoughts here!

      Dale

      1. Kaylene February 18, 2017

        Dale,
        It’s ironic that I should write what I did to encourage my sisters only to receive a very hard-to-swallow critique of one of my own poems afterward. While I know there is great value in improving in our communication skills, it seems like a delicate balance – expressing ideas in a way other people will want to read them (if we plan to share) while still remaining true to ourselves as writers, thinkers, and children of God. From your study of Scripture and your own experience, what kind of an attitude do you think Christ would have (and want us to have) if He was a poet and were to share his poetry with the world only to have many reject it?

        1. dale February 18, 2017

          Hi Kaylene, I’m sorry for your experience. I fundamentally believe from my study of Scripture and my experience as well as my intensive PhD level study of Christian Poetry in the first 6 centuries of the church that the role of every leader is to create safe places for faith reflection. Every human being has different life experiences, different cultural contexts, strengths and weaknesses in our educational backgrounds, beliefs and doubts, fears and failures. The role of good leadership is to honor the voices of all, to encourage, build up, and inspire on going self reflection and growth. This goes for any form of Christian Spiritual Formation but especially for Christian Art. We need great Christian Art, and art has to take risks to become great. This is a big and very important question and I’d love to dialogue more with you if that would be helpful. Keep writing poems and keep creating safe places for people to write and create and think and pray and love this is how a vibrant and beautiful Christian Faith grows. Much love, Dale

          1. Kaylene February 19, 2017

            Dale,
            Thank you for those affirming words. Yes, I am interested in discussing what it means to take risks in Christian art – and then give and receive life-giving critiques that can help each Christian artist to grow in their expressive abilities. How much of that growth is up to the Holy Spirit within the artist and how much of it comes from us “being the Body” to each other in love?
            God gave me a precious gift today. I was telling my dad about my experiences of the past week and he lovingly but directly told me, “You are writing for your readers. Think of them and what you believe will edify them. Then share it. Don’t let the experts dictate how you say what you know you must say.” He rarely gets riled up but I could see he was passionate about this…and not just as my father but as a creative brother in Christ and as a long-time pastor/chaplain. Well…perhaps I can answer my own question in part by looking to my dad’s quietly courageous example. But still appreciate hearing your thoughts on healthy critiquing practices.
            ~ Kaylene

        2. Bethany Nicole February 19, 2017

          It’s hard to share something so personal and raw as sometimes poetry can be, especially when we have our work mostly ignored or reacted to negatively. It can be debilitating to pour out our hearts and feel disregarded or unfairly judged. I went through a time of shutting down, not sharing anything I wrote because I was tired of feeling like it was pointless. But then I realized that even if I’m only writing for one, it’s worth it. So every time I decide to share something publicly, I always pray first, “Lord, I release this piece to You. You see that my heart is to help others through the gift You gave me, and I ask you to take it and use it how You will. I release all right, and any unholy attachment or pride I may have. It is Yours.” And then I post it. If people respond well, wonderful. Glory to the Giver of the gift. If not, I have released it, and I cannot be offended. Maybe the one person who needed it will never admit that they did. It’s God’s poem and God’s responsibility. I did my part.

          Also, I would love to have a meaningful dialogue with a fellow God-focused poet, if you’re interested.

          1. Kaylene February 19, 2017

            Bethany Nicole,
            Yes, that would be great. It is nice to meet you here and I greatly appreciate your sharing! I want to copy down your prayer and hang it above my desk. I think it will help me not only when I am sharing something with others but also when I am creating work but tempted to be overly critical of myself instead of receiving the joy of communing with the Creator by creating.
            Do you think this struggle is one of the ways in which the Christian artist must be particularly mindful of “not giving the devil a foothold”?
            ~ Kaylene

          2. Bethany Nicole February 21, 2017

            Wonderful! I’m so glad my little prayer could help you. I definitely think that is an area in which the devil can gain a foothold in us as artists and disciples. Pride is the original and one of the deadliest sins, as well as a form of self-idolatry, and when we are convinced of OUR ownership of the things we create (because rationally, they were born of us, though in reality all comes from the Creator), it is so easy to let pride creep in and say “Look what I made,” instead of “Look what the Lord has done!”

            I don’t want to post my email here, but if you click my name then go the the “about” page on my blog, my address is there. 😊

  3. Pattie February 15, 2017

    “Poetry is a refuge for us in a world that often is wild and unpredictable. Poetry is the sustenance we need in order to live healthy, flourishing lives.”
    Yes!! I actually used to write quite a bit but life got busy and I haven’t in a VERY LONG time. This is really encouraging me to make the time…incidentally, my word for the year is refuge and I believe it is time to return to that refuge. Poetry provided me a creative outlet for exploring my faith and my feelings. I’m very interested in reading the book.

    1. dale February 15, 2017

      I’m so glad that these words were inspiring Pattie! I hope you pick up your pen and write again.

      Best,

      Dale

  4. Hadassah February 15, 2017

    I love the cadence and rhythms of poetry. I find them soothing, and love to spend time crafting words to fit a certain pattern. I admire those early hymn writers , and how their poetry can hold such beauty and worship all in one. I am excited to read your book and to explore “the beauty, mystery, and ultimately a love for God and others that transcends differences.” Thank you, VA, for including a book of poetry!!!

    1. dale February 16, 2017

      Hadassah, Thank you so much for your reflections. It took me a long time to realize that words have sounds and in some profound and powerful ways these word-sounds on our lips and hearts are healing. I hope that you love my book of poems. Grace & Peace, Dale

    2. Kimberly Todd February 16, 2017

      You’re welcome, Hadassah! Thanks for your poetic comment and for letting us know we made a good choice! 🙂

  5. Elizabeth February 16, 2017

    Thanks for this interview! I’m relatively new to poetry but very interested in this book now 🙂

    1. dale February 16, 2017

      Hi Elizabeth! Yes! Yes! I think you’ll love the book and being new to poetry is a good thing. Welcome to the adventure. If you like music, I recorded many of these poems and you can hear them on Spotify or iTunes. Here’s a link: https://open.spotify.com/artist/0nXexgsYD3Bo9eUleTarsK.

      Grace & Peace,

      Dale

      1. Bethany Nicole February 17, 2017

        Thanks so much for the Spotify link! I’m listening to them now. 😊

        1. dale February 18, 2017

          Hi Bethany, I’m so glad! I hope you love them.

          Dale

  6. Michele February 16, 2017

    This interview made me think of the students I taught in rural India. Their English was kind of a mess and writing assignments were really hard to correct… Until I had them write poetry! I was always amazed at what came out of them then! It was as if in that rote-learning atmosphere of their educational world, the right side of their brains were dying to express themselves! I wish I had copied and kept their poetry. And I can’t wait to read this book! It would be great to win a copy, but if not, is it available on Kindle?

    1. dale February 16, 2017

      Hi Michele,

      I just loved hearing your experience with students in India. Wow! That is very inspiring to me. Isn’t it fascinating that poetry is a cross-cultural phenomenon? Humans across time and space, from the beginning to this day have been expressing themselves through poetry. Thanks for sharing and I hope that you love my book of poems.

      Grace & Peace,

      Dale

    2. dale February 16, 2017

      Michele,

      I almost forgot. My book is not on Kindle. I have a number of art pieces in the book and it doesn’t work well on Kindle.

      Grace & Peace,
      Dale

    3. Kimberly Todd February 16, 2017

      I love this, Michele. I had the same experience in China, having students both read and write poetry. It was such a language boost for us all when they could express themselves or read more fluidly.

  7. Kiera February 16, 2017

    I love words, so I love poetry. Like so many others have already said, I used to write a good amount of poetry too, especially in my teen and young adult years and always in times of high emotion – which goes to what Dale said above and the importance of emotion. I love this, “emotions are not secondary reactions but essential to human living and that they have intelligence that leads us to deeper purpose and meaning.” I am more of a thinker than a feeler but in recent years I have been paying more attention to emotion. In fact, I think God sometimes purposefully uses emotion to reach me since I would not usually be an overly emotional person, so when I feel really emotional about something I pay more attention.

    1. dale February 16, 2017

      Hi Kiera,

      Thank you for reading and what a nice reflection. Have you seen the Pixar movie “Inside Out?” I like what you said about emotion inviting us to pay attention. Grace & Peace, Dale

  8. dale February 16, 2017

    Hi Everyone, for those of you who are new to poetry and want to experience some of what the interview talks about here’s a recent poem that I wrote and shared. May it remind you today of the divine image within you. Grace & Peace, Dale

    1. Michele February 16, 2017

      This is a poem that says what the Lord has been whispering to me over and over again the last few weeks! Thanks for sharing it!

      1. dale February 16, 2017

        I’m so glad!

  9. Spring February 17, 2017

    I admit that I am often one to skim poems. For school my children have worked on memorization of poens. We read them at least 3 times aday. This encourages me to look deepet. It is a challenge. U really enjoyed your perspective on your work, and the vital part of emotions

  10. dale February 18, 2017

    Thank you, Spring. I think that you would really enjoy my book of poems “Keeping Pulse” and the Album that comes with it. Have a great day!
    Dale

What do you think?

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>