Category Archives: Randomly me

Top Ten posts in 2019

Dear readers — Thanks for listening in 2019! This blog received over 40% more hits than than the previous year, so I guess we are communicating. I am especially grateful for everyone who subscribes. 2020 is going to be blessed! — Rod

Top Ten new posts from 2019

  • 5 lies the culture tells us: David Brooks meets our proverbs  April 22, 2019

David Brooks says, “At the root of it all is the following problem: We’ve created a culture based on lies.” Our proverbs provide the antidote.

  • Exploring DBT skills with Jesus: Ever thought you’re an idiot? Read this  March 25, 2019

My Dialectical Behavioral Therapy workshop leads me to explore the wisdom and dangers of following Buddhists who give us a guide to soul care.

We need to listen to people, even on the internet, with compassion and openness to understand them. We are all wrestling with rumors.

The Lord’s death destroyed the old order and his resurrection created the new. That’s being political in the best way possible.

  • Undo triangulation in the church: Practice Matthew 18 April 1, 2019

Everyone in the church wants to be in a healthy church. The promise of Jesus is that His church will be filled with love – but then there is triangulation.

For eroding faith, maybe the best thing you can do right now is to experience all of the things that you can know, and simply receive them with gratitude.

Being canceled hurts. I am not totally familiar on how it is happening on social media. But I do know how it feels face to face when the face disappears.

  • Is a political storm coming? : Some help for travelling through it with Jesus October 21, 2019

A simple agreement to make together for navigating the treacherous storm waters ahead and saving people from the flood is to not follow the devil!

The the second half is the time of life when we face the limits of our capacity and lifespan, now that our bodies start to tell us we’re no longer young.

  • Background check debate: Stray guns and your child at the playdate February 11, 2019

The House held its first hearing on guns and violence in eight years mainly on a bill that would require stricter background checks.

Top Ten posts in 2019 from past years

  1. Is God Going to Punish Me? October 29, 2012
  2. A spiritual midwife: God’s helpers in birthing new life February 3, 2013
  3. The Stages of Faith: Earth, Wind, Fire and Water November 5, 2018
  4. 12 Things spiritually wise people do not do. November 1, 2016
  5. The relationship cutoff: 10 reasons it is so common these days July 23, 2018
  6. That feeling of obligation could be good for you (or bad) November 21, 2016
  7. The word in the wilderness: The fruit of the isolation we fear February 5, 2018
  8. Prayer for Recognition March 22, 2010
  9. What do YOU think? Is screen time damaging the kids? November 26, 2018
  10. Frustration: 13 reasons people leave the church — and why you might be about to. August 30, 2016

Most read posts in 2018

I think there are a lot of good writers out there these days. So I am grateful that you take the time to visit my blog. I gained a few subscribers this year, which was heartening, since I’d like to share what God gives me with whoever needs it.

Image result for the shape of water

The next ten titles are my “top ten” for 2018

The Shape of Water: Enough already! – I react to the philosophy behind what was later named best picture.

The beginning of Joshua – My hope for my friend’s future.

Trump tempts Jesus-followers with the worst: revenge, lies, division – I consider our toxic political environment

A way Christians and Buddhists can be friends – Tim Geoffrion leads me to consider the Blenders, the Borrowers and the Inspired.

Give the baby a church, for Christ’s sake. – My parents did not know they were giving me an important gift when they gave me the church.

Trump is a lot like Nero, which brings me back to Paul. – My Greek pilgrimage helps me react to Jeff Sessions interpreting Romans 13

Resistance — Was it your fault or their struggle when they left the church? – Be careful with people in the church who are up against their resistance.

The Sanchi, ice sheets, the Bible: Reasons to notice the crisis in Creation – A Bible study summarized by Jesus: We are not excused from caring about what happens to our neighbor because of principle, profit or preference.

The word in the wilderness: The fruit of the isolation we fear – When I am alone, I am actually alone with God

Is it OK to use my work resources for the church or is that stealing? – We need to ask and answer good questions.

These five titles from previous years are among the most read in 2018, too.

Is God Going to Punish Me?

That feeling of obligation could be good for you (or bad)

12 Things spiritually wise people do not do.

Redux #3: Would God send Gandhi to hell? — redux

Frustration: 13 reasons people leave the church — and why you might be about to.

My creative relinquishment — and ours.

Image result for vine and branches art
The true vine and branches. San Clemente — Rome

A week of praying through times of transition at Circle of Hope Daily Prayer :: WATER last week was very good for me. I am in one of those transitions. You might be aware of it, since Circle of Hope sent me into it when they declared a transition of the whole church into our “second act” a couple of years ago. I thought I kind of knew where I was going, but there has been more development and change than I imagined!

The well-watered schedule

As a church we bought a new building, created new businesses, multiplied a new congregation, bid good-bye to significant partners, developed a new kind of pastors team and solidified a mostly-new leadership team. I was in the middle of all those changes. As a result of them, it seems to me, we are pulsing on the edges of our two-handed outreach: compassion and disciple-making. In a societal environment in which Jesus is not too popular right now, it is amazing how many people have made a brand-new relationship with the risen Lord this year!

Personally, I found myself jumping in and out of the problems that development causes. Nobody knows what a “development pastor” really does, since nobody else is one. But I quickly found out as my assignment came into play. I had plenty to do with mentoring, developing our crucial leadership team, helping with the practicalities of businesses, buildings and staff, and working out new teaching and communication (and there is more, I realized as I was making this list). I was supposed to work less hours but that did not immediately pan out.

Now that I am entering the last year of my term, I realize I have also been learning how to get smaller and let go, as I knew was my trajectory from the beginning.

Dead wood

That learning brings me to the Daily Prayer entry that really hit me last week. It was on “creative relinquishment.” I even enjoyed the extension of the Lord’s metaphor about him being the vine and we the branches to include considering what has become dead wood and what is sprouting on our branch. “One of the challenges of living in concert with the creativity of God is how to attend to present passions while releasing those tasks that are completed. How can we honor the past that we carry with us while not letting it define the future? How can we live in a well-ordered psychological house without accumulating too much stuff in the basement?  Life in the Spirit is a flow of engagement and release, of attachment and detachment, of commitment and relinquishment…. As we listen to God’s creative beckoning, we need to ask, ‘What must I release, in order to make way for what is calling now?’”

Unlike many people, I suspect, I actually did the prayer exercises that were suggested. Don’t get me wrong, I often avoid spending my precious time on spiritual exercises and my self-importance often has the same bad effect yours does on you. But I am in a time of life when I need to figure out what is the best next step for me. So I did some exercises. The question that I’ve been pondering ever since is: What is the “dead” wood on my branch of the vine? I was glad to be reminded that, in the Lord’s ecosystem, when a seed falls into the earth and “dies” it rises to new life and bears much fruit (John 12:24). So dead wood is not “bad” wood. I may be getting old, but I am hardly dead yet. Even though people persist in asking  me, “How is retirement?”, that does not mean the Lord has retired me. “Creative relinquishment happens in the context of resurrection and eternal life, not in a realm of scarcity and decline.”

Possible sprouts

As I am looking back on my recent history, I am happy we decided to go the route of “creative relinquishment” of our first act as we patiently and relatively consciously moved into our second. Although our risky behavior and unexpected changes have upended us a bit, lately, I think we are poised for deeper and more effective ministry than ever. I am also happy the church trusted me to be productive through a transition rather than just cutting me loose to see what happened. I expect to keep being helpful. And I have personally been inching toward clarity about where God is leading me next as part of our body.

Here is how clarity happens for me, and maybe for you. Last weekend Gwen and I were with dear friends who are a little older than us. They helped to create an atmosphere where deep thinking is welcomed. I began to see where some activities that have been very dear to me in my life are about done. I am not “dead to them” like I am sick from them or of them, but they are withering. They are decreasing so new things can sprout – sort of like the forest outside my window right now, whose floor is littered with toppled trees feeding the saplings right next to them. We watched a new movie together called  The Wife, with Glenn Close, and it aroused even more of what I had been thinking.  She has such an urge to give her gift of writing. It was interesting to see trees topple in mysterious ways to offer her a new blank page. My blank page is beginning to get a few sentences and that gives me hope for how the Lord is leading each of us, you included, as we keep listening. Let’s pray.

Say a little prayer with Aretha Franklin

Image result for aretha franklin church

Last week I was sitting on my porch at 1pm on a Thursday eating an ice cream sandwich, all of which are rare. A car rolled by with the windows down, playing I Say a Little Prayer by Aretha Franklin, one of my favorites. It was still playing in my mind when I went inside to my computer. As soon as I sat down, a chat screen popped up and Jonny told me Aretha had died — he knows I am a fan. So I will probably always remember the day Aretha Franklin died because of that serendipity. And because she has been a companion along my way since I was fourteen. I suspect I have played her album of Atlantic hits 500 times and said a little prayer with her a few times, too.

I was fourteen in 1968 when Respect won two Grammys and Aretha Franklin became a feature on the Hi-Fi stationed in my family’s living room. There were no personal music players or earphones back then so music was a communal experience. My parents did not like Aretha  in their communal experience (just like they hadn’t liked one of her mentors, Mahalia Jackson). For one thing, she was black and they were vocal racists, especially my father, who had competed for sharecropping jobs with black men and jealously guarded whatever shred of white privilege he could muster. What’s more, she sounded aggressive and loud. Even if they didn’t listen to the words and didn’t get it when she spelled it out: R-E-S-P-E-C-T, they could feel her demand when she sang. She threatened the living room. Her blackness invaded my parents’ sanctuary.

I did not get all this completely when I was fourteen. I’m a product of racism just like we all are. So it merely felt like a like a guilty pleasure to rebelliously listen to Aretha, and to allow someone but Perry Como to define music for me. Aretha liked Perry Como, too (I read the interview),  just like she enjoyed all kinds of good music. But my parents did not know that, mostly because she was black and it betrayed their worldview to listen to her. Nevertheless, my relationship with the Queen of Soul grew and my appreciation of her talent and passion deepened.

As it turns out, the famously private Aretha Franklin was hiding all the trauma that would have appalled my parents and supercharged the disrespect they were eager to pour on her. Her parents were separated. She was a teen mother at 12 and 14. Her first husband purportedly abused her. She had two divorces. She was often overweight. She was known for idealizing her life, not even publicly admitting to the pancreatic cancer that eventually killed her as late as last year.

At the same time she was using the gift God gave her to make a huge difference. Had she just given us the pleasure of listening to her great musical talent, however she used it, that would have been enough. But her music became the soundtrack of the civil rights movement for African Americans and women both. And her insistence on doing things that were beyond the labels under which she labored and the track on which her previous success directed her is an example for all of us who feel underestimated or pigeonholed.

Her soulful talent helped me move out of my racist bubble. Thank God. I remember another moment of transition related to the song that came to me through the car window on her death day. I got started with I Say a Little Prayer with Dionne Warwick in 1967 before Aretha recorded it in 1968

I loved Dionne Warwick’s version. But when I heard Aretha’s, I realized that Warwick’s was something of a sanitized version which was more about the cool, cerebral music of Burt Bacharach than about Dionne Warwick. She was just a vehicle for the notes. When Aretha got a hold of it, it was full of passion that transcended the notes and most of the words. At the end of the song, she turns it into an actual prayer and we are all invited into a place that is a lot bigger than pop. So-called white people used so-called black people to carry their assignments long before I learned as a child to think of that as normal. Aretha broke me out of that normality when she led me someplace bigger. She was a leader. And even wounded, she was just bigger than most of us.

I suppose that is why I was particularly moved when she died. Like many other people I eventually tuned into the news channels to see what people were saying about her and to invite her into my living room again, this time to celebrate her with freedom. I found myself shedding a tear with President Obama as her Kennedy Center Performance was repeatedly replayed.

As I listened, I had another revelation that led to this blog post. I loved A Natural Woman when I heard it on Carol King’s Tapestry (which I had on vinyl and basically wore out with many plays). But when Aretha got a hold of it, she added a spiritual dimension that took it beyond the great feeling of a man seeing his partner as the woman she is and calling out the best in her (which I hope we all get to experience many, many times). I honestly think she took the song where we can all sing it to God.

Maybe this seems strange, but when I sing “You make me feel like a natural woman” along with Aretha, I feel God making me feel like my true self, even when I sing “natural woman!” Again, she brought someone larger to the music. It seems like Aretha did not have too many people in her life to make her feel as safe and real as the song sings it. So I think she must have gotten her power in the secret place she kept beyond fame, pain, addiction and racism where Jesus reminded her she was his beloved. May she rest in God’s arms.

Top posts of 2017

I thought some of you might be interested in what others were reading in 2017. These are the top posts, according to the stats. I gave you a little taste so you could see if you wanted the whole piece.

April 2017 — 15 fact-based reasons to accept the resurrection of Jesus

Brothers and sisters, because of what happened in that Upper Room, on that cross, and in that tomb nearly 2000 years ago, we know God the Father intimately, we walk with Christ daily, and we are guided by the Holy Spirit eternally. That’s the truth, and it is beautiful (John 8:32). When I was first becoming a Jesus follower, I just barely believed  it. But my mind led me to my feelings, and then both led me to my spiritual capacity which enlivened the heart of me so I could walk by faith. I am risen with Christ myself! That’s a beautiful truth, too.

July 2017 — What to do when that troubled person is not going away?

Sometimes we just have to meet someone on the street who is unreconciled to us and Jesus. We will try to make things right, as far as we are able, but we will not stop following Jesus, knowing He is able to do more than we ask or imagine. We may not all be in one of these messy situations right now, but we probably will be. Let’s keep praying for one another, keep being honest, and keep following the One who will bring it all to right in the end.

November 2016 — That feeling of obligation could be good for you (or bad)

If we listen to God and one another, we will probably end up pretty close to where we ought to be as a member of the body of Christ. The Spirit moves us to grow into our fullness. In the course of that movement there will be a lot of opportunities to say “No” or “Yes.” Even if we are wrong about how we react, our poor reactions will just provide more instruction for our future — even when we lose, we can’t lose with Jesus. In Christ, our main obligation is living and the Lord guarantees the fullness of that if we keep going.

June 2017 — What will Wonder Woman do to the children?

We considered our plan for children as a church last Saturday. I watched Wonder Woman on Friday. It was quite a juxtaposition. I wonder if we will have enough community in Christ to counteract the 1500 people who rammed Wonder Woman into our consciousness and threaten to trample it into submission.

October 2017 — There is hope: But you’ll need to die to enjoy it

God is protecting that golden true self at the heart of each of us, calling us to meet in that Spirit-open place where life moves us and draws us. The everyday way to living comfortably and securely outside our present-oriented injuries and fears and into our eternal now with God is the listening, feeling and releasing prayer of meditation. I

June 2015 — Tagged with “cult”

Try to be someone and there is likely to be at least one person who will try to get you back into the world as they know it. Try to follow Jesus in the way he is going and the takedown factor doubles.

May 2017 — 15 habits of success the rich stole from poor Jesus

We have an unhinged president who, by all accounts, is successful. You probably want to be less like him every day! But I can’t help thinking that we need to get better at doing the God-given things with which we are charged since people who are proficiently wicked rule us more efficiently all the time.

August 2015 — Praying with Jesus in the weeds

People who pray in the weeds, like Jesus prays from the cross, end up smelling like Christ. They don’t have to fight in a way that is as ugly as the world. They have a beautiful morality that people experience whenever they show up, having just come from prayer, having just realized, again, that they are one with Christ and Christ is one with them.

June 2017 — Avoidance: Six ways to find comfort in your suffering

People ghost my cell, the church, our appointment all the time and sometimes they even get out of my party before I can make them say good-bye to me. (Best solution to that awkwardness: avoid the party, which has surely been done). I guess Jesus is the only Holy Ghost who doesn’t ghost us. It is a good thing he doesn’t need an invitation to our parties, and it is especially wonderful that he even stays to help clean up.

February 2017 — We are God’s antidote to loneliness

I think Jesus has made his church the antidote to the present malady and to what might be coming. It is not like someone will walk into a meeting and automatically feel connected (although that regularly happens). But we have the solutions to the problem, when it comes to loneliness. We have a lot of damage to repair, but Jesus is still the Healer.

August 2017 — Crisis in the Congo: An invitation to peek out from under our blanket of self-absorption

I just want to say that It would be best if we were not so self-absorbed that we react to every Trumped-up bit of nonsense that comes over the airwaves as if it were of primary importance. We should discern what are the most important things for us to care about, not just careen from newsbite to newsbite.  Even as the President tries to distract us from some sin by committing another, we should not take the bait, but attempt to see from the eternal perspective of Jesus and act accordingly.

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Top Ten Posts of 2016

Thanks for reading in 2016, friends. I have not played the blogging game too hard, so it is encouraging that people manage to find my footprints on the beach and stick with me on the journey.  Here are my most-read posts for the past year. Click the headings to link to the posts.

Periodically, I try to talk back when I get a whiff of Circle of Hope’s reputation. If you’ve been around a while, or even when you do something notable, people say stuff about you. I think I realized more than ever in 2016 that God has not only developed a way of life among us that contrasts with much of the churches in town, we also have some corrective theology to offer a Church that generally thought Donald Trump and the Republicans had their interests in mind. Some think we are not “holding the line” on purity. They are right; we are not holding their line.

Periodically, I can’t resist talking back to evangelical talking heads. Donald Miller never intended to be that, but then Blue Like Jazz sold over 1.5 million copies. He is way too influential, IMHO.

These posts about the election process also go on the list:
We have no other king but Bernie?
About Hillary — we can do better
About Trump — we can do better

What a crazy year! Hillary Clinton trounces Trump in the popular vote and he becomes president! I had quite a bit to say about it all — mostly trying to help us not be swallowed and to maintain our sense of separation from the world. We also did some theology that explained why we maintain that sense of separation, which I summarized on the Way of Jesus blog Elections: Trump, Constantine, etc.

I think a lot of people read this because Circle of Hope, in particular, has been colonized by disaffected evangelicals, and because, generally, there are a lot of people who are fed up with a church that promises one thing and does another. We are longing for Jesus, and he is often not allowed to be himself in our church, just like we aren’t.

In August I took the opportunity to explain what it is like to be me, now that I have traveled a while as Development Pastor. I think this post explains a bit of what Circle of Hope aspires to be now, too.

This post a also includes links to all the dispatches I sent from Africa when Gwen, Joshua, Bethany and I traveled with a crew associated with MCC to see what is going on in Zimbabwe and Zambia. They were all among my most-read posts. I think our trip had the intended impact and strengthened the Brethren in Christ – U.S. partnership with MCC.

I see quite a few married couples in the course of a month. Most thirtysomethings who are married could probably use some counseling to gain some insight and tools for the next steps in their relationship. This post is a summary of of a couple of things they might want to learn.

The Development Pastor at One Year

dancingI wrote about Rachel at one month. I got excited about Julie and Jerome at one month. But I have not said too much about myself as I have been moving through this interesting transition year. Someone wondered why. So here I am. I’m almost a year into being the “Development Pastor.” I’m telling some of my own story.

My new role feels a bit like my village was raided and we needed to move — it is more of a transition than I expected! It is life-changing, but it is also life-affirming, in the sense that a lot of what God gave me along the way is like a tool chest for this new territory.

No, I did not retire

I went to the General Conference of the Brethren in Christ in July (like I have every other year for decades) and must have been asked twenty times, “How is retirement?” I’m shaking my head as I write. Retirement?!

I might have said, “I wish retirement!” (since 60somethings supposedly thirst for it), but I don’t wish.

My new role in the church is less hands on and supposedly less time (not yet, really), but it is no less an occupation to which I feel called and fully deployed. I actually started another part-time profession when I began to apply my new doctorate to psychotherapy in Circle Counseling’s new digs at 1226 S. Broad St. So I won’t be retiring any time soon.

That is odd.

It is odd for the founding pastor of a church to step away and let his descendants take over. Usually, they wheel him out in a coffin or wheel him into a fancy office where he can keep looking like he presides over everything. Or, if that doesn’t work out, he just disappears and leaves the future of the church to “whatever.” I think many people think disappearing is more normal than transitioning to another role in the body—fired, tired or expired, you are supposed to go.

But last week Gwen and I sat in our usual spot at the South Broad Sunday meeting — we still like it right up front. But that is as close to “up front” as I got. I have been asked several times if taking a back seat feels sad for me. I must miss giving speeches. Or worse, I must feel disappeared, since, in the past, people came to see me like I was an episode of The Big Bang Theory and now there is a crime drama at that time so they are into crime drama and forgot The Big Bang. A lot of pastors do disappear when they are not in front every week. It is actually sort of pastor protocol for them to not infect the career of their successors. Instead, I was sitting next to Rachel last week.

I don’t miss it that much.  I never really thought being “up front” was the heart of my leadership, anyway —  I never found myself in the footlights, I guess. And Circle of Hope is more of a tribe than a production company, anyway, so I grew into another role. That feels right to me. I am still a member of the tribe; I’m just doing something else that fits where I am and where we are now. I suppose it does seem odd that our employees are not mere interchangeable parts we could order out of a catalog, but that’s how we are.

What do you do now?

One of the Coordinators asked this question the other day even though I report to them every week. I think I have been predictable so long it is unnerving to let me change, “If you are not that, what could you possibly be?” Sometimes I feel like that too. We’re all getting a handle on it. I think of what I do now as all about the future.  Circle of Hope has an amazing identity and a wonderful community. I am all about developing us to take who we are and move it into the future God is laying out for us as a whole church. We are a much bigger deal than we used to be and we have a bigger responsibility to develop and use what we have been given. I think the world and the church needs us to be deep, conscientious and strong.

The three big titles in the description of what I do are Formation, Teaching, and Development.

  • Formation is about spiritual and psychological health – I try to give the church tools (like Daily Prayer and the Way of Jesus), but mostly this is about personal counseling, mentoring and spiritual direction.
  • Teaching is more obvious – sometimes I am back up front, but all over the church in the Sunday meetings and training times. I invent and organize Gifts for Growing (like the 30something Retreat and Doing Theology coming up). I write like this.
  • Development is the largest area right now – we have new systems to use to build our institution and we have new needs to face as we grow. I’m into developing all the systems and facing the needs. I help the Leadership Team grow (that’s my main team). I often deal with conflict and goal setting. I help with the practical matters of moving over the edge into new territory. Somebody noticed that it was nice to have “your very own older person” around — things happen when you are out on the edge.

What is our edge?

What the church has done with me and how we are multiplying a congregation right now is so remarkable people have a hard time understanding it. I love how we can take risks and let the Spirit empower us and save us. If you are not excited about that, I think you ought to be. You are edgy. But there are further places to move.

I think we are going to go against the grain of the Northeast’s spiritual devolution and keep church planting. Plus, like our Map says this year, I think we are going to create a mutuality web that is the antidote to the soul-crushing individualism being written into law in the United States. What’s more, I think our new ideas for “good business” are going to start a very practical expression of our creativity. Those are the first things that come to mind.

What about teens? What about urban parenting? What about school care? What about finding a voice for alternativity? What about art? Climate change? There is a lot going on, and there should be. It is a challenging era to be a Jesus follower and we have been given a lot to contribute to the Lord’s cause.

What gives you strength?

I’ve had several conversations that pointed this out to me this week. I realized that my capacity is all learned. I have some native ability to do what I do, of course. But most of what I need has been an acquisition, a gift received, not an inner discovery.

  • Simplicity – My money is a tool. My success does not define me. Life is what I am living. I stick with my calling.
  • Centered prayer – Silence and contemplation are essential. Being with Jesus all day is a joy.
  • Teaming – I don’t do anything alone. Relationships of love are how the best things get done. I am a covenant member of the body of Christ.
  • Focus on goals – I like getting things done and I will risk failure to do them. I try to keep it simple and determine to do what I can actually accomplish. I am not a perfectionist. Thinking and acting ahead is important.
  • Reading widely (and yes FB and Twitter) – Nothing much is new under the sun, I may just not know it yet. I think the art of repurposing is more important than invention most of the time. Humility and foolishness lead to good things; I listen from that vantage point.

What will be new?

I’m feeling a bit uncomfortable after writing all this about myself. Presuming that someone is interested in me is not in my inner script. But I got to the end of it so the curious would feel more secure about what is happening in their church. It is odd. The new me is kind of odd, I guess. But I hope the change is very good. I am not sure what will happen, but a few things are coming into focus:

  • I hope my next ten years are full of children: spiritual children, grandchildren, and other people’s children.
  • I am going to enjoy letting go of our “2nd act” structures, once they can all walk —many of our innovations are still babies.
  • I intend to do more psychotherapy and spiritual direction.
  • I already write more.
  • I expect to teach more in the Hallowood Institute Gwen is founding, as well as throughout Circle of Hope.
  • I will apply myself to whatever I am given by God as I have always tried to do.
  • And, of course, Circle of Hope will be new. It is changing right now before our very eyes. Like I said, I actually feel a bit uprooted from the pleasant valley we used to live in. But I look forward to what will become of this much larger place into which we have entered. Much of it is unexplored, but what I have seen is beautiful! I look forward to what it becomes in much the same way I wonder if the baby’s eyes will stay blue — it is yet to be revealed but a sweet anticipation.

Top ten posts of 2015 and before

You may have missed some of the posts others found interesting in 2015!

1. Obama runs over Jesus in victory lap

Even though I give the speech a high rating (which I am sure Barack is waiting to hear), and even though I can whip up some admiration for the president’s audacity, competitiveness and attention to some of my greatest irritations, the speech made me glad, as usual, that Jesus introduced me to an alternative way of life and glad that Circle of Hope keeps giving me a chance to practice it.

2. If I tell you not to watch Kingsman will it make you want to see it?

Continue reading Top ten posts of 2015 and before

Confession: I am ready to move

I feel like I have a secret to confess: I am glad to move out of my office.

I will miss my titanic window, for sure, and those great bookshelves my friends built for me (and some of the books I am leaving to Rachel!). But I am glad to move on. True, I don’t get too attached to places (except Philadelphia, apparently), but it’s more. It is time for a second and third act of this great play God is writing with my life. I am looking forward to it.

For some reason, when I say something like that, I feel like a traitor to the good memories that the office holds in my mind and others’. Even though I am excited to move into what is next, there are reasons for feeling a bit guilty:

Continue reading Confession: I am ready to move

My own embarrassment of riches

Both of Gwen’s parents died in 2012. The loss changed our lives in significant ways. One of the greatest changes was financial. After surviving since we were eighteen by our own ingenuity and living most of our marriage in something of a voluntary poverty, we got slammed with a significant boatload of money to manage. Now, among the things my spiritual director and friends hear about, are the new experiences Gwen and I are having now that her inheritance from her parents has arrived. My director convinced me to embrace it and see where God is taking me now rather than avoid or resent the new reality.

Continue reading My own embarrassment of riches

Tributes to St. Valentine

My tributes to St. Valentine.

1) A poem about his obscure but courageous-sounding history [link]

2) Making a connection with poor Whitmey Houston [link]

The Miracle Toy

Members of our family have given gifts of Christmas stories over the years. I thought you might enjoy mine from last year. Merry Christmas!

Grandpa was getting old, so if you wanted to avoid taking a nap and you wanted to do things you weren’t supposed to do with him, it often meant that you needed to sit still and not squirm too much for long periods. He told stories a lot and sometimes he seemed to forget what he was talking about and you needed to help him stay on track. That is some of what the boy knew. He liked grandpa and liked his stories too.

One day before Christmas the boy and Grandpa were sitting by the sparkling tree in his house. Grandma was gone somewhere, so grandpa had just finished blowing some smoke rings with the cigar he had been smoking in the house, which the boy knew grandma forbid him to do.

The boy looked at the tree and said, “I wonder what is in my present. I can’t wait to find out.”

Grandpa said, “What did you pray for?”

The boy looked at him. He finally said, “Why would I pray for a present? I don’t think my dad even thinks I am supposed to do that. I’m not supposed to pray for selfish things.”

“Nonsense,” Grandpa said. “Your father doesn’t know everything.” The boy began to squirm a little and looked at the back door to see if Grandma was listening. But she was still gone. “You should pray about everything, whether you know what you are doing or not. The best prayers are probably the ones that seem the stupidest, since God knows you’re stupid.”

The boy looked at Grandpa to see if he was smiling. He was. But he also looked like he was thinking. He couldn’t decide if he needed to be insulted about being called stupid.

“I know about a boy who prayed for a Fort Apache set one Christmas.” Grandpa continued.

“What is a Fort Apache set?’ the boy asked.

“Well it was a long time ago that this happened. Maybe little boys have stopped praying since that time. But a long time ago Fort Apache sets were quite popular. So he prayed for it.”

“Why? What is it?” The boy sensed a story coming on.

fort apache“A long time ago, little boys, such as yourself, liked to replay the genocidal war between the United States government and the Native Americans.”

The boy had long been accustomed to not stopping a story to figure out what something like genocidal was all about. Grandpa didn’t talk down to kids, but he didn’t care too much about being understood, either.

“Fort Apache was a fort in Arizona. You know what a fort is, right? It is a fortified camp where soldiers put up a big fence to keep out the people who scare them. They put all their guns and equipment in their fort so nobody can get it. Fort Apache was in the Apache Indian territory. You know about Apaches I hope. I suppose that your school is teaching you about leprechauns or something instead of Apaches.” And Grandpa turned toward him.

It was true. He had heard about leprechauns and had no idea about Apaches.

“I thought as much. In the 1870s, that’s about three grandpas ago, the Apache Indians were the tough Indians in Arizona. Ever heard someone say, ‘Geronimo!’? Geronimo was a Chiricahua Apache Indian and he was a tough leader. If anyone ever attacks this house, you might have to be like Geronimo.”

The boy just looked at Grandpa chewing on the end of his put-out cigar, staring into space. He knew that he could not tell his mother that someone was going to attack the house.

“Well, a long time ago when this little boy prayed for a Fort Apache set, playing out the war between the United States and the Apaches was pretty popular. You could get this toy set in a big box. The set had a fort you could put together. There were little soldiers that were blue and little Indians that were brown. Sometimes your dog got a hold of them and chewed their heads off so you had to be careful. You could set up the thing in your back yard and it would be just like Arizona. You could build mountains out of rocks for the Indians to hide in. The soldiers could attack from their fort. Boys made up rules about how the game of war could be played and they got in fights over that. It was a lot of fun.”

“So you knew a boy who had this toy?”

“You better believe I knew him. Getting that toy was a very big deal to this kid when he was just about your age.”

“Why would a toy be such a big deal? I have lots of toys.”

“Well this kid hardly had any toys. He used to make toys out of old socks. One time he stole a sock out of his dad’s sock drawer to make a toy and he got caught. His dad gave him a spanking right on his butt.”

“My Dad never spanks me.“

“Well don’t steal his socks.”

“What toy could someone make with a sock?” He knew he was delaying the story and it needed to get done before grandma got back, but he just couldn’t figure it out.

“There are a lot of things you can make with a sock. If you only have one stuffed bear and you need two for a game, a sock stuffed with newspaper or your sister’s pajama top can be turned into something. But mostly this boy filled socks with dirt and hit people with them. You probably won’t want to do that.”

The boy looked at Grandpa to see if he was smiling. He was chewing.

“Yes, that Fort Apache set was a good toy. The boy saw it in some advertisement that his mother wished he hadn’t seen, since mostly she just had money for beans and not for expensive toys. “


“All they ever ate was beans. And I don’t mean green beans. I mean those pasty beans that look like your kidney — a big pot of them simmering on the stove, filling up the house with a nasty smell unless there was bacon in them. But bacon was expensive. I am going to get grandma to make you a pot of beans and see if you like them. No one eats beans these days, so they are like a delicacy.”

He didn’t know what a delicacy or a genocidal was, but the words were certainly going into a sentence, later in the day.

“I ‘m telling you that this boy saw that advertisement and he just could not get the Fort Apache set out of his mind. He told his mother that he wanted Santa Claus to bring it to him. He asked her to write a letter to Santa for him so it would happen. She told him that she wasn’t sure Santa would bring such a big present, since it was hard to get it down the chimney. The boy said that Jonny had an entire bike in his living room just last Christmas. She said, “We’ll see.” But the boy got the idea that his mom might not get this letter written. So he took the advice of his Sunday School teacher and he prayed about it.

Now, I have to tell you, the boy’s parents did not pray like your parents. When this boy’s family sat down to dinner no one paused to give God thanks, they just went after the food like it was going to get away from them if they didn’t grab it. Even the beans went fast. So the kid got the idea that he had better pray in secret. After his mom tucked him in, he got under his covers, as if someone couldn’t hear him if he was under his covers when he prayed. He didn’t know much about God at that point, so he just said it, “God, I want a Fort Apache set for Christmas.” And he kind of paused a minute to listen in case God said, “OK’ I’ll have it delivered.” God never said that, but every night he got under the covers and prayed that same prayer, even on Christmas Eve. He didn’t tell anyone he was talking to God because he got the idea that they might think he was a nut or something.

What do you think happened?”

The boy was not sure if that was a real question. He wanted to know the real answer. But there was a lot of confusing information floating around about bikes and Santa and parents and Indians and beans. So he just waited.

“He got up on Christmas morning to see what Santa had brought. His parents always made him line up in size place with his two older brothers first and his sister behind him and they went into the living room while dad took their picture with a big movie camera. You’ve never seen a movie camera like that one. This is the old days before they had little cameras like your dad uses. This was a big old thing with big lights that got hot to the touch when you turned them on, so little guys like you had to make sure not to sit on them or they would burn their tush.

So he finally got into the living room on Christmas morning and went over to the chair that was designated for all his loot. Loot is what barbarians get when they sack your city, and it is the perfect application for what kids around here get trained to do during Christmas. Among his loot was…you guessed it: a Fort Apache set.

He got down on his knees in front it. Santa had set the whole thing up. He just looked at it for a while. He was truly amazed. He finally said, ‘Thank you, God.’ Then his parents were amazed.”

“So God gave him the Fort Apache set?” the boy practically shouted.

“Hey, that’s for you to decide. But get this. Later in the morning, his rich aunt got to the house with all his cousins to have the Christmas morning party they always had. She brought him a big present all wrapped up in paper and stuff. When it got to his turn to open up his present from his aunt and uncle, it was another Fort Apache set. After that, it was impossible to convince him that anything you prayed for wasn’t likely to happen. He ended up as a very good Christian, I’d say. That day basically got him going God’s direction. I suppose you will end up as some kind of Geronimo Christian yourself.”

Just then Grandma came in the back door. They went silent and turned to reverently watch her as she bustled through the kitchen and finally came into the living room bearing the candy they suspected she would have.

“Grandma, did you ever hear about the boy who got the Fort Apache set?” the boy asked.

“Oh yes. I know that boy very well,” she said. And she left to go put Grandpa’s spent cigar in the trash.

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen Saves the Weekend

Sometimes, being squished on a United Airlines plane — heading for a conference that promises to be discouraging, in a land broiling under a smoggy sun — can be inspirational! Take heart!

Suddenly, the screens tilted down and Ewan McGregor appeared. I quickly rummaged around and found the headphones because it was Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. I did not go to the Ritz to see this movie because I thought it had to be silly, even if Ewan was in it. Now I will need to buy a disc to add to my collection, right alongside Brother Sun,  Sister Moon.

I did not realize it was all about faith sneaking up on the over-bureaucratized. I did not know it was full of little epiphanies converting fear-ridden people. I did not know it was about a couple coming together over mutual faith in something that is a miracle rather than just a sensation. What a pleasure!

Even though I could barely see the piddly screen and could not see any subtitles. I got the picture. And I got the inspiration. A rich Arab tries to do something wonderful with his money. European bean-counters and petty office workers are lifted to something organic and eternal. Cultures learn about each other in a real-world scenario; bad things happen and they decide that faith is more important than  giving in to fear and hatred

I paid to see Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. (Well I guess I paid an airline ticket for Salmon Fishing….too). But I was not as well served. That one just retreaded the idea that love saves you, which looked even more unsatisfying when everyone blew up. Salmon Fishing had the same vile people doing the same vile things and the same lovers trying to make sense of it all, but they find something beyond their embrace to embrace and it makes all the difference. They did not exactly find Jesus, but Ewan starts praying — and that gives me hope.

I know I did not give you enough plot to convince you that this is not a silly movie. But take my word for it. Put it in the queue.  It actually unleashed a couple of hours of inspiration in me on an airplane serenaded by a grumpy baby! That’s something. It keeps coming to mind while I am in the Yemen of my conference wondering if salmon will ever run again. That’s really something!

Pentecost on Memorial Day Weekend.

1) Memorial Day is a hard one. It really means something significant and is sad on so many levels.

  • It is sad that we ignore it as we go to the beach.
  • It is sad that it is “religious” and the dead are made sacred sacrifices to American “freedom.”
  • It is sad that Christians have no more voice in a heavily Christian country. Or that they have used their influence to justify the war machine instead of advocating “love your neighbor as yourself,” much less, “love your enemy.” I wrote a poem.

2) What a wonderful night observing Pentecost last night! It makes me want to talk about it! I think thoughts from last year are still worth considering.

3) My poem about Pentecost and the beach.

A Chance to Submit to the Past

     And he said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”
      “I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered.
 Then the angel of the LORD told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” The angel added, “I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count.”… Genesis 16:8ff

I am moved to take Circle of Hope’s reading for this day of Lent another direction. I am tempted to run away from my “mistress.” Maybe you are too.

My “mistress” this week is the past. I am going to California at the end of the week to help celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Riverside Brethren/Madison Street Church. The Sierra St. Household planted it, and I was the pastor. It is not that I don’t want to go, don’t want to see people, or don’t think it will be a lot of fun. It’s just that I am sort of a “right now” person and I am faced with the need to look into the past. Like Hagar, I am getting asked “Where have you come from?”

Today, it is like that question has finally caught up with me, and I don’t have a much better answer than Hagar: “Well, I guess I am running away.” Hagar actually had a pretty good reason to take off. My reasons for moving on were more developmental than because someone was abusing me. I felt a call to move into what I needed to do next. I’m generally better with the question, “And where are you going?”

But pondering the past has merit, if for no other reason than because the Lord has used it as a field in which to plant the present. Generally, my memories of my 20’s and 30’s in Riverside come mostly in golden tones. I learned a lot and did a lot with people who loved me and loved God. That’s enough. But taking a good look again, as I am doing today as I prepare to go, also digs up the seeds that never spouted, causes me to run into the stumps that weren’t removed and threatens me with a couple of leftover land mines, too.

Right now, I am hearing God’s command and promise to Hagar as something relevant for me, too.

“Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” The past doesn’t own me, but running away from it gives whatever might be harmful in it even more power. It will do me good to submit to it. Even the parts I might like to get away from, I can fearlessly look at with Jesus by my side. How about you?

I think the promise is true for me, too: “I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count.” I don’t think that means literal grandchildren for me – I have enough to keep up with, as it is! But I do think it means I have some fruitfulness that will come from being submissive to my past, in the sense that I need to listen to what it teaches me, and celebrate what God has grown from it. Is the angel moving you that way too?