Sunday, July 31, 2005


Last night, Al and I drove up to Charlotte to see James Taylor at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre. On the way up, we were listening to The Lost Dogs, “Gift Horse” CD. There is a song on there that closes with the words, “… and after you’ve been broken, you may not realize that you are grace to the brokenhearted...”
No doubt, at some level or another, we’ve all been broken. Some haven’t yet realized it. Some of us bask in it, and refuse to be mended. But all broken. It occurred to me that those last lines depict what God did for us. He showed his grace to the brokenhearted by becoming broken.
Forgive me, but that seems like a very good summary of the salvation story. Jesus himself spoke of this often. This is my body broken for you. The strange thing is, that the salvation story seems somehow like a coin that has two sides. Of course we can do nothing to help write the story, as we often try to do by construing it to help us become what WE want to be, but we are called to participate in the story. It is has been written for millennia, and believe it or not, isn’t completed yet. Yes, the provision has been made and finished, but salvation is still unfolding all around us every minute of everyday. We are being saved.
On this side of the auction block of redemption, at which Christ made and paid the highest bid, the salvation story is written in the process of discipleship and growing toward becoming more like Christ.
In the discipleship side of the salvation story, we are called upon to take up our cross daily and follow Jesus. We are encouraged to participate in and identify with Christ’s suffering. This is an all-important concept that we seem to obsess on to the point that we try to help write the salvation story rather than simply participating in its unfolding like we’ve been asked or invited to. We somehow forget that he only asks us to participate in his suffering because he participated in ours. He participated in our brokenness so that we could be healed. In participating in the healing, we must be broken.
We are broken to become grace to the brokenhearted because Jesus was broken to become grace to the brokenhearted. This was spoken of in Isaiah, and then Jesus quoted it to refer to himself. “He has sent me to bring good news to the poor and to heal the brokenhearted.” Of course, God could identify with our suffering without physically participating in it, but he chose to write the story by participating in and identifying with our suffering, and became a literal sacrifice according to the law.
Jesus became grace rather than justice by being broken. We too, when broken, minister to others who are broken in ways that a whole person, unbroken, could never do.
This seems to me to be one of the most important ways that we participate in the story of salvation as it writes itself in the lives of others. When we identify with Jesus’ suffering that he endured to create identity in us, we also begin to identify with the suffering of those around us, and in turn, they are changed through our ability to identify with them.
So once again, I realize that I’m not left here to deal with the junk of life on my own, nor am I merely encouraged by a God who understands my suffering because he is omniscient and has created me, but I am held up by a God who chose to participate, even physically, in my suffering and is here to help me as I participate in his.


Saturday, July 30, 2005

unseen perspective

God give us strength and gratitude,
for whatever miniscule good we perceive is
more grace than we can fathom, and
whatever ill we endure is
but a brush of the tail of a deadly viper.


Friday, July 29, 2005

the owning of a daddy's heart

"dad, what time will we get home? Can we stop for a drink?"

...ten minutes later:
", I can't wait to get home."
"you stayed away too long, huh?"
"long enough to have parts of me taken and left there. Dad, as many when-I-was-a-kid memories as you have, it's no wonder parts of you are scattered all over those hills."

... ten minutes later:
"dad, why are you such a good parent?"
"I don't feel like a very good parent. What makes you say that, Will?"
"I can't really explain it, you can't really be explained - it's just how you are."

..."dad, why is your right bicep square? (with cartoon voice) 'I am Mr. Square bicep.'"

...ten minutes later:
"dad, wanna know when I don't mind riding in the car? When it is raining."

...ten minutes later:
"dad, if I'm your hero, what does that make you?"
"less heroic than you, son." dot dot... like the broken white line down the middle of the dog-gone road...


Thursday, July 28, 2005


I drove back to West Virginia today, to pick up our lost middle kid. When I come home from work in the evening and Will greets me with his heartfelt smile and animated, “hi Dad!”, it is as if all is right with the world. He hugs with every part of his being and just melds with the recipient of the hug. So if this is what I get daily, imagine the joy of lighting up his face after two weeks. This makes all the all-nighters 11 years ago worth every minute.
So here I am spending the rest of the day and tomorrow morning with my peeps before heading back to the deep heat with the prodigal.
Back in November when I was here, I became more intellectually and emotionally connected to my forefathers on my dad’s side of the family. This evening, I became more linked to my mother’s side of the family.
My sister bought my mother’s old home place from my uncle just a couple months ago, and has been remodeling the house. We spent this evening there inspecting her overwhelming challenge, reminiscing, and being ministered to by all that refuge had to offer sitting under the darkening sky and brightening stars.
My mom’s baby brother is only 2 years my senior, so we were close, and as a kid, I spent a lot of days roaming those hills, exploring the creeks, and climbing the rocks with him, and I spent a lot of nights lying in the dormer of that house being lulled to sleep by the whip-poor-wills and screech owls. Life moves at a different pace when you’re among family, your source; and in this place, with family, it slows to half-speed and all sensory stimuli is contemplated, pondered, processed and blessed. An hour with repays years without, and gaps are filled with memories and sated longings.
While I sat on the patio of the old house, I wished you could be there to experience it with me. Noticing that you never showed up, I decided to take some pictures so you could see what you missed. Click them for a larger look.

...I'll carry the songs we learned when we were kids, I'll carry the scars of generations gone by...

...this is the sound a mourning dove makes...

...this is the sound a whip-poor-will makes...

...this is how a boy listens to a mourning dove...

...naiveté is cute, but innocence is beautiful...


Wednesday, July 27, 2005


May I muse a bit about the craftiness of the enemy? The secular world views him as an ugly demon with horns and a pitchfork going about scaring people to death. The Christian community views him as someone who tries to convince us to sin by tempting us with money, sex, and all sorts of other things that are on our lists of things to avoid. When we think of him causing us hardship, it is almost always financial, and when we think of being blessed, it is almost always financial. The bulk of our testimonies of God’s provision is in the financial realm. We are overwhelmed with financial care. But in reality, he never strikes where we'd expect him. We're always blindsided.
The scripture teaches that he masquerades as an angel of light. I believe that he would actually help us not to “commit a sin” because he knows that the “better” we become the less we recognize the need for Jesus. I believe, and have experienced, that he will spend less effort causing us to “mess up”, than he does to confuse us, with things we think of as God stuff, very worthy, important, indispensable, behavior, mindsets, and pursuits. He’ll help us to get them out-of-order and put effects as causes until we believe that we aren’t because of Christ, but that we are in Christ because we are. Or maybe more understandable, we don’t act and behave because of Christ’s ability in us, but that we can have Christ based on how we act or behave. This is a subtle, crafty, deceptive scheme of the adversary, and we’ve believed it for so long, that it sounds like heresy to contradict him and to reclaim the truth of God’s revelation in Christ.

I’m sorry if my rants sound like I think morality is something to be avoided. By no means! But morality apart from Jesus’ provision and a relationship with him is worthless. And we are not making that clear when we market God-product that delineates methodological righteousness by behavior and avoidance of bad stuff.
I will try to be ultra careful when I espouse the dangers of the idols of missions, theology, church programs, the act of worship, the bible, the scripture as God rather than the revelation of God…


Tuesday, July 26, 2005

deceiving appearances

At the end of May, when I finally started going to the gym regularly, I ran into a man as we were working with the same machine. We decided to work together. I had been working out for hardly any length of time when I hurt my right shoulder. Not really badly, but a good bit of pain everyday. So I was trying to strengthen this, and my new acquaintance was doing therapy for rotator cuff surgery. In the next weeks, I saw him almost everyday and we usually said hello. I began to think that he looked familiar to me, but by that time, I figured that it was just because I’d seen him so much at the gym.
Tonight, Allison showed up much later than I did, and so I got finished long before she did, and kinda just piddled around with some different exercises while I waited. My gym acquaintance happened by as I was doing shoulder/deltoids, and we struck up a conversation again. Eventually, I asked him what he did for a living. When he told me, immediately I realized that I’d seen his face all over town, and on television on the news, in the papers, etc. Sheesh, out of context, your mind just doesn’t work all the time. He holds an elected state-wide office, and I voted for him. But when I voted for him, he had on a suit. Not this Nike shorts and muscle shirt stuff of the gym. So he had to ask me what I did for a living. When I told him, he acted honestly taken aback. He said he’d attended our school for two semesters back in the ‘60s. I was 3 years old at the time. Things have changed a bit. He was so surprised, that he had to introduce me to his friend and make him guess what I did and where I did it. Naw!
He later told me that he had told his wife about me before we’d actually even had a conversation. He’d told her that there was this rough, scroungy looking guy at the gym, but he was pretty sure I was a Christian – he could see it in my eyes. He just never dreamed I was a prof, and certainly not where I work. I told him that I’d thought he was a Christian too, but I never dreamed he was a politician.
It was fun thinking about how we’d come to be acquainted in this way, completely out of context of our day-to-day. How we’d formed pictures of one another without any knowledge of who we were outside the gym. But the greatest part was, once knowing, to apply what we’d learned from the impressions that we’d made. I had to reconcile what I’d come to see in this man with the bias many of us have with political leaders. He had reconcile a visual image he’d had at first with what he came to see in me, and then learn the extent of it.
It is exciting to see Jesus in someone before you’re supposed to. To see who they are apart from what they do. To see how outward appearance betrays our prejudice and cultural bias and shallow thinking. To have these things shown to us in such a gentle exposé, can really change our thinking for good. We live and work and operate in culture. We respect that culture and take shape that will allow us to impact there. When our superficial cultures collide in the commonality of Christ, it is certainly an eye opening experience.


Monday, July 25, 2005

wisdom and stature

Will has been staying with my parents for over a week now. Whenever, you don't see an 11 year-old kid for a while, you can expect to be surprised at how much they've grown. Even if they haven't. We tend to remember kids as smaller than they actually are, so when we get a glance at reality, it always takes us by surprise.
So imagine my surprise when I received this photo of Will sitting upon my cousin's Clydesdale. The Clydesdale is a majestic draft horse that dwarfs even the wagon of Budweiser it is so famous for pulling. So you can imagine my fear/pride at seeing what a week of fresh mountain air has done for the stature of my pre-teen, he-man son.
When he was a wee baby, I would always look at his huge hands and say, this kid is going to be a horse. Well, seeing him on a horse, certainly proves that he is not a horse, but he is clearly as big as one.
Ride on Willby. The Roharrim are envious. You are my hero.


Sunday, July 24, 2005

dico castimonia

I hope it is obvious that all my talk of the inadequacy of a culture of morality and my blogs last year about being known for what we don’t do, and my talk to the high schoolers called, “escaping the trap of morality” doesn’t mean that I think morality is bad. It’s just that I think it is the number one idol being worshipped in the contemporary church. There are others, but this is the biggie, I think.
Of course we all know and preach that there is no such thing as a salvation by works. That is, nothing you can do to obtain salvation. But what we seem not to realize is that there is nothing that you can “not do” to obtain salvation.

The way in which it becomes an idol is that it becomes the thing we do to feel like we are good, or that we are Christians. This attitude leaves one with no need for the gospel of Christ, and therefore he doesn’t allow it to apply to his life. He becomes like the Jewish converts that tried to teach that circumcision was necessary to be a Jesus follower. It is easy to understand how this happens – it is something tangible, a behavior that distinguishes one from the other. But it is entirely insufficient. Even in the old testament, circumcision wasn’t a means to a relationship with God, it was the sign of a relationship with God.
Jesus didn’t teach us what to do and what not to do, he taught how to be after he had taken care of how bad we are. So striving only not to do bad things denies my need for him and distracts me from being who he wants me to be.
Eugene Peterson differentiates morality from moralism. Of course morality is a good thing, a result of the work of God in our lives. But moralism is an idol, and disallows God’s work in our lives. Oswald Chambers notes that we often confuse ignorance with innocence, and innocence with purity. The confusion of innocence with purity is of the utmost danger. This is what I was most concerned with in my talk to the high schoolers. Purity is what we strive for, but it can’t be obtained by innocence. This is directly contrary to the teaching of scripture. So why do we even indirectly hint that purity is something we have until we mess up? We use word groups like, “stay pure.” One doesn’t become impure from losing his purity, one is impure by not being pure. There is a difference and I don’t think it is subtle. Purity is not something we had and lost. That is innocence. Purity is something we never had and have to become.
We have a short list of things required to stay pure. The one thing that eclipses all others is sexuality. Namely virginity. As if purity is in your pants rather than your heart. Of course lost virginity can never be regained. But one can always strive for purity. But we are raising up a generation of teenagers that equate virginity with salvation. And we perpetuate this heresy with hundreds of “God Product” books aimed at convincing teenagers not to do many things, including even dating, while we are sadly lacking in spiritual growth and relationship teaching. This, no doubt, is because we must be spiritually mature and relational in order to teach our children these things. But we are too busy polishing our lifestyles, thinking that is the way.


Saturday, July 23, 2005

belated 2

Won't you get hip to this timely tip,
When you make that life-long trip
Get your kicks at age sixty-six.


Friday, July 22, 2005

a ride through the old south

In the past week, I've ridden the windhorse on back roads from the South Carolina mountains through the piedmont to the midlands, and from the midlands through the sandhills to the low country and the coastal islands. Like I said last week, South Carolina is very beautiful if you get off the interstate. It is amazing that a state so small, could be so different from one end to the other.
Riding through the sandhills just below Columbia, one thinks that if it rains too hard the entire southern half of the state should just wash out to sea. Then you turn a corner and cross a county line and you step back in time. The tiny towns along route 321 are seemingly untouched by time. Tiny mainstreets with hardware stores and tobacco and cotton warehouses running parallel to the train tracks across which are the grain elevators. Every town has a barbecue joint equipped with an old oak under which a dozen men loiter and talk about the heat wave of '51. "this ain't nothin' like that summer was."
On the outskirts are the montrous houses of yesteryear with their dilapidated slave quarters in back. Drive on out of town under oak limbs canopied over the road from miles of evenly spaced century-old trees trimmed perfectly to accommodate the exact height of a semi trailer.
Out from under the trees, the July sun beats down so hard that your tires strain under its weight and you look out over the fields and weep for the slaves that labored under that midday sun, and you hear their songs of hope echoing through the fields - songs of hope that have yet to be fully realized a hundred and forty years later. You feel the stark contrast of the freedom of riding a motorcycle through those same fields on an oppressively hot day.
These are the thoughts of the day as I ride back north through the low country of South Carolina on this hot July day, away from the ocean and a contemplative morning in the surf.
There is still so much slavery and oppression even today as I celebrate freedom in the wind. I wonder how many people I can pile onto my windhorse and invite them into the breeze and lead them along this road that leads to a very different kind of oppression, and looks far back on the suffering they once endured. Can songs of hope long forgotten still be re-learned?


Thursday, July 21, 2005


Several years ago, Allison and I were camping and fishing without the kids. One evening we’d driven away from camp and were fishing a different river. About an hour before dark, we decided to head back so that we could enjoy the scenery along the winding road back to camp. We planned to go back by a different route than we used to get there, and almost immediately, I made a wrong turn. I didn’t realize it for about 10 miles or so, which in these roads was about 25 minutes, and then kicked myself for being so unmanly as to get us off course and behind schedule. Now I’m not a scheduled person, but I really wanted to make that wining drive at dusk.
I turned around, beating myself up and feeling stupid, and started back down the right road. About a half hour later, it was getting pretty dark, and we were still miles from the turn-off for the winding road. We drove up over a ridge and into blinding beauty. From everywhere else we’d been, the sun had long since been eclipsed by the towering hills. But when we went over the ridge it was sitting on top of the trees, casting beautiful colors up into the clouds and down over the mountains. I pulled the car over onto a wide spot and grabbed the camera with tears in my eyes and took a picture with the last frame on the roll of film. I’ve provided the pic here for you, but it isn’t very good because I snapped it so quickly, and by the time I’d re-loaded my camera the sun was gone.
All the way back, I couldn’t help think of how we’d have missed it if I had not gone the wrong way. I had wanted to drive that winding road at dusk, but there was something greater to be experienced. I know it’s a cheesy moral, but sometimes things don’t go as you plan, because there is a better plan yet to be discovered.
It happened to me again tonight. I rode my bike down to Hilton Head Island to visit my vacationing brother and sister-in-law this morning. The plan was to stay until supper time and ride home. Maybe I could miss the evening thunderstorms if I started back early enough. Lo and behold, we over-enjoyed the Queensland Chicken and Shrimp at Outback and I got a late start away from the island. I rode the 27 miles back to the interstate under beautiful twilight in partly cloudy skies. When I hit the interstate, suddenly there was lightning everywhere. All around me. I began to get nervous, but thought it might be moving out to sea, so I kept going. Not much choice anyway, as there were no exits. Finally, after about 20 minutes, I found an exit and pulled into a gas station where I found another shaken biker who’d been traveling the opposite direction. He asked me what I’d come through, and I asked him what I was headed into. Based on his report, I was adequately scared to reconsider my direction, so I turned around and headed back where I’d come from. I hit rain about 3 miles down the road and struggled back down the interstate. I took the Hilton Head exit in the pouring rain and when I turned onto route 278, still being drenched, I saw the glorious, thunder moon beginning to clear the low island trees, just below the storm clouds. I glanced over my shoulder at the terrifying lightning and then ahead at the peaceful rising moon.
As soon as I’d cleared the rain, I found a spot to pull over and take photos.
When I got back to the condo, my brother said, “you should have seen the moon as it rose up out of the water.” I agreed that that would have been beautiful, but it wouldn’t have been in the context I needed. I needed to see that thunder moon rising beneath the lightning and thunderclouds. I needed to see it looming large and colorful over the ocean, hovering over the deep. I needed to see it rising peaceful while I endured the pouring rain I was riding through. Context is everything, and if I’d not tried to ride home and changed my mind, I’d have never seen the thunder moon rising in the thunder.
Sometimes reminders must be in the context in which they mean. Jesus could have told his disciples that if ever they were in a storm, they needn’t worry because he had the power to calm the storm. But instead, like that moon rising up over the ocean horizon, he slept peacefully as they endured the storm and then rose up and spoke peace upon the waves.


Wednesday, July 20, 2005

howling at the full thunder moon

When I walked out of the gym tonight at 10:00pm and headed toward my bike, the moon had just made it over the roof of Barnes and Noble. This has been an elusive moon all month, due to the very same natural conditions that give it its name, "full thunder moon." I was able to catch a glimpse as it set when it was a days-old sliver of silver, from this same parking lot. Then I photographed it Monday night as it rose above the Bradford Pears beside our driveway. Other than that, it has been quite successful at summoning the evening and night thunderstorms that it and mid-July are known for. We've had thunderstorms almost every evening this month, complete with hazy, overcast night skies. Until the most important day.
Though forecast, no storms today, at least not close by here. The evening air was cooler than normal when I rode to the gym at 8:30. By ten, it seemed to have warmed up a bit, and a slight haze had settled over. Just enough to tint the enormous rising moon with a tinge of pink. But it was still crisp and clear.
I texted Allison, inside B&N to come out and see it, then I rode across the street and met her in the parking lot. We wondered under it together and then I went inside for a cup.
Later we took a full thunder moon ride together. On the way home, coming up highway 6, after crossing back over the dam, we saw a coyote standing on the side of the road. I slowed, hoping he'd stay put, but he went ahead and crossed into a field on the other side. He stood there watching us pass, so I turned around and came back to see him move further into the field. When I passed a third time, he ran into the trees and out of sight.
You tell me what are the chances of taking a night ride in suburbia under the full thunder moon and happening upon a true kindred spirit not a quarter mile from my house staring up at the same mistress. Full moons and coyotes are the stuff of myth and fantasy and dreams. But those of us who dare to believe that the line between this and that is less than subtle, sometimes find the stuff of imagination standing full-flesh in front of us.
Perhaps for you, a moon is a moon. Even a full thunder moon. Maybe for me, on any other night, a coyote sighting would be just that. Sometimes all the elements just come together. And I shared it with my bride on my bike.
Life is good.


Monday, July 18, 2005


I crushed a scorpion on the front porch last night.
Are there symbols in every moment of life?


Sunday, July 17, 2005

vertizontal supplication

Sorry to revisit a topic that I revisit too often. But now and then, a conversation comes up and I get all about a subject all over again. So my Mom and I were talking the other night, and she exclaimed that she had no patience for worship songs that aren’t singing to Jesus. Well that pushed my buttons! Honestly, there is a place for songs that are ‘about’ instead of “to”, but most people seem not to know the difference, and use an entirely different criterion to judge their value.
So as we were talking, I told her that it was interesting that she felt so passionate about that, because the opposite feeling is precisely where I’ve received the most flack from people who don’t like the music I use. They say, of course, that the song could be written to anyone, that it is not clear that the words are “about” God. So like lyric content criteria for Christian radio, songs have to have the requisite number of “Jesuses”, “Lords”, “Gods”, “lions of Judah”, and “Elohims”, to satisfy the skeptical listener’s Christian content meter. Of course, speaking directly to someone usually involves personal pronouns rather than proper names and descriptors, and usually implies relationship. Of course, you can talk about someone without having a relationship with him. You can tell someone else about what you’ve heard about him and you will use his proper name to refer to him. So the expressed fear is that when I sing this song, other people won’t know for sure about whom I’m singing. Of course, my response is, I’m not singing this song for other people, that should be obvious from the very lyric you are criticizing, no matter how performance oriented YOU might be.
I was thinking about this on my way home from church this afternoon and got an interesting picture in my head. People always say that it’s ok to talk to yourself as long as you don’t answer. When this thought crossed my radar screen, I found several trails to travel. The first trail is blazed by my own feeling that often prayer feels like I’m talking to myself. That is, if no one else is around. If other folks are around, like in church, we begin to feel as if we are speaking for their benefit, and don’t feel at all like we are talking to ourselves. It can seem very awkward, talking to your self. And if you worry that an answer in such a conversation indicates insanity, then you will probably hope not to get an answer. This is ironic, because prayer is not a conversation with one’s self, and therefore, an answer should be expected, but we close our ears to it for fear that in hearing it, we will be deemed “crazy”.
I wonder then, if anyone prays when no one is around to hear. Doesn’t that seem like a really stupid statement? When no one is around to hear? Nevermind that Jesus warned us not to pray flowery prayers for the benefit of those listening to my eloquent theological verbosity, but to hide out in my closet and groan from my soul, the depths of my need, cares, and gratitude.
So prayer, like vertical (man to God) songs, is turned into horizontal (man to man) delivery of information, and actual man-to-God prayer language is not recognized as prayer at all, because it doesn’t contain third person references and theological Christianese.
Just another church activity that gets defined by what it’s not and is not recognized for what it is. So we opt for the imposter and criticize the real thing.


Saturday, July 16, 2005

new ride for the bride, or... biker babe

Yesterday, I made my visiting Dad, drive up to Easley with me to look at a motorcycle. You remember Easley, don't you? I was a little reluctant to take Allison's truck, as you would imagine, but I knew mine wouldn't make the trip.
So we got Will to ride along, and off we went. 2 hours up. We found the bike after a bit of searching, and decided that Allison could be forced to love it.
So after we decided (read, failed at trying) we couldn't get it into the back of Allison's truck, I resolved to ride it the 130 miles home.
This would be no prob on my bike, but this one is a tiny, low-saddle, 250cc, girl bike. What condition might I find myself in if, in fact, I make it all the way home? Of course I look great on any size bike, so everyone was probably thinking, "look at that huge guy! He makes that bike look tiny!"
But I made it home on back roads, dodging thunderstorms under the half-moon. Dad said he even enjoyed the ride home behind me. South Carolina has some very beautiful scenery if you get off the highway.
Allison took her first riding lesson this morning. She went from coasting down to the end of the cul-de-sac with the engine off, to riding up and down the street and even making it into 2nd gear. If you've not done it, or if it's been a while since you learned to drive, you forget how hard you have to think about what needs to be done to start and stop.
She did a great job, and overcame her fears enough to appear to have enjoyed the experience. But most importantly, she looked great on the bike.


Friday, July 15, 2005


this blank space is in lieu of a blog I'll never have the guts to post. It is written, and for now, that'll have to do.


Thursday, July 14, 2005

i am somebody

I am a bit late in posting this little tidbit from my day-to-day, but I'd meant to do it right away and got distracted by another thought no doubt. So I'd sort of set it aside until this morning when I shared it with a friend who said, that needs to be blogged. Well I had thought the same thing. So here it is, no doubt a complete letdown after that build up.
A couple weeks ago, I went to the gym without Allison. There was a guy at the check-in counter whom I'd only seen once before, a long time ago. I'd certainly never spoken with him. So I said hello, scanned my bar code and started toward the weights. He politely stopped me and said, "I'm sorry, could you scan your card again? It didn't register." Sure. No problem. So I scanned it again, still without success. Finally he asked me my name so that he could look me up on the computer the old fashioned way. When I told him my name, he said, "ah, so Allison forgot to give you your new membership card? No prob, I'll get you one now. So how is the music going? Do you play many concerts and gigs? Do you enjoy teaching at CIU?"
I asked him if it had all that information in the computer. He said, "no, Allison told me." I asked him how he could remember my name, much less, all that, having never talked to me, nor seen me with Allison.
He said, "oh, I like to talk to people, so I listen when they tell me things."


Wednesday, July 13, 2005

chasing your tail

Why do we pray for our wills to line up with God's, our desires to be the desires of God, but when our prayer is answered, we believe our desires can't possibly be those of God, and keep praying the same prayer?
For some reason, we've been brainwashed with a theology that says that our desires are so far from God's that we continually have to sacrifice them so that we can follow him in obedience to what he desires for us. The problem is that when, in obedience, we share his desire, we recognize it as our own and cast it sacrificially aside. Where is the theology that God can instill in us a desire for what he wants to prepare us for? It's what we're praying for.
We can't shake the feeling that anything we desire is out of line with him, even if he intilled that desire in us.
Based on the contexts of students who have come through my office, I have to imagine that there are plenty of people who, feeling that God wanted them to heal people, have given up being a physician to follow him in obedience.


Tuesday, July 12, 2005


You know, Jesus didn’t just say that many who are first will be last and many who are last will be first, he was also bent on operating that way. Imagine that today there was a guy with a new spin on an old religion. No doubt he’d seek to gain the favor of big names and use their star power to gain an ear for his message. Jesus gathered a bunch of fishermen and tax collectors.
If a dead man coming back to life isn’t difficult to believe, the accounts by which we are told this story use the most unlikely soul as a chief witness, a woman who had either led an utterly dissolute moral life, or who had suffered from an extreme mental illness. In response to this pattern of marginal citizens as the chief players, Eugene Peterson observes that we’d do well to pay serious attention to voices other than our usual celebrity endorsements. He says that people on the edge of respectability: the poor, minorities, suffering and rejected, poets and children, will most likely be the men and women most valuable in cultivating fear-of-the-Lord wonder among us.
And here we are still worrying that the poet is taking over the role of the preacher. So I wonder if those who worry about this happening aren’t at all worried about the preaching – a poet can do that – but instead are worried about the position. Could we reword the question? “Is the poet taking over the position of the preacher?”
Makes me think of the Pharisees terrified that the people were listening to John the Baptizer and Jesus and their marginal bands of followers.


Monday, July 11, 2005


In my life in recent years, I feel like I've been asked to view everything from two dimensions. There is the obvious that is what is going on and there is the unseen for which the obvious is a metaphor. There is always more than meets the eye represented in every moment, and no doubt, I dream things up that aren’t there sometimes. But I’ve always seen events and scenarios as metaphors for a large, unfathomable truth, rather than a simultaneous spiritual event.
After a while, I realize that the obvious is not really a metaphor, but that it is directly connected to the spiritual that it allows us to see. The top of a rock sticking up out of the ground is not a metaphor for the bottom of the rock under the surface. It is all the same rock. The tree is not a metaphor for its root system. But I see the top of the rock and I know there is more beneath the surface. I see the tree and know that there is a root system beneath, by which it is nourished and made to stand.
In my current state, I am a spiritual being in a body, living in physical creation. I think I am seeing events less as a physical representation of a larger spiritual reality and I’m beginning to realize that here in creation, the observable also has a spiritual component. It is a part of the same reality.
I remember a lecture by Thad Barnum, in which he proposed that John’s account of the search in “all of heaven and all of earth and under the earth” throughout time, found in Revelation 5, was his being allowed to witness, from the vantage of heaven, what he’d already witnessed physically at Jesus’ crucifixion, perhaps 50 years earlier. That proposition is one of the most fascinating that I’ve ever dealt with. It is the popular belief among those who believe, that the revelation all a foretelling of what is to come. But eternity, evidently doesn’t know a future, but exists at once, like a location that can be searched.
I am obliged to wonder right now, what is going on beyond my vision. What reality is speaking thoughts and questions in to my head that I must deal with. In this quiet moment serenaded by frogs and cicadas, what flurry of spiritual activity is taking place in the root system?


Sunday, July 10, 2005

embrace the mystery

I think my favorite theme in the life of Christian apprenticeship is paradox, seemingly dichotomous instructions, characteristics, natures, outcomes. Of course, this is the nature of God and is evident before the age of Christianity. No doubt, you tire of this theme in my blog, but it is what fascinates me, drives me and pulls me on. You can probably google search my blog with key words related to this theme and find it evidently pervasive. Wonder, mystery, paradox, enigma.
Everything about the life of the apprentice is different than expected. It changes depending on how it is observed, on what is expected. You do the opposite of what you’d expect to accomplish a given outcome. But that sentence explains it just the opposite of how it really is. One doesn’t make himself last so that he will be first, he makes himself last because regards others as more important than himself. It is this humility that makes him first. But if one intentionally makes himself last so that he will be first, he is making himself first and therefore will be last. Yeah, I know, goofy strange loop.
I don’t always intentionally speak of these things. Paradox and mystery simply permeate my thinking. Even this week I spoke of life inverted, but in a different context.
So my Sunday morning musical messages these past weeks have dealt with mystery and paradox, and unexpected methods. Today I presented the fact that Jesus, throughout his ministry would say that it was not yet time for him to be glorified. I imagine his followers waiting for the day he’d taken over the government, expel the Romans and set things right, much in the way that we expect the Republicans to overturn legislation with which we don't agree, open the school day with prayer, and tack the ten commandments on the door of all the courthouses. But on his last night, he said it was time to be glorified, he prayed to this end and stood up walked out of the room and into the hands of his enemies and was killed. So much for glory right? Or perhaps that was his glory. Mystery. Paradox.
Back in the 0030s, AD, given the centuries of scriptures, and the recent teaching of Jesus, one would think that everyone would have seen everything coming. But in reality, those who were closest to the events and most prepared were caught completely off guard. It never plays out as we expect it. We can never anticipate anything in this life of apprenticeship. Only a few short years ago, I began to sense that a major challenge was coming my way. I was sure of it. Something was about to happen that would rock my world. Since in the corporate Christian world, blessing tends to be measured financially, and financial trials are about the only trials worthy of notice, I began to prepare myself emotionally for a turn of events that would leave us operating with meagre means. You can never anticipate how things will play out.
I am made to remember a sermon I heard about a year ago that was unpacking a series of events and exchanges between Jesus and his disciples. The whole thing had something to do with the boneheadedness of the disciples. Over and over, the rhetorical question was asked, how could they have been right there day after day watching it unfolding and still not get it? I kept thinking, each thing that unfolded was entirely new and foreign to them. Of all the people in all of history, I’d see them as the most likely not to get it. How much worse that after hindsight of 20 centuries and further knowledge of events and occurrences, and witnessing the misunderstanding of those around Jesus, we still don’t get it. We still misunderstand what he was saying. We get it all backward.
As Eugene Peterson notes, “We inhabit a mystery. We must not pretend to know too much."


Saturday, July 09, 2005

the front side of today

I was supposed to have played a wedding today, but it was moved to another state at the last minute, and I declined to make the trip. So I was able to attend the first of a series of 4 July weddings to which we have been invited. This was a former student of mine marrying the daughter of our admin. assistant. They've been dating for about 5 years, I think. They were dating when he came to my class as a freshman.
After the recessional, and while we were still seated, they showed three sets of slides, old pictures of both, from baby to bride, and then a set of them together over the past 5 years.
Once the slides had become current, I had a humorous thought of the scene in Spaceballs where Dark Helmet uses the video of the movie to find out where Lone Starr, Barf, and Princess Vespa are at that very moment. He simply fast forwards from the beginning of the movie until he reaches the present moment and is surprised to see himself sitting there looking at the video of himself looking at the video. I think that is a funny scene. And so I felt that today when watching these two newlyweds progress forward to the present.
As soon as my chuckle ended, I thought of how I would like to sit them down in my seat and show them slides of the future. I would like to show them snapshots that every married couple have in their album. I would explain that though everyone has these photos, most keep them in the back of the album underneath several more presentable pictures. Some couples don't even know that they have these photos, they've worked so hard to believe that their relationship is like what they believe everyone else's relationships are like. So most of these photos go ignored, denied, or completely forgotten until some day when you're cleaning a bookshelf and the album gets jostled and the photos scatter themselves about the floor. Photos that had rested beneath layers of others suddenly end up on the surface of the pile and have to be dealt with, ordered and cleaned up.
I would show them these photos not to discourage them, but so they wouldn't be surprised by them when they fall out of their albums. So that they'd be comfortable showing them to one another as they are taken and not hide them in the back of the album, or bury them in a shoe box. They could sit and look at them together and discuss them and fall more deeply in love so that time would sharpen the images, and clarify the colors and focus the backgrounds and grow more beautiful through the years.
Life ain't no bride's bouquet. But a bride's bouquet can bloom in all of life if it is cared for and kept in water. Proper care takes two people, and brides can participate in husbandry too. Like all plants, they like to be talked to - keeps them healthy.



allison made blueberry cobbler this afternoon before she went to bed.
I'm pretty sure you shouldn't eat this stuff outside the bonds of marriage.


Friday, July 08, 2005

cooter daddy

Ok, even though my little wrens left the nest when I turned my head, I think I have mustered the courage to make myself a vulnerable father again. Yes, I'm going to put my emotions out there again. Honestly, I don't know if I have much choice. Today I became the proud father of at least 7 little pond turtles. Well, I guess they're not officially pond turtles yet. Ok, I'm the proud caretaker of at least 7 pond turtle eggs. Molly was the first to catch the rather large (about 14 inch diameter) turtle mother digging a hole in the middle of our back yard. By the time I got over to see her, she had finished the hole, and had already deposited at least two eggs. We all stood and watched as she laid 5 more eggs in the hole. After each egg was dropped in, she would stick one of her large webbed rear feet down there to press them into the mud. The hole was about 6 inches deep. Once the last egg was dropped, she began to fill the hole back up with the dirt and mud she'd dug out. Then she dances around on there to pack it all down flat before cleaning the mud off her feet and heading back down through the yard to the pond.
So I did a bit of research so as to learn a bit about being a turtle dad (wish I'd done that when my own kids were born). I found out that incubation period for the eggs is somewhere between 45-120 days. Guess I have to keep an eye open for the big day. I also learned that I'd better build some kind of enclosure around the nest to keep all the wandering nocturnal egg-suckers that frequent our backyard.


Thursday, July 07, 2005

when one thing doesn't lead to another

Allison and I are reading Dostoevsky's The Idiot aloud to each other.
This is one of the things we do together during which no time seems to pass, and after which, we both feel exceedingly sleepy.


Wednesday, July 06, 2005

a day in the life

It started out as a normal day. I slept a bit late and slowly began to think about what I ought to be doing instead of lingering beneath the sheet. Allison had long since risen and was going about her day. When I joined the living, we discussed what had to be done, what we desired to have done and when these things might take place. We both desired to go to the gym. Allison wanted to help a friend with some overwhelming nesting attempts. I wanted to bulldoze the debris out of my room over the garage. I also had rehearsal at church at 6:30 Molly had a ballet lesson at 3:00, Will, a piano lesson at 3:15, and Jack, a violin lesson at 4:00.
So Allison, off to help a friend, called at 2:41 to tell me the truck wouldn't start. So I sprang forth to drop off Molly at her lesson and take Will to his and swing by and pick up Allison before retrieving Molly, then Will and stopping to get Jack, turn my truck over to Allison, take my bike to Advance Auto Parts and get some spark plugs, and heroically restore Allison's truck to like-new status on the spot.
After turning my truck over to Allison, I started down the road on my bike and it began to rain. I decided that a hero would ignore the rain, and proceed to accomplish his heoric task, so I rode to her truck, opened the door, deposited my helmet and rolled up my proverbial sleeves. I climbed in to turn the ignition switch just to get a feel for the problem. Vrooooom. Without hesitation the truck roared to life, I put it in gear and drove home to wait on Allison to return from Jack's lesson and drive me back to my bike, on which I could just make it to rehearsal on time. She arrived to pick me up, I threw my guitar and gear into the back, drove to the bike, grabbed my helmet and rode to church.
After rehearsal I realized that Allison had left to hang with her buds at B&N still carrying my helmet and me with my guitar and gear.
I rode home, having left my stuff at church, without a helmet and changed into workout clothes and went to the gym across the street from B&N. I pestered Allison with annoying text messages while I rested between sets and eventually she called me from across the street to ask me if I wanted her to bring me some coffee.
Yes, I said, so she drove over with the coffee and feigned excitement at my pump, flirted with me for a moment and we both drove home in two temporarily working vehicles.
We lit the tiki torch, sat on the deck and read two chapters. She went into the bedroom and I to the kitchen. Three minutes later, I went to the bedroom to kiss her and she was sound asleep under the covers.
It ended as a normal day.


Tuesday, July 05, 2005


I just read, Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen. It is very good. Reads like a blog, but I guess instead of a weblog, it was a paper blog. A plog maybe. Anyway, it is good. Somewhat scary actually.
As is my way of thinking, everything that I do or am interested in, to me seems very connected. Sometimes when people hear of my interests and activities, they say things like, you’re very diverse, or, you’re eclectic, or… , etc. This never makes sense to me because I think it’s all connected. I always thought I was the most one-tracked person on the planet. But that’s just how I think. I find (or imagine) connections that other folks don’t see (or would never imagine).
Kaysen is musing about what people are thinking when they learn that she spent nearly 2 years in a “loony bin”. Seems that this information is surprising because she didn’t come off as “crazy”. So witnessing her normalcy, they wonder what it is that lands someone in a mental hospital, and if it is possible that they might catch it or worse, already have it.

So here I am reading and am immediately made to think about what people think of me when they stumble upon my blog. I begin to think about all the rabbits I chase down their seemingly endless holes and wonder if someday I might not find a little vial down there that says, “drink me.” What if I drink it? What if I don’t? Will it be red? Or blue? Almost makes you want to stop thinking. Stop finding so many connections. I think some pretty crazy things sometimes. Sometimes I even write them down.
So what do people think when they stumble on my blog? This guy needs to get a life! Or maybe they can’t reconcile some of the things I say with other things I say. Disconnected? Maybe nothing I say has any credibility because I go off on all this spiritual stuff that seems so narrow minded. Then I remember another connection, something Real Live Preacher said in his blog yesterday. I quote:

But I get the occasional angry email from someone who is an atheist or an agnostic. These are very rare, but they come now and again. There was this woman who sent me a series of “Please, you can’t be this stupid, can you?” emails. All of them were very condescending, suggesting that I'm ridiculously stupid for believing in God. I’m not sure what she expected me to do with that information. I mean, if I AM that stupid, then I’m probably going to continue being stupid, right? I'm either not stupid, and will therefore ignore her and continue to write, or I'm stupid and will continue to write out of rank ignorance.

I’ll certainly confess to rank ignorance. But I don’t think that’s why I believe such unbelievable stuff. I might even confess to some mental fragility or emotional instability or such, but I don’t think that is why I believe such unbelievable stuff. Truth is, I really do see all these crazy things play in every place in every day. That’s why I believe them.
I see them, feel them, am moved, motivated and inspired by them.
That’s why Susanna Kaysen and Real Live Preacher come together to set my wheels in motion. I live in a layered, multi-dimensional world of wave and particle, substance and matter and principalities. Some things are seen and some aren’t. I know it seems crazy. Of course it seems foolish. There is a wisdom to be sought for which you will always seem foolish in the seeking. It’s a life inverted. It means standing in line for great lengths of time only to find out that they’ve moved the ticket counter to the other end of the line. Some schmuck has been standing back there letting people cut line in front of him, and suddenly he’s up to the counter.
None of this makes any sense. And if you’re willing to explore this stuff, you’re bound to seem a bit mental.


Monday, July 04, 2005


“It feels like I’m standing in hot water,” I said, “equal aqueous pressure all around.”
“Yeah, you could just wave your arms and float up.”
The heat and humidity was stifling. I looked up and thought, if those clouds would just break up a bit, some of this heat and moisture would rise and we could breathe.
All afternoon, the sky got thicker and thicker and pressed the heat down harder. As is often the modus operandi, rather than break up and provide relief, they grew dark and too full and heavy for themselves until they reached a point of discomfort too much to bear. A single thunderous belch and all vapor gathered to droplets and ceased to defy gravity and like a bucket turned upside-down, a torrent of emotion poured from the black sky.
It didn’t take long, the bucket soon emptied and the sky lightened and a new cool breeze began to stir the damp, tear-washed leaves. The lightened sky seemed to smile a half-relieved, half-embarrassed grin, and continued a less urgent drizzle and occasional sob until all was emptied, and the surrendered sky had its last tear dried.


Sunday, July 03, 2005

poetry of worship

baaa baaa


Saturday, July 02, 2005

the returning

What is the result of having struggled in the wilderness and overcome? Is the struggler made stronger? Is he scarred? Weakened, so that his dependence is increased? I wonder if we would find Jesus, after his baptism, at the end of his stint in the wilderness, more dependent as his work began to more fully shift between realms. His struggle on earth reached a new height of spiritual dimension that day.
Throughout the Bible we find people struggling in the spiritual realm and being physically impacted by it. We are told that Jacob wrestled the angel and that as a result, he limped the rest of his life. I often wonder if Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” existed before his being struck down on the road to Damascus. Many surmise that his thorn was poor eyesight (“see how I write with such big letters with my own hand”). That could certainly be related to his being struck blind on the road that day.
I wonder if there is a direct correlation to spiritual strength and physical weakness. “For his strength is made perfect in my weakness.” I wonder if there are struggles that are designed not to make us stronger, but to make us weaker. Our self-absorption allows us to assume that God is always growing us and making us stronger, but maybe he is weakening us so that we are more dependent on him.
Certainly, at the end of 40 days without food, Jesus was weak and hungry - we are told so. In fact, it was this very thing that Satan attacked first in his last ditch effort to defeat Jesus.
I’m pretty sure that I won’t go off into the wilderness again expecting to come back stronger. I already knew that a part of you is lost there. Maybe it has to be surrendered there. Each returning renders me a bit weaker, a bit more dependent, and a bit more sure. May I return every time more strongly surrendered.


Friday, July 01, 2005

high desert

Yeah, I know, I just talk about the same stuff over and over. Tonight I’m thinking about our metaphors for time, for emotions, for circumstances. Last year I visited weather as circumstantial metaphor. Seems we always use topographical and terrain pictures to illustrate circumstances. Mountaintops, plateaus, valleys, wilderness, desert. We’ve always got these nicely stereotyped, romantic pictures of each of these life situations. All cut and dried, boxed up, clearly delineated and defined circumstances.
When you’re up, you’re up, and when you’re down you’re down, and when you’re only half way up, you’re either up or down. “Everyone here is either going through a valley, has just come out of a valley, or is getting ready to go through the valley.”
It’s really not so easily explained though, is it?

There is a magical place in WV called The Dolly Sods Wilderness. Here is a wilderness that has become mostly desert in places due to its own hard times. It was mistreated by the timber industry at the end of the 19th century, and then by the military at the beginning of WWII. What’s left is rocky, tundra-like terrain and areas of sparse vegetation, and yes, the occasional mortar.
This is one of my favorite places to visit. Today, Allison and I drove up and up and up to Dolly Sods. We were on the high Allegheny plateau that is very open. We walked out on some rocks to look off into the muggy, humid air between us and the next ridge, miles away.
From here, at 4,000 feet, there is nothing else higher within sight. Definitely a mountaintop, but in a desert/wilderness context. How does one reconcile this juxtaposition in the neatly defined metaphors of circumstance?
As we walked out on the rocks at the edge of the plateau, it felt as if the area had been deserted even by atmosphere. There was absolutely no movement of any kind and a deafening silence prevailed. I could hear my pulse in my ears. The electrons in the atoms that make up the air (if there was any air) had ceased to orbit the nuclei. Nothing moved. I was sure the earth had stopped cold. There was no theatric/film, mountaintop, hollow wind noise off in the distance to emphasize the loneliness of the desert or altitude. Nothing.
We found some nice flat rocks and I lay down under nothing but sky and listened to nothing. I prayed for movement, for sound. A breeze, a bird. Both the movement and sound finally came in the form of a buzzard awkwardly soaring over the ridge in front of us, and a half-dozen annoying flies buzzing around my ears and landing on my neck and arms.
I continued my begging and endured the flies for some time before I began to feel a slight stirring of the air, and finally, a gentle breeze washed the heat of the sun off my arms and inspired a song from a previously unnoticed bird in the pine trees behind us.

As we drove the miles back down the mountain, I thought of the juxtaposition of mountain and desert. Of course every mountain that reaches above the tree line is desert. I wondered at how one can experience the desert on a mountaintop. I wondered if, in fact, all desert experiences among the wise would be seen as mountaintop experiences. I wondered at what it is that we usually speak of when we refer to the mountaintop. No worries, easy living, wealth? A mountaintop with a chair lift, a stone fireplace and a Starbucks?
Every mountaintop I’ve experienced comes complete with lots of rocks, one-sided buffeted pine trees, and low shrubs. Walking is difficult among the exposed boulders teetering on one another and providing perfect hiding places for timber rattlers. Breathing is difficult in the thin air, and it gets darn cold.
Perhaps this is the only true mountaintop experience. Desert. Nothing seen to do the job of the unseen. Nothing physical to usurp the work of the spirit.
Life doesn’t really follow our romantic pictures and metaphors. What is like to be lonely in paradise? To be deserted on a mountaintop? To find companionship and fellowship in the lush, verdant, richness of the valley?
I think it is sad that we define the mountaintop by circumstances and situations – external influences, rather than what really is, and thus we never really reach the mountaintop which is entirely an internal thing.