True Believers

I could tell you the story of how I found Carl in New Orleans, but it wouldn’t do you any good. Carl moves his shop around town whenever the mood strikes him. During a stretch of time in 2008 he operated out of the back of a van. If you need Carl you’ll have to find him in your own way.

In my case, after some years of asking around, I ended up headed for New Orleans with some sketchy directions scribbled onto a scrap of paper in my wallet. I was supposed to look for a green door in a wall that led to an alley on St. Ann Street between Bourbon and the river. No address. Carl doesn’t really do addresses.

The French Quarter looked pretty much like it does in the movies. Narrow streets with wrought iron balconies on the second floors. I walked up and down St. Ann a few times, cursing when I noticed that almost every door is green. Eventually I found it. A narrow wooden door that looked like it was a hundred years old. So many layers of paint that the edges of the boards and even the hinges looked soft. Behind the door an alley twisted back between buildings and turned to the right. Around the corner was a dimly lit shop called Bayou John’s Voodoo Supplies. Continue reading

Nobody

Four years ago I was somebody. I made a lot of words in those days. I was a word maker. Talking talking talking talking. Writing writing writing writing writing. Talking and writing. In my defense, there were people who wanted to hear me. There was even a group of people who paid me to talk to them every Sunday morning. It was a straight-up gig. On the level. I made words for people.

So many words. So very many words.

So I was at the talking place one Sunday morning, doing my talking thing, when I began to feel that I had said enough. My mouth slowly closed until it was small and round, like the mouths of the kids singing at the end of A Charlie Brown Christmas. And then my lips came together and no more words wanted to come out. Continue reading

Dream Journal: “My Sins and Jesus”

While my father was in seminary he was the pastor of New York Baptist Church, which is a country church near New York, Texas. Recently I dreamed that I was going back to New York Baptist Church for some sort of reunion. My dad and I were driving there together. New York Baptist Church was on the 11,000th block of a major street in New York, Texas, which in my dream was a much larger town than it actually is. And the church building was carved out of solid rock. There was a huge rock face, and the church entrance was simply a door in the side of the rock.

Continue reading

He’s a dandy

The old man opened the door to the cafe and stepped inside. He put one hand on the counter by the cash register and took the measure of the place. His head moved slowly back and forth, pausing as he looked at the people sitting in the tables and booths.

He headed for his regular booth by the window. He was close to the booth before he noticed a man and his wife were sitting there. He stood beside the booth looking at them. The man smiled at him and said, “How you doin, sir?”

The old man didn’t reply. He looked at the man and then at the woman. He looked at the chips and salsa on the table and at the beer in the man’s hand. Then he tightened his lips in a disgusted look and walked away. The woman’s eyebrows lifted. She bared her teeth and sucked in her breath. She whispered “What the hell did WE do?” Her husband looked at her and shrugged. Continue reading

I buy thirteens

Foy pulled his car into the driveway and shut off the engine. He could see Joyce on the porch watering flowers. He got out and waved to her. She waved back. He walked by the side of the house and opened a gate to the backyard. A dog ran up to him. He rubbed its head and said, Rico, that’s a good dog. He headed toward the back of the yard, figuring Raymond would be in his shop.

Raymond built the workshop himself. It was made of stone that perfectly matched the house. Foy laid his hand on the side of the shop and dragged his fingers along the stones. He looked back at Raymond’s house and whispered, Jesus.

There was a door to the shop, but it was always locked and even if it wasn’t Raymond kept a bunch of boxes piled up behind it. Foy unlatched the large sliding door and moved it a few feet to the right. It was heavy, but it slid easily. He slipped inside and closed the door behind him. The shop smelled like wood, machine parts, and leather. It was a great smell.

Raymond, you in here?

I’m in the back. Continue reading

In Praise of Brother Triangle

Take thou thy compass and describe a circle with center point A. Let this circle be called Circle A.

Neither increase nor decrease the angle of the hinge of thy compass. Let thy compass remain as it is.

Now take thy compass and place the needle at any point on the circumference of Circle A. Describe thou a second circle with center point B. Let this circle be called Circle B.

Let thy compass remain as it is.

Behold how the circumference of Circle B passes through the center point of Circle A and the circumference of Circle A through the center point of Circle B. The curtain of the Holy of Holies is before thee. Let the reader understand.

Thanks be to the Old One. Continue reading

after 39 months in solitary

i let him out after 39 months in solitary

i hadnt planned on it but my new friends are so nice and they asked if i would teach a bible study but just for three weeks so that was fine and of course i said okay because i like them and im happy to help out

i hadnt checked on him for so long and i wondered if maybe he was dead but he came right out and started with the usual demands he wanted his favorite books and an easel and a bible map and a big table and a bigger chunk of time and of course for me to get up early the morning of and pay the required emotional fees Continue reading

Beware These Pretty Things

Let me guess. You wandered into an Episcopal church and the beauty got you. The rich fabrics on the altar and the vestments on the priests make perfect sense to you, as does the fancy procession down the aisle. Of course they enter the room as if this event matters. And you like words, don’t you? I know you do. And you can’t find a word or phrase out of place in the Book of Common Prayer.

You’ve been long on the road, haven’t you, pilgrim? The dust on your clothes and the look in your eyes reveal much about you, as does the way you zero in on the details and drink in the zeitgeist of this people. Now you’re wondering if the great and abiding mystery of life – that presence you have felt and longed for and occasionally glimpsed – might be found here.

I know. I get you. Continue reading

Episcopal Rites of Passage: Accidentally Setting Your Beard on Fire at Your First Easter Vigil

Admittedly, setting your own beard on fire at the Easter Vigil is a lesser known ritual. Not one that many Episcopalians go through. I might be the only one person you’ve ever heard of who has done this. But given the late hour of the service, the hand-held candles, and the large number of scripture readings involved, I can’t be the only one.

You want details, right? Of course you do. And I’ll get to them in a moment. But first a word about tricksters. Continue reading

Chewing the Fat – part 1

Everything that night was out of the ordinary. I was passing through La Vernia, Texas with time to kill. I don’t usually drive through La Vernia, and it’s rare that I’m on the road unless I’m supposed to be somewhere at an appointed time. It felt good to be in a small town without being in a hurry to get someplace else.

I was hungry and decided to see what La Vernia had to offer. I wasn’t interested in franchises. I wanted something local. So I drove from one end of town to the other to see what my options were. There was a Mexican food place, an Italian restaurant, another Mexican food place, and two steak houses. One of the steak houses looked fancy and new. The other advertised barbecue and steaks and was in a white cinder block building that looked like it had been there for decades. Also the parking lot was full. It was called Witte’s and that’s where I went. Continue reading

I’m all In

I was in a religious service recently where some people raised their hands, closed their eyes, and swayed back and forth as they sang. This kind of thing is generally a sign that the person is either experiencing a moment of spiritual ecstasy or is seeking such a moment and hoping her body language will serve as a catalyst.

I don’t recommend the latter.

I have experienced spiritual ecstasy myself many times. I don’t actively seek it and am a little suspicious of overly demonstrative displays. But I cannot deny the power of such an experience and the intense intellectual and emotional pleasure that comes with it. Continue reading

Call Me Pilgrim

In 2012, I’ve been asked to write as the anonymous character “Pilgrim” for the High Calling. My Pilgrim Posts at Laity Lodge will not be continuing. Instead Pilgrim will tell us what it’s been like to enter the secular workforce.

Greetings.

You can call me Pilgrim.

In 2012 I wrote a series of essays at the Laity Lodge website, mostly about my spiritual journey in the months after I left the church I had pastored for eighteen years. If you read any of those essays, you might have wondered how Pilgrim was making a living.
And that would be a good question. When a seminary trained, professional minister decides that he or she no longer wishes to be employed by a church, what is it like to move to the world of secular employment?…

Read the rest of this essay at the High Calling.

A thing that happened

What I feel like is a man slowly drifting away from his faith. It’s not an intellectual process. My commitment to Christianity is far deeper than mind games now. My faith is of the body. And my body is telling me some things. I have no desire to pray. I have no interest in doctrinal or theological conversations, which used to be a passion of mine. Such discussions are of no more interest to me now than an extended conversation about latex paint.

When I was a professional Christian, my job depended on me being spiritually engaged with the faith. And since I abhorred the idea of hypocrisy, I always found ways to stay in the game. But now, with no one paying me to be spiritual, well, it’s a whole different thing. If I don’t want to pray I just don’t. Sometimes for a long time. Continue reading

Let the big people say what needs to be said

A Beginner’s Guide to Becoming Episcopalian

One of the first things you’re going to notice at an Episcopal worship service is all the people processing up and down the aisles. That’s how you know the service is starting. The music begins and everyone stands up, like before the bride comes down the aisle at a wedding. Then all the worship leaders come marching down the aisle. Children with crosses and fancy candles, people wearing robes and carrying banners and staffs, a person holding aloft a Bible with a golden cover, the entire choir, and all the ministers decked out in their vestments bringing up the rear.

Continue reading

Personal Savior

The first part of this story was published yesterday here.

“Well, you gotta do it. You just have to say the sinner’s prayer. And then you’re saved for sure. And then we can just play catch and ride bikes and stop worrying about this all the time. Don’t you just want to maybe just do it? Can’t we just say it? It’s real quick. And I know it by heart on account of my family always goes to church and I’ve heard it a million times.”

“Yeah, you go all the time. I don’t like church. Do you just hate going but you have to, so you just go anyway and everything? And just have to sit there?”

Foy saw a stick and picked it up. He wanted to bang in on the fence the way Mickey did. He stepped in front of Mickey and whacked his stick along the chain link fence three times as hard as he could. Continue reading

Untitled Foy Story part 1

Apologies to those of you who like the Foy stories, but get disappointed when I post them in parts. This one will be two or three parts. And I don’t have a title for it. If you prefer to wait, hopefully it will be done by the end of the weekend. When it’s finished I’ll decide on a title and move it over to FoyDavis.com.

This scene from Foy’s life will make more sense if you read “Bearing Witness.”

Fort Davis Texas
1969

On Monday morning Foy cut across his block, through the neighbors’ yards, past Fort Street, to Davis Street, where Mickey lived. The Wallace family lived in a sagging home on a double lot. Buddy Wallace had erected a ramshackle metal building that served as his workshop and garage. Two small sheds about the size of outhouses were attached like hermitages to one side of the workshop. Indeed, they may at one time have been outhouses. Cars in various states of disrepair filled the workshop and spilled out into the yard, where their rust was slowly bringing them into harmony with the colors of the rocks, the earth, the washtubs, and the old tractor engine that also lay in the yard. On the Wallace property, things sat in the yard until they became part of the landscape, sinking into the ground and changing colors slowly over the years. Above these things flew the colorful flags of the Wallace laundry, flapping in the West Texas wind on two parallel lines that ran from the side of the workshop to a laundry pole set into concrete near the only tree on the property, a scrubby juniper that Alice Wallace watered and cared for as if it was the only thing of beauty in her life.

Continue reading

Goodbye Bobbie

She looks good in her American casket, I think, when I pay my respects. It’s luxurious, like an RV. I find myself liking the way its big frame holds her tiny body. She lost so much weight in those last months.

So this is the world without Bobbie. I don’t like the way it feels like the same world. Glen Beck was on the radio when I drove my brother-in-law’s car. The man at the gas station said I looked good, as if he somehow knew that I don’t wear a suit much anymore. I drank a Diet Coke on the way to the viewing.

There is definitely something missing in the Cosmos though. Bobbie’s unique view of the world. The filamented framework of how she understood life, built inch by inch with every breath and heartbeat, is no longer with us. You can’t save a worldview. It’s too much for saving. You can’t even understand it. She was the only one who saw the world through her eyes. And that particular view is no more. Continue reading

Bennies

How you folks doing? I’m Will Bransom, pastor of acquisitions. No, I’m just kidding. I’m the pastor of outreach and evangelism. That’s a little joke around here.

Ha. That’s funny. That’s funny, right Denise?

No, in all seriousness, I’m so happy you’ve come by. Your card indicates that you’re interested in becoming members; is that right?

Uh, yes. We think so. We’ve been coming for a while now. And it seems like this might be the right move for our family at this, uh, juncture, time.

Wonderful. Fabulous. Are you folks members of another church somewhere?

No. I don’t want to speak for Denise. I don’t want to speak for you, honey. But we’re not really, we haven’t been very much in the church. I never was. My parents were basically hell raisers from the 60s. Sex, drugs, and. My dad was, uh, well he wasn’t inclined to. But now Denise, she was very religious. Comes from a very religious family, right Denise?

Yes, I come from a very religious family. We were always in church. I kind of rebelled, you know? When I got older. So Caleb and me, no, we haven’t. There’s no church. Continue reading

A Baptism of Tears

When I began blogging as Pilgrim, I shared with you that after I left the pastorate, I had a hard time feeling engaged with worship on Sunday mornings. I maintained a cerebral connection to Christianity, but I was emotionally numb. Nothing moved me. I wondered if this detachment might be a kind of penance that I had to pay for all the years I spent planning worship and, consequently, not really worshipping myself.

That hard and dry season has now passed. I feel myself opening once again to the joy and wonder of our faith. A good thing has happened to me, and I want to tell you about it.

Here are a couple of details that you should know about me: First, I was a Baptist minister, so I was part of the family of faith known as evangelicals. Second, I left my congregation in February of 2010. My family and I started attending churches all over our city. We went to many kinds of churches from various Christian traditions.

And I felt dead inside every Sunday.

For two years….

Read the rest of this essay at the Laity Lodge Website. Continue reading

Looking out and looking in

Wednesday, April 4th. The 43rd day of Lent.

Two books I commend to you.

Einstein, a biography by Walter Isaacson. I loved this book so much that I decided to read it again in a year. That will be sometime in 2012. There is much about Einstein’s life that is charming. He was apparently a delightful man in many ways. Not a good husband. A somewhat absent father. But for a man who had such a mind and who lived so committed to his work, he was apparently a person that you and I would have enjoyed knowing.

Late in life he was working at Princeton. He was very old and became forgetful about everyday things. His mind remained sharp, though most of his stunning and seemingly intuitive breakthroughs occured in his 20s. But he would forget little things. One day while walking home from Princeton he became lost. He knocked on a door and asked a woman to call his wife. She was shocked to find Einstein on her porch. He was a world famous figure by then. She went to the phone and came back to find him at her kitchen table helping her daughter with her math homework.

Kind of a cute story. Continue reading

Small time

Friday, March 30th. The 38th day of Lent.

I’m at Laity Lodge this weekend. I write for this retreat center in a secret way, which I greatly enjoy. I rode up with Paul Soupiset, who has become such a close friend over the last couple of years. Somewhere between Boerne and Kerville, a funny sound started coming from the right front wheel well of Paul’s car. We stopped so that Paul could take a look at it. While he was under the car doing manly repair stuff, I wandered over to the place where grass met pavement and became intrigued with a cute little scene I found there.

At my feet was a tiny rock, embedded in some soil that settled into a small clearing at the last rainfall. Miniscule weeds looked like bushes to me. And the only sign of human existence in the tableau was a bit of shiny metal, perhaps a link from a small chain, discarded by someone and looking as mysterious and out of place as the Monolith in 2001 A Space Odyssey. Continue reading

When my family was on Welfare

Tuesday, March 27th. The 35th day of Lent.

Okay, technically it wasn’t Welfare, but it was government assistance so let’s not split hairs.

In November of 2007 Jeanene quit her job because Shelby was in a crisis and we needed an adult at home. Like many Americans we had health insurance through her job, but we thought we’d just call up some insurance company and get different insurance. I was working three jobs at the time to make the money we needed. Pastor, writer for the High Calling, and I was working for the Christian Century setting up their blog network. I’m not counting Real Live Preacher as a job, but I was doing that too.

So I don’t want to hear anyone say that this stuff only happens to lazy people. I’m a hard working guy. Always have been.

But then a series of bad things happened. Continue reading

Projection

Sunday, March 25th. The fifth Sunday of Lent.

This morning I was in the Episcopal 101 class at Saint Luke’s. The priest teaching it came into the room, and I immediately sensed that something was wrong. I can’t tell you what made me think this. Something about him seemed heavy. As if he was carrying a burden of some kind. Of course, he has to go ahead and teach his class, not matter what’s going on. And he must lead several worship services on Sunday, regardless of what is happening in his own life.

I was instantly alarmed and concerned for him. I kept watching him closely throughout the class. He read from his notes and talked to us as if everything was normal. But I continued to have a sense or feeling that something was not right. Later, in worship, I watched him at the front. It seemed to me that his head hung a little lower than usual. Something seemed amiss. Continue reading

There’s a new voice coming

Tuesday, March 20th. The 28th day of Lent.

Of course, one of the dangers of writing from the unconscious and writing every night without much time to edit yourself is that everyone can see your shit. Take me for example. Something like twenty-five straight days of writing during Lent and how many of those are about how I used to be a minister but now I’m not? Or how I’m looking for a church but it’s weird sitting in the pew after all these years.

For Christ’s sake – and I mean that literally; Jesus is probly up in heaven rolling his eyes right now – stop talking about that shit.

I know. I’m sorry. It’s obviously on my mind. I try not to think about it, but it’s right below the surface, so if you scratch, you know, it just comes out is all. Continue reading

Scripture, Tradition, Reason

Sunday, March 18th. The fourth Sunday of Lent.

This morning Jeanene and I were attending the beginners’ class at Saint Luke’s. It’s a simple course on the Episcopal Church that is taught periodically for people who are new to Saint Lukes and possibly considering joining. It’s very strange being a novice in church. In my own tradition I would have taught courses like this. Now I don’t know anything. And there are a LOT of details to know in this tradition.

John Badders, our associate rector, is teaching the course. Today he handed out a three page summary of Anglican sources of authority. I knew what I was getting. A ridiculously simplified version of a complex subject. I know this because I used to make similar little handouts for various courses I taught at Covenant. “Historic Baptist Distinctives and Principles,” “Interpreting the Scriptures, “Church history,” etc.

But one of my disciplines right now is to be a novice. I need to let go of any sense that I know a lot about Christianity and embrace a more child-like point of view. So I got the paper and paid careful attention as we went through it. Continue reading

I never gave my mind away

Saturday, March 17th. The 25th day of Lent.

I never gave my mind to the Church. Never. Even when I was a small boy and every adult that meant something to me was some sort of authority figure in the church, when someone would read a Bible story and it was clear that everyone believed it simply because it was in the Bible, a quietly defiant voice in me would say, “That never happened like that.”

I was happy to give my body to the Church. And even my words. Lying came pretty naturally to me. Not cruel or mean lies, but the kind of lies kids tell to get along with adults. The desperate, fearful lies a boy will tell to keep the big people he loves happy. And maybe because he is wonders if somewhere up in heaven, Jesus will be happy with him too. Those are the lies I told. Continue reading

Rediscovering myself

Friday, March 16th. The 24th day of Lent.

What an amazing thing this Lenten writing discipline has been for me.

The story so far:

  1. Depressed and desperate, I launch my anonymous Salon blog in December of 2002. I wasn’t sure why I did it. I had a sense that in this medium I could tell the truth about myself. I was tired of the filters that came with being a pastor.
  2. To my surprise, people seem to like my writing. I feel so proud. Maybe I could be a “real writer.” For some reason I have obsessive thoughts of that phrase. “A REAL Writer.”
  3. January of 2003, Eerdmans sends me an email asking if I want to do a book. (Those were the golden years of blogging. Not that many of us, so things like this actually happened.) My head explodes with shock and delight. “?Does this mean I am a real writer?”
  4. Book comes out in 2004. Yay. Bit of a let down though, as it doesn’t really sell that many copies.
  5. Start writing essays for Christian Century in 2005. By then I had decided that I was indeed a writer, and it had nothing to do with being published.
  6. I wonder if maybe I could write for a living. Write Write Write Write Write Write Write. Somehow years go by. Continue reading

Rising up to cold space?

Wednesday, March 14th. The 22nd day of Lent.

I suppose there are numerous ways this could play itself out, but the point is that you and I cannot know what realities exist beyond our feeble powers of observation. Voyager has been traveling for 35 years and is just now leaving our solar system. And it’s not like Voyager has done a thorough job of mapping things along the way. Once you get a little ways out beyond earth, our ignorance is laughable.

Let’s face it. We don’t know much. We can’t see very far. And the farther away we look the farther back in time we see, which sounds cool until you realize that there is simply no physical way you and I can keep up with current events even in our own galaxy. And there is a LOT more out there beyond the Milky Way.

So okay, like I said, I see a few ways this could go. Tonight I’ll mention just one of them. Continue reading

Bad Worship was Bad but Surprisingly Good

Tuesday, March 13th. The 21st day of Lent.

A few weeks ago I slipped into a worship service on a weeknight at a church that is not one I frequent. I thought it was going to be a Taize service with the expected chant songs and a more contemplative feel. As it turned out, the service was a contemporary service with “praise and worship” music, which is the kind of thing you hear on Christian radio stations.

It wasn’t what I was looking for. But they were brothers and sisters in Christ and I had no reason to think anything but the best about them. These days I find myself at peace with many different kinds of people.

I find it helpful not to sing songs that are not meaningful to me. Instead, I listen to the sounds of the people who love the songs singing them with passion. Since I can now meditate to just about any sound, including the murmurs of large numbers of people talking or traffic, it was no problem to sink into my own thoughts while the people around me sang a few choruses of “Our God is an Awesome God.” Continue reading

Filioque Protest

Friday, March 9th. The 17th day of Lent.

It’s been an interesting thing for this lifelong Baptist to be attending an Episcopal Church. I can’t say if we will join. I have a lot of ambivalence about church in general these days. I wonder what percentage of what goes on in churches is anything Jesus would care about. I’m not sure what the answer to that question is.

I do know that Christian worship is so deeply rooted in my heart that I don’t know how to live without it. And the beauty of high church music and liturgy continually breaks my heart. Seriously, anyone with an aesthetic sense could appreciate the worship event at Saint Luke’s. I am being seduced by this church. Her beauty draws me back again and again, even though I fear joining the church or making any move that might bring me in contact with the organization behind it. Do I want to see the cogs and wheels that turn and grind to make this kind of production on a Sunday morning? I don’t think so.

Is it okay to just sit and meditate and listen and let her romance me for a little while before I’m pushed to make a commitment? Continue reading

Writing from the Unconscious

Saturday, March 3rd. The 11th day of Lent.

There are two common paths to writing for me. One is to open a hatch in my basement and reach into the soupy liquid of my unconscious mind. I move my hand back and forth until I find something with enough solidity for me to grab. I drag it up and look at it. Then I tie it to a pole and dip it back in, sweeping it back and forth to see what sticks to it.

Eventually I end up with a central idea and some ancillary thoughts clustered around it. The thoughts themselves are usually familiar to me, though occasionally they are complete surprises. I am surprised more when I write my Foy Davis stories because I make such a conscious effort not to control those narratives. But I usually at least vaguely recognize what I pull up from below. I might recall when a thought first occured to me or remember thinking about it and puzzling over it in the past.

The big mystery is why this idea solidified in my hand and not some other. Continue reading

The Gospel According To

Wednesday, February 29th. The 8th day of Lent.

I heard Ian Cron read from his memoir last year at Laity Lodge. He described a mystical experience he had on a Saturday morning when he was ten years old. He was riding his bicycle along a street lined with trees waving in a blue sky. Suddenly he knew that he was “the object of a terrible and awe-full love.”

What would we see if we could travel back in time and stand beside the road on that Saturday when Ian pedaled his bicycle and received his beatific vision? His description in his memoir is so detailed and compelling. How much of it happened as he remembers it? If we were there would we see the trees and the sky as beautifully as he now describes them? What if we saw a boy ride by without any outward hint of inspiration? How has a lifetime of reflection on the events of that day influenced his memory? Continue reading

The Way of Wandering

Tuesday, February 28th. The 7th day of Lent.

This post is a follow up to some things I wrote about on Saturday.

If the mythic framework of your childhood world no longer satisfies, you can hit the highway and seek your metaphysical fortune in the wide world. These days, with the internet and global news, people are less isolated and provincial. The worldview highways are, therefore, filled with lost children.

You may have had secular parents with a strong empirical outlook. They may have been victims of close-minded religious abuse and left their own childhood myth years ago. Or perhaps the classic myths of religion just didn’t appeal to them. So you were raised with a healthy skepticism and a suspicion of all things religious. But then one day you wandered into a church and saw the ancient rites and heard the archetypal stories. Your heart was filled with joy, and you do not know why.

The ancients say that the Holy Spirit somehow chose you and gave you a mystical encounter. Or maybe you have the so-called religious gene, it having skipped a generation in your family. What does it matter? This thing happened and now you find yourself seeking God. Continue reading

Compassion Fatigue

Monday, February 27th. The 6th day of Lent.

There was this moment in 2009 when I knew for sure that I had to get out of the ministry. It was on a Wednesday night and a woman came up to me and told me there was a problem with a door knob on one of the Sunday school room doors.

A wave of despair washed over me and I said to myself, “I can’t do this anymore.”

Shortly after that I began to have fantasies where no matter what people said to me, I responded by saying, “I don’t care.”

Baptisms are down? I don’t care.

Advent is in 6 weeks and we don’t have a theme? I don’t care.

We’re under budget and probably need a stewardship sermon? I don’t care.

Your aunt Matilda has cancer you say? I don’t care.

You think we need to put together a comprehensive ministry plan and schedule our goals for the next 5 years? I don’t fucking care. Continue reading

Cast Out

Sunday, February 26th. The first Sunday of lent.

A very literal translation of Mark 1:12-13, part of today’s gospel text:

“And immediately the Spirit cast him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by the satan. And he was with the wild animals. And the angels waited on him.”

Mark 1:12-13 from a parchment created by a Cyprian monk in 1305 CE – click to see the whole manuscript

The gospel of Mark is the earliest account of the life of Jesus. The language is simple, almost crude at times. The story of Jesus’ forty day temptation lacks the detail of Matthew and Luke, but there is a compelling power in its economy of words. I do love the strong verb the evangelist uses here. Jesus is “cast out” into the wilderness with the wild beasts and Satan. The verb is the same one used throughout the gospel when Jesus casts demons out of afflicted people. Continue reading

Never Scoff at a True Believer

Saturday, February 25th. The fourth day of Lent.

Rules for Living #29: Never Scoff at a True Believer

A true believer is culturally unconscious. They are completely at peace with Mother Culture because they are unaware of her existence. They live in her womb, being nurtured by her, participating fully in her stories, and contributing to her propagation by default.

True believers exist in all cultures, the larger cultures of nations and people-groups as well as the smaller, more transitory cultures of inner cities, rural regions, universities, office buildings, etc. The birthright of all humans is the packaged worldview of their culture. Everything you need is given to you:

  1. Your central myth.
  2. Your values and mores.
  3. Your behavioral norms.
  4. Your customs and traditions.
  5. Your celebrations and holidays.
  6. A protective layer of xenophobia to keep you faithful and in the fold. Continue reading

Sacred Listening

Friday, February 24th. The third day of Lent.

I don’t have much to say to God these days. No requests. No praises. No promises that I’ll be a better boy. It’s not that I have anything against talking to God. It’s just that I did so much of that for such a long time. I grew up in the Baptist church where all we did was yammer on about this and that. Then I ended up being a preacher for twenty years. I’ve done my share of talking is what I’m saying. I’m kind of in a season of quiet these days.

I like to say I’m listening to God, but I’ve never heard God say anything. I get messages now and then but they always come through a side channel.

What I do these days when I pray is get very quiet. You have to work hard at real quiet. It takes me about twenty minutes to settle in. The Quakers taught me that. At first I thought the Quaker meetings seemed kind of long. Later I found myself arriving early so I could get calm ahead of time because I was losing a third of the hour to the fidgets. Continue reading

God or the Idea of God

Thursday, February 23rd. The second day of Lent.

There is a dog in my neighborhood that watches the world through a gap between two boards in the fence around his yard. When I jog by I can see one of his eyes peering out at me. He seems filled with fear at the tiny slice of life he can see and barks ferociously when people pass by. I suppose we tend to fear what we cannot understand. And how can he understand what he sees?

Strangely enough I thought of this dog when I first saw the delightful photos of Japanese fireflies by photographer Tsuneaki Hiramatsu. He set his camera for a long exposure and has shown us for the first time a deeper reality of the firefly. If you and I could see in four dimensions, meaning we could hold a passage of time in our minds and perceive an unfolding reality in its wholeness, this is perhaps how we would see fireflies.


Click to see the photo collection at Wired.com

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What a Fool Believes

Foy Davis driving up highway 1 north of Los Angeles in a red Mustang convertible. His left hand is on the steering wheel and his right hand is holding a half-eaten In-N-Out Burger. On the passenger side floor is a cooler filled with Diet Cokes. On the seat beside him is a computer and a bag of Pepperidge Farm Goldfish. He’s listening to the Doobie Brothers Greatest Hits CD and has it turned up loud. A range of steep hills are on the right; the Pacific Ocean is on the left.

He sees a hitchhiker on the right side of the road. As he passes the man, they make eye contact. Foy turns his head, watching the hitchhiker until he is looking at him over the back seat. He looks forward to check the road and then into the rear view mirror. The man is still watching Foy’s car.

“Holy shit, that guy looks just like me.” Continue reading

Flatland

I will not get to the mountains. I’ve been told as much, but you can’t swallow this kind of knowledge until you have some perspective.

I am in the center of a great salt flat. I don’t know how I got here, but I’ve been walking for 50 years. Behind me I see my tracks. I see my campsites fading into the distance. If I squint, I can even recognize a certain rock I passed when I was five years old. The trail I’ve left behind seems so small, now that I look at it. I started in the center of this unfathomable expanse, and I’m pretty much still in the center, as far as I can tell. Continue reading