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.
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
Today is the thirty-fifth day of Lent.
I believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only something of God,
I have no idea of the Father,
something from something,
I don’t know from I don’t know,
nothin from nothin leaves nothin,
bein got and not maid,
who knows what with the Father.
Through him all things were made. Okay. I guess.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from somewhere.
By the power of something kind of spooky
he became incarnate from…I can’t even say it. Just, no.
And was made man. Continue reading
Today is the twenty-sixth day of Lent.
If you are part of a religion or spiritual tradition with a bible, scriptures, traditions, steps, or any sort of received wisdom, you should embrace your tradition’s teachings with humility.
And you should be encouraged to take any two doctrines and throw them out. You get two. Any two that don’t sit well with you. And I don’t mean you should just ignore them. I mean go outside, look up or down or sideways or in whatever direction you think points toward your god and say, “Hell no. I’m not going to do that!” Continue reading
Today is the fifteenth day of Lent.
This year my Lenten journey is to be mindful of my life every day. It’s hard to explain what that means, but I know the meaning of it.
This weekend Jeanene and I are taking the three sisters on a journey back in time. We go backwards in time in a couple of ways. First, this may be the last time the five of us go on a trip or adventure together. Reiley is now 25 and seriously dating a man we have come to love. I fully anticipate that he will be a part of everything we do from this point forward. When your children start moving into the adult world, their lives become their own. We stand on the edge of that transition. I feel I should honor this weekend as a closing chapter in our lives. Continue reading
Today is the eleventh day of Lent.
It would need to be metal, this thing that I would be an expert at repairing. And completely mechanical. There would be a power source and then one piece moving another piece until the work was done. If you broke it down to its component parts you’d have screws, washers, nuts, bolts, and other metal things.
There would be specialized tools, and they would be well made, all metal and wood. To break this thing down completely would require special moves, but there would be a tool for everything. And I would know every move that might need to be made, so there would be no reason to be afraid or to doubt myself. There would be a finite amount of information needed to master the repair of these things, and I would know all of that information. Continue reading
Today is the 8th day of Lent.
Over the last year I’ve become aware of a problem that I have. It’s my problem. It originates within me. It has no connection to any external reality that would indicate blame or responsibility for any person or organization outside of myself. Not only do I acknowledge that this is my problem, I don’t expect anyone to do anything to solve it for me. If I am to overcome this problem, the solution will come from a change within my own heart.
I can’t imagine how anyone could own a problem more fully than I just did. Continue reading
Today is the fifth day of Lent.
The following is an account of a dream I had on Saturday night, March 8th. It was the night before my first sermon in four years. Any comment is welcome as usual, but I’d like to suggest that the best response to a dream is to listen to it. Dreams speak to us from our unconscious. The symbols of a dream are often extreme, exaggerated, and reflective of inner fears and turmoil.
In my dream I was employed by some nonprofit organization. Its exact nature was not clear. It might have been connected to a religious group or not. The point of the organization was to be helpful to humanity in some way. I had a job in the organization that was mundane, and I believe that in the dream I questioned whether or not my role was helping the cause of humankind in any way.
In the dream I had just returned from a trip to India where I had seen shocking levels of poverty that distressed me. The memories of the trip existed in my dream as short visual sequences that were very realistic. In one of them I encountered some people who were sleeping in puddles of water, unable even to secure a dry place for their beds. Continue reading
Today is the third day of Lent.
In the religious world of my upbringing, Satan was understood to be a real being. If you could get coordinates and had the ability to travel through space and across unknown realities, you could find Satan. Not that anyone would want to try. When I went off to college to study philosophy and religious studies, I kept my desire to remain connected to my faith tradition, but I stopped believing in a literal Satan. It was, I felt, a little unsophisticated. I put together some fancy language to support my thoughts on this matter.
“Satan is clearly a personification of evil. The concept of Satan as a motivating idea or as a character in a mythic narrative is okay, I suppose, for simple and uneducated people. But it seems clear that there is no such being. The idea of Satan seems to have developed in the intertestamental period of Judeo-Christian history.”
And that’s what I believed, or didn’t believe about Satan all through seminary and on into my time as the pastor of Covenant Baptist Church.
And then I met Sam Todd. Continue reading
Today is the second day of Lent.
I sat alone a few rows from the front last night at Saint Francis with ashes on my forehead, still uncertain of what this year’s lenten discipline would be. Then a phrase came to me. “Be mindful.”
Mindfulness is something that has been missing from my life. I realize now, to my sorrow, that most of the mindfulness I used to have was tied to being a professional Christian. I was paid to be mindful. No one cares if I’m mindful now. And my mind has mostly been full of mundane things these days. Getting my client hours billed. Handling basic and simple human considerations. Making a living, as they say. Continue reading
Today is the first day of Lent.
An act of kindness given from one person to another has its effect on the giver and the receiver independent of each other.
If a kind act is offered and received, it flowers in the life of the one who receives it regardless of the motives of the one who offered it. Some kind acts are offered from selfish or manipulative motives. In these cases the goodness comes to the recipient even though the soul of the giver will not be helped and may well be harmed by the act.
Some people are unable to receive kindness. They live so deeply in their wounds that a single act of kindness disappears into their pain with no more effect than a pebble tossed into a pond. But this reality does not diminish the goodness of the gift, and the soul of the one who offered the kindness is enriched regardless.
As I reflect on my life, this first day of Lent in 2014, I pray that I have kindness and mercy to offer those God puts into my path. And I pray that when kindness is given to me, I will receive it with gratitude and love. Because when a joyous giver meets someone able to receive in love, the goodness is magnified in the lives of both and shines for all the world to see.
One of the most painful things any writer must do is cut a favorite paragraph or section out of an essay. You may love the sound of it, but it just doesn’t fit. Or it’s not pulling its load. It’s not getting us where we need to be.
I usually cut the section out and drop it into its own document, thinking maybe I’ll get back to it someday and develop it into its own thing. I never do.
So I thought I’d start posting some of them on their own. Just for fun.
This little section was originally in an essay I’m working on right now and hope to have finished soon. It has too much detail for this particular piece, which throws it out of balance. And the tone doesn’t really fit.
So what would be the worst thing that could happen to us? If it was bad enough would God intervene and say, “Okay, enough is enough?” Continue reading
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
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
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
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
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 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
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.
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?…
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
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.
By beginner’s guide I do not mean an expert explaining Episcopalianisms to novices. I mean a guide written by one beginner for other beginners. You should think of me as perhaps a year or two ahead of you, should you make the shocking and counter-cultural decision to become an Episcopalian yourself. In fact, I’m not even officially an Episcopalian yet. I attend Saint Francis Episcopal in San Antonio, but I’ve not been confirmed. That won’t happen until the bishop comes to our church in February of 2013.
I don’t know anything about the confirmation service, by the way, except I hear the bishop puts his or her hands on your head. Beyond that I haven’t a clue. I’ll tell you more about it after I’ve been through it. Continue reading
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
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
Because really, don’t you think it’s time to move on to more serious subjects?
So my mind was made up. Destroy the little stone house. Throw the tennis ball back into the woods. Move on with my life. Find something better to write about. Something, I don’t know, theological. I do have a seminary degree. And I think I have some notes somewhere on an idea I had about the fragmentation of evangelical ecclesiology in post-modern America.
Okay, I’m warning you before you read any further. This situation is about to get freaky.
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….
And now I want to tell you about another beautiful thing that I saw and experienced at Laity Loge. In July of 2012 I saw Dale Bruner’s Bible in the Great Hall. I first saw it from across the room as he was preparing to lead a session. He turned a page and I saw notes and markings in the margins. I recognized it as a well-worn tool of a New Testament scholar. After the session I asked him if I could hold it.
And he let me. Can you believe it?
Yes, this is another post about the naked tennis ball I found at Laity Lodge. I’m going to ask you to trust me with this. I’m following my instincts. When it comes to things of the Spirit, sometimes you pay attention to what catches your eye or your heart. It is not always given that you should understand. Only that you should follow….
I went to Laity Lodge on June 7th, hoping that if I remained open and worked hard at listening, I might hear from God.
What follows are excerpts from the journal I kept that weekend.
Thursday – 6:00 pm
As I emerge from the river, water streaming from my car onto the dusty road that winds upward from the bottom of the canyon to Laity Lodge, a thought comes to me. If I have come to this place with a desire to hear from God, then I should be prepared to pay attention to everything. Whatever happens to me will be my reality. And in any reality there is the possibility of lessons learned and messages received.
My first vow of the weekend is to accept what comes to me and to seek meaning in all things great and small.
My second vow follows logically from the first. I vow to allow myself the luxury of believing that God might have a message just for me.
Saturday, April 7th. Holy Saturday, the 46th and final day of Lent.
Today is the final day of lent for 2012 and my 46th straight day of posting here. It was an ambitious goal, but I’m glad I tried it.
Knowing I had this deadline each day caused me to shift gears and begin to think like a writer again. Because one secret to writing well is to avoid sitting in front of a blank piece of paper trying to think of something to write. That way is creative death. The move you make is to open your eyes and begin to look closely at the world around you. Every day you and I encounter enough subjects for 40 or 50 essays. If you want to write, begin by looking at the world around you and noticing things. Every time you see something interesting, write it down in the notebook that you CARRY WITH YOU ALL THE TIME. Writers, you do have a notebook, right? Continue reading
Friday, April 6th. Good Friday.
I was on my way back from the artist hermitages at Laity Lodge last weekend when I saw an ashtray near the outdoor fireplace. That kind of surprised me. Laity Lodge isn’t exactly the kind of place where people do a lot of smoking. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone smoking in the 20 years I’ve been going there.
That doesn’t mean people don’t smoke at Laity Lodge. But it doesn’t seem to be common. And generally you don’t see ashtrays except in places where people smoke a lot.
I say there are two likely explanations for the existence of this ashtray. Continue reading
Thursday, April 5th. Maundy Thursday.
My first ever Maundy Thursday service. I am fifty years old, but I am young at heart and ready to experience all things new.
Saint Luke’s, how your beauty has broken my heart. Your priests have proved to be gentle and kind. The two I have met know my name and greet me with great love. Tonight John Badders smiled to see me. Gillian met me in the parking lot with a gentle hug.
The service was beyond words in its beauty and meaning for me. Like a great work of art hanging in a sacred space. Metaphysical claims about truth and God and existence simply have no place before such beauty. Continue reading
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
Tuesday, April 3rd. The 42nd day of Lent.
First the Hamstring.
For those who didn’t read my previous post, after almost a year of vigorous exercise and dieting, I was feeling pretty good about myself and eager to take my new body out for a spin. I played softball for the Saint Luke’s team and forgot to stretch my legs. I pulled my hamstring on the second ground ball hit to me at third base. Pulled it bad.
How bad? This is how bad. I had no idea you could pull a muscle and it would bruise.
This bad boy put me out of commission for a few days. But I’m back to full exercises now. It’s still a little sore but not slowing me down. I’ll be back at the softball diamond with the Episcopalians a week from Easter.
Maybe I’ll see if I can play in the outfield this time.
We’re moving toward the end of Lent. Today is my 42nd straight day of writing. It feels good to get back in the swing of this discipline. I feel that I’ve recaptured something within myself, something that feeds my creative impulse. Continue reading
Monday, April 2nd. The 41st day of Lent.
There is a somewhat controversial program that many ambitious ministers try to implement in churches, mostly without success. I’m talking about the infamous “nametag” member identification strategy. The idea is that the members of the church wear nametags so that visitors and infrequent attenders can remember their names. Visitors are sometimes offered temporary nametags – the stick-on kind – if they wish to wear them. Most congregations hate the idea and respond with resistance. Many pastors have tried the nametag thing, only to be shot down by the will of the congregation.
The pros of the nametag concept are fairly obvious: Continue reading
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
Thursday, March 29th. The 37th day of Lent.
In the early days of blogging, back before there were more blogs than people, the comments were much more interesting. It was kind of a novel thing to leave a comment. Early comment systems didn’t have spam filters or other controls. On my first blog, you couldn’t edit or delete comments. And initially, there weren’t many Christians reading my first blog. So a lot of the comments were from people who were not part of the American Church culture.
I was a little sad when Christians found Real Live Preacher. Things changed after that. Continue reading
Wednesday, March 28th. The 36th day of Lent.
I’m correct in thinking that everyone who does one of these “write every day in Lent” things is allowed at least one completely sucky entry, right?
I hope so.
Cause I’ve been on the computer all day writing articles for my clients AND meeting with a client trying to get her website finalized. And all I can think about is my hamstring.
Believe it or not, Sunday was the first time I’ve ever really pulled a muscle. In all the years that I was an athlete, I never did. I had some injuries but not the classic “pull up short and grab the back of your leg” muscle pull. And of course the 30 years I spent watching TV, writing, working on the computer, or reading never lead to any physical injuries. Continue reading