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
Monday, March 12th. The 20th day of Lent.
Station Thirteen: Jesus dies on the cross. Luke 23:44-46
It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last.
Jesus, my ending, the jolt of these stark words never ceases to startle me. “He breathed his last.” You died. Our brother Paul says you were obedient, even unto death. But I don’t want to look death in the face. And I don’t like that you called me to take up a cross of my own. You called me to die to myself, but I want to hold onto my life. This is your hardest commandment. So this is my prayer: that you create something new in me, a presence of the Spirit of God that could help me face even a cross for you. Even death for you.
Sunday, March 11th. The third Sunday of Lent.
Station Nine: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem. Luke 23:27-31
A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. But Jesus turned to them and said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are surely coming when they will say, “Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.” Then they will begin to say to the mountains, “Fall on us”; and to the hills, “Cover us.” For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?’
Jesus, my friend, on this day of your great trial, somehow you still had room in your heart for others. Your cross helps me see how sin has warped my life. It takes a cosmic redemption act to set things right. Did you say “Do not weep for me” because you know that I must live in a world that requires such an act of redemption? Create in me a servant’s heart, that I too might see past my own pain and find the strength to care for others.
Saturday, March 10th. The 18th day of Lent.
I have been asked to write three prayers for the 2012 Covenant stations of the cross, which will be displayed and open to the public at Covenant Baptist Church during Holy Week. I will use my writing time the next three nights for this honored task. I will be following a pattern set by the other prayers, each one beginning with Jesus, my…
?Station Three: Jesus is condemned. Luke 22:66-71
When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people, both chief priests and scribes, gathered together, and they brought him to their council. They said, ‘If you are the Messiah, tell us.’ He replied, ‘If I tell you, you will not believe; and if I question you, you will not answer. But from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God.’ All of them asked, ‘Are you, then, the Son of God?’ He said to them, ‘You say that I am.’ Then they said, ‘What further testimony do we need? We have heard it ourselves from his own lips!’
“Jesus, my Word, I have four sacred collections of your teachings to guide me. Chapters and chapters filled with your words which convict me, teach me, and show me the way of life. I know how I should live because I know how you lived. But I do not live as you did. You have told me the truth, but still I have not believed. Forgive me for making light of your words.”
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
Thursday, March 8th. The 16th day of Lent.
I think I’ll wrap up the Back to the Body series tonight. I’ve learned a few lessons over the last 10 months. Here they are. At the end I’ll offer some practical suggestions to anyone who is thinking about starting P90X.
It’s interesting to me that my spiritual journey has come to involve a more contemplative, exercise-oriented practice as opposed to a more cerebral, theological approach. And now I’ve also begun to pay attention to my body in other ways. Maybe it’s something that happens when you turn 50.
1. There is no going back.
If you are unhappy with your physical condition, the way you are eating and living right now is what got you to this place. If you go back to your old ways after a 3 month fitness program, you’ll lose all you gained in the same amount of time, if not sooner. An intense exercise program like P90X is only valuable if you see it as a jump-start to a new way of living. Continue reading
Wednesday, March 7th. The 15th day of Lent.
I apologize for the length of this. But I started this thing, so I guess I’ll try and finish it.
It took me four months to get through P90X the first time. It’s supposed to be 3 months but I had a number of nagging injuries and a couple of weeks when I was out of town. A warning for people over 40: this is an intense program, so Tony Horton isn’t kidding when he says to be careful. My tendency was to push hard and just deal with the injuries. I didn’t want any excuse to slack off because I would have. Look, you’re going to be sore every day during this program. I just ignored most of the small pains. But if I pulled a muscle or tweaked a joint and felt I needed rest, I would stay on the diet, take a few days off to recover, and then pick up where I left off as soon as I could.
What did P90X do for me?
I have photos but showing them would be creepy. So let me give you some before and after numbers. Look, this is going to sound a bit braggadocious, but I’m offering this as encourgement to anyone who is wondering what can be done in 3 or 4 months. When I was wondering whether or not to try P90X, this is exactly the kind of stuff I wanted to know from someone I trusted. Does it work? Continue reading
Tuesday, March 7th. The 14th day of Lent.
You know Plyometrics is going to be bad before you even get started. During the warmup, Tony says they tried to hire some “hotshots” for this video, but they couldn’t handle it. So the people working out with him are from the first P90X class. You probably won’t notice until Tony points it out, but one of the guys has a prosthetic leg. Tony mocks you with this. “Eric is performing today on one leg. So I don’t wanna hear no excuses from any of you!”
“Yeah, well I was thinking of turning off the video, Tony, but I guess if ERIC is doing it with one leg…”
But the real frightening part is when the warmup is pushing you hard. One part of the warmup is 90 seconds of lunges. You know what a lunge is? Take a step forward, only put your foot about twice as far forward as you normally would. Then sink down until your knee is bent at a 90 degree angle. Then stand up and repeat with the other leg. Do this over and over for 90 seconds. The first day my thighs were BURNING. Then Tony said, “Now this is just the warmup. If you’re having trouble with the lunge sequence, this might be too much for you.”
Let me break the suspense. Plyometrics IS going to be too much for you the first time. And the second time. And the third time. It’s actually going to be too much for you for a long, long time. Just get used to that. Continue reading
Monday, March 5th. The 13th day of Lent.
In May of 2010 I began to exercise and eat in a more healthy way. After 5 months, I started to write about my journey in a series I called “Back to the Body.” I wrote part one in September and didn’t write part two until 6 weeks had passed. And then I lost all interest in writing about this. Not because I stopped exercising, but because I couldn’t spare the writing time. All my writing was going into more serious matters, essays and my regular Pilgrim Post for Laity Lodge.
But now I am ready to continue the story…
P90X began for me on the first Monday morning of May, 2011. I had my equipment, my DVD workouts, and my diet planned. Jeanene was going to be beginning the P90X Lean program at the same time, which differs somewhat from the P90X Classic.
The first workout is called “Chest and Back.”
I knew it was going to be awful. I didn’t think it was going to be ridiculous. The first excercise was pushups. How many? Until you can’t do any more. Having done pushups a few days earlier in the “qualification trial,” I could only do 6. I followed this with 6 on my knees. Next was pull-ups. How many? As many as you can. I couldn’t do even one pull-up at the time. I was 5’8″ and weighed almost 200 pounds. There would be no real pull-ups for many months. I got a chair and used one leg to help me. I did 10. Continue reading
Sunday, March 4th. The 2nd Sunday of Lent.
I posted something as “Pilgrim” at the Laity Lodge website. It will serve as my lenten writing piece for today.
“In Tim you will find a strange combination of archetypal trickster and master chef. I call him Kokopelli – you’ll have to ask him why. It’s as if Puck came down from the stage of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and started serving hors-d’oeuvres to the audience…”
Click here to read this essay at the Laity Lodge website. If you leave a comment, please do remember that I an anonymous there.
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
Friday, March 2nd. The 10th day of Lent.
you do your best
you do what seems right
in your gut
often maybe even mostly you dont know why you do what you do
and somehow in the delightful mix
of your sin
and your sorrow
and your joy
the two of you bringing your best and your worst to this
a unique and lovely human forms and comes into being
carrying your sins and your virtues
and being broken and human and wonderful
like you Continue reading
Thursday, March 1st. The 9th day of Lent.
A day after I wrote that thing about compassion fatigue, a young minister friend contacted me. He is not long out of seminary and serving for the first time as the pastor of a church. Something about his email sounded urgent. He needed to talk.
We got together and spent an hour or so talking about what’s going on in his life. He is filled with stress over a number of issues. It’s a sobering thing to be the pastor of a spiritual community. One day you realize that your life – just the way you and your family live – has an impact on the church that you serve. You begin to feel like your family needs to be a model of spiritual and emotional health.
Heck, I’ll just say it. You ARE a model of spiritual and emotional health for your community. Whether or not that should be true isn’t important. It is true. And that’s a burden to carry. Continue reading
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
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
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
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
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:
- Your central myth.
- Your values and mores.
- Your behavioral norms.
- Your customs and traditions.
- Your celebrations and holidays.
- A protective layer of xenophobia to keep you faithful and in the fold. Continue reading
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
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
Lenten Blog 2012: Ash Wednesday
Ash Wednesday - 10:00 pm
Tonight Jeanene and I went to Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church, where we have been attending for about 8 weeks. We’ve been drawn, almost against our will, to this community of faith in San Antonio. Drawn by the undeniable beauty of their worship, which is put together which such care and love that our hearts are broken most Sunday mornings. Every Sunday I have been moved to tears, this last Sunday by the final alleluia before Lent.
At the beginning of the service, the rector said:
“In the season of Lent, the Church asks its members to scrutinize their lives, to look deeply into their hearts and seek to find an honesty with God and with themselves.” Continue reading
A new pilgrim post is online at LaityLodge.org
My wife and I were at the Laity Lodge New Year’s retreat at the end of 2011. Jerry Root, a C.S. Lewis scholar from Wheaton College, was the speaker. He did a couple of sessions on the classic problem of evil, using Lewis’ thoughts primarily from his famous book, “The Problem of Pain.” In the morning session on Saturday he said something that I’ve been thinking about ever since.
Jerry said that when we speak of evil and suffering, the conversation is challenging because our perspective is always changing. A thing that seemed terribly bad when you were twenty might not seem nearly as bad when you are forty and looking back on it. Something that seemed positively evil to you when it occurred might be revealed in time to have been only painful and not especially evil at all. Maybe it even turned out to be an essential part of your growth as a human being.
Which perspective is the right one? The immediate perspective or the one years later? The latter is wiser but the former is more in touch with the painful reality of the moment…
Read the rest of this essay at the Laity Lodge website.
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
Read part one here.
In some ways, my journey back to the body began in my early 40s, when doctrinal Christianity started to lose its meaning for me. There’s only so much energy you can put into polishing your theology. While other people still seemed interested in arguing over the finer points of doctrine, I got bored with that. With that boredom came the realization that my Christianity was mostly a cerebral thing. Desperate to find meaning in the faith that had been so important to me, I turned to more monastic practices of ritual prayer, silence, and meditation. I started making rosaries and chanting. I started sitting in the woods behind our church and listening. Anything I could do to get my body involved in the practice of my faith. I found that cerebral faith exercises, like obsessive theology polishing, tend to lead me toward doubt and despair. But body practices tend to calm me down and bring me joy.
Then I met an episcopal priest who used to play college baseball. I had the crazy idea that we should get together and play catch once a week while talking about the lectionary texts for the upcoming Sunday. I loved it. Unfortunately he moved away and I never found a suitable replacement. I was desperate enough that I bought a box of baseballs and went to the middle school diamond where I threw them from second base into the backstop behind home plate. Then I’d run around the bases and do it all over again. Continue reading
Not many people know this about me, but when I was young I was very athletic and active. I was a hyperactive boy; I ran more than I walked, fidgeted more than I sat still, and talked pretty much non-stop. If I had grown up in this generation I probably would have been heavily medicated. Instead I played sports. A LOT of sports. I began playing Little League baseball and Pee Wee football in second grade and continued both with great passion until I graduated from high school. My senior year I was the varsity quarterback and played shortstop and right field for the baseball team. I ran the 400 and 800 meters on the track squad just for fun.
I was a jock. That’s what we were called. I made good grades. School wasn’t hard for me, but I didn’t care about anything intellectual. I kept my grades up because it made my parents happy and let me be eligible for football and baseball. I didn’t learn much in high school because I didn’t care about ideas or truth. I had a girlfriend and I had sports. Nothing else mattered that much to me. I read voraciously but innocently. I read because I thought books were more fun than movies. I didn’t know that reading could lead to intellectual discoveries, and I wouldn’t have cared if I had known. At eighteen I was a springy, energetic, happy-go-lucky ball of energy. Continue reading
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
Amazing grace how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found
Was blind but now I see.
When I was a boy resting in the bosom of my people, we spoke of the lost and of the found. Lost people were those who didn’t have faith in Jesus Christ. We talked about them in anxious and concerned tones. Some had rejected Jesus outright. This was an astonishing thing, impossible to comprehend. You could only shake your head in sorrow to think of them. Lost souls.
Others simply didn’t know about Jesus. Maybe they had heard his name or even uttered it themselves in anger:
Or with the curious addition of the middle initial:
“Jesus H. Christ!” Continue reading
Her body was ancient when this age began. And before her embodiment she was whispered from one savage ear to the next. She has suckled countless human generations, her stories the first they heard and her words their last benediction.
She is older than human memory. No one knows her story. Continue reading
Not everything I write for the High Calling is appropriate for the Squid. But I think maybe this piece is.
In a documentary I recently saw, an Inuit child was happily romping around inside her family’s igloo. The interior temperature was just a tad above 32 degrees. She was naked.
Human beings can adapt to just about any climate or circumstance. So I guess it should be no surprise that I have adapted myself to modern noises and the flood of sensory input that assaults me every waking hour of the day.
I must have adapted to the noise because the silence of the Rocky Mountains always startles me. Which is kind of backwards, don’t you think? Shouldn’t silence be the norm and grinding machine noises the exception?
If you are not familiar with my Foy Davis stories, you can read about him and find links to the other stories here.
Foy parked his car in a clergy spot in the hospital parking lot. When he got out he patted the breast pocket of his blazer to see if his New Testament was there. He patted his pants and felt his wallet. Then he looked at the keys in his hand and said out loud, “Keys.”
He walked quickly through the parking lot and into the hospital. He turned several corners without looking at the signs on the walls and ended up a a volunteer’s desk.
“How are you, reverend Davis?”
He handed her his parking ticket and said, “You can call me Foy.”
She stamped his ticket and handed it back to him. “You always say that.”
“And you always call me reverend Davis. Why is that?”
“I don’t know. You’re a minister.” Continue reading
Something drives a writer to words. Almost any motivation can have dignity, but you better damn well know what brings you to this work. Continue reading
I’ve done this before. I started a blog called Real Live Preacher back in 2002. I wanted to write the truth as I understood it. I think I began that way at least. People started telling me I was a good writer, which of course I loved to hear. Weird how something so small and nice can start you down a bad path. In time the role of RLP became just about as constricting as, well, being a real live preacher was.
I don’t know when it happened but it all got kind of spoiled for me. In the end writing was just working. Writing and hoping maybe you could figure out some way to make a living doing it. Continue reading