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

Hamstring and writing update

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.

Writing Update

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

Nametags

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

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

Old school comment

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

Hammy update

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

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

Back in the game

Monday, March 26th. The 34th day of Lent.

I was pretty excited about the softball game on Sunday with the Episcopalians. It’s just a recreational league. No practicing or anything. Whoever shows up can play. I put on my extraverted personality and took the initiative to meet people. After all, I was the new guy trying to fit in. The guy in charge asked if I would play third base. Sure, no problem.

As the game began I realized this was the first time I had participated in any kind of competitive team sport in many years. This used to be such a big part of my life. I’ve been working out hard for about a year now with P90X, so I felt well prepared to step back into team sports.

Sadly, things did not go well. 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

I stole a pen

Saturday, March 24th. The 32nd day of Lent.

I stole a pen recently without realizing it, so delighted was I by the way it felt in my hand, that it seemed as if it ought to be mine. It felt like my pen. If I had stopped to think about it, I would have realized I was stealing it. But I wasn’t thinking like that. I was just using the pen and it sort of became my pen. As if there are deeper laws of ownership in the universe that scoff at little things like who paid for something.

I wrote with this pen for several days, jotting things down in one of my notebooks. I liked the smooth way it laid its ink down on the paper. I was happy with the pen.

It was my pen.

Then one day I came back into a more rational state of thinking and realized, to my surprise, that I was in possession of a pen and had no idea where it came from. I realized that, in fact, I must have stolen it from someone. Continue reading

Sunday Means Softball. With the Episcopalians.

Friday, March 23rd. The 31st day of Lent.

It’s a fascinating thing to try and make your way into the culture of a church. For years I watched this from the inside. Because who is more in the fold than the preacher, right? But now I am an outsider, attending services and wondering if there is a place for me in this church we’ve been visiting.

The great news is that I’m coming at this from such a position of grace. I don’t expect or even want them to go out of their way to make this easy for me. It’s not easy to become part of a spiritual community, nor should it be. Any sort of human community takes some effort to join. Churches that are too friendly and fawn all over visitors give me a creepy feeling anyway. I don’t trust that. Because in real life, if you are going to enter into a relationship with a group of people, well, you have to put forth some effort. And they have to become willing to trust you enough to be vulnerable and all of that. Continue reading

Our Verger

Thursday, March 22nd. The 30th day of Lent.

The first Sunday I was at Saint Luke’s, I paid attention to all the people processing up and down the aisles. Episcopalians are big on procession. The more times up and down the aisle, the more people involved, and the more crosses and candles and banners, the better.

I knew this. I didn’t understand it, but I knew to expect it. And when you start becoming part of a new spiritual tradition, it’s generally a good idea to embrace all the new stuff with innocence and curiosity.

I did notice that the first guy down the aisle had a rod or a stick with a golden orb on the end. And there was a feather tied to the orb. Saw that right off. Turned to Jeanene that first Sunday and said, “What’s up with the feather?”

A couple of week’s later, we got to know James, who is the man with this mysterious, feathery staff. I asked him about the feather, and his answer was completely surprising and delightful. Continue reading

The moves of my life

Wednesday, March 21st. The 29th day of Lent.

I’ve always been glad that I was born in 1961 because my life divides itself easily into decades. It’s a bit of an artificial division, but it seems as though each of the five decades I have lived represents a major stage of human development.

The 60s

My early childhood years. I came into the earliest stages of consciousness. I have many memories of those years, but they are not tied to dates or external cultural things. They float in my mind, isolated in the small world of my childhood home. I simply wasn’t aware of the passing of time or of years and dates. I remember when my brother was born in 1964. I only know the year, of course, because I know how old he is. And I remember watching Neil Armstrong walk on the moon in 1969. I was seven and perhaps just coming into an awareness of the larger world around me.

The 70s.

My adolescent years. I went to junior high and high school in the 70s, graduating in 1980. I became aware of the Viet Nam war. Mostly I remember being relieved when it was over, though I was six years too young for the draft. I became a social being in the 70s. I emerged from my comfortable family and had to learn to relate to my peers. And I discovered the power of love, awakening with a sudden jolt to the presence and allure of girls. I was absolutely enchanted by them, but had no idea how to relate to these strange beings. Our sister was an infant, so my brother and I had few opportunities to gain experience with girls. I tried a classic Baptist-kid rebellion, drinking and carrousing at a level that would probably seem pretty tame to some folks. Then I became serious about my Christianity about the age of 17. Just as my second decade came to a close, I decided that I had a clear message from God that I should be a minister. 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

Meeting Chris

Monday, March 19th. The 27th day of Lent.

Tonight I met Chris Chappell for a beer and conversation. When Chris’ family joined Covenant Baptist Church in 1990 he was a sophomore in high school. One of his sisters was an 8th grader. The other a 5th grader.

Now Chris is in his 30s. He has four kids. His sisters are both married with children as well. It is a matter of some pride for me that I was their pastor for so long. I married all three of them and was there for the birth of most of their children. Chris called me and said, “It seems so weird to be at church and not have you there. I miss talking to you. Maybe we could get together.”

Well, hell yeah we can. And so we did. We met at a local pizza place. He had a Red Stripe Beer and I had a Diet Coke. 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

What you say

Thursday, March 15th. The 23rd day of Lent.

Have you noticed that whatever you say about the world has a tendency to come true in your life and in the lives of the people you know?

Do not take lightly this most sacred of human burdens.

Gordon

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

Station Thirteen: Jesus dies on the cross

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.

Station Nine: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem

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.

Station Three: Jesus is condemned.

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.”

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

Back to the Body: The final word

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

Back to the Body part 5

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

Back to the Body part 4

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

Back to the Body part 3

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

Chef Kokopelli

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.

Gordon Atkinson

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

parenting as art

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
often magnified
and being broken and human and wonderful
like you Continue reading

I still care about stuff

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

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

Continue reading