December 27, 2006

The Center of Our World

It makes sense to me, Jesus
That people come home, go home for Christmas
It seems right that your birthday
Would be marked by a frenzied return to the familiar
Everywhere today are unsuspecting pilgrims
Making the holiday trek
—on rails, on tires, on wings—
All en route, back to the center of their lives, back home
Back to a place of hoped-for gravity
In an otherwise weightless world
Some find it, and there is joy
Some do not, so the search goes on

But whether these holiday hoards know it or not
—a matter of some theological debate—
All this traveling home seems a fitting party
For your fleshly advent among us
For from the start of your story
You were always at the center of things
You’ve continually made your bed among us
Right in our ranks

I remember my mother’s chalky-white nativity set
Its annual appearance on the dark marble hutch
The whole scene, a Green Stamp purchase
from some closeout season gone by

I remember
Your tiny little hands and feet
Formed in Plaster of Paris
Your manger
Cast from a sweat-shop mold like hundreds of others
Your many scene-mates
Each with made in hong kong affixed to their bottoms

And while it was my great delight
Often to rearrange shepherds and sages
—Joseph outside with bleating sheep
Oxen where only angels should trod—
I never dared moved you, Jesus
It never felt right

You always seemed to fit in the center of things
The sun of their orbit
Even as an infant
Already calling God’s chosen band to gather round
You, the smallest, most helpless, most needy of them all
Born a sacred irony: their Life and Love and Lord

So come again, dear Jesus
Take your rightful post at the center of our lives
Rearrange the oft-handled, mishandled pieces
Of our homes and hearts
Until each finds its proper place on the periphery
Encircling your new life

Come again, O Jesus
Be that blessed homecoming
At the end of all our wayward treks
Show us that weight of glory
That ballasts our wispy, worried world
Teach us to live in the shelter of your sanctuary
Until at last we are home with you for good
For this is who you are, baby Jesus—so small and so grand
The hub of our salvation
The core of our communion
The weight of our world

So take your place among us
Right here, where you most belong
At the center of our lives

December 16, 2006

An Easter Habitat

Prepared for our local Habitat for Humanity board, Spring 2006

A week from tomorrow is Easter Sunday. Arguably, this day is the zenith, the apex of not only the Christian cycle of worship that spans throughout any given year, but also the content, the proclamation of what the New Testament means to say about the living God. It is the Sunday when preachers ascend their pulpits to utter the astonishing claim that the terminated Jesus was raised up from the dead. And congregations add their astounding reply: "He is risen indeed!"

The question I want to raise with you this morning are something like these: What does that have to do with this? What does the unprecedented claim of Easter day – that in Jesus, God has triumphed over death – what does that have to do with our work here of building houses, shepherding families, and getting organized and mobilized to do so?

Well ... Christians have been trying to make connections like this for better than 1900 years, so far be it from me to pull it all together for us in under 10 minutes! But one little clue, one thread to bind us, one initial possibility can be found, I believe, in Paul’s letter to the Corinthian Christians.

Chapter 15 of that New Testament letter is the place the church returns to again and again to hear Paul articulate the resurrection-word and all of its derivative implications. I encourage you to read and reread this chatper over and over this season. What interests me today is the very last verse of this massive chapter ... but how he gets to that last verse is important, too. The entire chapter is future-oriented.

Paul reminds them that he has passed on to them what was handed to him in the first place: the retelling of the two primary events of the New Testament: Jesus’ death and Jesus’ resurrection.
He reminds them that God’s power is even stronger than death - evidenced on Easter morning - so that there will also be a resurrection of those who have perished. And he teaches them that God is working to put to an end all those things that work against his benevolence and grace. There is coming a day when they will be, in practice, fully and finally defeated, and the biggest enemy is death itself.

He says that Christ is our firstfruits: an agricultural image, meaning that the first portion of the crop represents the whole, i.e. what God accomplished in Christ's dying and rising God will accomplish in those who trust in him.

They had asked Paul what kind of body one will have in the resurrection to come. He answers that it will be much like yours now, yet also new and different. It will run on God’s life ("spirit") instead of being powered by your own steam ("flesh"). He says that when that future day arrives, death will lose the sting it so obviously carries now. So we look for that day and its coming.

But here’s the thing that trips me up in this long chapter, here’s the odd conclusion Paul draws from all of this future faith-talk. At the end of this long arguement, one would expect him to say that the church should not worry so much about this life now, but focus on the next. One might think he'd say, "The here-and-now body is not as important as the soon-to-come soul, so you should make certain your soul is saved above all else. One might expect, "One glad morning I’ll fly away.”

But no, this is what he says, in verse 58: "Therefore, my beloved - -

(Note that "therefore" is Paul’s code word for 'given everything I have just taught you about what God has already done, this is what you should do in response ... ')

"Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain."

For Paul, the future hope of the resurrection has massive implications in the here and now.
For Paul, the promise that God will resurrect his people is sign that God is not abandoning the world, tossing it will all the judgement-trash, but in fact deeply committed to redeeming the whole creation from the inside out. Furthermore, Jesus' astonishing new Easter-life is the signal to Paul that this work has begun, and continues, and will go on and on until all those things counter to God's good will are laid to rest, even death itself. The resurrection = the death of death.

"You know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain." Let is be said, Habitat, that our labor is not in vain ... not so much because we have sweated and toiled ... not so much because we have been earnest or sincere ... not so much because helping your neighbor is the the good and right thing to do. All of that may be true, but: Let us not labor in vain, that is, let us labor well, because we have heard the good news that on Easter God showed his cards, tipped his hand, such that we have seen what God is up to in Christ: the remaking and redeeming of the world, body and soul, now and then. Let us drive nails and hang shingles and open doors because we have heard the news that this, and nothing contrary, is God's good work.

And may it be so that in the resurrection, our labor for others will not have been in vain.

December 8, 2006

Fear Not

Aside from their shared focus on the birth of our Lord, a common denominator running through all of the "Christmas stories" in Matthew and Luke is the fact that every person who encounters an angel sent from God is at first terrified: young Mary, dreaming Joseph, the minding-their-business shepherds, and even the wise men, in their own way (who are at least frightened of Herod). Terror - not the emotion we tend to associate with lovely Christmastime.

There is a man who lives across the street from me. We hardly know each other, only exhchanging waves in those occassional moments when we are coming or going at the same time. I'm sure he's a nice guy. But then again, how do I know? He could be saint; he could be a monster. I cannot tell from afar. I can only imagine.

And so it for us, with God. Without the raw data of the ministry of Jesus, without the story of the incarnation told and retold, without the promise that what Jesus does, God does - - without these gifts, we are left only to our limited, broken imaginations in discerning who God is, or even if God is. God could be a capricious tyrant keeping score for all we know, if all we know is what we ourselves know. There might be good reason to be afraid. As they say in the movies, "Be afraid, be very afriad."

Yet one also notes that in every narrative in the birth stories, the sent-angel is quick to say to each huddled hearer: "Do not be afriad." Are you kidding? Their worlds have just been ripped open! Yet the announcement that Messiah is coming, that he will bring God's unspeakable peace, that his work and the Father's work are one in the same … this news gathers up our terror and sends it packing, while we ourselves follow Jesus "home by another way."

"Do not be afriad." Maybe that's what we believers should being saying to one another this time of year, instead of the prefunctory "Merry Christmas." For the one whose birth we celebrate, and whose coming again we anticipate, is the one who shows us the very face of God -- a face, it turns out, turned toward our redemption, not our demise.

Thanks be to God.

Recycling for Jesus

A decade ago, I had occasion to be standing in a coal strip mine in eastern Kentucky. We seminary students were exploring the Appalachian region—mostly its interesting churches—but a side trip took us to this gaping pit in the side of a mountain. Coal affects everything in that region, even religion, so it was important that we see it for ourselves.

It was not a pretty scene. I had the feeling I was standing in a deserted lunar crater—jagged broken rock, muddy pools of water, a disfigured landscape. They had come, taken away the coal, then gone. And the hole was huge: several football fields wide and long. Other sites were learning reclamation, but not this one.

Our guide for the trip was neither anti-mining nor what you would call an environmentalist, in fact he was quite sympathetic to the needs of miners. Yet still he broke the pregnant silence of our group with this reminder: “Next time you leave the lights on in an empty room, think about this place.”

I have. Often.

Since September, on Sunday mornings we have been preaching our way through the Presbyterian Study Catechism, written in 1998. In recent weeks, we’ve been talking a lot about the “image of God” in us and its many implications, and the catechism has taken us to the first two chapters of the Bible:

Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature, so they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle, and yes, Earth itself. - Gen 1:26, The Message

The idea that there is something of God’s image in us is a monumental affirmation, especially when we consider that the ministry of Christ is to restore that very image from its shattered, obscured predicament. Christ makes us reflective once again.

Yet this brilliant image is not a thing unto itself. Too often we think about the image of God in isolation, seeing it only as a marker of our special relationship with the Lord. Sermons on the “image of God” often note how such an image sets us apart from the rest of creation, but rarely recognize how bearing God’s image also connects us to the larger creation through our vocation as stewards of all that God has made. Yet this is precisely the logic of Genesis 1:26. Let us make human beings in our image, so they can be responsible for the Earth itself. With the grand gift of relating to the great Triune God comes the calling of caring for all that this God has created. As such, the Study Catechism follows this logic, asking in Question 19:

As creatures made in God's image, what responsibility do we have for the earth?

Advent is upon us now, so although we won’t be preaching on this question from the pulpit, we take it up here in the mode of writing. The answer draws heavily on Genesis 1:26, linking God’s image with God’s calling:

God commands us to care for the earth in ways that reflect God's
loving care for us. We are responsible for ensuring that earth's gifts be used
fairly and wisely, that no creature suffers from the abuse of what we are given,
and that future generations may continue to enjoy the abundance and goodness of
the earth in praise to God.

Seeing this question coming down the pike in our series, I’ve being thinking about this a lot lately … thoughts I have dubbed “Recycling for Jesus.” A few considerations:

We Christians need to find fresh ways to talk among ourselves about environmental concerns, a fresh conversation that avoids the all-too-common pitfalls of fanatical environmentalism on the one end and knee-jerk denial on the other. These extremes are as hackneyed now as they are predictable.

Regarding this matter of our care for the creation, my experience of you, congregation, is that although no one in our kirk is likely to sign up for a Greenpeace protest any time soon, neither are very many of you callous to or in denial of the larger issues. There is none among us so immune to our confession that he/she is bent on consumption without reflection.

Yet sometimes even well-intended persons can become so concerned about falling in with the fringe extremes of an issue that their genuine sensitivity to the concern is lost in the shuffle. So it is often, I think, with “environmental” concerns. At least within the church, if nowhere else, we need to move beyond the polarizations and learn again how to connect our Biblical faith to the world around us. (See one interesting effort at It’s not perfect, but it’s a worthwhile attempt.)

Speaking of “environmentalism,” therein lies part of the problem. Language is not insignificant in these matters, and part of the work of reinventing the conversation about caring for the creation is to remember our Biblical vocabulary. From the perspective of Christian faith, environment (and therefore environmentalism) is not nearly a hefty enough word to describe our generous surroundings. The world is not merely an inanimate platform on which we stand, a pantry housing the things we need to live at a level we feel we deserve. In contrast, Genesis 1-2 is nothing if not a celebration that all living things exist in glad response to God’s invitation to do so. As such, there are not merely consumables, they are gifts—bearing both blessing and burden.

The word nature is also problematic, likewise suggesting that the world is a stand alone, self-supporting entity, unanchored from any external and overarching reference point. Yet through the eyes of faith, we are bold to believe that all life—not the least of which our own!—depends upon the providential goodness of the Triune One who called it into being, who sustains it now, and who will be present to it at the grand ending. Only creation as a title seems to capture the spirit of the psalmist:

The heavens are yours, the earth also is yours; the world and all that is in it.

Granted, Psalm 89 is more a song of praise than a scientific argument, yet that is precisely the point: Right about now our technical debates about environmental concerns could use a breath a fresh doxological air; a breeze of rich, Biblical vocabulary. A creation is fully alive in and of itself, yet that life is borrowed, gifted, sustained, and renewed by Another. In the same way that we are not our own, but belong to God through the Christ, the creation is not its own, but belongs to God—a management subcontracted to God’s people.

Back to my standing in the strip mine: In the years since, I have often reflected often on that moment. It seems to me that a large part of the visceral response to an ugly place like that is the sudden awareness of the actual cost of our tremendous appetite as a society (in this case, for electricity). Taking responsibility for our consumption is no easy thing when the consequences are out of our everyday view.

A rough analogy: Give someone cash and they’ll likely hold tight to it as they watch and feel the dollars leave their pocket with each purchase. There is a finite supply. Give them a credit card, however, and they’re more likely to spend and spend, mostly because the final tally won’t come for some time. This is why my day at the mine has stuck with me all these years: I felt I had a glimpse into the world’s billfold.

Do you notice how in the this ever more convenient world of ours, every new advancement in ability makes it that much more difficult to restrain ourselves? We Americans are great at the “Can we?” questions. Yet lately, we are not so good at the “Should we?” questions, particularly when it comes to consumption. The real work lies with the latter. (Consider Luke 12:13-21 and the conclusions that follow.)

What can one Christian do to really make a dent in that societal consumption?

Very little. Painfully little. Therein lies the rub.

One of my conclusions over the years is that although there is precious little I can do to undue that ugly scene that stretched out before me in that strip mine, there are many simple actions I can take at least to avoid the kind of numb apathy and outright denial that so often proceeds from the enormity and complexity of the whole big mess. Said simply: I cannot undue greenhouses gases, but I can certainly curb my contribution to them. I cannot screen all the toxic junk from the Staunton River, but I can tote my old motor oil down to Advance instead of pouring it out in the woods.

Here’s the point: Whether my small actions contribute in some way to an overall fix or not, restraint is still the right thing to do. Furthermore, as a Christian, the rightness of restraint is rooted, not in an isolated environmental ideology, but smack in the middle of my Christian confession. The world is yours and all that is in it, O Lord. From that glad confession comes forth the desire to care for the creation in simple, common sense, workable ways.

To be sure, larger economic, social, and scientific matters must be engaged, and engaged from the vantage point of our Christ-confession. But on most days, in most of our lives, the more pressing vocation is a simple, consistent restraint from excess and waste.

Needs and wants are easily jumbled this days, with so much available to us so easily and cheaply. These days, a little restraint turns out to be a bold confession of faith, for learning to say NO in a land flowing with cheap and convenient YES’s is as likely to turn heads as a wild-and-wooly preacher on the corner. (Maybe more so, since most people are likely to conclude that the guy on the corner is a nut.) But regardless of what others think, in cutting back a bit, one learns to live in a way grounded in gratitude for God’s gift of a creation to call our home.

So, to quote the Christian thinker Frances Schaeffer, “How then shall we live?” What might a simple restraint look like these days, particularly one that is grounded in an awareness that the earth is in fact a creation?

On the one hand, I hesitate to make suggestions. You are smart, savvy people, my dear Presbyterians, and you don’t need your pastor telling you how to run your household. Specifics almost feel to me like an insult to you. On the other hand, I do not want an essay like this to float up there in the stratosphere, feet too far off the ground of everyday living. Ours is, after all, an incarnational gospel—a goodness rooted in the here and now, not a detached philosophy.

As such, allow me to make a few modest proposals, a few the Hawkins have been working on in our household in recent years. To the extent that I am preaching to the choir, let me say, “Terrific!” Keep it up. You could probably teach me a lot by adding to this short list.

Recycle what you can. Buy a few new garbage cans and place them in your basement or garage. Instead of throwing away your newspapers, cardboard, office paper, plastics, aluminum and metal—throw it all in your new cans. Once a month or so, when you are already making a trip out that way, drop it by the Campbell County landfill (they have recycling collections) or at one of the sites in the Lynchburg area. Simple as can be.

Turn down the heat, turn off the lights, and cut down on the baths. Most of us grew up with at least one parent who constantly reminded us to turn off the lights when we left a room. He/she was right. No one flick of the switch will rescue the creation from waste, but it all adds up—particularly over a lifetime. Put on another layer of clothes and turn down the thermostat. Take showers instead of baths. Give up keeping pace with the neighbor’s yard and skip a few watering in the summer. You get the idea.

Think through your week ahead of time so as to avoid excessive trips up the road to Lynchburg and beyond. While I’m no big fan of Wal-Mart, maybe its coming to Altavista is a small blessing. At least now we don’t have to burn excessive gas just for a gallon of milk and some socks. Elizabeth and I have been working hard to consolidate our trips to Lynchburg in recent years, recognizing that it is easy to hop in the car and “run up there” for just a few things. Sometimes there’s no choice in the matter. But often errands can wait until other needs take us up the road. Save that extra gas money and drop it in the Two-Cents-a Meal offering.

As many of you know, no one likes gadgets and computers more than I do, yet I am also aware that each new gadget demands still more energy. Turn off your computers and gadgets at night. If you hate the wait of booting up, put your computer in Hibernate or Suspend. It turns off, but it also comes right back to the place where you left it. It’s a simple way to save some energy over the years.

Slow down. The extent to which we run our lives too ragged is the extent to which we run out of energy to make good choices, therefore we are handled by our lives rather than being stewards of what has been entrusted to us. C.S. Lewis observed years ago that lazy people actually work the hardest of all of us, because they abdicate their responsibility to make good decisions and are thereby handled by their circumstances. I’m told by others that the reflective, prayerful life necessarily weans one off of excessive consumption and a frenetic pace. Consider Philippians 4:6-7 as an antidote. Maybe Paul understood this long ago, busy as he could get.

The other day I read online about one man’s personal environmental policy: If I wouldn’t do it or wouldn’t want it in my backyard where my children play, it’s probably not a good thing for the [creation]. I like that. It is a reminder that what we are after as everyday Christians is a common-sense approach to caring for the creation. The modest proposals above, I hope, are a simple way to start.

Neither the idealist nor the pessimist will do with this matter. Instead, right about now we need what you might call confessionalists—persons of simple Biblical faith who see the world as God’s alone, entrusted to us to be cared for in ways that reflect the Trinity’s generous goodness and grace. It is, all at once, that simple and that challenging.

One final thought: In American society, not too long ago, there was a generation of citizens who preached restraint, simplicity, and gratitude. They had lived through hard times, they were forced to live on precious little, and they had come to understand that steady restraint was not on option if there was to be enough for all. It is my observation that those wise citizens are either no longer with us anymore, or worse, they have in their old age been coaxed and spoiled into a noticeable silence. This is a shame, for the citizenry of the most plentiful land in the world need that voice of restraint right about now.

In that unfortunate silence, perhaps there is a renewed place for Christian witness. Maybe the church is the last best hope for producing neighbors who could practice pushing back from the table of such incredible American abundance and learn to say, “Thank you, but I’ve had all I need.”

This would be a move made, not out of liberal guilt, or out of conservative duty, or from an ideological banter of any kind, but simply out of a faith-awareness of what an awesome gift this world is. And, maybe the church—as opposed to a rally, or a laboratory, or a policy room—is finally the best place for learning to understand that the beauty of God’s good creation is sullied to the extent that it is wasted, horded, or damaged. Said positively, in the language of the catechism,

God commands us to care for the earth in ways that reflect God's
loving care for us. We are responsible for ensuring that earth's gifts be used
fairly and wisely, that no creature suffers from the abuse of what we are given,
and that future generations may continue to enjoy the abundance and goodness of
the earth in praise to God.

One wonders if some of our most poignant acts of discipleship happen in the simplest of actions. Perhaps our most deliberate songs of praise come forth to the sound of plastic jugs falling one after another into the bin for reuse and remaking.

No one is talking about taking on the world. There are no magic bullets, quick fixes. For now, it’s just about practicing a little restraint in response to God’s goodness. It’s about trying to recycle for Jesus. And maybe also stopping every now and then to consider just how those two words—strange as they may sound in a shared sentence—can in fact go together.

That’s something.

October 20, 2006

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

I wrote this piece last year for the monthly newsletter of my National Railway Historical Society chapter.

Usually our machines simply do what we build them to do. But every now and then, they remind us how to live.

Throughout the early 80’s, the New Orleans chapter of the NRHS coordinated with the Southern Railway to operate several steam excursions between New Orleans, Louisiana, and Hattiesburg, Mississippi – a 225 mile roundtrip. Like many in the hobby, I owe my deep love of trains to my father, and during my younger years we greatly enjoyed our riding together on these wonderful day-long steam marathons.

While railfans across the southeast during this era benefited from frequent contact with the steam program’s more robust and modern samplings – the ubiquitous J class #611 and A class #1218 – southeast Louisiana fans were not afforded those opportunities. The old Southern Railway trestle across Lake Pontchatrain was an all-wooden structure with low weight limits. We were always told that the high tonnage of the two N&W giants prevented their entrance into the Big Easy. As such, for several years we were treated to the smaller specimens in the stable: Canada’s Royal Hudson on lease, Savannah & Atlanta’s Pacific #750, and of course the classic Baldwin Mikado #4501.

Every trip during these years presented a challenge to its planners. The popularity of the voyage outweighed these locomotive’s more limited drawbar pull. I can remember arriving at New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal to find a train of coaches that seemed as long as 20 cars – too much for light Pacifics and Mikados in a solo role. As such, diesel-electric assistants were always called in for backing. Sometimes this would be as ordinary as a GP38-2 (as in 1984 when #4501 was beset with bad coal), but on several occasions, two of the green “Heritage” FP7’s played the necessary second fiddle to the celebrity steamer.

The tickets my father would purchase for us secured two seats in one of the old coaches, but we were never found there. We preferred the tail end of the movement, always claiming a spot in Lookout Mountain, the steam program’s beloved open observation car that racked up thousands of excursion miles over the decades. From its spacious platform, this young kid watched many a mile slip away along the Southern’s pristine, all-welded main line traveling northeast from the Crescent City.

Lookout Mountain turned out to be the locale for one of my most vivid childhood memories. It was the 1985 trip, featuring the much-loved #4501. During the lunch break in Hattiesburg, the crews turned the Mike on a nearby wye for the southbound flight home. Meanwhile, my father and I managed to gulp down the greasy box lunches that came with our tickets – a meal always too cold and too meager. Soon the classy FP7’s took there place in front of Man O War (another well known excursion car, always at the head end on New Orleans trips). After brake tests, the 4501 once again took her rightful place on the lead. Dad and I hustled our way back to our favorite spot on the rear, and with our comrades in the hobby, waited for our collective departure.

Now this is what I remember: The heavy man next to me, weighed down with multiple cameras and smelling of box lunch chicken, happened to have a radio scanner clipped to his generous belt. Suddenly it crackled to life. My young ears tuned in with great interest. It seemed the head end crew was experiencing a moment of spontaneity. “How about we let 4501 get us underway?” asked the engineer. A pregnant silence followed. The boss of the FP7’s broke in with what seemed like hesitant agreement. The conductor’s voice came next. His, the final word. Apparently he had no opinion on the matter, except that it was time to get underway. “Highball 4501.”

My mind was electric. No one had to explain any of this to me. I knew exactly what all this railroad chatter meant. The classy little Mikado we all loved was being handed a great challenge: 16 over worn heavyweights, all loaded to the gills with railfan fathers and sons like us, and a few patient wives. This was to be a superlative moment.

Feeling as though I had just broken the Enigma code, I quickly tugged at my father’s sleeve. I felt he just had to know this news before any one else. No sooner had I finished uploading the information when we heard a whistle. Two breathy blasts from afar signaled the start of the fight.

As the slack ran out and the drawbar tightened, the whole train lurched. Everyone was immediately quiet. In the absence of Lookout Mountain chatter, what I already knew now became clear to others: No EMD prime movers could be heard getting underway! Only the deep, throaty chug of a Baldwin stack drifted back to our ears.

Inches turned to feet, each one a victory. Feet became yards, and slowly the city of Hattiesburg began passing us by. But still no noise that resembled FP7s. The message was now clear to all concerned: We were starting on our way home, with no help yet from anything that ran on diesel oil. It did not take long for our forward motion to apogee, a velocity I imagined to be no more than 8-10 miles per hour. Paul Merriam’s old machine had managed to get this heavy train underway, all by herself.

My budding railfan imagination was now in full cutoff, working hard. Understand: Southern’s 4501 had held in my callow mind the status of true hero for some time. To be sure, I was raised a Presbyterian, therefore taught well the dangers of idolatry. But this little Baldwin was a true temptress. My many indiscretions were obvious: I had memorized David Morgan’s book. I was the only kid in my middle school who knew who Walter Dove was. I could recite light Mikado statistics to anyone who asked. (Painfully, no one ever did.)

Given this adoration, I understood well that this feat now taking place before me was perhaps more than her Baldwin designers ever imagined, at least at her age. Even from the tail end of the train, my mind’s eye could see every aspect her effort: Eight 44” drivers “digging in”, Walscherts gear at full cutoff, sand coming down like rain. I could picture her fireman shoveling hard; her engineer, poised, simply hoping for one good grip after another.

I had to imagine all of these sights, but I could feel their results. For what seemed like many a slow mile, as the city of Hattiesburg gave way bit by bit to Mississippi piney woods, the little Mike did her thing, and did it well. Nothing fancy, mind you. No speed to thrill a dynameter chart. No J class ease. But we were on our way, by golly. Sixteen or more coaches and two idled EMDs inching down the line. And just like me, those covered wagons were merely passengers on this ride. Their reversers in neutral, while the steam kettle they replaced slowly and steadily took care of business.

The end of this promethean struggle for acceleration was soon signaled by another crackle on my neighbor’s revelatory speaker. “Engineer 4501 to engineer 3497, how about some help now?”

At least, that’s what I remember he said. Two blats from a Nathan 5-chime were quickly followed by the unmistakable resonance of 567 prime movers finally getting dressed for work. Another lurch—this time a little stronger—and the clickety-clacks soon picked up in rhythm the way a jazz trio gets its thing together. We were taking on speed, quickly now, making our way back home to New Orleans with a little help from the Electro-Motive Division. Sheer steam determination had, I suppose by necessity, given way to diesel-electric ease.

As a minister now, I find I mostly view this life as a gift of immense grace to be received and responded to, not so much a thing to be conquered through sheer will or dogged grit. But even a theologian can concede that every now and then gritty determination has its place among the virtues. And what’s more, sometimes even our machines teach us the dignity of staying in the fight.

Can staybolts and seams be our heroes? Does a boiler with brakes posses a will? I’m not sure. Is my memory of these moments a bit puffy with time? The details, distended in hindsight? Perhaps. But in my childhood memory there remain a handful of charmed minutes when an outclassed little steamer bravely took on weighty odds … and persevered.

“Slow and steady wins the race,” said the tortoise to the hare.
Slow and steady indeed.

August 3, 2006


The sunrise on Mt. Cadillac was superb. I was surprised and delighted by how many other people were already well positioned on the summit by the time we arrived with ten more minutes to spare. Such a sky. Reds and purples and pinks and blues merging and moving across the east, each new combination a sign of what was to come. Like so many things in this life, the build-up here is lengthy, but the moment itself is painfully brief. Suddenly, all the rich overarching colors fade to grey, and your attention is pulled from the general to the particular. A bright, yellow disk slices the horizon and quickly launches for apogee, sometime later. It commands your attention, and when I was finally convinced to take my retinas off of the show for jsut a moment, I scanned the faces all around me only to discover that each one was illuminated a pinkish-yellow—a particular, rich light that no flash or bulb can manufacture. Full faces, in awe ... and quiet, too.

I continue to believe that the resurrection, even more than the cross, is the entryway into the news of the Christ event. Such a sunrise as Cadillac afforded us is an essential event by which to imagine both his astonishing, commanding new life, and ours with him. Without the dawn of a new first day, there is no light or life by which to reconsider the finality of the hard night now gone. It is not a matter of greater metaphysical importance, as if systematically the resurrection outweighs or outperforms the cross. Rather, it is a priority of narrative. Ours is a storied gospel, therefore a storied reflection: in the essential sequence of announcement then hindsight. The raising up of the Son of God is the entryway, the homeletical portal, into every other saving feature in this most unusual covenant story. As it is on the mountain, so it is when the news is announced: the world is split open, ubiquitous general gives way to scandalous particularity, and every face turned in that direction is awash in illumination.


I enjoy worshipping in other churches. "Enjoy." Hardly enough of a word. Nevertheless, I like sitting in the same pew with my beloved. And I am grateful for whatever milestone of my sanctification that has more recently allowed me to detach a bit from the role of critical, “expert” observer in someone else’s church service. For a long time, being a preacher in a strange pew meant feeling more like a restaurant critic suspiciously sampling dishes thank like a hungry-feeder wanting to be fed. But this summer I am laying low. There is too much emptiness in me not to sit back and worship the living God, not to see the terrible cross and hope for some Easter newness, and along the way to appreciate the terrible and wonderful humanity of those robed strangers in front of me who are leading me through another liturgy. As such, I appreciate the gift of worshipping in other churches. I like singing hymns with Elizabeth’s voice in my ear. I like discovering what is fascinatingly different in other traditions, as well as what appears ubiquitous among us all. I am depressed by the rampant informality; blessed by the occasional illumination. I deem a good thing for me as a preacher to feel a little lost sometimes, not knowing which hymnal I should have open or when to stand or where to look. I think it is good too, that my mind wanders during most sermons, as I should learn appreciate the fact that most minds probably wander during my own. Mostly, I am just offering up many small prayers of gratitude these days: for my strange life, my wonderful bride, and my lovely daughter. That seems just enough just now, and perhaps the best lesson for a sabbath time as this.


A fat fly
Searching millimeters, pounding.
Wanting out. Needing release.
Sky blues beckon, tree greens call.

Is the pane curse or blessing?
He cannot fly away unbounded.
But even restrained
He can see


June 11, 2006


Too young in spirit to be an expert on (mostly) old men’s thoughts, she is, at once, hefty and flighty in mind. She seizes every idea and refuses to let it go until it has been fully digested, taste-tested for quality. She is, however, too kind to reject outright the many uncooked samplings that are sent her way. She likes to hear herself talk about God, yet she is not arrogant. Not at all: she likes that she can talk about God, that she is allowed, that she has allowed herself. The connections fire in her mind like those little Chinese firecrackers on a such a long string: one lights the other, then another. The shortcuts she hastily creates in order to recount what are otherwise entire galaxies of logic, these are always funny: mini-caricatures that ring the truth yet quickly point to their own obvious limitations. In the same way Oprah slips noticeably from white country-club-speak to you-go-girl jive, her command of the material and its accompanying dignity frequently give way to a casual, stand-up comic routine of theological summary for dummies. Not that the former is charade, but that the latter is comfortable. For an inadequate incarnational theology: “Get down there, son. Put on this flesh!” But soon comes the point, however circuitously arrived, and suddenly the erudition returns. It was never lost, only parked on a siding while the express rolled by. In the end, her theological enterprise is the seismology of several massive tectonic plates, each with its own internal logic and rules. As they float around in her head, she is searching for those workable unions between them that beckon as sweetly as they evade. Unlike many of her peers, especially on her left, she is willing to live with only a few viable connections between these seemingly incongruent worlds. And yet those connections are precious when she discovers them: reciprocal lifelines through which a large enough vision of God is nourished, sustained.

April 23, 2006

Meteor Shower

I wrote this piece last year for the monthly newsletter of my National Railway Historical Society chapter.

Union Station. Washington, D.C. June 3, 2005. Open knuckles rushed together. The draft gear did its best to cushion the rather substantial blow. Meanwhile, I couldn’t help but think to myself just how flexible an Amtrak customer has to be these days – literally. That the holster misjudged his distance-to-coupling was but one of a handful of bumps along our way up the Northeast Corridor, our bumpy meteor flight over the seaboard.

Celebrating ten years of marriage seemed a fitting excuse to book Acela tickets to the Big Apple. Many months in advance and unbeknownst to my bride, I slipped onto the web and procured our secret seats. For many moons I had wanted to take this ride, and now I had my reason. Everything was set: We’d ride a regional from Richmond to Washington, then hop a new-fangled Acela for banked turns and breakfast on the fly. All this, and NYC before lunch. Fantastic.

No sooner had confirmation hit my inbox than I spotted a blurb in my morning paper: Acelas sidelined. Cracks in brakes. Curses! Cracks in my perfect plans, as well.

I regrouped. A kindly voice on the phone – kinder even than Julie – worked to keep my secret-anniversary-plans intact, rebooking us on another ride. Mr. Gunn’s #98 to the rescue – the Silver Meteor. It seemed a fitting remedy for my high-speed disappointment. We arrived early at Staples Mill to catch our comet from Miami, my wife still in the dark about our celebrative destination. The grand fa├žade dissolved, however, as we both stood agape before the screen. "#98. Silver Meteor. New York City. 3 hours late." I’m not certain, but I think the flashing letters were mocking me.

A kind soul behind thick plate glass received my grief without acrimony. Did I not receive his message at my home, warning of the delay? Alas, we had already left for Richmond. No matter. A no-name regional would get us to Penn Station by mid-afternoon. How about Business Class for free? I suppose. With no diner in the consist, my fancy anniversary breakfast suddenly dissolved from view, but at least we’d be in motion. Our meteor flamed out even before arrival.

I regrouped (again), now underway. A lone P40 made quick work of the RF&P, five cars in tow. In the bowels of D.C.’s Union Station, now mid-morning, I perched myself in the vestibule on the point as a crew pulled off the Genesis and tacked on an electric AEM-7. Lights off. Slam! (The aforementioned momentary jostle.) Lights on. And in short order, we were northbound again. We settled into our Business Class seating, complimentary soda in one hand, complimentary New York Times in the other.

Now, prior to Washington, our Amfleet space had been sparsely filled. My attention was caught only by a chatty lady behind me, sounding like Ethyl Merman, and a shaggy Vietnam vet who nervously paced the aisle. After Union Station, however, things began to fill up rapidly. By New Jersey, a box lunch later, it was standing room only. We returned from the lounge car to find a grumpy commuter had claimed our seats. An aged conductor declared over the P.A. more than once that “overbooking” was not a common problem on this train. I wasn’t sure if he was kidding or not.

My vehicles of choice had twice been taken out from under me, but even an unnamed regional commuter seemed to fly like the wind on the famed corridor to New York City. The pace of the line assaults the senses: Oncoming meets rock the cars like gangs in a scuffle. Tracks merge and diverge to and fro like cracks in tempered glass. Signals blink by, leaving little time to read their news. And at last – loaded to the gills with riders, most bumped off of canceled Acelas – the bright New England sun gave way to the dark bowels under the Big Apple. “Penn Station. New York City.” We had made it. We, and half of New England.

Two nights and two Broadway shows later, our anniversary celebration drew to a close. The fourteenth platform at Penn revealed another silvery Meteor poised in a southerly direction. We stowed our bags, took our seats, and settled in for our return flight home. A fresh start. This would be a better trip.

Remember: flexibility. No sooner had our movement arisen from underneath the Hudson than it become obvious that the air conditioner in our car had failed. It was muggy, and getting worse. The hosts desperately tried this and that over the next two hours, but to no avail. Our Viewliner was transformed into a Roman bath. Permission was mercifully granted to seek refuge in other places.

From our newfound seats in the lounge car, I nursed a bad habit of eavesdropping by listening to the conductors seated behind me. One was scanning his rulebook for a precise definition on service dogs. I too had noticed the rather rotund lady in our sauna-coach who had boarded holding her miniature canine like a purse. She didn’t look blind to me either. What to do? They pondered aloud.

I decided to leave that ethical quagmire to the professionals. I announced to my bride that I was gong to take a stroll to the rear of the train, see the sights from there. Moving rearward car to car, I entered a vestibule and suddenly realized that the exterior door was wide open! Something about the landscape rushing by at 100 mph gives a man pause. “The children!” flashed through my mind. I had leapfrogged over several loose kiddies on my hike rearward, so I quickly retrieved a conductor to remedy the situation. “These things pop open sometimes,” he remarked, as if that was intended to make me feel better.

From the rear of the train, I spent some time peering through hazy Amfleet glass, watching the slender corridor slip away from us at breathtaking speed, like the twisting tale of a kite. The catenary lines flashed before me like a hypnotist’s timepiece. I began thinking about disappointments, great and small, and about how life is full of them.

The sights along the corridor are not as vital as I imagined they would be. Everywhere, abandoned hulks of industrial plants. Overhead, aged Pennsylvania RR electrical scaffolding, peeling with paint. Station platforms in disrepair, major sections taped off in yellow. The only new buildings I see on the entire line are prisons. Perhaps a few condos. The whole scene has a kind of melancholy draped over - - Whoosh!
The passing of a northbound Amtrak movement – a combined 200 mph meet! – jolted me from my existential moment. Thumpety-Thump. A frog in a crossover turnout delivered a jolt to my vestibule. My hand reached for the wall in reflex. Flexibility, I thought.

Flexibility. Stay loose and enjoy the ride. On my flawless anniversary travel plans have rained meteor showers—cancelled trains, crowded cars, and crippled cooling. But don’t let the disappointments steal your joy. Look for the blessings amid the dissatisfaction. Five cars forward sits the best thing to ever have happened to your life.
An hour later, we sat down to a $45 dinner in the diner. Microwaved frozen chicken, paper plates, canned corn. But then again, I was with my beloved. And we were moving forward.


April 20, 2006


Here is a recent photo of Ella and me atop the Natural Chimneys in Mt. Solon, Virginia, in the Shenandoah Valley. The view is west and the weather was perfect - clear, cool, and crisp. It has been a great delight to discover in my daughter a new hiking buddy. She absolutely loves riding high on my back, perched snuggly in our Shermani toddler pack. Her latest word is "duck," so on this hike, everything that moved and had breath along the trail was a duck. Having backpacked for almost twenty years, in recent years lugging as much as fifty pounds of supplies along the ups and downs of central Virginia, it is a delight to portage Ella's easy 28 pounds along with me down the trail. There is nothing quite like interactive gear of this sort. Hiking has a always been a respite for me: time to think, to breathe, to soak in the slowness and solemnity of the woods. I am enjoying sharing this gift with my daughter, hoping that she, too, will come to love the good creation all around us much as I do.

April 14, 2006


A meditation on John 19:38-42

I notice how poorly we do at nearly all goodbyes
How we hem, haw, when the leaving-time comes
How we skirt the fervent flames of our exits like
Misaligned shuttles bouncing off the atmosphere

We are not good with this moment of departure
We prefer the new warmth of a greeting embrace
But can we ever really offer our true welcome
If we are not willing also to offer our goodbye

And so some simply disappear from among us
They are afraid and they go; we afraid, they die
Either way, words are not said, truth not spoken
Our hearts, a bit more hardened, closed, as result

It seems most of your folks did not see this day
The ending of your god-filled life coming along
Most scattered, stumbled, leaving you all alone
With no space for goodbye, godspeed, godbless

Not all fled, however: our patron saints of dignity
Joseph, with his tomb; Nicodemus, his testimony
From where did they summon each brave goodbye
As they laid eternal life, now dead, in a sepulcher

This is the part that rips us asunder: the ending
They, we, cannot imagine life beyond the now
Could they seal off you who had opened them up
How could they walk beyond this tomb and pole

Your cross is nothing if not a hoist for a goodbye
The terminus for three years of your saying hello
Hello to God’s partnered people, lost in their fear
Hello to God’s kingdom, inbreaking among them

Hellos are done now; good friday is for good byes
To those few brave folk who remained to the end
In the airy giving up of your coming-down-spirit
They swear they heard a breathy earnest farewell

How did you get this out, your crucified goodbye
We need to know, we need your living assistance
We flee from gatherings, gurneys, gravesides, grief
No spirit in us like yours to say (y)our loving words

Perhaps at the start saying your strong father-hello
Meant at the end you could offer your son-goodbye
Teach us to believe in God who always makes a way
Teach us how to depart, to go on, to bury, to trust

Teach us to say goodbye,
secure in your Easter-hello

Crucixion at Barton Creek Mall

Here is a poignant image for Good Friday: James B. Janknegt's Crucifixion at Barton Creek Mall, 1985. I like the image of the Beloved of God being put to death in the midst of our daily grind, our commercial enterprises, our consumptions. I also like the sense that there is a kind of traffic jam as a result. Divine gridlock, perhaps. This tracks with Paul's sense of the scandelon in 1 Corinthians, the stumbling block of the crucifixion that is one half of the binary core we preach. Furthermore, I appreciate how some important symbols have been transformed by Janknegt, such as the high-pressure light of the pole now becoming an illuminating burst from heaven. I also appreciate the way contemporary neon signs--each with their own meaning--now illuminate what is happening on this pole. Terrific.


My seminary Old Testament professor Walter Brueggemann has a book of his prayers compiled under the title Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth. This photo--one in a series I made on an outing at Smith Mt. Lake in central Virginia--immediately reminded me of his title. The inbreaking light; the bracketing tree: a fitting summary for Biblical, incarnational faith.


Returning home is a bumpy, heated ride.
This tumultuous reentry is hard to manage.
Crossing over from one world to another.
Feet, back on the ground in reality, gravity.

It was patently not so, for about a week.
The free flotation of weightless koinonia.
The buoyant freedom of purposeful service.
The distraction of a stranger’s embodied story.

And then there is new landscape, the heavens.
A new outlook in a clear gaze. Such new stars!
No longer hazed over by thick layers of life.
Your world: now galaxies larger than before.

Eventually you notice your own globe again.
But how strangely different it looks, up here.
Colors, deeper. Vexations, smaller. Why must
I fly away, only then to see latent beauty here?

After nine orbits, the curve back home is near.
Back down to my reality, fantasy that it can be.
An earthly object circumnavigates only so long.
The pull of Monday morning exerts its force.

I wonder: Do the spacemen who so easily float
high above me in the heavens, for days distracted,
do they return to terra firma completely intact?
Does a piece of that heaven come home inside?

Maybe they walk around, a little lighter after all.
Maybe one never comes back down the same.

Written in 2005, on the plane ride home from a week of mission work in Mexico. During that week, the space shuttle was orbiting overhead.

April 13, 2006

Friday and Sunday

Once again the church stands at the doorway to the Tridiem, and once again we are met with the odd but familiar dialectical tension between cross and empty tomb, curse and blessing, Friday and Sunday. These two days, with a middle day of waiting and watching in between, are the time to slow down the Biblical narrative to such a pace that we are able to walk with its Central Character Christ through the twists and turns of redemptive history--the jagged details of Friday's death and the unspeakable newness of Sunday's raised-up life. We slow down the pace so that we are certain we have felt the full import of all three days--the suffering, the searching, and--mercifully--the salvation.

I am prone to imagine that Friday and Sunday of this week come together as if a pair of theological hooks, hooks on which the church hangs its experience of living in a world after the raised life of the Christ but before the finalized life of his people. We are in-between people, those of us who look to the New Testament for light and life. We are in-between Sundays, and as such we are in need of two hooks on which we might secure our experiences of living as flimsy covenant people in a stubbornly broken world. Friday's cross, Friday's pain, Friday's abandonment form a hook on which we hang our own abandonments--our isolating sin, leading us away from God and abandoning such great grace; those sins enacted upon us which erode our relationships and threaten spoilage to the baptismal waters that have washed us. Friday is the day for the lonely, the oppressed, the wounded, the sinner, the mourner, the abused, the bored (the anxious), the angry. It is the day we hang our terrors and trials on the hook of Jesus' terror and trial. For now, without Friday, our gospel is triumphalistic, presumptive, arrogant, and a dangerous veneer. Without Friday, we presume too much when we say "Christ is risen!" As it has been observed, only the marooned who know of their isolation can readily appreciate news from another place when it comes. The accustomed inhabitants are uninterested, unable to appreciate the significance. For now, on this island, there is no unmitigated joy: Everything is tinged by Friday.

But (and in the New Testament, one notes, the arguments always turn on this simple, contrasting conjunction), there has been inserted into our Friday world another day. The dread of Friday has now been met by the grace of Sunday. Easter morning has, by the undomesticated word of God, inserted itself into the depths of Friday. Note well that Sunday is not the fruit of evolution, or of natural process, or of natural anything. Sunday is foreign, unexpected, external to the broken down dreams of Friday's loss. It is precisely, supremely "the day the Lord has made." He has made it, for it did not exist on its own after Friday's apparent failure. Externally it comes, bringing with it a new hook on which to hang our more buoyant moments.

Sunday is for faith. Sunday is for love. Sunday is for hope. And these three nouns are, in light of Easter, no longer merely generic religious abstractions: They are now concrete nouns and verbs, forged in and known by the lived life (and death) and Jesus, crucified yet raised. We do not wonder anymore how to faith (Oh for a verb! Trust?), how to hope, how to love. We no longer grope around in the dark trying to imagine these most basic Biblical actions. We look to the bright light of Easter's new day and we see them born out and made possible by Jesus' Friday-Sunday flight. In him do we see such faith, hope, and love. Through him do we learn how to trust, imagine, and agape. Easter is our classroom.

On this Sunday we hang our dreams. On this Sunday we hang our forgiveness, even as we are forgiven. On this Sunday we hang our hopes for a future in which God's will and way will (has!) once again insert itself into our broken down realities. Sunday gives us a glimpse of a time when we will finally jettison Friday's conspicuous hook, when no longer will we need a space in which to place our deathly moments, a hook-cross on which to hang them. Granted, that time has not yet been fully born among us, but surely we feel the labor pains, surely the hoping-for-it is itself a grace.

As it has been announced: For now, there is no pure joy. Everything is tinged by our Fridays. But now, also, there is now no pure sorrow, for every cross-moment is tinged with hope.


My daughter is for me a constant source of amazement and curiosity, as I frequently notice how her growth prompts my own. Her birth unleashed myriad undiscovered emotions within me and her frenetic development--daily bounding forward--is both dizzying and delightful. I am keenly aware that being a father is a matter both of biology and office. The former very much happens to you, requiring embarrassingly little effort on a man's part. The latter, not at all a given, is a thing inhabited and sustained by choice, by a daily act of the will, an agape-decision--or rather a long series of decisions--to better another and to sacrifice for another. Perhaps these twin realities capture both the grace and will of parenthood, the work of (co)creating and (co)sustaining life with and for the One who gives it in the first place. To abandon or blunt the will to be a father is to perilously assume a naivete about this developing little life's need for boundary and buoyancy. Yet to assume that a father creates worlds all alone is a belief too strident to account for the gift that a little life so clearly is. It is grace and will, then. A kind of a mysterious gift-and-calling, differentiated more in the gut than in the mind.

What is more clear to me is her beauty, both in the structure of her face and in the simplicity of her life. She is a delight to behold, but even more so to experience. There is an overabundance of humanity in her, suggesting that we are given by God more than we need than what is necessary simply for raw survival. I remember Peter Berger's suggestion that laughter is a subtle proof for the existence of God. That seems so, especially in its generous abundance and its unscripted timing, as one so often finds it in little children. That she does more now than simply exist: that is a gift. I suspect mothers bond with their child at the earliest contact between the skins, likely even before. I further suspect that fathers connect the moment it is apparent that there is more to a baby's existence than simply being biologically alive. I discovered a new relationship in my life precisely at that point, and there was both gift and calling.

April 12, 2006

Safe Shelter

I peered out the window, only to see someone’s lawn chair flying horizontally through the air. That was my first clue that foul weather had suddenly set in. Our tent shuddered and bellowed in the fierce winds. I could hear the machine gun tapping of the hard rain on our thin, fabric roof. Would we make it to the morning?

My father and I were camping in the Arkansas Ozarks when I was a teenager, only to be awakened suddenly by a fierce storm blowing in across the mountains. It came, it went, and we (and my tent) survived.

But the true weight of that glory was not felt until the next morning, when we awoke to discover that we were the minority. Our neighbor’s tent was wrapped around the nearest tree, his stuff everywhere. On the other side of us, a family had abandoned their now flooded canvas home and retreated to their van—the windows all fogged up from hours of crammed breathing. I think it was their lawn chair that had flown by my window at mach 1.

We stood their that morning—dad and me agape—never more grateful for dependable shelter. I felt like writing a letter of gratitude to the people at Eureka tents.

Safe shelter from the storms. Jesus said a wise man builds his house on rock, not sand, such that neither winds nor rains bring its demise. Our Book of Order lists seven “great ends” (purposes) of the church, and number two is “the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God.” Shelter: it is what we are about. Our koinonia together is a safe house wherein the storms on the outside are counteracted by the nurture and fellowship of Christ on the inside.

My pastor’s heart always breaks just a little whenever I hear of someone who is staying away from church because of storms in his or her life. How sad it is to me when church is assumed (promoted!) to be the place you go when you have it all together—the pinnacle of social success. In truth—and we all need to admit this together, on a regular basis—it is raining in all our lives, to one degree or another. Our first commonality is our plight: We are sinners in a sinful world.

But having met Jesus, having been brought into the shelter of his gracious love, we have new commonality: We are also children of God. And our church, God willing, is a shelter for all of us in need, built on a foundation more solid and durable than anything we ourselves could fashion. We are erected on God’s concrete Word.

In the dead of winter, in the heat of the summer, what a blessing it is to have such a lovely sanctuary as we do in which to gather for worship. And yet how much more of a blessing it is to be a part of a living, breathing, body of Christ—a strong, safe shelter for the children of God.

Hey, come back in out of the rain.

April 11, 2006


Welcome to my new blog! While I have been tinkering with various websites for years, I have never taken up a blog of my own. Recently my dear friend and pastoral colleague Jonathan Carroll ( inspired me to give a blog a try. I create this space with both trepidation and gladness, for I enjoy writing very much ... but I am never fully certain about what fruit should be shared with others and what should be left alone! While I have frequent occasions to write words and create sentences in my day to day work as a pastor, I have been challenging myself in recent years to do more writing for writing's sake--letters, poems, comments, and essays. Writing only on demand leaves one anemic in time. But to write simply for the joy and hope of expressing something--that is a gift, and I am grateful for the time and space wherein I can do just that. To that end, I hope this blog can be a place where I can share some of that kind of work with others. These words we are allowed to utilize and share are an astonishing gift. I trust this space, as well as all my spaces for shaping and sharing words, will be a fitting contribution in God's grand sphere of language. Grace and peace to you today.