07 October 2008

My Friend Abby on Calling

For ConEd, we visit each other's churches and are expected to lead a worship service. My friend, Abby, did one on calling. After reading some passages on specific calls, she gave this homily:

Who are these people? The short answer is well, people. A strange mix of people actually. The first of these is a child, called by a god he did not know. Even though he was in the temple, this was voice that was unfamiliar. And it was a voice calling him to the priesthood, and it was not an easy call. It meant that he would denounce the family of the man who raised him. It meant that he would anoint Saul as king, and later condemn Saul when he visited the witch of Endor. But when God called, Samuel’s answer was, “Speak. I am listening.”

Then Mary, not much more than a child herself according to tradition, who sits in the presence of a divine messenger, utterly confused. Everything she knows says that what Gabriel speaks is not possible. And although she does protest, the angel answers her only once, before she replies, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be according to your word.” It was her answer to God’s call that allowed God to become human—human not as a divinely formed being like Adam, or something sprung forth fully born like the Greek gods, but human, born of a woman with the same pain and anguish as every child since creation.

And finally, three of the disciples. Peter, outspoken, devout, faithful, denying Peter was the one who fell down before Jesus, caught up in his own unworthiness. It can’t be me, Lord. It can’t be. I am full of sin. It seeps out my pores and haunts me in my dreams. It can’t be me. But it was, and when our Lord said to him again, “Come, you will fish for people,” Peter came, trusting that following this Savior would be enough.

We come here today as people who have answered a call, most likely with fear and hesitancy. Can we trust this man from Nazareth? Can we trust his words to be enough? Are we ready for this life of service?

No. I will say assuredly to everyone here, no, we are not ready. But we answered the call, hoping, trusting that it will be enough.

And so we come, answering the call to lift up holy hands in acts of worship and service to our exalted savior and his church.

I invite you now: Come to this center table and place your handprint within the cross. Your handprint will surely touch others and they must overlap if we are to all fit. That’s fine; no, that’s good. For we are not alone in this journey, but have been given friendships and colleagues and fellow travelers along this road to which Christ calls us. And when we are done, our hands will have formed the cross, an image of the Savior. Remember, it is this cross that must form us. Come, each of you.

01 October 2008

choosing life, pt. 3

read pt. 1 and pt. 2.

"I feel like we should offer a prayer of thanksgiving," I told my friend James. We were standing beside the drive-thru ordering speaker of the Wendy's that was attached to the gas station.

"Do it!" he said. I hesitated, but decided that it would be the right thing, so I gathered the Candler crew, and we held hands. Soon, the parking lot came together in a circle. Next thing we knew, a bus full of supporters unloaded and our single circle had turned into a double ring. A woman (who turned out to be Davis' sister) asked "Who's gonna lead the prayer?" James shoved me toward the middle, "Jon will."

I was in the middle of a circle of a 100 or so folks, all holding hands waiting to pray. I should state here that speaking in large groups isn't a fear that I'm generally concerned with. But this terrified me. I had prayed before, sure, but never for someone's life. So, I started with what I knew. We were thankful.

"Holy and Loving God"--a good seminary beginning, I thought. "Holy and Loving God, we come today thankful for your creation and for your gift of life. You have inspired our highest court to choose life. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you."

Each thank you received a response--an Amen, or thankyoujesus or hallelujah--something. "You have told us that you've set before us life and death...you beg us to choose life. Help us to choose life. Help us to choose life for ourselves and for others. Today a battle has been won, and we are happy for it. You have heard your people cry, and you have answered them. Tomorrow is a new day, God. And with it comes new struggles and new challenges. Guide us through those as well. Inspire us to choose life when the hard times hit, and when we don't want to go on."

Then others began to add their own prayers.

There we stood in a parking lot, holding hands and praying together. As the prayer ended, a voice began to shout. "I am Troy Davis! You are Troy Davis! We are Troy Davis!" It spread like wildfire among those gathered, and ended with an explosion of hugs. As we roamed hugging complete strangers, I met Mrs. Davis, Troy Davis' mother. She had been in that circle--holding our hands and praying hard too. I had unknowingly prayed for the mother of a death row inmate. I was baffled.

I can hardly imagine what she is going through. Regardless of what we think about the case, it is when we take down our walls and think about those on death row as people--people with families--that we begin to see the horrors that we are allowing to happen.

Christ's words had new meaning. "Who is my mother and my brother?" He asks. She is my mother, and this man scheduled to die is my brother. I do have a brother on death row. So do you.

Later that evening, a group of us were eating a celebratory dinner at the local Golden Buddha. As we were finishing up, my friend Todd almost shouted "What I want to know is: where are the churches in all this? They should be there alongside us."

"It seems to me," I replied "the church was in the Hess gas station across from the prison standing in front of the Wendy's praying earlier tonight."

26 September 2008

choosing life, pt. 2

read pt. 1 here.

When I arrived at seminary, I made a conscious decision to not put on the activist t-shirt. My time at Elon had spent doing a lot of activist work. And, for some reason, I was eager to shed that defining trait, and try on another one--any other one. Activist work is exhausting. There is so much to work for, and so often, it feels like there are so few working for it.

I had been receiving calls for the past day or so from friends who knew that my college days included work against the death penalty. I wasn't able to make any of the rallies or banner painting sessions, but when I was informed of the prayer vigil to be held outside the state prison as Davis was being executed, I felt something inside me switch--I needed to be there.

I talked to my pastoral care professor that afternoon, and he gave me the go-ahead to miss class. "What kind of pastoral care prof. would I be," he asked "if I made you miss this for class?" So I ran home and started preparations.

I stopped by Kroger on the way, and bought some bread and hummus. Sometimes, in the midst of hard times, we forget simple nourishment. And, as Christ showed us, the breaking of bread together is a powerful way to connect. I made it home, and filled bottles with water, and made t-shirts reading "I have a brother on death row. So do you." I like statements like that--ones that catch you off guard and in the process remind you of the universal family, the one we are all a part of.

Soon, my friends pulled up in a Toyota mini-van. You know the kind, it looks like a moving set of parentheses. I climbed in, and we made our way through rush hour Atlanta traffic to Jackson, GA where the state chooses to execute its prisoners.

We were an unexpected bunch. Two from Indiana had driven all day to make it. Three of us were from Candler, one brought his wife (who is from Ireland!) and to top it off, we had someone who was surprisingly well connected with the campaign to save Troy Davis' life.

About twenty minutes from the prison, our surprisingly well connected friend received a call from (as it would turn out) one of Davis' lawyer. The Supreme Court had granted a stay. Davis would live, at least for the moment.

Because of our proximity to the prison, we kept going. Once we arrived, we weren't allowed on the premises, so we went to the next obvious gathering place--the Hess station and Wendy's across the street.

Here we celebrated with other folks who had made the trek out there. Davis would live! In the midst of hugs and frosties, the crowd parted and Al Sharpton walked through. He left soon, though, and we were left in a parking lot, glad to be with each other.

24 September 2008

choosing life, pt. 1

A cool September morning, much like this one, three years ago saw my friend Grady and I lost in downtown Chapel Hill, NC. We were in a class entitled Christianity and Social Justice, and as part of the class we were expected to participate in service learning.

I had worked with the anti-capital punishment activism peripherally before my junior year. While working for Elon's religious life center, I hosted Sister Helen Prejean's (author of the fantastic book Dead Man Walking) visit to Elon. So, when my professor informed us that we would each be working with a faith-based non-profit organization (the service learning component), I jumped at the opportunity to work with something I was at least vaguely familiar with and certainly interested in.

We parked in front of a plain, ranch-style office building which, according to the signs out front, housed a plethora of non-profits. We followed signs posted for the slightly hidden offices of People of Faith Against the Death Penalty. Over the next months, Grady and I called, stamped, licked envelopes, copied, and faxed. We also stood outside Central Prison in Raleigh until 2 in the morning holding candles, standing in solidarity, and praying for mercy--not just for the soon to be executed, but for all of us, all of our hands were guilty.

The past few days, there has been an urgent push to save the life of Troy Davis. Davis was convicted of killing a police officer over 15 years ago. Since then seven of the nine original witnesses have recanted or changed their original statements in sworn affidavits. The case has captured the attention of global leaders like Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter, and Pope Benedict XVI.

A small, dedicated group of Candler students took up this cause. Last night, returning to my roots of anti-death penalty I activsm, I joined them.

08 September 2008

The God Who Nudges

I have all of my classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Tuesdays, I've got courses at 8, 9:30, 1 and 6pm. Thursday is the same minus the 6pm marathon class that lasts until 9.

So, add it up, I've only had two days of classes, although we've been in school for just at a week.

I'm already behind.

I should have expected this. It is graduate school. I should have readied myself more by dusting off the alarm clock, warming up my typing fingers, and practicing skim reading (because, let me tell you, there ain't no way I'm gonna read every last word I'm supposed to read!).

But, as often happens, in the midst of overwhelming moments, God sends a little relief. A little nudge here or there to remind us of where we are going, and that, somehow, we know we're on the right path.

Each morning, I read small reflections from two books. The first is from a collection of of thoughts called Bread for the Journey by Henri Nouwen. The second is Glimpses of Grace, a collection of the writings of Madeline L'Engle. I've posted from these separately before, but today both of these writings were a little nudge toward the Divine. I share them with you here.

It is an ongoing temptation to think of ourselves as living under a curse. The loss of a friend, an illness, an accident, a natural disaster, a war, or any failure can make us quickly think that we are no good and are being punished. This temptation to think of our lives as full of curses is even greater when all the media present us day after day with stories about human misery.

Jesus came to bless us, not to curse us. But we must choose to receive that blessing and hand it on to others. Blessings and curses are always placed in front of us. We are free to choose. God says, Choose the blessings!

"Choosing the Blessings," Bread for the Journey, Henri Nouwen

All I have to know is that I do not have to know in limited, finite terms of provable fact that which I believe. Infallibility has led to schisms in the Church, to atheism, to deep misery. All I have to know is that God is love, and that love will not let us go, not any of us. When I say that I believe in the resurrection of the body, and I do, I am saying what I believe to be true, not literal, but true. Literalism and infallibility go hand in hand, but mercy and truth have kissed each other. To be human is to be fallible, but it is also to be capable of love and to be able to retain that childlike openness which enables us to go bravely into the darkness and towards that life of love and truth which will set us free.

"Mercy and Truth Have Kissed," Glimpses of Grace, Madeline L'Engle

29 August 2008

When I Say I'm a Christian

I'm not one for cheesy poems, but this one seems different. It was written by Carol Wimmer (not Maya Angelou as popularly credited).

When I say ... "I am a Christian,"
I'm not shouting "I'm clean livin'.
I'm whispering "I was lost,
Now I'm found and forgiven."

When I say ."I am a Christian,"
I don't speak of this with pride.
I'm confessing that I stumble,
And need CHRIST to be my guide.

When I say ... "I am a Christian,"
I'm not trying to be strong.
I'm professing that I'm weak,
And need HIS strength to carry on.

When I say ... "I am a Christian,"
I'm not bragging of success.
I'm admitting I have failed,
And need God to clean my mess.

When I say ... "I am a Christian,"
I'm not claiming to be perfect.
My flaws are far too visible,
But God believes I am worth it.

When I say ... "I am a Christian,"
I still feel the sting of pain.
I have my share of heartaches,
So I call upon His name.

When I say ... "I am a Christian,"
I'm not holier than thou.
I'm just a simple sinner
Who received God's good grace somehow.

18 August 2008

Crumbs from the Table.

Sunday's lectionary Gospel reading is one of the hardest I've heard in a while. We've come off a few weeks of fun miracles--the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus walking on water, etc. We've witnessed Jesus' ability to care for people in really pragmatic ways (I mean, he fed people--lots of fish and bread) and his desire to strengthen their faith (step out of the boat Peter).

But this Sunday, the lectionary lands us in the middle of one of our hardest encounters with Christ. The Jesus we know wouldn't turn people away. But here, in Matthew 15, we see Jesus tell the Canaanite woman (very directly) that He won't heal her daughter because she isn't a Jew.

She doesn't give up. She asks again, and this time he tells her that it's not right to give dogs the children's bread. It's probably safe to assume we aren't talking about our family pet here. This isn't a compliment. In fact, I'd say its mean.

Imagine--Jesus being mean? Not very Christ-like, eh?

She still doesn't give up. She responds: Yes, Lord. But even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's tables.

Wow. As I read that aloud in church Sunday, it pierced me. Her faith in the crumbs made her daughter well. Jesus changed his mind.

That is where Christ is in this story. He's in the healing, but more importantly He shows us that minds can be changed. And He proves to us that His love is open to all.

We all are searching for the crumbs from the table. Think of how the crumbs sustain us, then imagine how the feast will heal us all.

Thank God.


09 August 2008

Madeline L'Engle on Forgiveness

And ultimately forgiveness is a gift of grace rather than an act of will. I have to be willing to forgive, but I cannot will myself to forgive. I can forgive with my mind, but forgiveness is finally a matter of the heart. And the forgiveness of the heart comes from God, not from me. My part in it is to be willing to accept it. One test which indicates whether or not forgiveness has really taken place is to look at whatever it is that needs to be forgiven and see if it still hurts. If it does, forgiveness has not yet happened. But I have also learned, and I have learned it through pain, that I must be patient with myself. Just as my body is going to need more time to co plete its healing from the physical trauma of the accident, so my heat, my spirit, also need time, and I, ever impatient, must be patient with myself.

03 August 2008

Dented Cans

Two weeks ago, YTI hosted A Day of Interfaith Youth Service. It was a smashing success. We had over 60 kids descend upon the Atlanta Community Food Bank and MedShare International.

The day started out rough. I scraped a van on a cement piling, then was bugged the whole time I was driving to the food bank. The night before was a challenge. A beautiful worship service suddenly turned into a sideshow. And I was heading toward the end of a ten-day on duty stint. It was hard.

By the time we arrived at the food bank, I was ill. I was tired and grumpy and pissy and irritated. When we gathered in their volunteer room to eat lunch, I discovered my sandwich was nothing but bread and tuna--plain tuna.

We watched a cute video on the food bank, then were sent to our stations in the warehouse. I mindlessly inspected cans for expiration dates and damage. Soon, four hours had passed.

It was nice--doing mindless, productive work. In the midst of a program that challenges the deepest notions of God and the world, it was calming and relieving to accomplish something. At the end of the day they told us the amount of work we'd done--over 7,000 meals were sorted and packaged.

It was a powerful experience in another way. As we sorted, the majority of goods that passed through our hands were dented and damaged. Some were completely broken, others were jagged. But most were just the cans that were passed over because they carried a dent or two.

Yet it was these dented cans that would feed the hungry, and it that way, they carried life.

Then I realized, we're the dented cans.


11 July 2008

love @ YTI

For the month of July, I'm working with the Youth Theological Initiative (YTI) at Emory University. The program brings students between their junior and senior years in high school together for a one month session of fellowship, classes, and theology with a little service and fun thrown in.

It's an intense month. Relationship are created quickly, and they run deep. Stories are told alongside personal experiences, and soon we are swimming in a sea of humanity--and realizing that something must be connecting us all.

I recently had one of these experiences. I shared with some scholars (what we call the kids who come) about my experience as a gay Christian. At one point in our discussion, I stated my belief that "loving someone is never the wrong answer."

Here is part of a note that one wrote to me about that time together:

To truly love someone is to want them to be happy and fulfilled with their lives, without any regard to your own happiness or comfort. To see love as such a pure emotion is to actually understand what Jesus did for us. As Christians we often just say things about love loosely, but today everything has become clear, love is the most powerful emotion and decision we can ever experience and that LOVE should never be conditioned, it should be given to everyone just like Jesus did.

So why are we so fixated about an issue like homosexuality, whether God approves of it or not, whether we should tell them its wrong or not, if a person can touch so many young people simply by singing such a beautiful song that complimented the breeze, the grass, the trees, and just reminded us a little bit, of God's creation and how he uses us in different ways? Put simply, how [God] loves us infinitely.

These kids, they amaze me.

colors mold
senses meld
cold becomes warm
nervousness becomes peace
barriers become boundless
awe and majesty overwhelm earthly passions
we have met.

15 May 2008

An Easter Email

I stumbled across the Easter e-mail (that's right) from Dr. Jan Love, Dean of Candler School of Theology. I meant to share it then, but later is better than never.


This is the Easter Oration of St. Gregory the Theologian, 4th Century. It is less a prayer than a declaration. I like to read it as a prayer, however, and offer it as such here.

The translation I am using is from Let Us Pray to the Lord, edited by Georges Lemopoulos.

Yesterday I was crucified with him;
today I am glorified with him.
Yesterday I died with him;
today I am made alive in him.
Yesterday I was buried with him;
today I am raised up with him.
Let us offer ourselves to him
who suffered and rose again for us.
Let us become divine for his sake,
since for us he became human.
He assumed the worse that he might give us the better.
He became poor that by his poverty we might become rich.
He accepted the form of a servant
that we might win back our freedom.
He came down that we might be lifted up.
He was tempted that through him we might conquer.
He was dishonored that he might glorify us.
He died that he might save us.
He ascended that he might draw to himself us,
who were thrown down through the fall of sin.
Let us give all, offer all, to him
who gave himself a ransom and reconciliation for us.
We needed an incarnate God, a God put to death,
that we might live.
We were put to death together with him
that we might be cleansed.
We rose again with him
because we were put to death with him.
We were glorified with him
because we rose again with him.
A few drops of blood
recreate the whole of creation!

19 April 2008

The Lone, Wild Bird

This was on the front of the bulletin for the Sacred Worth Sending Forth Service.

In secret depths you knit my frame,
Before my birth you spoke my name;
Within my soul, as close as breath,
So near to me, in life, in death.

O search me, God, my heart reveal,
Renew my life, my spirit heal;
For I am yours, I rest in you,
Great Spirit, come, rest in me, too.

18 April 2008

The Runaway Semester

This semester has been a bear. Between four classes, ConEd, a new job, and worrying about things like, you know, the trinity and such, I've been busy--and that's just school. Outside of school, my life has had its own roller coaster ride, mostly due to my mother's lymphoma. This semester has been a bear.

But like many hard times, there is an end in sight. I'm less than a week away from the end of classes and two from the end of finals. And this is to my great relief. Maybe then I will be able to take a more realistic survey of what this semester has been and what it has meant.

This week at school has been particularly thought provoking. On Tuesday, our time in Worship to gather at the Table as a community, Sacred Worth (Candler's LGBTQAlly group) mounted their own Day of Silence a few weeks early (this is due mostly to the quadrennial UMC General Conference which is where many of us will be when the National Day of Silence is celebrated). To honor their efforts, Holy Communion was celebrated in silence--complete silence, to remember those who walk this path voiceless and lonely. It was a powerful moment in the life of our school community. As we walked to the table, our intentional silence echoed the silence that the church forces upon LGBTQ students, clergy and friends. As we gathered to celebrate the feast of life, we remembered the death that the church had forced upon its own--the people it claimed from birth as Children of God.

The next day was the Sending Forth Service of Sacred Worth. This service honors those LGBTQ graduating students. As they take the next steps on their journey, they do so with our blessing. We gave each student (who could be open--not all can, thanks UMC) a stole as a parting gift. Then we laid a stole on the altar for the silenced among us--the ones who hadn't even thought about seminary because they didn't think they'd be welcomed, the ones who came then were rejected, for the ones whose gifts would be wasted because the church they loved and dedicated themselves to couldn't move beyond difference into community. Then we celebrated communion--this time with joy and resurrection in our hearts. It was life-giving.

The following day, in my Intro. to Public Worship class, we began our final projects--25 minute worship services. At 830 in the morning, I'm not too keen on worship or shouting or clapping or anything really, but we gathered in the chapel, anyway. The sermon was given in a quick, shoot-from-the-hip, repeat-a-lot style that is very energetic but a little too spunky for an early morning worship. I zoned in and out for a few minutes, then I came to right when I needed to. She was talking about Christ's call for us to go and tell, and the reason we needed to do it was this: "Go and tell for the victory and deliverance of others."

This summed up a struggle I've had this whole semester. When is being gay part of who are or who you are? After not being all that involved with LBGTQ activism and after taking a job at a church where I can't really be open, I was reminded why it's important that I be both of those--involved and open. Because silence isn't OK. Because I've fought long enough for my voice. Because others deserve the victory and deliverance that I've tasted. Because it is what Christ would have me do.


23 March 2008

The Resurrection, from "The Rosary Sonnets"

Oh, the rush with which the forgotten mind awakens
Under the day a well of dark where color dwells
Until it learns the art of light and can reveal,
In neglected things, the freshness thought darkens.

With grey mastery distance starts to blur the horror.
Already the days begin to set around the loss.
The after-silence of his death becomes porous
To the gossip of regret that follows failure.

Through the cold, quiet nighttime of the grave underground,
The earth concentrated on him with complete longing
Until his sleep could recall the dark from beyond
To enfold memory lost in the requiem of mind.

The moon stirs a wave of brightening in the stone.
He rises clothed in the young colours of dawn.

(Text from
Conamara Blues, a collection of poems by John O'Donohue. Image from the Digital Image Archive, Pitts Theology Library, Emory University.)

22 March 2008

The Crucifixion: A Sonnet by John O'Donohue

When at last it comes, it comes in silence;
With no thought for the one to whom it comes,
Or how a heart grieves itself and loved ones
With that last glimpse from its fading presence.

Yet it is intimate, the act of death,
To be so chosen, exposed and taken.
Nowhere untouched. But death wants you broken.
The soldiers must wait ages for your last breath.

With all the bright words, you are found out too,
In agony and terror in vaulted air,
Your mind bleached white by a wind from nowhere
That has waited years for one strike at you.

A slanted rain cuts across the black day.
It turns stones crimson where the cross is laid.

21 March 2008

It is Finished.

So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew Aramaic is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the Nazorean the King of the Jews.’ Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew,Aramaic in Latin, and in Greek. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, ‘Do not write, “The King of the Jews”, but, “This man said, I am King of the Jews.” ’Pilate answered, ‘What I have written I have written.’ When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.’ This was to fulfil what the scripture says,‘They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.’ And that is what the soldiers did.

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), ‘I am thirsty.’ A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

John 19. 16-30

19 March 2008

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?"Jesus answered, "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand." Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me."

Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" Jesus said to him, "One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you." For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, "Not all of you are clean."

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord--and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.

If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

When he had gone out, Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, 'Where I am going, you cannot come.' I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

14 February 2008

Another Kind of Love Story

Today, in a class, a fellow student offered the opening devotion. He enlightened us on a little V-Day history, then gave a prayer. Before he started, he admitted that he edited a popular song to be a prayer. I've seen this done before (most notable in Meet the Parents when Ben Stiller's character, caught off guard by being asked to pray, begins to say every borderline religious phrase he can think of), but I was not prepared for what was next. We bowed our heads, glad to start the day in some quiet reflection, and he began to pray. "Have I told you lately that I love you?"

That's right.

Rod Stewart + Jesus = pee my pants funny.

In other news, I stumble across this collection of real life love stories, and my heart was warmed in a non-cheesy, overly commercialized sort of way. (scroll to the bold sub-titles)


08 February 2008


Last Thursday, at a Doctor's appointment, my mom was informed that she had an inoperable mass growing in her chest. A biopsy was scheduled for the next day, and when the results came back, they were inconclusive. She's going for round two of biopsy next week, and then there's nothing to do but wait.

This morning, during my daily reading time, Madeline L'Engle had this to say (from her book Glimpses of Grace):

My friend Dana and I talk about how we want to make everything all right for those we love, and cannot. Her mother died of pancreatic cancer only a few months ago. WE say to each other that if we were God we would make everything all right, and then we stop. Look at each other. Because we suddenly see that making everything all right would not make everything all right. We would not be human beings. We would then be no more than puppets obeying the strings of the master puppeteer. We agree sadly that it is a good thing that we are not God; we do not have to understand God's ways, or the suffering and brokenness and pain that sooner or later comes to us all.
But we do have to know in the very depths of our being that the ultimate end of the story, no matter how many aeons it takes, is going to be all right.

Maybe we can't make it all right now, but I sure wish we could.

28 January 2008

Almost Home.

Sometimes, Mary Chapin Carpenter knows just what to say.

These are from her song "Almost Home."

I saw my life this morning
Lyin' at the bottom of a drawer
All this stuff I'm savin'
God knows what this junk is for
And whatever I believed in
This is all I have to show
What the hell were all the reasons
For holding on for such dear life
Here's where I let go

I'm not running
I'm not hiding
I'm not reaching
I'm just resting in the arms of the great wide open
Gonna pull my soul in
And I'm almost home

I saw you this morning
You were staring back at me
From an ancient photograph
Stuck between some letters and some keys
And I was lost for a moment
In the ache of old goodbyes
Sometimes all that we can know is
That there's no such thing as no regrets
but baby it's all right

I'm not running
I'm not hiding
I'm not reaching
I'm just resting in the arms of the great wide open
Gonna pull my soul in
And I'm almost home

And there's no such thing as no regrets
But baby it's all right

I'm not running
I'm not hiding
I'm not reaching
I'm just resting in the arms of the great wide open
Gonna pull my soul in
And I'm almost...

I'm not running down
I'm not hiding out
I'm not reaching here
I'm just resting in the arms of the great wide open
Gonna pull my soul in
And I'm almost home

21 January 2008

Up to the Mountain - A tribute to MLK

Here are the words of my friend Matt, who says everything more beautifully and hopeful than I ever could.

I've been thanking God for the audio-recording technology of the 60s that can carry his voice over all of these years. I'm in awe of the man. I wonder if God ever wove a betters set of vocal chords. The man's voice could make you believe that Peace put skin on and started talking, and he could string words together in the most beautiful and powerful and truthful way I've ever heard (in my book he might come in second, only to Abraham Lincoln).

The man was a prophet. I have no doubt about that. I believe that God was whispering in his ear just as much as he was whispering in the ears of the Old Testament prophets and the writers of the New Testament. Maybe that seems silly, but maybe God still loves to raise people up to lay His dream out in front of crooked people and crooked nations.

Yesterday as I was running, I listened to Beyond Vietnam - a speech King gave exactly one year before he was murdered. It's haunting. So much of what he speaks about Vietnam is true of the situation in Iraq. So much of what he speaks about the United States of the 1960's is still terribly true of the United States in 2008. And I think that's what I'm getting at….

For God's sake, don't celebrate today as the day of a black man whose dream for black people came true. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a child of God who longed for God's dream for humanity to become a reality. It's the same dream that prophet after prophet delivered to Israel, and prophet after prophet they killed. A dream that we would see everyone as a child of God - the poor and the rich; the black and the white; the capitalist and the communist; the American killed in the World Trade Center and the pilot who hijacked the plane; the American soldier and the Iraqi child killed by American bombs; Martin Luther King, Jr. and James Earl Ray.

He said America was a nation that was sick, that racism and the war in Vietnam were only symptoms of a deeper sickness. I think America is still very sick, and could still stand to listen to his diagnosis. He was done with war and violence and ready to lay down his life for his enemies and men that hated him. He was broken and flawed and had the world on his trail (not to mention the F.B.I.) to point out those flaws- but I long to be like him - to have that fire in my belly, and that willingness to lay my life down for God's dream.

So pull out your Bibles today, read through the prophets (God's "I have a dream speeches), and if you are my friend at all - do not let this day go by without digging into some of MLK's words.

thanks for the reminder, matt.


a fountain of blessings

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood;

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

17 January 2008

A word or two from Henri Nouwen

Every morning before I get started, I read two day books. The first I have already quoted here, at the Cafe', focuses on Madeline L'Engle's works. The second is called Bread for the Journey. It is filled with the thoughts and reflections of the wonderful Henri Nouwen (If you haven't heard about him, read Reaching Out or The Wounded Healer to start).

Today is the first day of my second semester of seminary (round two, ding ding--as they say). I'm excited and ready for a routine. I'm a little apprehensive about the work load (we have an extra academic class this semester). Mostly, I'll be glad to see friends again.

Nouwen's reflection for today put my worries to rest.

Here is what he said:

Often we want to be somewhere other than where we are, or even to be someone other than who we are. We tend to compare ourselves constantly with others and wonder why we are not as rich, as intelligent, as simple, as generous, or as saintly as they are. Such comparisons make us feel guilty or ashamed, or jealous. It is very important to realize that our vocation is hidden in where we are and who we are. We are unique human beings, each with a call to realize in life what nobody else can, and to realize it in the concrete context of the here and now.
We will never find our vocations by trying to figure out whether we are better or worse than others. We are good enough to do what we are called to do. Be yourself!

So I'll take Nouwen's advice and stop comparing, feeling inadequate or any of the other things that stand between me and God. Maybe it's the pilgrim way. Maybe we're all pilgrims.

blessings for the way,


16 January 2008

It's snowing in Atlanta, on the eve of my second semester in seminary. Classes start tomorrow, yet there is that inevitable buzz of hope that class will be canceled. It's a routine thing, here in the south, for it sleet or snow a little and for everyone to pray hard that night to not have to go to work or school the next day.

There's a magic about snow that will envelop you if you're open to it. It's a calmness, a hopefulness, a grace that floats down and makes even the cold beautiful. In Copenhagen, it snowed a fair amount, and every time it did the snow carried with it renewal and new meaning. (read about one of those experiences here).

In choir practice today, we were singing the Pilgrim's Hymn as the snow really began to gently glide to earth. We all gasped as we looked out of the windows of the chapel, surprised and glad to be touched by God in such a visual way. Then we sang these words:

Even before we call on Your name
To ask You, O God,
When we seek for the words to glorify
You hear our prayer;
Unceasing love, O unceasing love,
Surpassing all we know.

Glory to the Father,
And to the Son,
And to the Holy Spirit.

Even with darkness sealing us in,
We breathe Your name,
And through all the days that follow so
We trust in You;
Endless Your grace, O endless Your grace,
Beyond all mortal dream.

Both now and for ever,
And unto ages and ages,

And with the swells of the music came swells of snow and God was there and it was good.

Sometimes I think I'd like to be a pilgrim--that this title is more that sufficient and worthy.

a pilgrim's blessings, then.

03 January 2008

For Christmas, my parent's gave me a copy of a fantastic little day book called Glimpses of Grace. It is a collection of Madeline L'Engle's writings compiled and edited by L'Engle authority (and retired Elon professor) Carole F. Chase. This is the piece for January 1st. It's fitting for us now because in this time of horrors and despair, we have the hope of the stars and in the God who created them.

But we rebel against the impossible. I sense a wish in some professional religion-mongers to make God possible, to make him comprehensible to the naked intellect, domesticate him so that he's easy to believe in. Every century the Church makes a fresh attempt to make Christianity acceptable. But an acceptable Christianity is not Christian; a comprehensible God is no more than an idol.

I don't want that kind of God.
What kind of God, then?

One time, when I was little more than a baby, I was taken to visit my grandmother, who was living in a cottage on a nearly uninhabited stretch of beach in northern Florida. All I remember of this visit is being picked up from my crib in what seemed the middle of the night and carried from my bedroom and out of doors, where I had my first look at the stars.

it must have been an unusually clear and beautiful night for someone to have said, "Let's wake the baby and show her the stars." The night sky, the constant rolling of breakers against the shore, the stupendous light of the stars, all made an indelible impression on me. I was intuitively aware not only of a beauty I had never seen before but also that the world was far greater than the protected limits of the small child's world which was all that I had known thus far. I had a total if not very conscious, moment of revelation; I saw creation bursting the bounds of daily restriction, and stretching out from dimension to dimension, beyond any human comprehension.

I had been taught to say my prayers at night: Our Father, and a long string of God-blesses, and it was that first showing of the galaxies which gave me an awareness that the God I spoke to at bedtime was extraordinary and not just a bigger and better combination of the grownup powers of my mother and father.

This early experience was freeing, rather than daunting, and since it was the first, it has been the foundation for all other such glimpses of glory. And it is probably why the sound of the ocean and the sight of the stars give me more healing, more whole-ing, than anything else.