Sunday, April 30, 2006

Sinning, Salvation, and Shaving

Each year I approach Lent with intent. I move into it knowing that for a little over 40 days I will spend a great deal of time considering what my savior has done for me, and what He expects of me. It is a time to consider my sin and my salvation.

It is the Spring of the Spiritual Year for me. Lent is the warm up lap for Easter. So I consider what I will do to keep me mindful.

I choose something that will be a daily reminder, some task or something I will forgo that I may be reminded to pray. This year I shaved daily. I had that beard for 33 years.

Easter morning

Every morning I shaved before going off to work. During that time of personal grooming I prayed the Lord’s Prayer, adding a few personal thoughts.

Throughout the day, every time I felt the wind on my deforested cheeks, I thanked Him for what He did for me.

When I exhaled and felt the odd sensation of my breath on my upper lip, I smiled at being startled by what is a common experience for most people, and remembered why my facial landscape was naked.

Shaving, and the sensations it brought, was a constant reminder of Lent.

Monday morning

When Easter passed I stopped the morning ritual. My face quickly began to look a touch fuzzy, it was rough to the touch. I wondered... why do we have such a custom? It is a little bizarre to scrape the face, changing it to please some social fashion (my Lord didn't). The Romans shaved. Why did they do it? Probably because the Greeks shaved. Why did they do it? I don’t know. There weren’t any nearby cultures which shaved, certainly no indigenous beardless peoples. If I were to guess, I might say because it made them look younger. They did idolized youth. Folks said I looked younger without the beard.

Aside from stopping the morning ritual, not much changed that first day after Easter. I said a quick prayer as I got into the shower because I missed the morning ritual, but it wasn’t the same. I stopped by Zion Memorial Cemetery on my way to work, to walk and pray. A couple of people at work noticed the shadow appearing on my cheeks.

Tuesday morning

Lent brought me insights: who I am, what I want to do for my Lord. I wondered if my resolve to remain close to Him this coming year would hold against temptations and laziness. Would I persist in holding true?

I am not going to be a man who does mighty things. I will not be an astronaut, though it was my driving fantasy in 6th grade. I am not going to be a great theoretical physicist, demonstrating how the four forces of the universe are truly one by writing an elegant equation, I haven’t the mathematical aptitude. I will not be president, or a biblical archaeologist, or provide humanity with miraculous cures for terrible diseases. I am not going to be such a man.

I don’t desire those things anyway. Not any more. I will be most happy to live my life, exhaling my last breath in the company of angels who wend me homeward, so I might hear: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Oh... if I can achieve that...

Wednesday morning

Ever walk any distance with your eyes closed? Just to see if you can go straight? I do, often. Sometimes when I walk in the mornings I shut my eyes while I pray, the better to concentrate on the sounds of an awakening world, the better to hear my own voice praying to my Lord.

But I must flick my eyes open every so often so I don’t veer off the path around the cemetery. I cannot walk straight for very long.

How long can I walk spiritually straight after Lent?

Not very long. I am a weak man. I get tempted by many things. I can’t by sheer will power hold true. I need to keep glancing at Him to correct my path.

Thursday morning

What must it have been like for Adam? He didn’t have the temptations I do. There wasn’t the ice cream in the fridge crying out his name when he lay down to sleep. There wasn’t any television providing prurient images to draw his eyes away from Eve. There weren’t any liquor stores. He wasn’t tempted by greed, he didn’t covet his neighbor’s possessions. There wasn’t any porn or temptations for murder or drugs or theft or envy. Couldn’t I do much better if I wasn’t always so tempted, so surrounded by the ready excesses of a fallen world?

Friday morning

What a strange dichotomy stirs within my beating heart! I have passion for my Lord... yet I crave things He forbids.

Ah, but so did Adam.

Even without the steady blitz of the temptations of my world, my time, Adam fell to just one small temptation, the desire, the curiosity, to taste what he never had. A single sin. One small bite.

This man who walked beside the Lord God on a daily basis, who communed with Him in ways no man has since (excepting our Lord), couldn’t keep himself from sinking his teeth into a pleasant-looking piece of fruit!

Now some may say that it was Eve who tempted Adam, that it was all her fault. I don’t buy it. Neither did God.

Sure, that was the excuse he offered, but it didn’t fool the Almighty.

Adam was standing there watching his wife debate the matter with the serpent; he said nothing. Nothing! Perhaps that was his first sin. He failed her as a husband. Did she glance over at him, asking him what to do?

He failed to lead.

So if Adam could fail, if he could sin, with no more temptation than the sibilant whispering of a fellow creature, another thing made by the Lord, what hope have I of staying true to what I want to be, want to do?

Saturday morning

There is a piece of music I love to listen to when I am in the prayer room or writing a post: Arvo Part: Te Deum with the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, Tallinn Chamber Orchestra.

It is beautiful, inspiring. It makes me feel uplifted, closer to Him. Much of the paintings I have done have been to this music. Much of what I have written this past year was while this played over headphones, or on my iPod, or blasting from a CD player.

It helps me imagine rolling vistas of ethereal eternity, sweeping buildings of gold and ivory which pierce rolling thunderheads as they reach ever upward toward some ultimate throne that shines light on all creation, the glow of glory, of salvation.

But, after one hour, the CD stops, I put away my paints, or close my Bible, or get up off my knees, and I go home, or go to work, or go do something that is wholly of this world, and not holy for the next.

And with new tasks, I change. I go back to being a mere man who thinks about temptations, and fails to obey the speed limit, and says edgy comments when I should keep my mouth shut.

I can’t seem to keep my path straight.

Sunday morning

My beard grew back rather quickly. Just as the lessons of Lent quickly became things I have done and not things I am doing.

My face once again sports a beard that is rapidly becoming more salt than pepper. I begin to look on the outside much as I did before. Have I changed any on the inside?

Monday morning

A week after Easter passed, before I went to work, I looked in the mirror and saw my beard had fully grown back. If I shaved the cheeks, the throat, I would look clean cut, professional: a respectful and respected member of society.

I wet my face, lathered up the areas I was going to scrape, and went to work. I began to pray.

“Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name...”

I know I will continue to fail. I will continue to sin. I will never be all that I spiritually hope to be, just as I will never be an astronaut. I cannot walk in a straight line with closed eyes for very long. But if I keep glancing up, if I keep orienting myself to the ultimate throne that shines light on all creation, the glow of glory, of salvation, I will do ok.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Annual Review

Recently someone commented that the tone in my posts has changed, that I seem more at peace. Since I am in a reflective mood I'll pause and look at the past year.

Yes, I am at greater peace.

For newer readers of this blog, here's a quick review:

This blog began in April 2005. The first post was on the death of my first child and a spiritual epiphany. The events of that child’s death colors the way I view the world and that theme has popped up often. Sometimes I hurt from that old wound, but most of the time it is merely a lens that helps me to see eternity, love, loss, suffering, free will, and salvation. I am at peace with the death of that sweet child (my name sake, born on my wife's birthday). There is an ache that throbs now and then (it is doing so a little now), but it is no longer so central.

Last June my eldest son (adopted) was playing with fire and burned down a substantial portion of our church. That event dominated this past year. There has been counseling sessions (most for him, but a little for all of us), testing (psychological, I.Q.), court appearances, hints of a lawsuit, awkwardness at our church (on our part, our church family has been wonderful), and many small changes in how we operate our home and raise our children. We have learned to see our children as they are, not as we wish them to be. Hard lessons there.

There has been a number of other changes as well. Partly due to the events surrounding the fire, some from other sources. Those changes affected my thinking, my writing, my spiritual life, even my health.

There were physical challenges. My psoriasis flared up several times (it is a little rough right now). A couple of times it was so bad it hurt to hold a pencil. I threw my back out and took months to get back into shape. That was a bizarre adventure, humorous, dangerous, and full of God's grace. It was also an amusing counterpoint to some serious events. (Our Lord has a really great sense of humor.) I lost a little weight (through watching my diet and a brisk twice daily walk --great time for prayer).

There were strange events hinting at slippery things slithering through the spiritual darkness at the edges of my life, my home, my family. Most are distant now, but I remain vigilant.

I take my spiritual devotions much more seriously now. Daily prayers, weekly prayers, reading scripture, worshipping, all more frequent, more fervent.

I have a spiritual mentor with whom I meet about once a week, a man who has strengths I lack and exhorts me to be more than I have been.

I have taken to writing this blog faithfully, at least twice a week (usually Sundays and Wednesdays) and have pumped out over 70,000 words. That alone makes me feel that perhaps I can write a book, a project I am considering. This blog has been an avenue for expressing myself, and a crucible for refining and defining my thoughts.

I have incorporated art into my spiritual life using a variety of mediums (wood, canvas, canvas boards, walls, pens, pencils, charcoal, ashes, acrylic paint...): an experiment in mixing art with prayer. I have begun selling a few of those paintings, donating the money to the rebuilding fund for our church (we need $800,000 and my wife and I have pledged an amount beyond our means, trusting Him to provide).

I have begun praying for my children each night, blessing them, talking to them, really trying to understand who they are. This has drawn us together in remarkable ways. My sons, adopted from Haiti, have a lot of challenges in their lives and this constant checking on where they are at, what they are experiencing, has been very good.

Additionally we do a devotion as a family almost every evening after supper. We are working through the teen devotional book: Can you Handle the Truth? It has sparked good discussions.

I have been praying nightly for my wife. That draws us together. She knows I love her greatly, not because I tell her so (which I do frequently), but because I do things which show her how much she means to me. (No, she doesn’t read this blog.)

I have continued to meet weekly and monthly with a group of men. We pray for each other and hold each other accountable. These guys are close enough to me that if I were screwing up they would come over, grab me by the ear, sit me down, and tell me where I am, where I am going, and what I need to do about it. Because I respect and love them, I would listen. Those guys have seen my eyes mist over while talking about Willy's death, the passions of my life, the shattering of dreams, and the reassessment of my children. They have heard it all. I trust them. I love them.

Over the past year I have seen people pass on, significant events for me.

Tom Sawyer, a wise, kind, wiry missionary with a white Abe Lincoln beard, a ready laugh, and an earnest voice, went home after a lifetime dedicated to bringing the word of our Lord to Earth's far corners.

Bob Cryder, a deep voiced, intensely dedicated man who looked like he just stepped out of the fifties (you could almost hear the music) spent his life bringing many into the Shepherd’s fold. He passed on after a curious journey that took him all over the world, spending a decade in this smallish Oregon town, and briefly into the pastorship of a large California church. The night before he died... Well, I'll miss him. He was (is), extremely knowledgeable in The Word, passionate about winning souls, the Holy Land, discussing last days, and exhorting others to strive for a higher ground. That higher ground is where he now resides.

Tom Barton, a homeless man in Boise I never met, the brother of a good friend, developed a brain tumor, and just before it robbed him of his mental abilities, he accepted the Lord and found peace in this world just before slipping into the next. He was the perfect illustration of the story of the Prodigal Son (or is it the story of The Waiting Father?).

It is interesting to think of those two Toms, one living a life dedicated to the Lord, the other obedient only at the eleventh hour. They illustrate the story of the workmen: those who work all day and those who came to work at the end, all receiving the same pay, the same grace. There may be rewards in addition to salvation, rewards of the spirit, perhaps of the soul, but both Toms are a part of my eternal family now.

All these deaths, gentle Tom, dynamic Bob, tormented Tom, brought into focus the reality of an afterlife for me this year.

So... has the tone of this blog changed? I suppose it has. I write less about the book of Job because the anguish and questions explored there are not as intense for me lately as they were. I still read the book regularly, but more on an intellectual, literary level than an emotional one. Perhaps I need to return to it a little more frequently so I can justify keeping the title of this blog.

This past year has introduced me to some fascinating people through blogging. Martha Martha, Pirate, Jolly Beggar, MMM, Joe, Pia, Kitty, U2 Sermons, Jim, David, Jeff, Lorna, Felise, Paula, Judas Hate... well you can see a list of many of them over there on the right. They have prayed for me, I have prayed for them. I have found a lot of people who encourage me, love me, pray for me. That has been a significant part of this past year. The Christian circle of bloggers demonstrates yet another aspect of belonging to this spiritual family.

I am more at peace.

This will probably change, as change is the only constant in this world.

But, I am close on the heels of my shepherd.

That is all that matters.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Humble King

Humility doesn’t come easy for people, especially Americans. We love to take pride in all sorts of things, even though there isn’t any logic behind the pride. We are proud of our talents, as if these are things we somehow created. We are proud of our intellect, as if we created our brains so they function so well. We are proud of our children, even though the accomplishments they achieve are truly theirs and not ours. We our proud of our freedoms, though they were purchased by the blood and dreams of previous generations.

Americans are proud because of our independent point of view, steeped in the independence of pioneers, grasped by those who sought out new lands at great risk. We have the culture of the Wild West reflected in the larger than life characters portrayed by John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Gary Cooper, and Roy Rogers, iconic characters standing for what was right, regardless of the personal cost. They make us somehow feel that these are the qualities which describe America. We believe them, and it makes us proud.

We take a lot of pride in the things we own. We are proud of our homes, our cars, even our computers. Having the latest gadget is all about bragging rights. Having the fastest car, the prettiest wife, the biggest audio collection are American obsessions. That is why we are such superb consumers. We buy more things than any other culture. And we are pretty darn proud of it.

We can be proud of how swiftly we run, how much weight we can lift, how fast we can throw a ball, even how tall we are (dang, I'm still an inch shy of six foot!). And though these things may reflect a little of how we have fed our bodies, how we have trained ourselves, it seems... odd... that we are proud of things that are really mere descriptions of the bodies we were born to, not things we have constructed for ourselves. A basketball player might be very proud of how he plays the game, and of course much of that has come from a lot of hard work, but his prowess on the court is greatly derived from the coaching he has received, the efforts of others, even more so from the body he was fortunate enough to be given. His misplaced pride is compounded, reinforced, by the millions the public lavishes upon him.

I have a friend who is a humble man. He never speaks a cross word, he is always willing to lend a hand on any project, and always makes little of his own gifts and talents. More than once I have jokingly told him: “You are such a humble guy, Dave. You should be proud of that!” It is unusual to know humble people.

There is a passage in Johnathon Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels when the weary world traveler expresses astonishment at the intelligence of the society of horses the Houyhnhnms) and their lack of pride. The wise horse replies that it would be absurd to be proud of intellect. It would be absurd to feel pride over any feature of the body, to be proud of owning an arm or a foot. Why should one have pride over what one has had no say or effort in obtaining?

We sometimes wonder why God lets terrible things happen (that is the central question for many who read the Book of Job). Why does He grant us such free will, even to do evil? Why does He permit a man to rape his daughter, diseases to wipe out villages, the movement of tectonic plates to cause waves which erase the lives of hundreds of thousands?

We know from scripture, from the testimony of our hearts, that God is in control. I am fascinated by science and when I think about how the universe is held together, the forces of electromagnetism, the inexorable force of gravity, and the mysterious workings of matter, it all points, for me, to a God as an active creator. Consider molecules holding “atomic hands” of shared electrons, the atoms aswarm in particles that are discrete and potential, quarks which are songs sung by infinitely tiny strings, held together by the Will of God. And in the minute workings of these tiny particles He permits the macro universe, the world of Newtonian physics, the world you and I experience, to be manipulated by the free will of beings with weak resolve. Though He holds it together, He permits us to use it to pull ourselves away from Him.

Even in our sin God serves us.

--Phillipians 2:
5b ...Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
8And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!

What an amazing thought! We are free to pull away from Him or to draw closer to Him. It is our choice, we can use the elements of the universe which He created, He holds together, to hurt each other, to hurt ourselves, and to gain more things for which we can be inordinately proud.

Perhaps the spiritual realm works somewhat like the Doppler Effect. This is the effect which demonstrates the universe is expanding. Light travels at a predictable, constant speed. All the elements of the periodic table shine with specific spectrums of light with distinct black lines (called absorption lines). As that rainbow slides to the left and right behind those lines we can tell if the matter is racing toward us or away.

In our everyday lives we notice Doppler Effects in such things as the changing pitch of a passing train’s horn, or the radar gun used to measure the speeds of pitched baseballs and speeding cars.

Do you suppose our souls shine in ways that exhibit a Doppler Effect?

Perhaps our souls shine a little toward the blue-white end of the spiritual spectrum when we race toward our Lord, and turn a ruddy, smokey red when we pull away.

When we are proud are we pulling away? They say that Lucifer’s sin was pride.

It is interesting to note that our omniscient, omnipotent, all-providing Lord God isn’t proud. I haven’t found a single passage in scripture that says He is proud. Of course He doesn’t need to be. He is the I Am. He is everything. He has no peers for whom to preen or impress.

So, given that everything we are, everything we own, comes from Him... what are we so proud of?

Bad Dreams

For three nights I have had nightmares. It makes me weary. What is the source of these dreams? Are they springing merely from tensions, concerns, fears, in my own heart and mind? Are the admonitions of the spirit (I think not.) Are they spiritual attacks?

I am very busy of late. Many tasks and responsibilities at work. Many tasks at work and home. Many projects of duty and pleasure. Much busyness.

My wife and I have been sniping a little at each other. Though we apologize, we aren’t always kind. I do not care for it at all. But even though we have had a slight edge to our conversations, springing from the weariness of all our tasks, especially those involving the special needs of our children, we still try to remain tender toward each other. I wake from a bad dream to my wife praying over me.

Life is hard.

Life is good.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

"What is church, Curious Servant?"

Becky asked: "What is church, Curious Servant?"

I think she was keying off this comment in the previous post:

“...We don’t go to church and leave our faith behind at the end of the service. I know these guys. We don’t just do church. We are church...”

I’m sure that many of us would have a variety of answers to that seemingly simple question.

Here are my thoughts:

There is "church" and there is "Church". I think I would also add there is also "The Church".

Lower case "c" church is that building (noun) where we go which holds pews, and Bibles, and such. I would say that lower case "c" church, verb, where we put in time, doing the things that are expected of us. This can be very similar to doing other social, corporate activities: Kiwanis and Rotary meetings, PTA, etc... It may be respectful, even reverent, but can be perfunctory.

Upper case “C” Church is “the body.” We are the church.

Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. --Romans 12:4-5

This means that our Lord is our head, we follow Him, and we offer ourselves up to be a part of a greater whole, to serve the body of Christ. We are the Church.

Lastly, I would say that sometimes the phrase “The Church” is used to describe our faith as an entity which spans generations, moving throughout time. This use is very similar to the previous usage, in that we make up the whole, but it also implies a focus on the institution of The Church which is a little different than seeing ourselves as simply, joyfully, parts of a whole.

I suppose it is all about the context of when the word is used. I especially love the use of it which puts me in the Lord’s will. I want to be the Lord’s will.

Which is the whole point of that previous post. Passion. Living passionately for Him is a joy. My Moon Howlin’ buddies understand that.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Watching the Moon's Phases

A remarkable thing about the Bible is its gritty reality. When people screw up it shows: Abraham let his wife go off with Pharaoh because he was afraid... David commited adultery and murder... Peter denied he knew who Jesus was.

The Bible isn’t filled with simple commands, aphorisms, and cleaned up stories. Sometimes the tales move past PG-13 into an “R” rating.

The characters are not archetypes of perfection. They are three dimensional people, characters we recognize, personalities which we know, we have met in our own lives.

I particularly like Peter. He didn’t do things in half measures. He saw Jesus walking beneath the stars on the Sea of Galilee and ran out to meet Him. He promises to stay with Jesus to his death. He jumps in, all the way. When they went to crucify this passionate follower of the Messiah he told them he didn’t deserve a death like our Lord’s. So they crucified him upside down.

I picture this big guy with the huge heart doing everything in his life in a big way. When he denied he knew Jesus, his shame, his fear and anguish is almost tangible.

He began to call down curses on himself, and he swore to them, "I don't know this man you're talking about."

Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: "Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times." And he broke down and wept. --Mark 14:71-72

Picture this big fisherman, this rough fisherman, face in his hands, shoulders shaking in deep sobs.

Peter had passion.

Once a month I get together with some guys. We pass peanuts and cookies around a campfire and talk. We share our lives, our concerns, our growth and challenges and we hold each other up in prayer. Sometimes we show our dedication to each other by loaning a pickup truck or lending a hand on some project. We meet once a week to pray, and we meet once a month to talk around a campfire.

I call it our Moon Howlin’ Night. Once a month we look at the stars, watch the moon glide slowly overhead... and we talk. We joke, we question, we wonder...

A year ago one of us asked a question:

“Do you guys find, as you get older, that you haven’t as much passion about things as you used to?”

We offered different answers, but the matter didn’t seem fully answered. So last night I asked it again (it is great to have a group of buddies which meets so regularly we can pick up a topic a year later).

The answers to the question still wandered around a bit. I guess the guys are chewing it over. It’s a tricky question. I don’t think our passions wax and wan like the moon that passes overhead each month. Quite the reverse. I think our passions are more focussed than ever before. They don’t jump quickly from one thing of great important to another.

One of us put it this way: “I think I am more selective about what I get passionate about.”

When one is twenty or twenty-five it is easy to be passionate about everything. Everything is important, everything is critical.

So what is the passion like for men at age 50 (give or take a few)?

We are passionate about our families, that is certain. We love our kids (and grand kids for one of us). We love our wives, and protect them with our prayers and our lives.

We are passionate about particular interests (music, work, our craft...).

We are passionate about our Lord.

Every one of us. We don’t go to church and leave our faith behind at the end of the service. I know these guys. We don’t just do church. We are church.

We place our shoulders to the work of our church and push, daily, weekly,monthly, yearly.


This is starting to sound a little self-aggrandizing. Let me set aside my writerly voice for a moment and lay something out clearly:

We are screw ups. All of us. After all we are human beings. We know we are imperfect. We know we cannot be the icons of perfection that people think church goers should be, need to be. But we want to be obedient to our Lord

That is one reason we get together.

As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.
--Proverbs 27:17

We get together so there is a place where there isn’t any posturing (maybe a little, but it’s all in good fun). We get together so we can be honest with each other. We get together to hold each other accountable to our vows, our promises, our aspirations.

And we do more than kick the burning logs tighter into the dying fire. We fan each other’s flames, build up each others’ passions.

We ask each other tough questions (and dumb ones). We laugh together, and wonder together, and wander from topic to topic together, even when the topics span a dozen moons. We watch the moon go through its phases, just as we watch our lives go through their phases.

It is true we get tired sometimes, jobs, families, hobbies, and, of course, church, requires a lot of us.

But there I can talk about my passions. I can talk of how the burning of our church by my son makes me feel... I can describe the last moments of my first child’s life... I can talk about how it feels to me to mix prayer and painting, and what goes on in my heart when I worship.

We don’t do these things because we think we are doing good deeds which make us worthy in some way. For we aren’t worthy. We are all much less than the men God planned us to be had there not been that fall from grace... a grace He gives us once again.

But we try. Not in the spirit of earning anything, of deserving anything, but in the simple recognition that we are grateful for what He has done and we want to please Him.

And it is simply easier to please Him when we link arms and move forward together.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Breakfast on the Edge of Forever

Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, "It is the Lord," he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish you have just caught."

Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." None of the disciples dared ask him, "Who are you?" They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

--John 21:7-14


It was. . . interesting.

I did it last December, so it wasn’t completely strange. I went to work quickly. I rotated the two foot by four foot canvas to the horizontal. The idea of doing the ascension didn’t feel right. The message was on: John 21:7-14.

The disciples go fishing. Jesus has died, they are discouraged, they go fishing.

I painted the Sea of Galilee, Jesus on the shore, tending a fire, cooking fish, fixing breakfast.

The service was a big deal. A lot of people in the worship team, a choir, extra instruments, including horns; I think I heard a violin. The message was divided into three parts. We would sing, worship, and pause while our pastor spoke. Then back to worship. The lighting changed every few minutes, from darkened mood lighting, to a pool of light around our pastor, to full light. Each time the lighting changed the colors on the canvas shifted.

I kept my heart prayerful as I struggled with the paint, trying to push them into a painting that would please people, provide an illustration to the message.

153 fish in the straining net. 153. Odd number. I painted the number into the sea.

Hills, sky, water, beach, rocks. The lights kept shifting, I kept adapting.

The service ended, I said a few words into a microphone someone handed me, explained the image.

The lights came up. The hills were too bright. A patch of sky hadn’t blended correctly. I went into the kitchen, cleaned my brushes, washed the palette. The lights dimmed, I stepped back onto the platform beside those talented musicians. I squirted fresh blobs of paint onto the palette... the worship began again.

I pushed the paint where it should go, perhaps gripping the brush too hard. For several minutes I struggled to get the paint on in ways that would layout a balanced image, moving the eye from sea to sky to rocks to Him. Concentrating on composition, trying to balance colors in the shifting light. I gripped the brush, gripped the tubes of paint, even squirting paint directly onto the canvas (never did that before).

And my hand cramped. The ring finger on my right hand twisted inward, imbedded itself in my palm. I pulled it open with my left. The other fingers of my right hand cramped also. The cramp spread to my wrist. My right hand became useless. For perhaps two minutes I could barely open my fingers. I forced the fingers open with my other hand. I squeezed them, massaged them, and rubbed my hand, conscious people were watching, probably wondering why I was wringing my hands.

And it all shifted. In my mind, in my heart, I began to truly worship. I felt the cross hanging from my neck pressing coolly against skin. It hit me, really hit me. This scene, one of the last actions of our Lord on Earth, around a fire with some friends, some followers.

I relaxed. My hand relaxed.

I started darkening the skies and redoing the hills, dimming the image, darkening it down so the focus would be on Him. I scattered stars throughout the darkness, letting them stretch across the sky, creeping into the reality of this world.

I took a brush and sketched Him in, kneeling beside a fire, cooking breakfast for His followers, for His friends.

I knew it had really happened. Our Lord, the Living Word, had become flesh and sacrificed Himself, had knelt in the sand and cooked breakfast.

No choir of angels. No trumpets, just the sound of waves on the beach. Jesus kneeling, serving.

I knelt. I looked up at the painting. My heart swelled.

If I had been there on that beach He would have handed me a cooked fish skewered on a stick, passed me a piece of bread, smiled at me as I ate my breakfast. He would have smiled at me. At me!

My master. My Lord. He loves me so much. In big ways and in small. He created me, He died for me, He feeds me. Wherever I am. He feeds me in my own home, at my woirk. If I had been there, wading in from a fishing boat, He would look at me, feed me. Even today, He cares for me, in a deep, loving, way.

I looked up at the painting and it was no longer important if I finished a beautiful painting for the pleasure of those in the congregation. It no longer mattered if the colors worked in the changing light. None of it mattered except what was in my heart. My eyes misted over, I felt... I’m not sure I can share exactly what I felt...

I love Him.

He had died and given everything for us, for me. And before He left, before He moved from this world to the full glory of Heaven, He paused, fixed something for some cold and tired fishermen to eat.


I am eager to finish this painting. Perhaps it has just begun. Perhaps all the surface will get covered over with fresh layers of paint laid down under a constant, steady light. But it will always hold this prayer of mine within it.

Thank you Lord.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Good Friday

It’s Good Friday. We are going to church in a couple of hours. I am gladly anticipating what will happen there. I feel something moving... drawing near. I don’t know what it is.

The worship team has been practicing, preparing for Sunday. They know which songs they will play in which keys, what tempo, using which instruments. There are talented ladies doing feminine things with flowers and banners and candles and who knows what. They have a vision for the look, the feel, the atmosphere for this service. Pastor T. is writing, and rewriting, and editing, and polishing and fine-tuning his message. It is going to be on John 21:1-14. The message is divided into three parts, each part lending its perspective, its own element, creating a triune whole, a homily, bringing a little of the Lord’s light and love into our lives.

There is a large canvas on an easel between the front seats and the stage. It is two feet by four feet. Eight hundred and sixty-four square inches of white canvas without a mark on it. By the end of the service I will have painted something there.

I haven’t any idea what that will be.

I have been net surfing, looking at images of empty tombs, crucifixions, and the ascension. From Salvador Dali to Rembrandt, from the middle Ages to modern, I have been seeking inspiration.

I have no idea what I will paint.

How would you feel if you were going to step in front of your congregation on Easter Sunday, and were going to perform something, a music recital, give a message, some creative act, and you were unprepared?

I should be freaked out. I should be extremely nervous. I haven’t been painting all that much.

But I'm not.

I feel excited and at peace. I want to know what I am going to do... call me "curious". But I know that it will come. He will tell me. And I'll do it.

It will all be fine.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Doing Laps

I used to do a lot of running. Mostly 10 Ks. I used to be thinner too. Ah well.

I was running a race with my dad. He took off fast, moving quickly ahead. A part of the course looped back on itself, so I saw him running towards me while I was still on the way out. He was gloating as he passed, headed the other way a mile ahead of me. He was showing the kid the old man still had it.

I was in my first 10 K, concerned how I would finish the race. I didn't want to tire too soon. I was constantly thinking about my pace, judging how my body felt, how I was using my energy, making sure I would have enough to get me to the end.

I timed it almost perfectly. There was a corner about a quarter of a mile from the finish where a photographer was taking pictures of the runners. I told myself I would turn the tap full open at that point, use all I had left, I would practically sprint to the end. I rounded that corner passing my dad. He didn’t see me. He didn’t look very good, but he was hanging in there. I flew across the finish line, using up the last bit of my energy, utterly spent.

When he crossed the finish I was pouring water over and into me. He later told me he thought I had given up on the race early, had gotten a ride to the finish. We each got a copy of that picture of the corner before the end of the race. We were side by side. He looked like he was about to collapse. I looked nearly drained, but ready for a good finish.

This blog has just finished a lap, once around the sun. Monday was the anniversary, the blogiversary, of this little on-line journal. It took a couple of months to get my first non-spambot comment. In late June I added a counter (counting visits at least one hour apart). On Christmas eve it clicked over its 10,000th visitor, like some sort of virtual odometer. Monday, on its blogiversary, it read an even 27,000 visitors. Amazing. Who would think people would be interested in reading stuff I write?!

My first post was about an epiphany after the death of my first child, Willy. The post bounced between the events of his death and a walk I took early one morning at Molalla River State Park. During the walk I came to understand that though I hurt deeply, though I was torn and broken, God was near, He loved me, He cared.

In June my eldest son (adopted from Haiti, malnourished, abused, mentally handicapped, black), was playing with fire and burned our church down. In the following months I shared various experiences dealing with the repercussions of that event. Now there are lawyers from the insurance company looking over our tax returns, searching for assets (good luck). There are ongoing counseling sessions for him (and my wife). And there are the spiritual disciplines I do to help him and the rest of my family, springing from that event that turned our lives onto a different course, a cross country race through unknown terrain.

I’ve had some creepy experiences this past year, this last lap around our local star. Events which lend evidence of dark supernatural forces seeking to influence me and mine. I learned a little of how to deal with them. I take those lessons very seriously, though I write about them seldom. Those lessons continue.

I’ve had some physical challenges this past year. I threw my back out on a wild ride hanging onto the back of a pick up. My psoriasis got so bad at times that the cuts and rashes made my hands nearly unusable. I frequently found little spots of blood on things I handled.

This last lap has brought me closer to Brenda. I love my wife even more today than I did a year ago, our marriage is stronger than ever. The biggest part of that change is prayer. We pray for each other, I pray over her each night.

Though the struggles in my life do not compare to the problems Job faced, I drew strength, wisdom, and guidance from what I read there, and I continued to see things in that wonderfully mysterious book of the Bible. Sometimes during this past year, this last lap, I shared some of my interpretations of that book.

It has been quite a year.

This past year I noticed changes in my body, reminding me not only how fragile I am, but that I am no longer thirty. I shaved my beard for Lent (only one week to go!). I saw my cheeks for the first time in 33 years. I see how I am a little older. Which makes sense. I am turning 50 on the 27th. Turning 50 is kind of like watching the odometer on your car roll over 100,000 miles. It is the odometer of my life (though I don’t think it’s so much the distance as the terrain!). It really isn’t a big deal, another day, but it is a surprising number. I always thought that 50 was old. It doesn’t seem so old any more. I’m sure it isn’t as old as it used to be!

So, another lap around the sun. The 50th. How many more? 30? 20? 50? (Unlikely.) Perhaps not even one. It could be that one day this blog will simply stop, because I have. My heart will cease to beat and I will stop running this race. I will stop doing laps between my home and work five times each week. The Earth will continue to spin, but I will stop racing from meal to meal, and book to book, and prayer to prayer. No more cycles of spring, summer, fall, and winter. No more watching the moon grow and fade. No more walks in the snow, wading in the river, standing over my son’s grave.

Instead of doing laps I will begin a long climb. A climb up a never ending mountain. Right now I am walking up a slope rising gently from the turmoil, the rocky valleys of mortal life, and up to the meadows on hills of spiritual awareness. Ahead of me the hill dips back down toward the Earth, but I will continue walking upward, away from the Earth, treading on air, strolling in the sky. I will climb gently into a life where I am surrounded by the light of the Son, and grow through and into eternity.

This race tests who I am. It strengthens my spiritual muscles in ways Heaven will not. Here I have the obstacles of sin, desire, self-centeredness. Here I am a wayward child of God. There I will be His son, prodigal no longer. I will stop being childish and will become childlike. I will journey through eternity with angels, beings who watched the Lord God create this spinning ball of dirt, setting such frail, fickle creatures in its garden. Those beings will walk with me as I explore a new garden, The Garden, where the light comes not from the sun, but the Son.

So, I’ve completed another lap around the sun, one with many of you watching along the route, cheering me on, giving me encouragement, giving me courage. (Thank you, thank you, thank you.)

I know I have a limited number of laps ahead of me. I want to continue strengthening these spiritual muscles, using up my energy as I go so that when I round that final corner, and the finish line is within sight, I can sprint hard and fast into the arms of the One who pours living water over and into me.

I will then stroll, not run, through eternity.

Monday, April 10, 2006


It is one year today that I have had this blog residing in the blogosphere. I have blogged about blog-worthy events in my life, met many wonderful bloggers while blogging, and blogged over 70,000 words on this weB log, I mean blog. I have battled blogbots and blog gremlins and as I write this post my blog counter rests at 27,000 blogistors since the counter was placed June 27th. I think I feel a post coming on... so hang tight, I'm going to throw another blog on the fire.

Saturday, April 08, 2006


Why do you think that?

Why do I think that?

A few posts back I shared some opinions on various topics. Most of the comments were very positive, reaffirming. I suspect that those with opposing views were polite and said nothing.

Why do I think the way I do? Why do I see things from this or that particular perspective?

Some of it I can easily point out as biblical. Others come from a general world view shaped by things I have read, classes I have taken, experiences I've had.

Some of it is my personality. I say that because there are things about me that the arguments regarding nature and nurture do not seem to touch, traits absent from my siblings. From the moment I was born I was unique in many ways.

Some of it is cultural. For those dear readers out there who are in such faraway places as Finland, the Phillipines, Norway, Malaysia, Australia, the teenager who visits from Iran, there is something about being an American you may not understand. I know we often seem brash, sometimes rude (I think it is a tourist thing), but there is a passion in us that makes us a touch boisterous. We have a cultural filter which influences how we see things. It is shaped by the movies of John Wayne and the music of Bruce Springsteen. It comes from loving martyrs of freedom and justice, such as Abraham Lincoln. It was tested by the fears of Joseph McCarthy, "Duck & Cover" drills, and the sacrifices of our 16 million men and women who fought in World War II. We love our country, and regardless of how the world may view us, we are intensely patriotic and we want to help the world be a better place.

Some of how I think comes from Him. He lives in me. Sometimes my filters do not block what is the heart of all truths, and I get it right.

I believe there is an innate sense of justice, of right and wrong, which tells us what is good, true, correct.

But it isn’t always easy to see it clearly, the filters of my life, things I have read, things I have learned, experiences, nature and nurture, filter my experiences, coax me to see things a certain way.

I am blind to many truths. I can’t see them because of the attitudes and views I hold. I am also blinded by filters imposed by others.

There is the political spin put on everything we hear, whether it is from our politicians or from the media. I remember our president, returning from a fund raiser on a golf course with his arm around FEMA director Mike Brown as they stood amid the destruction of hurricane Katrina, telling us what a great job they had done in preparing for that storm. On the other side of the coin I see the constant barrage of negative news from Iraq. Yet I know of many good things happening there,e not covered, not shown, filtered. It seems everyone has an agenda, a reason to filter what I see, what I hear.

We have a filter on the internet for our students, for excellent reasons. It is site specific: each site is individually added. There is a lot of stuff out there that needn’t come into a school: porn, violence, hate... I haven’t any objection to that sort of censorship.

Apparently this filter casts a little wider net. Blogs of faith are not permitted and have been blocked. If you have a blog that is linked from this site it is likely it has been blocked. I checked.

Here are my blogs which have been blocked. (this blog)

Even my blogs about literature have been blocked, simply because they are mine and I have written about faith. I suppose it is all about the separation of church and state.

I hadn’t realized I was such a subversive influence! Fortunately this censorship does not extend to all ideas and views. I can still get Al Jazeera through school computers. Shakespeare and the Bible also seem to be intact.

I’m wondering about the other filters in my life. The places I don’t see because I choose not to look.

Who might be living under the Molalla River bridge on the highway? Is there a family living in some of the parked cars I see at the parks? Is that hispanic woman with the two kids in tow returning the bag of pop cans for their deposits eating enough healthy food?

I wrote a few weeks ago about a man
, the brother of a friend of mine, who has been estranged from his family. He has been begging on the streets of Boise for years, living on an island. Imagine wading out through that river during an Idaho winter.

Tom was a Vietnam vet. His long hair, wild beard, were the outward signs of his age, his struggles. A closer examination would have revealed the shrapnel wounds from the war, the paranoia.

One day he knew something was wrong, that he needed help. He went to the hospital. His family came. He had a tumor in his brain. He died last week.

This is a sad story that I am sure is repeated throughout our country, throughout our world. Wasted lives, spent in wasted places.

The wondrous twist to this story is that at the last possible moment, while his mental facilities were slipping away, in a moment of lucidity, he prayed The Prayer. He opened his heart. He learned about love. He was baptized, and he slipped away into eternity.

The Prodigal
"A Heart of Stone Rolls Aside"

Who am I not seeing? Who needs my help? What can I do with that innate sense of right and wrong that He has given me?

Is my love of science blinding me to elements of my faith? Are my political views filtering out ideas that may be true? Do my experiences color the way I see others? I need to seek honesty, truth, see past the filters of my life.

I chose a passage of scripture to study for Lent, but I keep returning to another passage.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. --1 Corinthians 13:1-2

That should be filter enough for me.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Untrapped II *

We stepped out into the early morning air. There is that bite to predawn air that is delicious. I was with my friend, I liked having him near, but I didn’t want to break the silence.

The stars were sharp, clear. I might have been able to identify them if I tried, but I didn’t try. I just looked up, and a fleeting memory of a Walt Whitman poem passed through my thoughts, really more of the mood, the feeling, of the poem than the actual words themselves.

WHEN I heard the learn’d astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much
applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

I think too much sometimes. And there are things that rest in the heart that are beyond thinking.

That is what I like about this poem. It points out an error in the way we teach children. The instructor thinks that stars can be explained, and categorized, and measured, and quantified, and in that we will know stars. But the best way to appreciate stars is to walk in silence and simply look at them.

My favorite time to look at the stars is during a rare set of circumstances.

It snows here in the Willamette Valley about every third year. And when it does I like to get up very early, say 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning, and go down to the nearest state park, Molalla River State Park, and walk in the clean snow and look up at the sky. The faint starlight is enough to brilliantly light up the snow on the trees, the ground, and make everything fresh, new.

It wasn’t snowing the other morning, in fact it must have been in the upper 40s. There is something comforting about stars in the early morning.

My friend said he wanted a cup of tea and went into a nearby building. I followed him, hung about for a bit, and walked back out.

There was something near, other than stars, flickering toward my heart.

After a few minutes we drove back toward home, away from the 4 am vigil at the trappist monastery. As we drove away we spoke softly about faith, people, our history together. I felt I was being drawn away from something special.

It isn’t that I want to become a trappist monk. I’m not even Catholic. But there is something there in that chapel. The same thing I find in those snowy fields between the lines of woods along the river.


My wife and I like to go for walks together. Usually we chat about things. Our kids. Things we have read recently. Songs that are going through our heads. Sometimes we simply walk together. Happy to be near each other.

There is a special feeling in that deep companionship when she and I are at peace with each other and our lives and are simply together.


I go walking every lunch around the track at our school. I plug my iPod into my ears, put on something spiritual, perhaps classical, and pray. I sometimes feel like dancing I feel so good. There is a special feeling of companionship when I am at peace with Him and my life and praying.

My coworkers think I’m trying to shed weight.


I recently did a lot of reading about prayer. I got some very good books about types of prayer, and attitudes of prayer. I searched the Bible and read various prayers and descriptions of prayers. There are thankful prayers, and begging prayers. There are prayers of praise, and prayers of intercession. Prayers spoken to the face of God and prayers when God is very distant. Prayers in community and prayers in solitude.

All prayers fall short of what they should be. We were designed to be in close proximity to the Lord God, walking together in the Garden, in a park, and we have pulled so far from Him in our adolescent bid for independence that we have trouble drawing close to Him.


We get so trapped in our lives. We hustle from place to place, task to task. I teach five different classes during the school day. I am constantly scrambling to sort kids’ names, and lesson plans, and roll sheets, and parent meetings, and emails.

But when I go for a prayer walk at the cemetery before work, or stop by the prayer room after work... when I step outside of my life, especially into the sweet environment of a place dedicated to prayers, such as a trappist monastery at four in the morning, I feel a special companionship.

What is it that I felt, looking up at the stars while an echo of a Whitman poem flickered through my heart?

I felt Him.

I felt Him near, and I knew He loves me, that He wants to be near me, and for the brief moments when my heart is turning quietly toward points of light, their journeys toward me beginning while a man was being nailed to a cross, I am closer to being who I was created to be than at any other time.

The stars are lovely.

*Post: Untrapped, is archived, September 4, 2005

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Paradigm Shift

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
--1 Corinthians 13:1-2

What a nice little blog I’ve got going here. I alternate between beautiful little soliloquies of faith and wisdom, and angst-filled examinations of my life. I like to craft my words carefully, and I guide the overall attitude to make it palatable for who I believe my readers to be.

There are parts of who I am, what I think, what I feel, that would not please all who visit here. I know that I can be totally right, while I am completely wrong. So I fear to tread where this post is headed...

How to be right and be wrong.

I could be totally accurate, completely honest, logical, succinct, and clear, but if the words I say should make someone’s faith waiver then I am wrong.

So, before I go any further in this post, let me state I am wrong. No matter what I have learned, what I have read, or studied, or researched, or experienced, my knowledge is going to be incomplete, inaccurate. Only God is perfect, omniscient.

Still, I feel a desire to express who I am. Here goes.

So, a big one... I believe abortion is murder (there, I have already pleased a few, angered a few). I know from a scientific point of view that life begins at conception. It is a simple truth. The legal distinctions of when life begins are political and social, not scientific. The hippocratic oath forbids terminating a pregnancy (but oaths aren’t that binding for many folks). I could provide arguments on how abortion hurts women, how there are plenty of couples eager to adopt, that studies show that lack of options drastically reduces pregnancies, but my reasons for opposing abortion are simpler. In my heart it is wrong.

I am against the death penalty. I believe it is expensive, it does not deter (it can’t rehabilitate), and it serves only as a tool of vengeance. When there is an error, which has and will happen, there is no recourse, no restitution possible. I believe that if it is wrong for an individual to kill, it is also wrong for a state. “Vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord,” which means that He is the only one with that right.

War. This is a tough one. It is easy to make some sort of blanket statement here. I know the way veterans were treated during and after the Vietnam War was horrid. Those men and women were risking their lives, often performing work that was not only noble but heroic. We seem to be treating current veterans better, but I don’t think it is enough. I feel that if we really want to say “Support Our Troops” we should be willing to raise our taxes (and I am) to better compensate them for their work, provide better death benefits to families, and fix the veterans hospitals system. But frankly I’m not sure if war is ever justified. So much death, so much suffering, and the results are so ambiguous. If there was ever a justifiable war it was World War II. But even that war might have been avoided. The penalties placed on Germany after The Great War impoverished them to such a great extent that they were ready for a voice that told them they were great, leading them into a personality cult of horror. I don’t know if there are always viable options to war, but they need to be sought fervently.

(I am not saying that we aren’t doing good things in our efforts around the globe, I have read of many of them that warm my heart and are ignored by the media in general. But still, I believe war is wrong.)

I believe God created all things. I also believe He has laws of nature, laws of physics, which govern how the world works. I believe that evolution is an artist’s palette that is held by the hand of God painting ecosystems creating environments for Him to work wonders. I am very aware of what scripture says and I do not believe this view is incompatable with my faith.

I am an environmentalist. I believe in protecting the environment. All of it. Even if it inconveniences people. We are placed on this world as caretakers, stewards. And just like most human endeavors we have screwed it up. At the very least, if just from a purely business perspective, we need to protect what is protecting us.

These are the thoughts, feelings, views I hold about my life, my world. For many of you these may be unsettling, even anti-christian. Many of you may feel a strong desire to set me straight. For we, especially Christians, have a strong desire to speak the truth. And you may be far more right than I. These views are mine because my heart, mind, and spirit have led me to them.

None of it matters.

None of these things touch upon my salvation. All of these views may be wrong. In fact, most likely, all of these ideas are probably partially wrong.

So, I took a chance with you dear reader. Many of you will have problems with what I have shared here (some of you are linked from here.) I love you, and I wonder if you still love me.

I have constructed a careful world view, this paradigm of mine. It is built out of my experiences, my knowledge of scripture, my understanding of science, and my faith.

Someday it will all be swept away. I will die. I will cease to breathe, my body will rot. But my spirit will live. And in that new life, that life of spirit, fully in eternity, the scales will fall from my eyes and I will know all that is truly true. I will hold a truer paradigm, not the "truthiness" of politicians (the feeling that something is true, that it sounds true).

All I have thought, and wondered, and hypothesized, will be swept away, and what will be left is... love.

You are welcome to say what you like about what I believe, how wrong I am. But know this: none of it matters. These issues are peripheral to the central truths that comprise my salvation. Jesus told us what is important.

I love the Lord my God with all of my heart and mind and soul. I love you too.