Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Canby, Oregon is a quiet, but growing, town.

Just this past year it has gotten large enough to require a second middle school. It’s a place where folks know each other at the grocery store and we all eagerly anticipate the sense of community we get in gathering at the gazebo in Wait Park for “Slice of Summer” concerts, 3 on 3 Basketball, Cutsforth’s Cruise In (classic cars!), and General Canby Days (4th of July).

This once farming town is turning into a bedroom community of Portland. So for big city excitment we hope on the freeway which runs five miles to the west and head to Stump Town.

Portland is a quirky, fun place. I’ve been in a number of large cities, Los Angeles, San Diego, New Orleans, New York, San Francisco, but as big cities goes, Portland is by far my favorite.

Portland is the home of the world’s largest used book store, Powell’s City of Books. Originally several buildings, the whole city block has been connected so one can wander from one color coded room to another, discovering treasures pleasing to any literary soul.

There is public art everywhere. Former Mayor Bud Clark (previously a tavern owner) posed for a poster promoting public art:

"Expose Yourself to Art"

My favorite work of public art is Portlandia. The trident-bearing figure, wedged into the tight space of the large buildings, reaches below her perch, offering assistance to the mortals below.

Being confronted by sculptures and other artwork at every turn isn't the only quirky thing about Portland. For one thing, there seems less litter than any other city I’ve seen.

A river runs through it, two actually, so there are bridges everywhere. Once a year they close many of them so folks can bicycle across them.

The politics are definitely quirky. But that would take several posts to fully address.

It has the largest forest within the city limits of any American city (Forest Park).

It is the only major city in the United States with a volcano in its limits (Mt. Tabor).

I like the quirky people. The mixture of people types and attitudes is unique.

Brenda, myself, and our two sons went in to Portland on Saturday. It was an interesting time for all of us. Well, interesting for all of us much of the time, one part the boys found boring (more on that in a bit).

Brenda is taking classes, working her way to a career in substance abuse counseling. Currently, a history class requires she visit a certain number of museums and tours on local history.

So we went to The Oregon Historical Society. The main exhibit is "The Way We Worked", a series of photographs from the industrial revolution to the present (a special section on Portland). The vanished public-private World War community of Vanport, the building of military vessels, Roosevelt’s influence on putting folks to work was shown, on and on a great and fun exhibit, except for the boys who found it boring (in recounting the day Jeremiah made sure we understood that it was bo-o-ring!). They found the pioneer and indigenous people exhibits upstairs slightly more tolerable.

After the museum visit headed north, making our way to Chinatown for dinner. Passing Powell’s on the way we say college students shouting and laughing and waving signs. I could make out the word “Free” on it readily enough, but was straining to read the rest. A momentary pause in the mad waiving of a sign held by a bearded, dread-lock bearing revealed its message.

“Free Hugs!”

Now that is quirky.

So we found a parking spot, paid the 25 cents for the meter, went back for our hugs. I got four.

We managed to talk Isaac into trying some sesame chicken (he isn’t that adventurous), and I had the squid in garlic sauce (I like all sorts of things).

We then went to Hobo’s Restaurant, across the street from the rescue mission, and waited for the tour.

The high point of the night was The Portland Underground.

From 1850 to 1941 Portland was the Shanghai Capitol of the world.

A series of tunnels led from taverns all over the north end of town to the docks. An average of 1,500 men per year, and up to 3,000 per year at its peak, were drugged, held in unlit cells beneath the city, and sold to ship captains bound for asia.

Men would be out for a night of carousin’, fightin’, spittin’ an’ cussin’. They’d be drinking in a crowded bar, lined up, occasionally using the urinal trough running along the floor beside the bar.

When it was crowded enough, drunk enough, the bartender would reach under the counter and press a button, and a buzzer would sound in the tunnels below.

The crimpers would come, thump the floor with a pole, and the bartender reached under the counter and pulled the rope. The latch released, three, four, up to five men dropped away into darkness. Relieved of its load, the trap door swung back up, the latch clicked.

The drunken men were beaten, thrown into dark cells. Their shoes were removed. The passageways' boardwalks were covered with broken glass. The walls were draped with ropes stringing tin cans, a simple escape warning system.


broken glass

Some went down voluntarily, to opium dens, but they did not leave voluntarily.

opium den

They were drugged and carried to waiting ships. The sea captains paid about $50 for each man who woke from his drugged sleep when the ship was already at sea. And if the food got low, they ate long pork.


Portland is a great city. I love it. But like all human things, it is not ideal.

The sparkling city I love to visit has its dark secrets. So do so many other institutions.

What secrets lie within the hearts of all of us? What secrets surround us as we sit in church?

The solution?

Recognize we are fallen. Accept who we are and face it directly. Repent. Pray about it.

Draw near to God. He will draw near to you.

Thursday, January 25, 2007


If it is possible, listen to these two songs while reading this little post...

The Crane Wife 1 & 2” by the Decemberists and “Long Ride Home” by Patty Griffin.

When I first began attending my church (15 years ago) there was an older couple.

I don’t remember her very well. Honestly, I don’t remember her at all... She died soon after we began sitting in those wooden pews.

I do remember the man. He had a metal fabricating business and he did several projects for the church.

But that isn’t what I remember most about him.

One day I went over to his house to talk over some project, and we chatted a little before I left. Standing there, leaning against his pickup, I saw a pain rise up in his eyes I had never noticed before.

He looked hard at me, cleared his throat, and gave me some advice.

“Don’t forget to be gentle,” he said. “It’s easy to get busy, to do the things a man does to support his home, and take his wife for granted. Be sure to stop frequently and really look at the woman in the kitchen.”

Someone dug a hole six long feet in the ground
I said goodbye to you and I threw my roses down
Ain't nothing left at all in the end of being proud
With me riding in this car, and you flying through the clouds

I never looked at him the same way again. Whenever I shook his hand on Sunday morns, or in the produce section of the grocery, I saw a tightness about his eyes, a deep pain. Regret.

One day I took your tiny hand
Put your finger in the wedding band
Your daddy gave a piece of land
We laid ourselves the best of plans
Forty years go by with someone laying in your bed
Forty years of things you say you wish you'd never said
How hard would it have been to say some kinder words instead
I wonder as I stare up at the sky turning red

I’ve a friend in pain right now. A good man. A man I respect, who loves his family and is one of the greatest educators I have ever met.

He and I have been praying together.

His younger daughter, a sweet child now with a baby of her own, is in an abusive relationship. Her controlling, angry husband watches her every move, keeping her from making friends, from having money, from making phone calls.

My crane wife arrived at my door in the moonlight
All starbright and tongue-tied I took her in
We were married and bells rang sweet for our wedding
And our bedding was ready and we fell in

Sound the keening bell
And see it's painted red
Soft as fontanelle
The feathers in the thread
And all I ever meant
To do was to keep you
My crane wife
My crane wife
My crane wife

We were poorly, our fortunes fading hourly
And how she loved me, she could bring it back

But I was greedy, I was vain and I forced her to weaving

On a cold loom in a closed room, down the hall

Men are beasts. I suppose women are also. We are all fallen creatures. But men have too much control for their own good, for their level of maturity.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. --Ephesians 5:25-28

There is a reason our Lord made certain these words got to us. Men are beasts.

I think one of the reasons for teaming up such different creatures, a man and a woman, is that there are things we each bring to the table, things we need to learn from each other.

Men are hunters. We were designed to scan the horizon, to spot the herds, to track the prey and grasp our destinies. We were designed to look ahead and take control, and plan the fortunes of our homes and families. We look to the future more easily.

Women nurture. They notice the growing things, the pace of life, the way certain foods heal, the things necessary for warmth and comfort and beauty. They look at the now more easily.

Men are good at dragging the bloodied carcass home and flinging it onto the linen and thumping our chests in victories won.

But we need taming. we need someone to tell us to pick our ephods off the bathroom floor and to wash the grime from our calloused hands.

Now the best of men, the perfect man, was a gentle man. He loved deeply and knew how to salve wounds. But he also knew how to stand firm, to show strength, solidity firm enough to support the foundations of a universe.

“Husbands, love your wives...”

We were made larger, stronger, faster. These are gifts, useful tools granted to us so we may better lead, and support.

But being the head of a household is not the same as being a tyrant.

“Husbands, love your wives...”

We need gentling. We need to remember the light in the eyes of the woman we fell in love with and keep that spark glowing, keep that spark bright, so it may light the darkening years of age.

So we don’t end our lives regretting words spoken, deeds done and undone.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Doc, It Hurts When I do This!

“Well, don’t do that.”


Had a headache.

Actually, I have a headache. It’s day three of it, but oh what a difference. I would say the pain has gone from “Somebody shoot me!” to “Gosh, this is rather unpleasant.” It's something like 30% of what it was.

And I am smiling.

Really, I am.

I dropped by the library to pick up a CD I had requested (three months on the waiting list!) and I just now got up and did a little dance to the music. I feel that much better.

It feels so wonderful not to hurt so much.

Now that is an odd thing, isn’t it? I have a headache. There is a slight throbbing behind my temple, an ache persistent and relentless, but there is such a difference between yesterday’s pain and today’s I feel almost giddy.

I started an after school club today, ten kids in attendance. I taught them for an hour and allowed them to practice the engineering principles I introduced for another hour. Track that for a moment. I have a headache, I added an extra two hours of work to my day, making a commitment to continue it through the end of the year at least once a week, and I am happy, happy, happy.

We can live in such uncomfortable situations that a slight relief can be true joy.


I had a meeting with someone today about the infrastructure of a large website I am building for my community.

She and I have tried to have this meeting several times but something always interfered. But today we were able to get together. We talked about my church. She is checking it out and sat behind me the other day (we hadn’t met yet so we didn’t know to make the connection at the time).

She commented about my worship style (a touch more demonstrative than most).

When I worship I feel such joy. It is one time each week that I am guaranteed to be able to push out the distractions of the world and open my heart fully. I don’t care what anyone else is thinking or doing, I am communing with my maker.

It is a time of true exultation for me.

That is a delicious thing.

Keep in mind I am a human being. Remember I am prone to thinking about myself, my needs, my wants, my desires, first, before all else.

But during this time each Sunday (and others of course, but always then), I focus on someone else enough that I can feel something beyond my own sphere of five senses.

And I feel euphoric.

So... for much of my life, I am worried about IEPs, and 504s, and No Child left Behind, and ESIS, and YST (and a never ending alphabet soup of educationalese) and I can get pulled far away from that joy.

“Doc, my soul hurts when I do this!”

And the master physician says:

“Well, don’t do that.”


When the hurting gets just a little relief we can feel like dancing.

Oh, oh my...

Some day I will be living in such pure joy! I will be dancing with my first child in my arms. I will be hugging my grandmother, and my sister, and singing directly face to face to my Lord. Such joy beyond imagining!

We will all be moving away from the joys of simple relief to eternal, immortal true joy.

Monday, January 22, 2007

What's Going on Behind my Forehead

I had the worst headache today. I woke from a dream about a headache to find that there was an ache behind my forehead which insisted on being the most important thing in my life.

I argued with it, to no avail.

I began grumbling like a grizzly awakened too soon and my sweet wife brought me three Advils. (Men can be such big babies!)

I fought with that headache all day.

6:00 a.m., in my classroom, still there.

7:00 a.m. in a meeting about a grant we have won, still there (I then took two more Advils).

It was there during my preparation period, while I was waiting for a web consultant at 1:00.

At 2:30 a colleague gave me some Midol. Which took it down a notch or two.

Now it is 6:00 p.m. and I am tapping away at this keyboard and that pain is rising up again.

It simply will not leave me alone.


As usual, my quirky mind drew some analogies from this little wrestling match. An internal struggle, a hopeless eternal struggle to shove something that will not move. Like my new year's resolution to be obedient to my Lord.

While I was waiting for that 1:00 meeting my mind did another little nasty trick.

A tv commercial about a new horror movie came to mind and the images of that tv spot came up. Mentally I shied away from it, but then another horror movie came to mind and those images reigned for a few minutes.

Now it may be that this was partly due to the headache... but I was taken by how persistent my mind can be. I do not like to watch such films. Yet here I was allowing such ideas to flow through my mind.

I used to have better control over my thoughts.

For a year or so in the 70s I was living in an ashram and I was able to focus my mind on a single thought for hours. I could sit unmoving for three hours at a stretch.

I don’t know if this is because I am getting older, but I tend to let my mind wander around a bit. I suppose I would say that I tend to contemplate nowadays when I used to meditate.

Which is all fine if I keep the reins firmly in hand, but today I didn't. U
sually I am able to guide that contemplation much better.

So I was thinking of these disgusting images of human suffering, and I found myself disgusted not at the makers of such films but at myself.

A few posts back I wrote about my new year’s resolution... to be obedient.

I know it’s an impossible resolution... but I am resolving to do my best impression of Sisyphus nonetheless.

Owning up to my sins is a tricky thing. I want to avoid it. But confessing to myself, confessing to God, even confessing to my brothers in Christ, is just a part of it.

The trickier part is recognizing sins that I did not think as sin before.

Such as these thoughts.

The scenes I caught on the tv commercial of the movie “The Hitcher” or fragments of films I have somehow caught on tv of Hannibal Lector float about in my mind and seek to pull me to a place that I know is not of God.

I have them in my mind, but that does not mean I need play with them consciously. I can maintain better control of this tool, my mind, than that.

There are two parts to dealing with this.

First, I should be able to pull my mind to where I want it to be and hold it firmly in place:

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. --James 4:7-8

Secondly, I should be careful what I put in there to begin with...

I am a middle school teacher. I am charged with placing particular ideas, thoughts, even patterns of thinking into the minds of my students. In dealing with my young clients I am keenly aware of how knowledge affects them.

With each addition of knowledge some innocence is lost.

That is worth repeating.

Every time a child, or anyone for that matter, learns something new, they are forever changed. They cannot go back. They are no longer innocent of those facts.

I am diligent about the quality of the information I give my charges.

My Lord said something like this once.

"And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” --Matthew 18:5-6

(I keep wondering if He was referring to pedophiles.)

Though I am no longer considered a child by anyone except my Lord, it is still true for me.
Once something is learned, we are no longer the same.

So while I waited for that appointment I let my mind wander, and the unruly beast within my skull dwelt a little too long in an unhealthy place. I am looking at it straight on, confessing it to myself, my Lord, and even to this online journal.

I can blame it on my headache. I can blame it on film makers.

But the blame is mine.

I wish to maintain a better control over my mind. If there is knowledge in there that is not healthy, then I can at least refrain from turning it over in my mind. It's what my Lord wishes me to do.


It occurs to me that there are undoubtedly readers out there who enjoy horror movies. Some of them are thinking I am being a big weenie, or too strict, or just plain weird.

My friends... this little wandering of mine today is just that... a wandering of mine. What you watch, what you enjoy is entirely up to you and truly, I am not addressing you at all. This is simply a conviction of my own heart.

And since this online journal is a place for me to place my own little ideas, please do not take offense. This is a self-directed post.

Indeed, this post is a little strange because I really am writing just for myself today.

Maybe I’m in a weird mood... or maybe this headache is just throwing me off my usual approach.

I think I’ll go lay down and put a damp rag on my forehead...

God bless.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


It was cold, somewhere in the 20s, and the fire didn’t want to burn.

We sat around it, bundled in our coats and long underwear, and heaped frozen wood on reluctant flames.

As the wood thawed and the flames grew bolder, our hearts warmed as well.

It was our monthly Moon Howlin’ last night.

Something about a fire connects to something primal in men’s hearts.

As the yellows and oranges and reds crept around frozen chunks of split oak, our conversation crept around the edges of our lives: music, politics, movies. About the time there was a solid bed of glowing coals we had also reached the center of our own personal fuels, asking each other tough questions.

We spoke of death. Those we have watched die. We shared about those times when people died well.

Not well as is in a John Wayne sort of death, a last stand against impossible odds. But well as when it seems an edge of a curtain parts enough so we see a glimpse of something wonderful, something mysterious and holy, of flesh dropping away and eternity opens like some interdimensional flower.

One of us shared about musical thanatologists, those who come to the dying and play beautiful music on harps and such, creating an environment open to possibilities beyond the corporeal. He shared about those who meet death with the reading of psalms and prayers and full hearts aching with the changes wrought of living in a mortal world.

Another of us shared about a near death experience, when he waited patiently for death, payment for sins he had committed. He shared about the experience of redemption and love flooding across him as he lay waiting for a just consequence.

The coals glowed brightly as the Johnny Cash music ended in the adjoining shed.

In the previous post I wrote about the struggle within us. How the divine beckons us, encourages us, while the base, the animal, the evil within our hearts threatens and cajoles and barters, demanding we relish the self-centered instead of the divine.

I have made new year’s resolutions. Ones which I know I cannot keep. It is my nature to throw aside what is true, to ignore what is right, to take delight in what I should not. It is tempting to take the path of most resolutions and say that once broken they can be abandoned. But such whispers are not from my Lord. I am determined to persevere in attempting what I cannot achieve... to love my Lord God with all of my heart.

Last night, as the wood changed from dark and frozen pieces dragged from a damp wood pile to glowing coals under the gaze of four middle aged men, we began to ask tougher questions.

What is the nature of sin? What is sin?

It seems to me that the answer is simple. It is the pulling away from God. It is saying: I am important. It is saying that I want what I want, and that is what matters.


So, if sin is what is not God... what is God?

God is the opposite of that pulling away.

...Perhaps God...

Perhaps God is...

Perhaps God is: not self... not “me” not “I”...

He told Moses “I Am”... Yahweh. He is not a single entity. A lone being. In Genesis He is “Elohim,” God in plurality... a “we” and not an “I.” God is love. God is outward focussed, not inward.

In His very nature He is a relationship: The Trinity.

We sat looking at the coals.

We tend to think of God as The Number One. The Creator, the one with all authority. The main guy, numero uno, top banana. We want to be that. We want to be in charge, to have that sort of authority.

And there it is.


Isn’t that what Satan told the first man? "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." (Genesis 3:5)

Like all superb lies, this lie was filled with truth.

In our sin we make the claim of being number one, knowing what we would not otherwise know.

In sinning we make ourselves number one. We push aside what is about love, about others, and replace it with our own sense of being, about ourselves, about being number one.

That isn't the way of our Lord.

“...but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!” Philippians 2:7-9

If God in flesh could focus His existence to the service of others, to the service of His own creation... being God is not about being number one. It is about love.

A tornado of flame spun beneath a glowing chunk of wood, curling around and upward. Where it leapt from coals and bent around the wood it was a pearlescent green, changing to yellow and then orange as it turned to point flickering tongues at the stars.

Could it be that the whole point is about love? That the outward flow of the spark of divinity within us is most shown when we love each other?

I looked at my friends.

“I think I am closest to God when I am not thinking about myself.”

Eyes flicked from the embers to me, huddled beneath a hooded coat.

“I think there is something divine in those moments when I pull Jeremiah close to me, when I don’t say anything at all, and I simply lean my head against his.”

The fire crackled.

Then one of us asked the tough question.

“What is the chief sin in your life?”

We shared. We told secrets. We laid out the parts of us that are about being self-centered. The parts of our lives of when we do what we want to do because we want to do it.

We talked about placing what is hidden out in the open, confessing we are less than we want others to believe.

We talked about how good things, things He created for us, can be perverted.

We talked about the beauty of our wives. How the bodies of women are that way so we can draw close to our mates.

We talked about how sex is less than it should be when we are focussed on our own pleasure, but it is true and right and good when it is a part of the union of spirits God created for us, when it is about the merging of hearts and not simple pleasures of flesh.

As our minds turned to the warm beds awaiting us in our homes we noticed how the coals had diminished to the soft and safe glow prophesying its own slow death in the chill of the night when we had all crawled into those beds.

We bid each other good night, and cleaned up the couple of beer bottles and empty cocoa cups, the half eaten bag of peanuts and cookies.

I drove home.

I crawled into bed.

My wife pulled me close. She pressed my cold feet against her warm legs, taking the chill away. We drifted off to sleep.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Smeagol & Gollum

Oh what a dreadful, mixed up world we have here. What dreadful, mixed up creatures we are.

Created free from sin, created with freedom to choose, and yet relishing the evil freedom permits.

When I was a teen I read Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings several times. This amazing author, mentored by Dunsany (father of modern fantasy and a favorite of mine) and colleague of C. S. Lewis, spun an epic tale of good and evil, of the small and virtuous triumphing over might and supreme evil.

The greater struggle between the forces of darkness and the forces of light are echoed in the small wizened form of the creature Gollum.

Samwise the Brave does not trust him:

“Let’s just tie him up and leave him.”

“No! That would kill us! Kill us!," screeches Gollum.

“It’s no more than you deserve!”

Frodo turns pained eyes, gazing upon the wretch.
“Maybe he does deserve to die. But now that I see him, I do pity him.”

“We be nice to them if they be nice to us,” Gollum pleads. “Take it off us. We swears to do what you wants. We swears.”

“There’s no promise you can make that I can trust,” says Frodo.

“We swears... to serve the master of the precious. We will swear on... the precious. Gollum! Gollum!

“The ring is treacherous. It will hold you to your word.”

“Yes... on the precious. On the precious.”

“I don’t believe you! Get down! I said, down!”


“He’s trying to trick us. If we let him go, he’ll throttle us in our sleep.”

Despite the clear threat, Frodo has pity... sees the possibilities of what Gollum could have been.

We all have something of Gollum about us. And Smeagol as well. You see, once Gollum had been something else, a person with family, and friends. Someone who dwelt in the light.

The nasty little creature leading Frodo and Sam into the darkness of Mordor has two natures battling within.

The schizophrenic little beast argues with himself; Gollum bullies Smeagol, seeking to regain his evil desires, seeking to regain the ring.

There is something in all of us which deserves immediate punishment. I recognize the sense in Sam's wanting to just throw Gollum off the cliff and be done with it. We are dangerous. We don't change, not readily. But I suppose there is always the chance that we might find ourselves on the road to Damascus and be changed.

I think I'm a little like that. I want to be good. I want to be obedient. I want to serve my Lord. to be true. To be kind and loving and generous. But I am also seeking my comforts, my way, my own self-serving interests.

You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely?
--James 4:4-5

I hurt my Lord. He who suffered and died and tore through the laws of the universe to rescue me, He who loves me more than I love myself, I continue to hurt Him with my selfish nature.

Oh, what shall I do? How shall I make right this continual disobedience?

I cannot.

I am not strong enough to rise up against my own nature.

I take joy in my sins. I delight in my weaknesses. I relish the taste of forbidden fruit. I hold it dear, deep within my heart; I call it my precious.

This is where I must touch my heart. There is where I lend my hand, my strengths, to those who whipped and cursed and tormented and crucified my Lord.

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
--James 4:7-10

And in doing that I turn a new way, face a new day. Then a new day can come to me in turning to the Son, to watch the Son rise in my own heart.

“I can’t do this, Sam,” Frodo gasps.

“I know,” Sam says. “It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are.

“It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end... because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was... when so much bad had happened? ...But in the end it’s only a passing thing... this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines, it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you... that meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories... had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going... because they were holding on to something."

“What are we holding on to, Sam?”

“That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.”

The good that is in the world entered in two millennia ago, and still whispers to me from within my heart. It's worth fighting for, even if the fight is with myself.

I must listen to that whisper as carefully as I possibly can.

Monday, January 08, 2007


The moment has arrived. The milestone for parent and child, the embarkation toward new horizons, new freedoms and responsibilities, and the angst-filled moment for all concerned.

My son Isaac and I are at the DMV.

He is applying for his learner’s permit, and I am tapping at this laptop attempting to distract myself from my parental jitters. The iPod is whispering classical music into my ears.

He and I have had numerous conversations leading to this moment. The whole range of what freedom and responsibility means, what is expected of new driver, the costs involved in driving.

Last night’s conversation was especially telling. I spoke to him about the responsibilities of being a parent.

I told him that it is a tough time for a parent. Part of it went something like this:

“it isn’t easy being a parent. It’s the most difficult thing I have ever done. Probably the trickiest thing I ever will do.

“My job is to take someone who is completely dependent on me and train them in all they need to know to be self-sufficient. My job is to maker myself, step by step, no longer needed.

"I have to give you freedoms and teach you how to be responsible for them.

“And this is a big one. You will be in control of a vehicle that is worth a lot of money, is capable of hurting, even killing other people, and use it as a tool to get you around in the world.

“My job is to make sure that when you leave my home you will know all you need to know. And frankly, buddy, this scares me.

“The reason they charge more for insurance for teenagers is because they don’t concentrate so well and they don’t have the habits to be safe. They are rolling around town in something that weighs a couple of tons, listening to music, talking with their friends, thinking about the fun places they are going and WHAM! They don’t see the car coming out of the driveway, or the bicyclist, or the kid on a skateboard.”

Isaac looked up at me from his pillow.

“I love you, Isaac. It’s my job to do this, to teach this to you, but it isn’t something that I am pushing on you. This is why I haven’t helped you get the paperwork together to do this. I figured that when it was important enough for you to drive you would get it all together and come to me.”

So here I am, sitting in this crowded place while he stares at that screen and ponders the questions.

I hope he passes... and I suppose a part of me hopes he doesn’t, so I can postpone the inevitable.

Ah... here he comes...

Well he didn’t pass. He is disappointed. He has gone to get the suggestions sheet which will tell him which pages of the manual he should study more closely.

So that’s it for this week.

I keep thinking about that conversation last night... the one where I share with him the issues of responsibilities. I talked to him about the responsibilities of learning to drive, but I also spoke about the responsibilities of being a parent.

There is a fascinating part of the Book of Job where God shares with Job the responsibilities of being God (chapters 40 & 41).

Isn’t that amazing?! God does not tell all, but He unloads just a little bit on His servant, enough to wake him up and remind him of who he is dealing with.

There is another hint of that sort of conversation when God approaches Adam and Eve after their sin:

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day...” Genesis 3-8.

It is clear that God had a casual relationship with people... that He spoke with them informally, in their land, their home.

Jesus did likewise of course... talking with people casually and everywhere, in streets, in homes, at wells, around meals, anywhere.

That is the sort of relationship we are supposed to have.

I’m reminded of the song by John Denver:

Now he walks in quiet solitude the forest and the streams
Seeking grace in every step he takes
His sight has turned inside himself to try and understand
The serenity of a clear blue mountain lake

And the Colorado rocky mountain high
I've seen it rainin' fire in the sky
You can talk to God and listen to the casual reply...

The way I have parented my children is to be firm, honest, and completely open. It is healthy to have such conversations. For them to understand where I am at when I have them do certain tasks, learn certain lessons.

I think that is also the way the Lord works with us. The problem is that for most of the time He is trying to talk to us we have our fingers in our ears and are loudly chanting: “Na na na na na na na na na!!!”

Isaac may have failed this test this time, but there will be more, just as I fail most of the lessons my Lord gives me.

But just as I did on the drive home, discussing the strategies of studying and test taking, the Lord is always trying to talk to me.

Sometimes He is very clear (like the last two words in this post)... other times it is a little harder to hear...

But I don’t believe He ever stops speaking altogether. I believe in the quiet of God, but not the silence of God.

He is the perfect Father.

Me? I’m just doing the best I can.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

The Crown

The last few weeks I have been sharing about a painting done for my church during the Christmas Eve services. I want to share a few thoughts about that painting and post the final photos.

This was the third time my pastor has asked me to paint during the service.

The challenge is to create something which will supplement the message, be somewhat complete within two hours, at least understandable at the end of the first, allow me the freedom to explore creatively what the Lord would have me learn and contemplate at that time, and most importantly, tune out all of the distractions of standing on a stage during one of the best attended services of the year and focus on God.

This time I had an image in mind:

(click any of these pics to enlarge)

Starting with a photo of my first child (who died two weeks after the picture was taken) I thought and drew and contemplated, and prayed over the idea of God incarnate, divinity made flesh.

There isn't any escaping the idea that this infant lying in a feeding trough was intentionally taking on all the frailties of being human, including the inevitable consequences of mortality.

The wounds of the Crucifixion on the infant was not a slowly developed feature of the painting. It was instantaneous. The week before I was to do it, while I was worshipping, the image of an infant floating in a blue sky bearing terrible wounds sprang clearly and fully into my mind.

On that Christmas Eve morn I taped the sketch to the top of the easel and began to worship.

By the end of the first service I had it roughed in, and by the end of the second service it was complete enough for others to see the vision.

But it wasn't finished.

Before the next week was done, I had gone over everything, layering thin veils of gold, pushing back the obvious wounds, making the crown of thorns less even, more natural, emphasizing the eyes and laughing mouth.

But something wasn't quite right about it, and it took my blog readers to point it out.

The thorns.

The crown of thorns was too sharp, too clear. The eye is drawn to fine details (a technique I used to emphasize the laughing eyes and mouth).

Friday I went over that crown of ridicule thrust upon His head, and changed it:

Infant Messiah - Infinite Messiah

Now the crown placed in mocking tribute is transformed with flaming gold, a hint of a halo, echoes of a golden crown shimmering in His light, His grace, His glory.

And that is the message behind the painting.

He came to Earth, lived a blameless, perfect life, and meekly permitted His own creation to spit upon Him, beat Him, flog Him, nail His body to a cross.

And with that act He permitted me to place my sins atop His suffering. As He was lifted up on those rude pieces of wood, as He supported His weight on pieces of metal piercing His body, He opened a rip in time and allowed me to take all of the nasty, hurtful, angry, petty, disgusting, self-centered actions of my life, and dump it like the offal they are onto His already bruised and outstretched body. They no longer lay upon my shoulders.

And the crown... that hateful, hurtful, horrible crown meant to mock Him was transformed upon His brow into a symbol of glory, of true Kingship. He showed that mere men cannot touch, cannot sully, what is divine, what is glorious... His love, shines beneath that crown through a laughing smile large enough to breathe life into the universe.

He demostrated true kingship. He showed that being a king is not about the honors of men, but is intrinsic to the king himself, to the King Himself.

In the moment He meekly accepted that crown of torture He transformed the meaning of kingship. He made all the coarse humor of Roman soldiers an ironic first tribute to the only true king. For He demonstrated a king is one who loves so greatly that self-sacrifice and loving and serving are a part of being a true leader, a true shepherd.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

New Year's Resolution

The ads on TV are offering better tasting nicotine gum, tastier diet food, bargains on exercise equipment. More joggers are on “the ol’ loggin’ road” and the parking lot at the swim center is fuller.

‘Tis the season after the season.

Brenda asked me if I am making any new year’s resolutions. I told her I didn’t want to say. Puzzled and bemused, she let me keep my little secret (though she bought us some diet pills).

But here, in this semiprivate/sort of anonymous yet ultra public forum of my blog, I don’t mind sharing.

There is the usual stuff. I think I should lose some weight (about 10%). That means better diet, more exercise. I should probably lay off the ice cream at bedtime.

But there are more important things than my physical health. I’m concerned about my spiritual health.

For the past year or so I've a growing concern about the prayer life of our church. It seems we could be doing a lot better.

A few of us have been getting together every Friday morn to discuss and pray about making prayer a central part of what we do as a church.

One of us sent out this interesting comment:

...I have something for you to prayerfully consider. As we prayed last Friday morning I was stuck by this thought/growing conviction – that as we come together to pray on Friday mornings we should pray for “our” repentance, our renewal, the continuing work of God’s Spirit in our lives as opposed for praying for this & that to happen to “our church” or “people in our church.” Our prayers need to be transparent & personal. I recently read Rick McKinley’s book Beautiful Mess, founding pastor of Imago Dei in Portland. He shares about how the beginning core group of the church met on Wednesday nights to pray for their repentance for 6 months. Out of this, slowly but surely, God began to change “them” & from them came the ministry of Image Dei in Portland. Up to now I think our prayers have been too “safe.” It’s easier to pray for others than for ourselves, easier to confess the sins of others rather than our own. It’s so easy to fall into a subtle form of spiritual pride as if the changes needed need to come in others instead of in us...

Now there’s some thoughts about resolutions!

It is pretty easy to look at one’s church and wonder why folks don’t do this or don’t do that.

Perhaps it doesn’t matter what I think others should do. I can leverage folks to sign up for prayer slots, whip up enthusiasm for this or that prayer event. But all of that is a little like resolving not to eat ice cream at bedtime. Good idea, but it really doesn’t solve the bigger problem.

A friend of mine has been considering James 4:1-10:

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

Now there is some good advice for new year resolutions.

The problems which face churches stem from the same source as the problems which face all of our ills. Our sin. Our selfishness, our self-centeredness.

How do we address such issues?

We stop putting so much value in the things which are designed for simply pleasing ourselves. We stop with the pride and me-first mindset which is the source for so many problems, so much grief.

We start with... scratch that... Let me restart this last part.

We don’t start with that at all. I start with that. Enough of planning what others should be doing! What do I need to do? What can I do to grow, to change, to become something just a little more obedient, a little more grateful for the gifts which He has given me?

I start with admitting what my sins are. As Polonius (ironically) said, “To thine own self be true.”

I am a sinful person who seeks honors and praise and comforts and all sorts of things which are really about putting myself first. So, let me start with that.

I start by admitting where I am weak, where I need to grow. I start with being faithful to consistent daily prayer times, daily scripture reading. As James wrote, I must turn my laughter into grieving... grieving that I put myself first, that I find things other than my obedience to Him as more important. I need to grieve over what has made me laugh.

I start with keeping in mind that I am by nature going to seek my own way and that I need to refocus my attention on Him. If I am serious about my faith, I will remind myself that I’m not “all that.”

So... my resolutions... I resolve to be obedient.

Pretty simple (to say).

I know I am going to fail. But at each time I fail, I resolve to honestly look at what I have done and take it to Him. This is the sort of resolution which will cause me to take better care of my spiritual health as well as my physical.

I guess that means I’ll probably have to give up the ice cream at bedtime as well.