All things made new is the Core Promise of Hope and Joy

meet Luci
meet Luci

After morning coffee,  I start the car and turn the defrost on, high and hot.  It’s 23 degrees and a sheet of ice covers the windows.  By the time I’ve gathered my things and loaded the car it’s warm and ready for the drive down to catch up with my daughter, son-in-law, and wife, who left at 3:30 AM when my pregnant daughter’s contractions could no longer be ignored.  For reasons I can’t put into words, I need to be there when my first grandchild comes into the world.

There’s snow on the ground, the trees,  the peaks, lit by the rising sun behind to create a riot of color.  The drought and fires, so recent as a reality here, are long gone as first the rains washed all fear of inferno away and now the snow’s made all things new.  Beauty is all around me, and by the time I get my phone connected to my music system for the 30 minute drive to the hospital, I’m overwhelmed by the glory of creation, shouting to me that indeed, all things will be made new if we wait long enough.  When the music begins… Pandora has randomly chosen Handel’s “Messiah”.  “Hallelujah!”  Of course… how could it be anything else.

I’m driving yes, but really, it’s worship.  This is because I’m mindful that, of all the months in my life, the one that needs to be made new more than any other is November.  Long ago, my dad died suddenly in late October, and the chasm of loss was huge.   We were watching the world series together on Tuesday and by Saturday morning he was gone.  Baseball, and October, would never be the same.

…Until the the birth of my first child.  Kristi came into the world on October 13th.  We had to fly off San Juan island in a thunder storm to bring her into the world, and when we did, October was reborn.  Taking away.  Giving.   Gain.  Loss.  Birth. Death.  All are real.  But when the giving and life happens, the beauty and joy of it cover like so much fresh rain and snow.  Now October’s my favorite month.

But November, and Thanksgiving, have been muted in my life since clear back in 1995 when I got a call while teaching in Montana, that my sister had died suddenly of a heart attack.  There were only two of us; Sue.  Me.  That is all.  Gone at 42?   We were just starting to be adult friends, just starting to talk about our childhood, not just the good memories, but the hard stuff too.  My God.  Why should someone sing your praises at a Thanksgiving service one night and be dead the next morning?  Why should three nephews and a niece be motherless?  Why?


And Thanksgiving’s been muted ever since, a constant reminder of loss rather than blessing, with the result that even though gratitude is supposed to be the order of the day, it’s always been muted at best.

But Hallelujah!  “He has poured down for you the rain as before... (and) I will make up to you for the years the locust has eaten”  There’ll be rain and laughter.  The sorrows and loss of yesterday will be covered like so much snow on the brown, thirsty peaks.  “Sorrow’s in the night, but Joy comes in the morning”

As I write these words in the hospital where my dear Luci has come into our beautiful world.  November is redeemed, a reminder that when the grand story of our world is finished, all things will be made new.

meet the grandparents
meet the grandparents

And that is why I hope, and rejoice.

O Lord Christ

This month, as Paris, Beirut, and Mali remind us that senseless death is still woven into the fabric of our world, I pray that you would grant us eyes to see what is new.  New rain.  New seasons.  New friends.  New life.  New snow. 

And seeing, give us the courage and grace to rejoice without reservation, for these are the signs of what is, right here and now, and what ought to be, and what, we hope and pray and believe, will be, ultimately, for the whole universe. 

We await a cosmos saturated with joy.  May the foretaste you give us now not only be a cause for joy in itself; may it also be our confidence for the future. 


Dead Flies, and the Overconfidence of Darkness – Early reflections on Paris

The Overconfidence of Darkness 

“And in His name all oppression shall cease…” These were the lyrics coming from the speakers yesterday afternoon when I discovered there’d been a tragedy in Paris—six actually, or seven—leaving over 100 dead and over 300 injured in a city known for love, civility, fine wine, and late walks along the Seine. If you’ve been there you know the beauty, which only serves to heighten the ugliness, as we’re reminded once again that whatever Jesus meant by “it is finished,” from our chair we pray to God that this isn’t the end of the story, because if the future is nothing but violence and hate, rising and falling according to unanticipated tides, then this is a sorry place to be, at best. All oppression hasn’t ceased. Far from it, in fact. And in moments like these, some walk away from faith entirely, convinced the joke’s been on them all along and that the whole is nothing more than a Darwinian struggle for survival, as we eat our own species to make a statement.  

Others, often in God’s name, get mad, certain if we can match violence with violence, and add just a little bit more firepower on our side, that “light will win”. While there’s a place for “the sword” as a means to curb evil, that place belongs to the state, and so I’ll leave it to John Kerry and powerful people from around the world to find a way forward on this front, praying for them and their plans, because God knows there’s zero moral high ground for this, or what happened the day before in Beirut. Pray for those charged with response, not cynically as a partisan, but simply and prayerfully, knowing they carry the weight of watching the West fall apart as much as anyone.  

 But there’s still another way to look at this, and it’s through the lens of history, realizing that this is yet another instance of evil and darkness overplaying their hand. When it says in Ecclesiastes 3 that God has placed “eternity in our hearts,” I believe this is precisely the kind of situation to which the wise philosopher speaks. Sometimes the evil, the blood of innocence, and the unabashed violence, reach a tipping point where the world rises up and says, “enough.” It happened in Germany in the 40’s, Uganda and Cambodia in the 70’s, Eastern Europe in the late 80’s, and Rwanda in the 90’s. We’re slow, tragically slow, to collectively intervene when blatant violence and injustice lay waste to a people.  But eventually something happens. The collective sickening is just too much, and there’s some sort of tipping point reached.  

 That’s because evil doesn’t know when to quit, doesn’t know or believe that humankind has a limit to its capacity for tolerating unabashed hate, violence, and death. Now, in many of the places named above, there’s a collective commitment to justice, generosity, truth-telling and confession as a foundation for real healing, and lasting peace. Could this be the event that creates our tipping point? That’s my prayer, more than anything, because the reality is that until the vastness of humanity rises up collectively and cries “enough!”, the sorry cycle will continue.  Paris, an in-your-face declaration that terrors so common in the Middle East are pouring across all borders. There’s nowhere to hide. Maybe, God help us, this will wake us up to the right questions, the right prayers, and the right collective actions, so that we’ll look back and add Paris to a long list of tipping points that turned things around. Pray with me that it will be so.  

 The Power of a Dead Fly 

 Along with the Christmas music, I was reading Ecclesiastes for my sermon tomorrow at the church I lead.  It’s in chapter 10 that I read, “Dead flies make a perfumer’s oil stink,” and in the same way, “a little foolishness is weightier than wisdom and honor.” Indeed. A failed art student from Vienna becomes possessed with his vision of a pure race, and two decades later millions are dead, some for no other reason than being Jewish, or Communist, or gay. A Czarist apathy regarding the wholesale poverty of the Russian people combines with Lenin’s vision of workers’ rights, and suddenly there’s a totalitarian regime, complete with thought police and gulags and bread lines.

 In every instance where a little foolishness has become a weapon of mass destruction, that foolishness has always presented disguised as wisdom, and confidence.  People want significance, vision, and to be on the winning team, and so dead flies who shout they’re right in their own circus act of certitude become followable. Wisdom demands that two words of caution be offered here:  

1.     Mind your own perfume, which is another way of saying “be careful how you walk,” because you can take a million steps correctly, but it’s that one extra drink, or lingering touch, or decision to text, or that need you have to get the last word in every time that will, someday, do you in.  There are, in reality, no unimportant moments behind the wheel, or at the supper table with people you love, anymore than there are unimportant anchors to set when climbing.  It’s not a call to anxiety; just a call to sober awareness that wisdom means recognizing the potential value OR destruction of every decision.  When life’s seen through that lens, we’re more likely to pray about everything, and when that happens, more likely too, to enjoy the peace of God.  Lots of people are pointing out dead flies “out there,” but each of us responsible for our own scent.  Start there.  

2.     Don’t be a fool in this coming election season. Confidence isn’t the same thing as wisdom, and shouting that something is true doesn’t make it so. If ever there was a time when we need wisdom among the upcoming lot of elected officials, it’s now. A dead fly in 2016 would be a terrible mistake.


O Lord Christ… 

Even as we pray for Paris, France, and the international coalition forming to address the scourge of terror saturating our planet, we pray too for our own hearts. Grant that we might rest in the confidence that, indeed, darkness overplays its hand every time. We pray for an awakening hunger for peace across the globe, so that we might have the collective courage needed. We pray too, for our own perfume, mindful that the scent that is our lives and those of our families and churches, are the thing that matters most in the moment. Grant that we might be so filled with your life that, indeed, it is joy, courage, hope, peace, and longings for justice, that become our scent. Amen.  

When the Clouds Part – and how to part them.

IMG_2469At the end of a day spent sitting at a desk, I hop in the car and drive two short miles to the trailhead.  There are rumors of snow on the peaks just above the house where I live at the pass, but I’ve yet to see any evidence as the clouds have enshrouded the high country all day long.  Is it curiosity to know the truth, an itch to move instead of sit, or simply the intoxication of scent that wet fir trees offer the trail runner in the thick of autumn?  I don’t know the answer; likely all three.  All I know is that, as John Muir wrote:  “the mountains are calling and I must go”

Muir loved not just being outside, but being outside in weather; storms, wind, snow.  He felt that the mountains spoke powerfully during such times, and that the very act of listening would be transformative for him.

“Let the sea roar, and all its creatures, the world and those who dwell in it.  Let the rivers clap their hands, let the hills sing aloud together before the Lord; for God comes to judge the earth.  The Lord will judge the earth with righteousness and the peoples in justice.”  (Psalm 98:7-9)

IMG_2468As soon as I leave the car and turn around I see it; the first snow of the season.  The broken clouds have parted long enough to reveal what was hidden, and, just for a moment, I see that what’s been hidden is beautiful.  Quickly the clouds cover over the peaks again, as if embarrassed to have been seen naked.  For the rest of the run it will be this way:  a glimpse of glory, just above me, just out of reach, and then hidden again.  Another peek, with promising hope that this time the skies will truly part, and clear.  Poof!  Gone again.

The mountains and sky are toying with me, and I keep running up the trail, higher, higher, in search of clarity, until the darkness overtakes and all hope of seeing is gone, at least until morning.  Then, armed with headlamp and iphone as torches, a retreat to the car over stones, streams, steps, and roots.  The darkness is thick by the time I’m back at the car and make my way home to aromas of onions and the warmth of a fire and I ponder that the run was good, not just for my body, but for my spirit too.

The clouds of war, torture, economic injustice and racism are all around us these days.  It’s a fog, born of greed and lust for power, laced with violence.  Though thick, the fog isn’t new, having been with us from the beginning of the tragedy and beauty that is our story.  And yet, always, the clouds have parted.  Yes, there was Auschwitz, and stories that nobody believed because darkness couldn’t be that dark.  But when the clouds parted there was Sophie Scholl, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, courageous resistance work and prayer meetings.  Yes there was apartheid.  But light broke through.  His name was Mandela.  Yes, there was genocide, but there’s been a reconciliation movement in which the brightness of confession, forgiveness and reconciliation wash over the past like first snow.

As the clouds of Isis, school shootings, human trafficking, and a refugee crisis that will change Europe forever, it’s vital to remember what kind of world exists, already, because of what Christ did on the cross.  When he said, “it’s finished” he didn’t just mean that he was finished breathing, he meant that the destiny of history as a place of death and despair was over.  Isaiah foretold it:

  • He spoke of a time of peace, when all wars and oppression would be done with
  • He spoke of time of environmental restoration, so that this groaning earth would groan no more.
  • He spoke of a vast banquet, symbolic of abundance and joy, where every tear would be dried from every eye, and death would be done away with for good
  • He spoke of profound healing of bodies
  • He spoke of justice, so that a man who plants can enjoy the fruit of his own labor.

IMG_2470These are the Colors of Hope – the Colors of the Kingdom of God; and the glad news is that this kingdom always breaks through to refresh and restore.  What’s more, each moment of refreshment is a hint of how the story ends, where eternity’s headed.

As Christ-followers, it’s no good being glum, down in the mouth, and cynical about politicians, systems, and economies.  That doesn’t do much good for anyone.  On the other hand, those who believe that behind the clouds there’s a glory, become people who point the way.  They encourage people to make snow right where they are, to cover sadness and failure, shame and greed, fear and addiction – cover it all with the freedom found in Christ.

It starts, of course, with believing that there’s something hopeful there, behind the fog.  But it requires more than that – it requires a commitment to embody that hope and, like John Muir, get people out there into the wild places where hope is visible so that they can see it for themselves.

And all of this, of course, requires that we keep showing up.  Dozens of times I’ve brought people to places in the wild in hopes of showing them the view, only to have it shrouded in fog.  “Come back tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that” I’ll say, “and you’ll see it for sure!”  Likewise, I’m always on the lookout for Christ’s hope, in the generosity of a friend, in a community surrounding a beloved during their time of death, in the birth of a new child, in the remarkable signs of peace that the news never shows.

We need to keep showing up and keep looking.  When we do, sometimes the clouds part and we found hope, which means we can become hope, which means clarity, blessing, joy – not just for ourselves, but others too.

That hope, more than for the health of my heart, is why I run in the mountains.

When shoot happens… what happens next?

The latest shooting is over.  Very soon it will fade like invisible ink, further hardening our collective consciousness against a despicable form of violence against innocence.

By now, unless the shooting is personal, we Americans know the drill quite well.  Our president will stand up and talk about the need for a change in gun policy.  The president of the NRA will get up and talk about the 2nd ammendment, and mental health. The press and internet will explode with arguments and stats, and mentions of Australia and Honduras.  The left and right will talk loudly, with lots of inflammatory language, but neither side will do much listening.  There will be news clips about the victims, the shooter, his mental health (it’s almost always a male), and his family (in this case his mother was a gun rights advocate who kept a loaded AR 15 and AK 47 in her house.  There’ll be stirring pictures of the memorial service, and a nod to some heroic figure who put themselves in harm’s way.

Then, after a week, everyone will get back to living their lives as if nothing happened.  Then it will happen again.  And again.  And again.  This one appears like it will be #298 on the list once it’s updated; more than one a day, in the most civilized nation in the world.

All this is tragedy enough.  But the bigger tragedy, in my opinion, is the peace we’ve made with this ongoing scar and tragedy, so visible to the rest of the world, and yet becoming an increasingly evident blind spot in our collective national consciousness. We seem to “get over it” in short order, so that this will become just one more thing to which we adapt.  Like late term abortion, food policies that are killing both people and the land, childhood obesity, and homelessness, human trafficking, and mass shootings are quickly becoming the new normal.

According Walter Brueggeman, the prophetic role during the time of the Old Testament was to awaken hope for something different.  This was important than, as now, because dysfunction had become the new normal.  Without such hope, we accept our new normal, and then we retreat into tiny survivalist mentalities whereby our personal safety, long life, and well being become paramount.  Of course we all know what Jesus had to say about that kind of mind set right?

I don’t have solutions.  I know the challenge of putting the genie back in the bottle, even if our country wanted things to change.  I understand a belief in self defense and defense of family.  I understand the rhetoric for both sides, and have been around this discussion long enough now to know that there’s no simple way forward.  The right and left and mostly preaching to echo chambers.  But most of all, I understand that the violence is systemic, and the status quo isn’t changing a thing.

For the love of God (and I choose the words, not as a saying, but intentionally because they mean something) I have a suggestion:  Can we please pray that the trend line of becoming numb to this kind of violence ends, and that we’re shaken awake to the tragedy this is? I say this because mourning is the soil out from which a vision for change will someday occur.

There’s much that’s right with our nation, and against the backdrop of Syria, Nigeria, Ukraine, and dozens of other locales, our challenge pales.  Still, this is our challenge, and it’s important that, as was prayed decades ago by the founder of World Vision, that “our hearts be broken by the things that break the heart of God”

Can we at least start there?  

Boko Haram response, the Pope, and Dracula: God’s Wisdom Woven together

Some days of our lives are thematic.  We don’t know it at the time, but throughout the day we’re learning a single significant life grounding lesson through seemingly random and disparate experiences.   At the end of the day, or perhaps in the middle of the night, we can see that there was one theme played by several instruments, and that if we’ll only have ears to hear, we’ll be changed for the better.  Yesterday was just such a day for me, as it included encounters with Boko Haram, the Pope, and Dracula, all offering the same life giving message….

It began with this remarkable story from Nigeria about learning to love Boko Haram.  “What enemies, precisely, are we to love Jesus?  I mean, there are those who gossip about us, or we find annoying at work.  I’ll get there.  But terrorists?  Be serious Jesus”  Boko Haram has destroyed 278 buildings and 1674 gathering places for Christians in Nigeria.  Monica Dna watched Boko Haram behead her husband and slit the throats of two sons after forcibly entering her home in the middle of the night.  Her throat was cut too and she was left for dead but survived and is one of many survivor voices advocating ‘the way of Jesus’ as response.

There’s been a systematic campaign of assassinations and bombings of Christians since 2009.   What’s less known is that the Christians of Nigeria are overwhelmingly Anabaptist, which means that they are theologically and philosophically committed to non-violence, and as such have had their ideology deeply tested.  It’s one thing to be pacifist in the USA, another thing entirely in 2015  Nigeria.  The stories in the article tell of the profound otherworldly courage which exists in such faith communities.   Sacrifice, prayer, faith, love for one’s enemies, and depth of courage are present here in a way that seems conspicuously absent among those vocally arguing for the right to own guns in the name of freedom.   One pastor writes, “because I was raised Muslim I know how they think and how to calm them down and make peace.  I always treat them as fellow human beings, trying to understand them.”  He then adds, “We take what Jesus said about forgiveness seriously…” as he speaks of a vision to break the cycle of violence through the way of forgiveness and unconditional love of one’s enemies.

I put the article down, convicted and chastened by the example of my Nigerian brothers and sisters, and then turn on the TV to watch while I work out.  The Pope is just being introduced to the US Congress, and so I sit and watch, transfixed as this godly man speaks truth to power.  He’ll challenge our political leaders to value all life, including life in the womb and the lives of immigrants fleeing terror and oppression.  He’ll challenge the crass consumption of consumerist capitalism as a source not only of soul grief, but environmental degradation.  But most significant, he’ll speak of the need for civility and cooperation as the most vital ingredients those charged with governing must exercise in these perilous challenging times.  I watch, grief stricken, as the respective sides of the aisle cheer only when their party’s agenda is vindicated by his words, offering stony silence when chastened.

Here too, I see that the way of Jesus is the way of surrender.  I see that I’ll not get everything I want; ever.  Therefore, if I’m to work of the common good of a culture, I’ll need to work with those who view the world differently than I, and this will require listening, dialogue, friendship, and the willingness to lay down my ideological arms at times in pursuit of real answers that will only arise when people listen and work together.

That this Pope will leave this hall of power and dine with the homeless reminds me that looking like Jesus means not just serving,  actually loving, the vulnerable and marginalized who are in our worlds, and they are in all of our worlds if we’ll but open our eyes.  But this too requires sacrifice, of time, comfort, and personal agendas.

Finally, the day ends at the theater, where my wife and I watch Dracula, a play adaption of the Bram Stoker novel.  Without giving too much away, I’ll simply say two things:

1) If you’re near Seattle, don’t miss it – playing at Taproot Theater now.

2) The play tied the day together perfectly, as it became apparent, one last time, that the dark and destructive powers of this world will always and only be disarmed by sacrifice.  The broken body.  The poured blood,  The crushed grape.  The cross.  The non-violence of the Anabaptists of Nigeria.  The release of one’s fundamentalist political ideology, sacrificed for the common good.

All day long, God was saying the same thing to me.  “You think that power and influence are the fuel of the gospel Richard?  Think again.  It’s always been the same, whether in resistance Germany, or MLK’s south, or present day Nigeria.  God’s weapons are love, service, and sacrifice. “ Take those out of your Christianity and you have words; you have religious systems; you have institutions — but the essence will be gone.

I’m still thinking about all three encounters today, as I look over my sermon notes for Sunday, split wood, and pray for Nigeria, the US Congress, and those stuck in the oppression of addiction and darkness.

O thou Christ

Thank you for speaking into our dark world through the example of suffering saints, speeches to Congress, and dark novels.  Give us not only eyes to see, but hearts that are receptive enough to respond, in order the way might become people of hope and light in the midst of all that’s unfolding in our dark world.  Amen. 

When you Lose a Good Mentor, The Song Plays On

SF Giant fans together!

The call came at 6:30 in the morning from my wife.  “Uncle Earnest died last night” she said, and we launched into a discussion about travel details.  I had a 7AM meeting, then some teaching at 9 and more meetings and reports all day long, so that there wasn’t time to process.  “97” I remember thinking to myself when I heard the news, “is a good long life” and went on with my day.

It wasn’t until the early evening commute to the mountains provided some space to grieve that the enormity of this man’s role in my life hit me.  I’m driving east and the hillside and peaks are a riot of color.  The wild lit greens of cedar, hemlock, and fir are a base, capped by the alpenglow of scree fields above tree line, and then topped by pure cloudless blue.  If creation invites gratitude and contemplation, my music playlist pours gas on the flame.
The distance between the city and home is just enough on a stunning night like this to blossom my soul.  Only now, bathed in the grace of creation, do I begin thinking about the loss of my uncle.  James Taylor’s “Close Your Eyes” lyrics speak of loss and love:
So close your eyes
You can close your eyes, it’s all right
I don’t know no love songs
And I can’t sing the blues anymore
But I can sing this song
And you can sing this song
When I’m gone

A few tears begin, because I realize that, indeed, I’m singing my uncle’s song now that he’s gone, for he’s the one who introduced me to the song that is my calling as a pastor and Bible teacher.   He was the one I called in about 1977 and said, “I’ve made a terrible mistake!  I’ve agreed to teach the high school Sunday school class tomorrow!”

“That’s great!” he said.

“No!  I have no idea how to teach the Bible!”  He asked if I was assigned a text and when I said ‘no,’ he told me to come over to his house right away.

It was a Saturday afternoon and now that I’m a pastor, I know how precious and restorative Saturday afternoons can be, ought to be.  Yet there I stood at his door, an interruption to his perfectly good Saturday.  He invited me in and with enthusiasm usually reserved for sports fans, said, “you need to teach Joshua 1 – it’s amazing”  The dining room table was stacked with commentaries and we sat down to study together.  First, observe the text.  Then interpret it.  Then apply it.  Then check your books for more insights.   “Keep studying until you’re excited about it” he said.   Being a pastor, I’d entered into his world, and he was thrilled by that.  If I was Luke, he was Yoda.  If Frodo, Gandalf.

“How long will that take?”  I said, overwhelmed.

“It doesn’t matter” he said.  “It will happen if you stick with it.”

And it did happen.  We studied together a bit, and I took all his books home with me to scatter on my own kitchen table.  Observe.  Interpret.  Apply.  Repeat.   It took a while, but by midnight I was excited about Joshua 1, not as a lesson to share, but as life-giving fuel for a kid who’d just lost his dad a couple years earlier and was racked with insecurities.  “Be strong and courageous!” it says, over and over again.  If ever I needed courage, it was that moment in my young life.  Not for teaching only; that was the least of it.  I needed answers, hope, joy, guidance, boldness, vision for the canvass of life that lay ahead.

The next morning I did it; stood before 20 high school students and shared what Joshua 1 meant to me and what it might be able to mean to them too.  I called my uncle the next day to let him know that, as terrified as I was, the lesson had gone well enough that they’d asked me to teach Joshua chapter 2 the next week.
“Can I keep the books for a while?”  He laughed and I taught again, and again, and eventually made my way to seminary because I found that I meet the real living Jesus time and time again when I opened the Bible and I wanted to learn how to study it well.  That would lead, eventually, to a pastoral role on a tiny island and eventually to lots of study, teaching, writing, shepherding, leading, in what we call ‘pastoral ministry’.  Being non-denominational, I had no vast family with whom to share my trials, so my uncle became my mentor.  It was formal, with curriculum and weekly goes, or a fee, the way mentoring often happens today.  It was casual, woven into real life.  At holidays we’d chat about ministry challenges and he’d give advice and pray for me.  He passed books on to me, and one entire set became the basis for my teaching of Genesis that I offered to the Torchbearer community for so many years.  Those books sit on my shelf to this day, published in 1891.
ImageWhen James Taylor is finished, Sufjan Stevens shows up on my play list.  “Amazing Grace.”  Of course.  I can’t go home yet, not ready.  I make my way to the Alpental mountain valley, where I park and wander the base of my naked ski hill as the sun sets and the sky darkens.  “Grace indeed” I say to myself as I recognize how God brought this man into my life who allowed a Saturday interruption to invest in an insecure kid, and then kept allowing interruptions for the next 40 years.
The mountains fade to black, metaphor for the inevitability in all of our stories.  And yet, if we live well, we’ll have the privilege of investing in others.  We’ll allow ourselves to be interrupted.  We’ll encourage and affirm the slightest shred of giftedness and fan it into flame.  And if we do, someone else will sing our song when we’re gone.
Thanks Uncle.  Your songs plays on in my heart, life and ministry

36 Tips for Marriage after 36 years.

Today’s our anniversary, so here are some thoughts on why we’re still deeply in love, deeply engaged in our world, and looking forward with joy to growing old together:
1. You both need freedom to fail.
2. You’ll process faith journeys differently.  Don’t worry about that.  In fact, celebrate it and try learning from each other.
3. There will be dark days and seasons for each one.  Give each other grace; and space.
4. A shared passion helps make the journey much more enjoyable.  Ours is the outdoors.
5. Even in our shared passion, we have different desires and abilities.  Both parties should move a little to make it enjoyable.
6. Pay your credit cards off every month if that’s at all possible.
7. I can’t tell you how valuable laughter is, because it’s priceless.
8. A willingness to follow God’s call into risky territory is priceless too.
9. Confining sexuality to the pursuit of orgasms kills playful touch.  We both agree that’s a bad thing and so enjoy touch often!
IMG_217910.  Keeping physically fit as much as possible helps give you the reserves needed for hard times.
11.  When sickness and injury hits, and they will, it’s time to grow up and put your needs aside.
12. Practice generosity.  Invest in your church and the vast needs of our world.
13. Practice hospitality.  We’ve hosted people from around the world, and it’s been great for our marriage and great for our children.
14. Learn to cook.  We save money by eating at home and cooking healthy meals. Both of us have learned to enjoy cooking, and this has made our life together richer.
15. Celebrate each other’s gifts.  Mine have to do with words, vision, and teaching.  Hers have to do with compassion, details, and hands-on practical duties.  We were once annoyed by these differences.  Now we view them assets, like playing different positions on a team.
16. Learn the love languages of your spouse.  Hers is “affirming words”, mine are “time” and “touch”.
17. Don’t try to settle disputes when you’re tired.  Instead, set a time when you know you’ll both be refreshed and commit to working on it and talking about it then.
18. Don’t be surprised when your spouse rejects your ideas initially.  They’re new to him/her.  Give them space to think, and get back to you with their response.  Insistence on immediate responsiveness and/or closure is a recipe for misery.
19. Details matter.  You’ll need to talk through matters of financial priorities, things about the house, health choices, calendar matters, and broken appliances.  For some, these things seem mundane.  But they are your life together, and how you address them either strengthens or weakens your marriage.
20.  Big ideas matter too.  You should periodically ask where you’re headed in your life together, and how you’re doing in the big things like pursuing your call, and building a life of intimacy together.  For some, the details are comfortable, but these things are scary.  Don’t run from these, or you’ll drift into boredom and mediocrity.
21. Adapt to unexpected turns.  We presently have adult children living in our house, along with my mother-in-law.  Receive these unexpected events as the rich gifts that they are.
22. Be quick to confront, quick to confess, and quick to forgive.
23. Quick to forgive, comes, I believe, from seeing yourself as one who’s been forgiven, both by God and your spouse.
24. Experiences matter more than stuff.  So spend the night at the Ahwanee sometime, or a mountain hut.  Eat out at Canliss sometime, or the Caboose Bar and Grill in Cle Elum.
25. Let the little things go.  I think she has too many plastic containers.  She thinks I need more dress shirts.  Whatever.  We’ve stopped talking about these things long ago; not worth it.
26. Enter the other’s world.  I’ve gone to some musicals.  She’s become a SF Giants fan.  It’s been good for both of us.
27. Vulnerability matters.  When either of us is afraid to be vulnerable with the other, it pushes us into unhealthy space.
28.  Recognize seasons.  She worked for years in order to help our kids with college costs.  Now she stays at home and practices hospitality while supporting her mom and me in life-giving ways.
29.  Together.  We play together.  Pray together.  Sometimes even shower together  :)
IMG_913230.  Solo.  We both have identities apart from being a spouse.  This is important and life-giving for our marriage.
31.  Curiosity.  It’s served us well regarding each other, vision for the future, and discovering opportunities.
32. Gratitude.  I come home to see her staining the deck railings and smile, grateful for her health and her eagerness to contribute to the household economy.  I’m grateful and tell her.
33.  Circadian rhythms.  99% of the time I’m up before her.  This is the gift of solitude for me, and the gift of sleep for her.  Differences are fine.
IMG_869734. Traveling alone.  Sometimes we jokingly tell people that the secret of being happily married is that I travel.  But there’s some truth in that.  Apart, we gain needed space for individual pursuits, and gain appreciation for the other.
35.  Traveling together.  We share a world of experiences beyond the walls of our home, and while not everyone has this as either privilege or call, experiences outside the home are valuable when shared since they shape us so profoundly.
36. Source.  We both believe, deeply, that the reality of Christ in our lives gives us the needed resources to pursue intimacy, forgive when we fail, and stay in the journey for 36 years!


Immigration and the Better Shelter

“when the raft in the ocean is safer than our home, we’ll go”

With the train station closed in Budapest, over 70 dead in a truck on the side of the road in Austria, millions in refugee camps, and talk of building a wall between the United States and Mexico, perhaps one thing the entire world can agree on is that we have an immigration problem.

Consensus ends there, however, as robust debates unfold in both the EU and USA regarding what should be done with the ocean of suffering that seems to be pouring into these two geographies.  These are important conversations, and difficult.  Solutions are costly, no matter your stance, and divisive.
Christ followers are called, of course, to represent the heart of Christ in the matter, and this demands that our response be driven by a fundamental belief that every person in this sea of suffering is made in the image of God.  Some of God’s image-bearers are angry, militant.  Many, most even, are children and mothers.  All are made in God’s image and people of faith are invited to not only view “the problem” in its philosophical/political consideration through this lens, but to see people, individuals who are hungry and frightened.  Immigration resettlement ministries, such as this one, go a long way toward opening our eyes, at the least, to the humanity of the problem, and until we see this as a human problem rather than a political one, any solution will fall short.
On the other hand, it’s equally important as Christ followers to see the folly of believing that there’s a policy solution out there that’s the magic pill.  There isn’t.  A little historical perspective might help here.
1.  People have always fled towards sanity and safety.   In the 30’s in Germany, it was Jews getting out, in search of safety.  In the 19th century it was the Underground Railroad, with slaves seeking free states.  It was the flight of Tutsis to the Congo during the genocide, and Cambodians to refugee camps in Thailand during the reign of Pol Pot.
The darkness of principalities and powers is real, and this means that no government or kingdom has ever been wholly just.  But just as important, it means that in a world where nothing is perfect, there are kingdoms and reigns which are exceptionally evil and violent, places where safety utterly evaporates because not just one or two citizens, but whole cities and people groups are targeted for overt, intentional, oppression and destruction.  When that happens, as one refugee poet writes (my paraphrase), “we’ll risk fleeing, because the risk of drowning at sea is safer than the risk of staying home.”
Overnight, architects, medical professionals, artists, teachers, willingly displace themselves when insanity reigns.  And then what?  They don’t know what’s next; only that the present is too unbearable to continue.  This is the way of it, and bastions of sanity, precisely because they have a good measure of justice and compassion, are where people will go.  We know for certain that becoming uncompassionate isn’t the solution.  We know too, that there are physical limits to any nation’s capacity to absorb, and when insanity reigns more and more, the crisis we presently see will become bigger and bigger.
2.  Sanity and Safety are never absolute.    Read about the suburbs of Paris, and various places in England, and you come to see that relocation and receiving social services is no magic bullet.  Seething racism and xenophobia can often incite a downward spiral of mistrust and anger that erupts in deep cultural fissures as the new normal in the very place which was supposed to offer hope.  Whether its Chinese laborers in San Francisco in the 19th century, migrant farm workers today, or refugees unable to find any employment at all, it turns out that simply opening the doors at a political level is never enough.
Let’s remember, too, that bastions of sanity don’t stay sane forever.  The Republic of Congo that offered shelter during the Rwandan genocide is now a place of violence and uncertainty.  Even in more seemingly stable situations, predators, racism, and the commensurate angry and often violent response, evaporate any notion that simply a change of geography will be the answer.
While some will accuse me at this point of spiritualizing, I’ll be quick to add that this isn’t solely a physical/economic issue.  People move to the San Juan Islands, or Shoreline, from Seattle, in search of “something better” whether its free parking, less crime, a slower pace, whatever.  It’s always “out there” somewhere, this promise of more and better.
As a person who’s been privileged to be a pastor in some of the most beautiful landscapes in the Pacific Northwest, I’ll let you know that infidelity, domestic violence, addiction, loneliness, and all the other marks of emptiness, are fully present in the midst of dripping fir trees, stunning green, coastal views, and stunning sunsets.  As one friend said to me once, “I didn’t realize when I moved to Friday Harbor, that all my (emotional/spiritual) baggage would walk on the ferry with me”  That’s a good way of saying it.
This, I believe, is one of the reasons Jesus said “the son of man has nowhere to lay his head”.  While it may have been true at a physical level, as Jesus wasn’t a homeowner, it was true at a different level as well.  Jesus knew that his kingdom was “not of this world”, that neither Rome, nor the EU, nor the USA would ever get it fully right.  That’s not an excuse for pietist disengagement.  It’s just a reality.  Oppression, Katrina, fires, laws, and our own failures conspire to make nirvana unreachable.
There is a shelter however.  His name is Jesus.  
In my years of blogging and writing, I’ve noticed that when I approach controversial political topics like gun control and homosexuality, thousands are interested in reading and many respond, often with ugly rhetoric.  We really seem to care about these hot cultural topics.
Companionship with Christ though?  Statistics tell me people don’t care, though they may.  But as I grow older I’m starting to see that I’ve been wrong in dividing issues and putting them in bins of politics and/or spirituality.  Christ is inviting us to know him as the foundational shelter, the first shelter, the shelter in whom we can have confidence so that when the floods come, we won’t be shaken.  We’re afraid to say it, because it makes us sound as if we don’t care about Syria.  Rubbish!  Our Syrian friends need water, food, safety, and the assurance that there’s a better foundation for the future than France, England, or the USA – there’s one sure foundation, one lasting companion.  It’s high time we started believing it, preaching it, and living it.  

“Godspell” – Musings on the power of Art in God’s World

Godspell_Ext_emailbannerI saw Taproot Theatre’s spectacular version of Godspell last night and wept through a couple of the songs because they took me back to the two  darkest years of my life, and remembrances of my first encounter with Stephen Schwartz’ inspired musical.  Back then, lonely, unhealthy, uncertain of the future, one song in particular stood out, and when I heard it last night I closed my eyes and was transported back in time…
I’m 19 and a good friend had landed the part of Jesus in Godspell, so he invites me to see him on opening night.  It’s been two years since my dad has died, and this winter of my 19th year is the winter of my discontent.  I’m lonely, because high school’s over and my cadre of friends have scattered.  My future’s radically uncertain as I’ve applied for admittance to architecture school, but only one in six students will get in.  Since my self confidence is in the toilet, I’m certain I won’t be accepted and there’s no plan B.  The stress of living at home, a choice a made to help walk through my mom’s grief with her, is taking it’s toll.  All of these elements together have conspired to make my unhappy, unhealthy, and uncertain about this God I grew up learning I was supposed to love and obey.  “For what reason?” was the question I’d asked countless times in that dark era… “so that God can kill my dad?”  I’d heard sermons about rejoicing and giving thanks, but lately they’d pretty much bounced off of me as pious nonsense – good for little kids maybe, but not for the real world.
And then the music of Godspell begins.  There’s something about the masterful interplay of text and music that draws me in, so that by the time she sings the “Day by Day” prayer, I’m not only humming along, I’m wishing I had the courage to pray that very prayer.  “What would it be like” I remember thinking, “to love God in a real way?”  When the song ended, I began to see the possibility of loving God because the Jesus on the stage was lovable, mostly because he loves.  The text between the songs was almost wholly drawn from the words of Jesus himself in the gospels, and yet the words took on new life, became almost believable, in spite of my doubts, fears, unhappiness.
Then it happened.  With a guitar and a recorder, as setup, a man sings a thanksgiving song called All Good Gifts.
We plow the fields, and scatter the good seed on the land,
But it is fed and watered by God’s almighty hand.
He sends us snow in winter, the warmth to swell the grain,
The breezes and the sunshine, and soft refreshing rain.
All good gifts around us
Are sent from Heaven above.
So thank the Lord, O, thank the Lord for all his love.
We thank thee then, O Father, for all things bright and good,
The seedtime and the harvest, our life our health our food,
No gifts have we to offer for all thy love imparts,
But that which thou desirest, our humble thankful hearts.
All good gifts around us
Are sent from Heaven above..
So thank the Lord, thank the Lord for all his love..
I really wanna thank you Lord!
All good gifts around us
Are sent from Heaven above..
Then thank the Lord, oh thank the Lord for all his love..
Oh thank the Lord…….
By the end of the song, back in 1975, I’m in tears, struck as no sermon had ever struck me, nor Bible study, nor Young Life talk, nor words at any funeral, party, or dinner conversation, that God is good because God is the source of all that IS good.  With eyes closed, I’d see the snows of my nearby Yosemite, the ripe fruits of my central California Valley, the rich bounty of harvests in my little corner of the world.  And more.  I recalled the bounty of friendships.  The joy of the family into which I’d been adopted.  The reality that God had, in spite of my dad’s death, taken a rather inauspicious beginning and, like a grain of wheat, turned it into something good.  “Yes it’s winter.  Yes there are things I don’t understand.  Yes, when this musical ends, there’s still no plan B”  But in spite of it all, I found myself recalling previous blessings and singing along, “I really wanna thank you Lord”  because I really did want to back then in Fresno, 1975, in my emptiness and frustration.
The song ended.  I dried my tears, which flowed again with the lyrics of Psalm 137 about weeping by the rivers of Babylon.  I knew my Bible well enough to understand that this song was a reminder:  There are lots of things in life that you don’t really love and appreciate until they’re gone.  And of course, in that moment, that was my dad, who was there for me in sport, in challenging me to rise to my best effort in study, in exemplifying teaching and gentle leadership, and in exemplary suffering.  I don’t think I valued any of it deeply until he was gone, and by then it was too late.  During the song, Jesus is saying good bye, knowing what’s coming.  His disciples?  Clueless like the rest of us, until darkness covers the earth.
IMG_9132And then hope.  “Long Live God!”  Only last night, August 20, 2015, did I realize that I left the theater a changed young man in the winter of 1975.  I’m reminded of Jacob in Genesis 28, on the run from his brother; alone; afraid; sleeping in the desert.  It’s there that God meets him and gives him a boatload of promises, causing Jacob to say, “Surely the Lord was in the place and I didn’t even know it.”
Surely indeed.  The Lord was in a tiny theater in Fresno in 1975, and seeds were planted then that would germinate a year later while studying architecture.  By the fall of ’76 I’d change majors, change schools, and change states.  Little did I know that as a music major back then, I’d be playing percussion for a Seattle Pacific University musical about John Wesley called “Ride Ride” starring none other than Scott Nolte, who founded  Taproot Theatre Company with his wife Pam, both of whom are now some of my closest friends.
That’s why I wrote, during intermission last night, that Taproot had become a worship service for me, as I celebrated God’s relentless faithfulness in my life.  Seeds were no doubt planted last night that will sprout in a new generation.
And yes, “I really wanna thank the Lord”
 (tickets are still available for Saturday’s 2PM showing.  Worth.  Every.  Minute.)

Identity Theft – It’s not what you think. It’s worse.

Have you ever had this experience?   You look back at yourself after some moments on the far side of an argument, or the far side of dipping your toe into the waters of an addiction from which you thought you were free.  Not only do you not like what you see, but you think to yourself, “I don’t know who that person is, but it’s not me.  I don’t throw things at my spouse, or swear and hit the wall, or gaze at porn, or get drink just because I’m sad…” or whatever it is that you did just 24 hours earlier.

But now here you are, seated and in your right mind,  wondering how it happened that you were a different person yesterday.

The answer’s simple:  identity theft.   You became, for a period, someone other than who you are, or at the very least, who you’re meant to be.  When we do this (and all of us do it from time to time, though our failures vary in degrees of both privacy and social acceptability), we step right into Romans 7 in the Bible.   Paul the Apostle shares this struggle when he writes, “I do not understand my own actions.  For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”  He articulates the universal struggle that there’s a gap between our actions and our ideals.  We want purity, but struggle with lust; want humility, but are prone to arrogance; want contentment, and yet are driven by insatiable appetites.  Paul ends his diatribe about this struggle with the timeless question:  “who will deliver me from this body of death?”  It’s a great question, and unless there’s an answer, we’ll continue to feel ourselves hijacked by ourselves the rest of our lives.

But there is, thank God, an answer.  “The Victory” Paul says, “comes through Christ.”  Yes friends, life in Christ is that practical.  It’s God’s intention that each of us move inexorably toward the life for which we were created, which is a life of joy, peace, wisdom, hope, generosity, justice, and strength.   Here’s why identity theft is so damning and thus why identity in Christ is so important.

I.  In Christ, you’ve become a new person.  – This is what we’re told, and what it means is that Jesus, mysteriously but nonetheless actually, is joined with our human spirits to give us a new essence, a new identity.  This changes everything, because it means that Christ now resides in me, so that all of his joy, hope, and power, are available to find expression through me in unique ways.  But more than just available – the reality is that I’m called to be the presence of Christ in my daily living.  This is my identity:  a light bearer, bringing hope, healing, and joy to the world.

II.  Though new, the “old files”  are still embedded.  I still hear ghosts, sitting in the shadows, telling me, not that I’m a light bearer, but a loser  – telling me I’m unloved because my parents abused me, or that I’m unworthy, because a past failure caused a life implosion, or that life’s unbearable without a hit from sex, or drugs, or alcohol.  All of this is what Paul calls, “the old man” which is a euphemism meaning “this is who you once were”  – Once you self comforted via compulsive drinking, or one night stands.  Once you dealt with conflict through rage, or seething bitterness.  Those “old files” are still there on the computer that is your soul, just waiting to be opened.

III. The Liar’s Specialty – Diverting You from Your Identity.   Satan delights in opening the old files.  You take a look at them, and if you believe them, you’re stuffed.  That’s because your belief empowers them and they rise up and change your behavior.  “I’m unloved, or unlovable, or unappreciated” becomes, “so life’s not worth living”, or “so I’ll prove I’m worthy” or “so why not have another drink?”  Soon you’re living in ways that contradict your own identity, if only temporarily.  Then you wake up and say, “what happened?” and you realize that your identity has been hijacked.

IV. The Way Forward – Looking at Jesus’ temptations at the hands of “the liar” in the wilderness, we can see that Satan’s key strategy has always been to divert us from our truest identity.  He says to “the Son of God”….  “IF you are the son of God, make these stones become bread” as a means of getting Jesus to move into a distorted identity.  Jesus’ answer?  “I’m more than just a material person, so though I’m hungry just now, I’ll not let my life be defined by the pursuit of bread.  That’s not my identity.”

Wow!  When I’m hungry, it’s overwhelmingly easy to think that my life is about getting bread.  When I’m lonely, it’s about companionship.  When I’m feeling neglected or overlooked, it’s often about proving myself.  When I’m in pain, it’s about self comforting.

It’s easy, in other words, to allow our identity to be hijacked by the whims of various trials that are blowing through.  Allow ourselves to be hijacked though, and we’ll “act out”, only to look back, on the far side of our failure, and ask, “Who was that?”

The answer:  That was in imposter.  Send him/her back to the tombs because though the files are still on the hard drive of your emotions, they’re corrupt, and corrupting.  You have a new identity:  in Christ.  And that changes everything.

Here’s a helpful list of verses about your identity in Christ.  When you read something here and it doesn’t seem true, or feel true, you’ve met your battleground.

I’ll be speaking on the Temptation of Christ at Bethany Community Church on Sunday, August 2nd.  Tune in for a live stream of our worship here. 

Moving towards wholeness and hope – step by step