A most important work

"For what are men better than sheep or goats that nourish a blind life within the brain,
If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer both for themselves and those who call them friend?"
- Tennyson, The Passing of Arthur

Last week was a doozy of a week. We had something every night of the week, I had crazy days at work, one of the girls dropped Meredith's digi-cam and broke it, we paid some bills and don't have much left over...it was a doozy. And while much of it was the regular stuff that many weeks are made of, there were certain aspects of the week that felt like outright opposition. Now I don't know what you think about that kind of talk, but 'round here, we believe there's a crafty, old sonofabitch who wants to steal, kill, and destroy...or if those three don't seem to work, he works hard to get you to lose heart...which may just be about the worst thing to happen to any of us. Anyway, several times last week, we felt like the accuser had us in the crosshairs...and while we didn't lose heart, we definitely felt it slipping through our fingers.

Fast forward to Sunday morning, as in yesterday. We walk through the heavy wooden doors of our church and the lady greeting the multitudes says to us, "I prayed for you this week." I hadn't even kicked the dust off my boots and she says, "I prayed for you this week." I listened to her greet the folks behind us and she didn't tell anybody else that she'd prayed for them...just us. About half an hour later, we're passing the peace at halftime (we're Anglicans) and one of the older ladies in our congregation walks up and says, "I don't know why, but I prayed for you this week." Now the script says you're supposed to say, "Peace be with you" during that time, but I was really glad she decided to punt the script and give me those words: "I prayed for you this week...don't know why, but I did." That was some of the best peace I'd been passed in a while.

God bless old Alfred Lord Tennyson, reminding us that the work of prayer may just be the most important thing we do in this life. Not publishing books. Not preaching participatory sermons. Not cutting a huge check for the homeless shelter to pay their rent. Not coming up with an answer to my neighbor's question about the origins of God. Not getting a spray-on tan or looking good in my butt jeans. Not getting an acceptance letter in the mail in response to my article submission. Not changing the oil in my car, the filter on my AC, and the light bulbs in the closet. Tennyson says that if we don't lift our hands in prayer for ourselves and one another, then we're no better than the sheep or the goats. We bibley-types tend to consider ourselves the sheep, in the sheep/goat division that Jesus talks about in the testament that's new. Tennyson seems to overlook those categories entirely and say, "Hey, call yourself a sheep, a goat, a shoap, or a geep; if you say you know God and you're not praying for one another, then you're really lost...as in "a blind life within the brain." I think Jesus read that in Tennyson and said, "Wow, Alfred Lord...now that's good."

When the fit was hitting the shan last week, I'm so thankful that two old ladies saw fit to lift holy hands in prayer for the Blases. They didn't know what all was going on, but they did faithfully follow a prompt from the one alongside us and remember our names to the Father, the Father who art in heaven. I don't remember what we sang Sunday morning; probably some songs with the word "praise" and "desperate" in them. I don't remember what the sermon was about; I vaguely recall some familiar phrases were repeated loudly several times and people felt compelled to say "amen" and "yes, Lord." What I do remember was a phrase...wonderful words of life spoken to a family of beggars (that's us); a phrase that lifted an ordinary morning above the routine and filled it with grace: "I prayed for you...don't know why, but I did." Those prayers from two lovely old saints may have been just the thing that kept us from losing heart. And living to type another day.

Untitled poem

It's been two weeks since Jesus exited the tomb;
did he emerge, only to see his shadow, and then retreat,
leaving us with six more weeks of bad weather?

It sure feels that way.

The sure-footed car slips on the ice and a mother and
her babies find themselves upside down.
The tax forms have even more boxes this year
and one mismarked has the power to tip the audit dominoes.
An angry young man turns college green to red,
graduating those too young way too early.
A pregnant mother of three looks down to find blood on the floor;
the growing life, finally accepted and submitted to, now gone.

Come out, come out, wherever you are, Lord.
Bring the sun with you and thaw this never-ending winter.
The old story says it was no shadow, but really you.
That's supposed to signal an early spring...isn't it?

Stay Close

I checked on our girls last night before I went to bed. They had finally fallen asleep after several water runs, a quick check to see who got booted off of Dancing With The Stars, and some last minute giggling. My "check" on them is routine; turn off the radio, make sure they're covered up, and switch off the night light.

Our youngest, Abbey, had crawled over in the bed with Sarah (they have twin beds bumped up against each other) and I was going to pull her back over in her bed. When I hunkered down to lift Abbey over, I noticed the girls' arms were intertwined. I followed the arms to the hands and then on to the fingers. My girls, my princesses, my fathers- be-good-to-your-daughters daughters were asleep, holding hands with their fingers interlaced. I backed-up and just looked at them. I went and got Meredith, saying, "Come see this" and we both stood, arm in arm, at the wonder of our girls.

We spent some time last night watching a little, a little mind you, of the coverage of the Virginia Tech shooting. I asked the kids if their teachers had said anything about that at school and they said, "No." I didn't need a day-long symposium on the event, but I did feel like the teachers owed the kids at least a nod to this tragedy.

We didn't make the kids sit still and watch the news report; they came and went as they pleased. But we did answer any questions they had and made some comments at points in the report. We cried at images of lives cut short, a "cold" shooter who may have just been "sad," and shuddered at the reporters' insatiable quest for the answer to "how did you feel?"

Our son, Will, watched intently, but the girls came and went, playing in their rooms for awhile and then returning to the den for a few and then back to playdough and dolls. I wonder if the girls saw and heard more than I realized? In the beauty of their innocence, they could stand just a little and then had to return to the safety of play? Maybe. I don't know for sure. But it sure felt like the final thing they did before surrendering to sleep last night was to lock arms and hold hands, fingers and all. To shrunch up next to each other, as close as possible, and hang on...for they were entering the night, where things are dark and unseen and alma maters become via dolarosas in the twinkling of an eye.

I don't know much about processing the next few days. I'm sure experts will tell us all how to feel, what to look for, etc., etc. But I'd like to offer this suggestion, per my girls: shrunch up next to one another, lock arms and hold hands, fingers and all. The darkness around us is deep...


Seconds before getting up to join the communion line, my son coughs and draws in a big stream of phlegm. I immediately think about the fact that I always let my family go before me in the line; therefore, I will momentarily drink from the same cup as my coughing, phlegm-drawing son. However, that one-ness in the cup is the unsettling aspect of communion that draws me back week after week; God’s in the cup and so are you and I. I have always maintained a strong stance of open communion; whosoever will, come and jump in the cup.

The scene is from the film Little Children. Please hear me – this film earned its “R.” The neighborhood swimming pool is full of summertime children and their parents. Kids are splashing around, parents are leisurely keeping an eye out from their pool-side tables, and lifeguards are scanning the surface for any problems. And then he walks in. “He” is a pedophile who has just been released from his prison time. His gaunt frame and shifty eyes make you immediately squirm. He puts on a snorkel and fins and enters the water, as summertime children and their parents enjoy the moment. The camera then assumes the man’s view as he eyes lithe, young bodies swimming innocently in the pool. It is a harrowing scene. As an over-protective father-hen of three, it was almost too much to watch. Suddenly, one of the mothers recognizes him from news reports and begins screaming…and the dominoes begin to fall. Parents rush to the water’s edge with panic in their strides. Children see the fear in parents’ eyes and take it on themselves, not knowing exactly what’s happening, but sensing that something is very wrong. In a matter of seconds, the pool is cleared of children and the man is left standing, alone, in the center of the water. He then screams at the people, saying something like, “I just wanted to go swimming.” You don’t believe him…but then you do…but then you don’t again…but then you do…maybe.

Had I been in that scene in that film, you can bet your sweet chalice that I would’ve been right there, frantically pulling my kids out the water. But the disturbing message of this film is that we’re all little children and we’ve all sinned and fallen short of the glory; sometimes it’s overt stuff that makes headlines, but mostly it’s subtle transgressions of the heart that we keep neatly tucked between side-air bags and praise music. I view that scene now as one of communion. It was open to all, but it quickly became “closed” due to the presence of sin. And I thought about the phlegm in the cup I was about to take. And I also thought about the stuff I would leave in the cup – anger, greed, lust, sloth…and I wondered if the folks on the pew behind me realized just what would be swimming in the cup they’d soon take. And I also thought about the many times each week…shucks, each day, that I deny communion to people around me due to who I think they are or possibly what they’ve done. They just want to go swimming in the cup of God’s grace, but I hightail it out of those waters and leave them, alone, standing in the center of the cup.

The blood of Christ, shed for…you. And that “you” is both the singular and the plural. Jesus, forgive me, forgive us, when we withhold the chalice of communion. It is not our blood in the cup; if that were the case, we would be lost indeed. No, it is your bloodstream into which we bring our phlegm and our wrath and our bitterness and our hate. We, all of us, little children, have sinned and we, all of us, little children just want to go swimming. It is a cup full of serpents and doves and you, O Lord. Your grace frightens me, Jesus…

Morning Thoughts

I was reading David James Duncan today for my morning devotions. I realize that some might stumble and fall over that one; reading something other than the Bible for devotional purposes. But reading Duncan’s essays always, always, has the effect of making me think of and feel closer to God. That’s the point of a devotion, right? Anyway, he was describing one of his philosophical heroes, Henry Bugbee and his (Bugbee’s) insightful reflections on that gem of a book, A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean.
Bugbee was speaking of a scene, early in the book and movie, that results in a standoff between young Paul Maclean and this father; the oatmeal scene. Paul is told to eat his oats, just as Scots had been “happily consuming for thousands of years.” But Paul sets his face like flint toward Jerusalem and refuses. Bugbee said the scene was darkly prophetic because it revealed a violence between father and son that would overshadow their relationship. He summed it up this way: For all the love and admirable qualities of the father, it was, one felt, his dogmatic stance that prevented grace from flowing into the son…The father’s greatest strength – his rock-solid faith – somehow became a mere rock, a dead weight, when he tried to will it to his son. A rock-solid faith that somehow became a mere rock…a dead weight.
Maybe that’s where we’ve tripped up. What if we’ve looked at faith as something we could will or give to other people? What if faith is not something I can give away, but rather something you could only catch from me, if you chose? What if our greatest strength, our faith, becomes our greatest weakness when we try and will it into or onto other lives? How many times has the bottom line been that it has to be “this way” or it’s not faith…and the “this way” is all too frequently translated “my” way?
It’s interesting that the one place where Paul Maclean and his father connected was fly-fishing the Blackfoot; grace flowed in this fluid, moving rush of creation. Once they stepped out of that stream, things began to harden and stiffen and become obstacles to grace, love and even life…

Here and There

And he said to them, "Do not be amazed; you are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who has been crucified. He has risen; He is not here; behold, here is the place where they laid him. But go, tell His disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as He told you.'" Mark 16.6-7

So I get up this morning, very early on the first day, and read through the resurrection passages in the gospels. They're beautiful and wild and wooly and amazing and unbelievable. One of the strong things that surfaced for me was this play on the words "here" and "there." Let me see if I can articulate it.

There was a young man (according to Mark's gospel) in the tomb, wearing a white robe, and he told the women that Jesus is not here; "here" is where he was, but not any longer. He then tells them that Jesus will meet them in Galilee; "there" is where they'll see him.

And I began to ask Jesus to show me the "there" today. I know where Jesus has been, where he was - the "here" aspect, but what if Jesus is waiting for me somewhere else today...what if he's waiting "there" to meet with me, speak to me, show me something, caution me about a matter? What if the familiar facets of this day - the "here" - are only remnants of his presence; empty grave clothes and stones rolled away? What if the risen Lord awaits me "there" - wherever "there" is?

Interestingly enough, the women are told that Jesus will meet them in...Galilee. Galilee. That place where everything got started. The shores where disciples heard the piper's music and left their nets to follow. Is the Lord asking me to meet him in some where-it-all-got-started locale this Easter day? I don't know, but I'm sure want to see him, hear him, place my hands in his side...and believe. So, I begin this day as the women did - gripped in trembling and astonishment - because I know Jesus has been "here" but I want to meet him "there." And so I run, full of joy and fear..."Jesus, where is the my Galilee today?" It is still very early on the first day...

Easter Snow Bunnies

We live in Colorado. And while April in many states means 70-80 degree weather and the wildflowers in bloom, around here, at least today, it means…snow. Yep...snow, freezing drizzle, temps in the teens and hazardous driving conditions. My wife spent some time last week trying to assemble some Easter outfits for the kids. Our goal was not to spend any “new” money and not fall into the get-all-gussied-up-for-Easter trap that we feel so characterizes the beloved South.

Meredith found some dresses for the girls, complete with light sweater options in case it was cool and decided on a similar outfit for herself. But the high tomorrow may be 30 degrees, tops. Will and I’ll be o.k. – us guys wear levis and a shirt year ‘round. But we’ve got to shift gears for the ladies in our household. Easter Sunday isn’t going to look or feel like what we planned. Feel a homily comin’ on?

What do you do when resurrection doesn’t look or feel like what you expected? Now there’s literal, Lazarus-come-forth, who-are-you-looking-for…nope, He’s-not-here…lily-blooming…hiding-eggs-in-tall-green-grass resurrection…and then there’s the holy-cow-it’s-snowing-and-twenty degrees…I-can’t-wear-my-flip-flops-to-church resurrections. They just don’t look and feel like they’re supposed to.

A part of me says that the not-quite-what-I-expected resurrections are the real ones after all. Do you remember teary-eyed-Mary-in-the-garden? She mistook Jesus for the gardener: “They took my Master,” she said, “and I don’t know where they put him.” After she said this, she turned away and saw Jesus standing there. But she did not recognize him.

She saw Jesus standing there, but didn’t recognize him. I’m not sure what Mary thought the resurrection would look like, but what happened was totally beyond her recognizable resurrection categories. I pray for you, as I pray for myself, that we would, all of us, experience the risen Christ tomorrow. He’ll be standing right there in our midst, whether you’re in a white washed Protestant building, a shadowy Gothic cathedral, sitting in your den watching CNN with the wife or out on the lake waterskiing with the in-laws. The question is, “Will we recognize him?”

Mary finally recognized Jesus when he called her name…so that’s what my prayer will be; that’ll you and I, all of us, will hear him call our names. And I beg you, as I do myself, that we’ll, all of us, listen carefully. He may call us by a new name tomorrow, a resurrection name, a name we’re not expecting, a name he has just for us to reflect the new life he has for us. I’m going to try and listen real good; I’ll just have to adjust my ear-warmers a little...‘cause it’s gonna be cold tomorrow.

May you live in the present risen-ness of Jesus the Christ.

Never be without...

So I'm standing in the kitchen this morning, making the coffee, and I notice an envelope on the countertop. It's one of the get-your-video-in-the-mail envelopes from Blockbuster.com or .org or .something. We're signed up for this service (you're probably aware of it) where you get your dvd choices through the mail, instead of having to go to the actual store, etc., etc.

I've opened plenty of those envelopes over the last few months, but this morning, I noticed the heading across it - Never Be Without A Movie. It being morning and all and my attenae being crisply attuned, I immediately thought, What if, sometimes, it's good to be without a movie?

This is the same feeling I have when I come across a church touting a "24/7" ministry of some sort; it's usually a youth/teenage ministry that's trying really hard to be hip and cool and Jesusy. The idea is that you (or I, I guess) need to be on for Jesus, 24/7; no breaks or lags in the life of faith - always on!

In my now 40th year, I would say that living a life of 24/7 anything and never being without a movie may actually be some version of hell itself. Everything's always on and there's always stimulation and there's no down time or rest or...sabbath; yeah, there's the word - Sabbath. The 24/7 approach to life leaves no time for Sabbath. Some days we need to stop and look and listen; not to a movie, but to life. Some moments cry out, "Pay attention! Stop and smell the horse crap." Sorry, I took care of some horses this past weekend and I just love the smell of a feed lot and hay and horses and horse crap. I realize it sounds strange, but I'm 40 now, so I don't care. The point is that there's a lot going on in this life and it's not in front of a video screen and to see it, smell it, touch it, or taste it, you're going to have to stop a moment, or at least pause. And maybe that's where we could begin -pausing.

The psalm-structure has the selah in it; an intentional pause, a catching of your breath. That's what I'm advocating here. Pausing. Slowing down. Tapping the brakes every once in a while. Doing that allows you to stop and smell the horse crap...and possibly even avoid stepping in it.

The next day...

Yesterday was Palm Sunday, the tipping domino for Holy Week. The next formal get-together, at least for our church, is Thursday for the Maundy Thursday service. Whaddaya do on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday?

In Mark's gospel, the triumphal entry passage is followed by these words: the next day. I'm going to proceed, based on Mark's words, and say that today, the Monday of Holy Week, is the day of the Holy Terror; a.k.a., the cleansing of the Temple.
Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, "Is it not written: 'My house will be called a house of prayer for the nations'? But you have made it a 'den of robbers.'" (Mark 11.15-17)

Jesus was confronting abuses in the temple. The Passover pilgrims had to buy approved animals for sacrifice and have their money changed into the proper currency for the annual temple tax. My, my...things haven't changed much, have they? Weary, passed-over pilgrims bring their stuff to the temple and all too often, the temple keepers stand at the door or the altar and say, That's really not acceptable...You're going to need to be approved or proper before coming any further. Oh, we make a big deal these days about a "come as you are" attitude being present in our churches, but anybody with one eye and horse sense can see that's not the reality. Having the proper theology, the approved political leanings, the proper doctrinal stances on issues, the approved denominational ties, the proper translation of the Bible, the approved attire (I'm not kidding), the proper Lenten reading, the approved...

Holy Terror Monday. What would we do on such a day as this in 2007?
I guess we could all get-together, us passed-over pilgrims, gird up our loins and run to our houses of worship and turn over a bunch of stuff. The only problem is that no one would be there; it's Monday. Or maybe a more wild, frontier move would be to run through our lives, the true houses of worship, and overturn the attitudes of "accepted" and "proper" that still admit or deny entrance in our hearts. To get upset about it, mad even, and let the fire burn, at least for Holy Terror Monday, for there's still alot of buying and selling going on...brother and sisters, this should not be so.