Friday, February 26, 2010


I love the gym that's close to our house. During the colder months, when I'm too wimpy to run and bike outside so much, I work out at the gym. It's a city rec center, and it's not that 'pretty' of a facility. The stuff is a little beat up, most of the weight machines show some wear, the cardio machines have seen better days. The ventilation isn't very good, the locker rooms could use a makeover, and there are often kids hanging out not-quite-destroying things.

But there's an amazing cross-section of society that comes in to work out. I've seen white people, African-Americans, Asians, Spanish speakers. I've seen older folks trying to maintain their health, younger people who are super-fit, people in their 30s and 40s who obviously used to be athletes and are trying to get back in shape. There are retired professionals and retired service workers, people who hold advanced degrees and people who are out on parole, some who are there all the time and some who show up once in a while. The thing, though, is that most people are friendly. Sure, we won't all be friends, but there's a lot more camaraderie, or at least friendly interaction, than there is at most gyms I've been in. And no one is there to show off, or to compete. We're all there for the same reason, at least to some extent.

Why can't church be like that?

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Silence, elusive companion;
in the hubbub, I abandon
you to society's noise
that fills my ears with a voice
drowning my thoughts, filling my mind
shutting down my nerves, leaving me blind

past earthquakes whirlwinds storms
a still & small voice will form
me. in the hubbub this place
creates; in silence, grace
takes shape

Thursday, February 18, 2010

With apologies to those who will read the entire article later and in another place, what follows is part of what I've written for our congregation's newsletter:

Recently, I took up an ancient and widely-used practice ~ I spent one day fasting. I write this not to draw attention to myself, but to draw attention to our God. What I noticed is that I spend a lot of time eating; and if I’m not eating, I am often thinking about what I’ll eat next. And I don’t think I’m alone in this. Whether it’s a meal, a snack, a cup of coffee, a quick dessert, or whatever, I think eating is close to our minds. During that one day, I found myself once in a while thinking about going to get something to eat. But when I did, I was able to immediately turn my attention back to what I was doing. Sure, I was a little hungry, but I was able to experience freedom from bondage to something, even if for just one day.

This freedom is on the one hand. On the other hand, however, I realized something more profound. The day after fasting, I woke up in the morning, and prepared to go running in the same way I prepare every day. I ate the same food, drank the same drink. My run, however, didn’t go so well. I realized, at about the time I was turning around to come home, that I was hungry. And more than that, I realized that my body was weak. My experience was far from life-threatening ~ I’d only gone one day without eating. But I recognized how completely we depend on what God provides us. I recognized, in a small way, what the Hebrew people came to understand as they wandered through the wilderness ~ that all of life, daily bread especially, comes from God.

the run

music, podcasts
scenery changes every day
pavement or sidewalk
or dirt trail ~ only help a
little bit to
alleviate the boredom
that comes with long miles

off the bike
when legs find the
right rhythm
and lungs breathe deep
miles fly by
taking me along to
the excitement of a strong finish

Sunday, February 14, 2010


the journey begins again
tuesday, embracing butter
and sugar and flour
wednesday, sitting in ashes
clothes torn, face smudged

the journey begins again
toward the trial, over the skulls
up the cross to the suffering
into the ground
it is finished

the journey begins again
though we're out of time we're
now outside the confines of time
and the journey turns us
from death to life

the bike

long miles, sore legs
long hours, sore butt
inevitable boredom;
though others are around
it's often a lonely ride

long miles, but I'm flying
no drafting ~ still, getting
pulled along by the other
competitors, all of us straining
toward running shoes

Friday, February 12, 2010

the swim

smooth water to glide through
sound of my breath
nothing more
any other noise silenced
by the bubbles past my ears
and I'm alone with my thoughts

rough water from the feet
kicking my face
what's more
the noise of the racers
splashing toward the bike
and I'm alone with my thoughts

Thursday, February 11, 2010


I'm getting frustrated, and I hope I'm not alone in this. I'm getting frustrated by the lack of civility in our public discourse these days. Obviously there are exceptions, but by and large it seems like we're considerably less civil these days.

The most obvious culprits (usually?) are the politicians. It seems like for the past couple decades, the conservatives and the liberals haven't been able to actually talk with each other, let alone work together. With every change of power, the culprits and the victims switch roles, so right now the Republicans are holding together in a bloc, now with the votes necessary to filibuster. They don't seem to be willing to consider compromise, perhaps in order not to seem weak by the time the next election cycle comes around. At the same time, though, the Democrats had an amazing opportunity, when they had the supermajority, to take the high road and reach out to the other party in order to rebuild across the aisle relationships.

Unfortunately, I feel like the president (as much as I'm glad he's elected, and as much as I think he has the right ideas about how to start moving forward with international relationships and with health care) should have taken the lead in reaching out to the other party. His campaign led me to believe that we were moving beyond quite-so-partisan-politics ... but it looks to me (from far away) like business as usual.

Even still, the party in power holds the greater responsibility for making the first move in the right direction.

And politics aren't the only arena where civility is going by the wayside. If you've driven recently, or if you've listened to talk radio (from the left or from the right), or especially if you've listened to talk radio while driving, you know that the hostility in our society is significant.

The most unfortunate place where I'm seeing a lack of civility these days is in the church. We seem to have entrenched ourselves as deeply as the politicians. Especially in the ELCA (my denomination), it seems like what we believe about the August votes on sexuality has split us into camps, and now we can't talk with one another without hurling accusations back and forth. The media doesn't do anything to alleviate this tendency. They're looking for sound bites and headlines, without any apparent attempt to notice or appreciate any nuances in the conversation.

And we in the church seem to get sucked in by the reporting, assuming that we need to be on one side or the other, thinking we're diametrically opposed to one another, when in reality we probably haven't actually talked with one another. Because if we took the time to truly listen to the joys and sorrows, to the celebrations and pains of those with whom we disagree, we'd probably recognize brothers and sisters in Christ. And we'd certainly move beyond uncivility to civility, and beyond civility to deeper and more meaningful relationship with one another.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010


I love telling stories. I love hearing stories told. I love the effect that telling stories has on people, especially groups of people. Notice, sometime, while you're in charge of confirmation instruction, and you're teaching a room full of middle schoolers, that they're fidgety and squirmy and talkative. Then notice that as soon as you start telling a story, especially a story about your self, the room gets quiet and almost everyone is roped in by the story, by wanting to know what's next.

We are story people ~ it's why television is so compelling, because we get so engrossed in the stories that hollywood tells us.

I love hearing other people tell stories, especially stories about their own life. I was privileged to sit over a cup of coffee today with an old guy who told me stories about his military service, particularly about where he had lived.

I love hearing people tell stories ~ but I have a confession to make. My son is not such a great storyteller. He has great stories, and he loves telling them. But he takes forever to get to the point. He includes information that is completely irrelevant to the story. He leaves out details that would help me to know what's going on in the story. And the story just goes on forever. I find myself getting impatient, wanting to point out to him the right way to tell a story so that the teller doesn't lose the listener's attention, wanting him to hurry the story up, wanting to fill in the blanks myself.

Then, today, for some reason, I realized that the problem is not with him. The problem is with me. I don't know how to listen. I want his story to be compelling, to move along, to have the appropriate character development and narrative arc ~ and I don't engage in the story he's telling.

I'm bored, because the story isn't like the other ones I hear, especially the ones from movies and television. And I suspect I'm not alone. What if we slowed down and re-trained ourselves to recognize that stillness and restfulness doesn't equate to boredom. What if we took time to listen to each other without judging the person or the story they're telling. What if this happened on front porches as well as offices; around dinner tables as well as conference tables; in Congress and in international relationships; in pubs, and in churches?

Maybe we'd be surprised by the stories we'd hear, and by the stories we'd tell.


Sunday, February 7, 2010

frustration of a forgotten dream

quite vivid in the haze of night
lost now in the day, despite
analysis; so dream visions
reveal naught but imprecision

Friday, February 5, 2010

In defense of less productive meetings

I'm sitting in a bookstore today, cup of coffee on the table next to the laptop, working on this and that. It's a local bookstore, with history and character and personality. Except for the time when the high school across the street is on lunch break, it's almost library-quiet in here. The people who frequent this establishment, at least when I'm here, aren't typically those who have somewhere to get to right away ~ there's space to sit, to read/write/work/relax.

Even still, though, I've heard at least a couple people walk by talking on cell phones arranging the next appointment or meeting. And we all know that away from here, there's a lot more of that happening. I think I understand it ~ we just want to be as efficient and productive as possible.

I want to put in a plea, though, for less efficiency. Sure, stuff still has to get done, and sometimes stuff even has to get done in a timely manner. But it seems like we've traded, gaining efficiency at the (perhaps unacknowledged) cost of relationships.

I wonder what would happen if we were less interested in getting something done, and more interested in spending time with each other? As a society we might be less productive, but I think we'd be more content, more satisfied, more joy-filled.

Which brings up the question, "What's more valuable ~ how do we measure value?"

Maybe I'll schedule more meetings where the agenda is simply to experience God's grace in the midst of community.


Thursday, February 4, 2010

The congregation I'm a part of is in an interesting situation. When it started, 35 years ago, the congregation and the neighborhood where our building is located was on the edge of development. The houses were brand new, and many of the people who moved in were young families who had the means and upward mobility to afford a new house in a new neighborhood.

That was 35 years ago. Now, the edge of development is three or four rings away, toward the south and east. And the neighborhood where we are is different. Now, some of those families who moved in when the houses were new are still in the same houses. Others, though, have moved out and (because they're older) the houses have decreased in relative value. So the people moving in now don't have the same financial means at their disposal.

** this brings up a whole 'nother topic, the economy, which is a hot topic right now, and which even beyond the current focus is too broad for me to write about here, or even to really understand ... though I do have some opinions. Maybe another day for those **

So we find ourselves, at HLLC, facing a situation which I don't think has received much attention. A suburban congregation dealing with neighborhood transition. To further complicate things, the nearby library and rec center (and maybe some other facilities) have recently shut down, leaving many children without a place to go. Some folks at HLLC have started talking about whether we can use our church building to take up some of that slack (this makes me happy, by the way).

I know there are a lot of urban congregations that have dealt very well with neighborhood transition. But urban areas seem to have been built before cars were quite so ubiquitous. In contrast, many suburban areas were built with the assumption that everyone would drive almost everywhere. Suburban neighborhood ministry necessarily must look different in some ways from urban neighborhood ministries. I think we might be beginning to explore what that will look like.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

and hurt
accepted as life?
or/yet pushed away
onto another

the other
cast out, alone
outcast, knows
grace extending
from the edges
to the center of
hurt and

Monday, February 1, 2010

Reign of God

Yesterday was a Reign of God day.

After hearing some people (appropriately) comment on worship leaders who could be more confident and practiced. For those of you from non-lectionary traditions, the first reading yesterday was Jeremiah saying "but I'm only a boy". To hear young Maxwell (age 7) follow the above phrase with God's words "do not say you are only a boy" was to see the Reign of God breaking into worship.

We had a guest musician at worship yesterday. James Hersch was in town, playing music at children's hospital and a nursing home, and took some folks from our congregation along. He played a concert at HLLC Saturday night, and then played a few songs in worship yesterday morning. But the Reign of God moment came in between services. James has lots of songs, and often gets requests from people ... and he can usually predict which people will request which songs. But yesterday, Lori (age 5?) surprised him with her request. And then she surprised all of us. As he was singing the chorus, James noticed Lori's mouth moving, singing quietly, almost under her breath. So James brings his voice down, and as if on cue, Lori's voice comes up. The next time through the chorus, James stops singing altogether, and as Lori sings by herself with a full voice that I could hear all the way across the room, we heard the Reign of God breaking into the room.

After worship, we had our annual congregational meeting. Some were worried, because (though is wasn't on the agenda), there was the potential that some members might bring up the recent ELCA decisions about human sexuality. Indeed, the topic was brought up, and the congregation had a conversation that could have become painful. But I think folks were able to hear each other, were able to express their pain and confusion, and were able to respect one another. The congregation decided to not vote at all (according to Robert and his rules, we tabled the motion). And in deciding to continue to be community together even when we disagree, the Reign of God even broke into a congregational meeting.

Then, following my typical practice, I went with our offspring to worship with the community my wife leads as their pastor. Worship was good, as usual. Something was unusual, though. Special musical guests were in town, and played an amazing piece of music while I was sitting on the floor with my own daughter playing with a very small child ... you know, the kind of child who's old enough to do stuff, but not quite old enough to walk. The Reign of God got up right there, with the music and the toddler and my daughter and passed right through our midst.

Maybe it was a good day.