Friday, December 28, 2012

Whose Move?

My brother Jim and I play chess online at Every time one of us makes a move the other is notified via email. I just went a couple of weeks without a move by Jim, something unusual. I wondered whether he had so much going on that he hadn’t time to make any moves (we usually play two games simultaneously). Then this morning I happened to be going back through my old emails and guess what? Yep. On December 16 he made two moves, there were the two emails notifying me – it had been my turn to move all this time…and here I was wondering if he wanted to play anymore. I missed the emails – easy to do with the influx of stuff in my inbox.

How many times have I wondered why God hasn’t made a move in my life, when all the time He had done so and was waiting on me?

Saturday, December 22, 2012

I Didn’t Know

It could have been my last marital kiss, my final embrace, my last walk out the door – I didn’t know; I didn’t know until later as I was listening to the news that yesterday, December 21, 2012, was supposed to be the end of the world. Throughout the day I was engaged in the mundane things of work, a doctor’s appointment, and even planning my work for next week – I was even so pedestrian to be thinking about dinner. And yes, I’ll admit it, I did go to Wal-Mart yesterday to purchase stocking items for Christmas. All the while the world was supposed to be coming to an end. You’d think that at least NPR would have broadcast a warning during the morning news!

Last night I watched the news and saw things many people did to usher in the world’s end or the new age or whatever they thought the Mayan calendar indicated; I’m reminded that as strange as some of the actions were that they were no stranger than some (many?) Christians getting caught-up in this thing – I remember a year ago seeing a book in a Christian bookstore about the world coming to an end in 2012 – what was that all about? And I don’t think that many of the participants in Mayan end-of-the-world inspired activities can match the sustained fascination of many Christians in end-of-the-world scenarios – hopefully most of the Mayan-inspired folks will go back to their day jobs and not adopt the End Times as a fixation as many Christians have done. It’s one thing to don strange attire for a day or two and dance and beat drums, it’s another thing to adopt the End Times as a way of life.

Around 2,000 years ago a new age did begin, it dawned in Bethlehem and its light has been increasing ever since then. Yes, there are times darkness appears to be the weather of the day, but above and beyond the darkness is the Light of the world. Those in relationship with Jesus Christ can live in light in the midst of darkness. Hopefully we learn to desire Him more than speculation about the future. While we do indeed look for new heavens and a new earth, we look for them because then not only will this old world be delivered from its decay (Romans Chapter 8) but because we will see Jesus and the face of God.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Of the Father's Love Begotten

Of the Father's Love Begotten

Prudentius (348–413)

Of the Father’s love begotten, ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega, He the source, the ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see, evermore and evermore!

At His Word the worlds were framèd; He commanded; it was done:
Heaven and earth and depths of ocean in their threefold order one;
All that grows beneath the shining
Of the moon and burning sun, evermore and evermore!

He is found in human fashion, death and sorrow here to know,
That the race of Adam’s children doomed by law to endless woe,
May not henceforth die and perish
In the dreadful gulf below, evermore and evermore!

O that birth forever blessèd, when the virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving, bare the Savior of our race;
And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer,
First revealed His sacred face, evermore and evermore!

This is He Whom seers in old time chanted of with one accord;
Whom the voices of the prophets promised in their faithful word;
Now He shines, the long expected,
Let creation praise its Lord, evermore and evermore!

O ye heights of heaven adore Him; angel hosts, His praises sing;
Powers, dominions, bow before Him, and extol our God and King!
Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Every voice in concert sing, evermore and evermore!

Righteous judge of souls departed, righteous King of them that live,
On the Father’s throne exalted none in might with Thee may strive;
Who at last in vengeance coming
Sinners from Thy face shalt drive, evermore and evermore!

Thee let old men, thee let young men, thee let boys in chorus sing;
Matrons, virgins, little maidens, with glad voices answering:
Let their guileless songs re-echo,
And the heart its music bring, evermore and evermore!

Christ, to Thee with God the Father, and, O Holy Ghost, to Thee,
Hymn and chant with high thanksgiving, and unwearied praises be:
Honor, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory, evermore and evermore!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

From God Christ's Deity Came Forth

From God Christ's Deity Came Forth
Ephrem (4th century)

From God Christ's deity came forth,
his manhood from humanity;
his priesthood from Melchizedek,
his royalty from David's tree:
praised be his Oneness.

He joined with guests at wedding feast,
yet in the wilderness did fast;
he taught within the temple's gates;
his people saw him die at last:
praised be his teaching.

The dissolute he did not scorn,
nor turn from those who were in sin;
he for the righteous did rejoice
but bade the fallen to come in:
praised be his mercy.

He did not disregard the sick;
to simple ones his word was given;
and he descended to the earth
and, his work done, went up to heaven:
praised be his coming.

Who then, my Lord, compares to you?
The Watcher slept, the Great was small,
the Pure baptized, the Life who died,
the King abased to honor all:
praised be your glory.

by Ephrem of Edessa, translated by John Howard Rhys, adapted and altered by F Bland Tucker, (Episcopal) Hymnbook 1982.

Monday, December 10, 2012



John Donne (1572-1631)

Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb,
Now leaves His well-belov'd imprisonment,
There He hath made Himself to His intent
Weak enough, now into the world to come;
But O, for thee, for Him, hath the inn no room?
Yet lay Him in this stall, and from the Orient,
Stars and wise men will travel to prevent
The effect of Herod's jealous general doom.
Seest thou, my soul, with thy faith's eyes, how He
Which fills all place, yet none holds Him, doth lie?
Was not His pity towards thee wondrous high,
That would have need to be pitied by thee?
Kiss Him, and with Him into Egypt go,
With His kind mother, who partakes thy woe.

Friday, December 7, 2012



John Donne (1572-1631)

Salvation to all that will is nigh;
That All, which always is all everywhere,
Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear,
Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die,
Lo, faithful virgin, yields Himself to lie
In prison, in thy womb; and though He there
Can take no sin, nor thou give, yet He will wear,
Taken from thence, flesh, which death's force may try.
Ere by the spheres time was created, thou
Wast in His mind, who is thy Son and Brother;
Whom thou conceivst, conceived; yea thou art now
Thy Maker's maker, and thy Father's mother;
Thou hast light in dark, and shutst in little room,
Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The House of Christmas

The House of Christmas, by GK Chesterton (1874–1936)

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay on their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost - how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky's dome.

This world is wild as an old wives' tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Election

Many professing Christians have abandoned the preaching and witnessing of the Gospel for a political religion – we need only listen and watch; I have partaken of that cup myself so I know what the venom tastes like. This means that it doesn’t matter who wins the presidential election, the civic-political religion will continue. Until we are known for the Gospel we cannot preach the Gospel. Until we are known for peace we cannot witness to the Prince of Peace.

The Book of Judges tells us that there was a time in Israel when everyone did what was right in his own eyes. There is amoral anarchy in society; there is also amoral anarchy in the professing church. When Christians choose to ignore Biblical injunctions to pray for all in authority and to honor our rulers then Christians are doing what they consider right in their own eyes rather than living under the lordship of Jesus Christ. Anarchy in society is expected; anarchy in the church is frightening.

If President Obama is defeated many Christians can not only say, “I voted for Mitt Romney”, they can also say, “I never prayed for President Obama during his four years in office.”

Americans are noted for voting with their pocketbook; the professing church is the same – we won’t give of our resources to others, we won’t help the poor, we won’t protect the sanctity of life by loving those in challenging pregnancies, by serving those who have had abortions – oh yes we have our “poster children” projects but as a people we fall far short – Pregnancy Support Centers should be showcases of Christian care and charity, visually welcoming centers equal to the finest church buildings in a community; if there are any such centers in America they are the exceptions.

How can a nation with our wealth and expertise not have universal health care? Health care speaks to the sanctity of life – is the health of my neighbor not my concern? I am to love my neighbor as myself. When I frame life in economic terms then I can justify living to myself and dying to myself. The professing church does not have a distinct voice, it does not have a prophetic voice – perhaps it has never had such a voice, else how could we have countenanced slavery and the genocide of American Indians? We pay lip service to William Wilberforce, he makes us feel better – we might honor him by emulating his peaceful and prayerful ways.

Christians think there is a problem with American; we don’t realize that the problem is with us; we are a people who are not a people, pawns on a chessboard used by others as long as we are useful.

Slavery, genocide, military expansion, the horrendous conditions of workers at times throughout our history, Jim Crow; all of these and more should warn us of how Christians can be seduced and used – we should be frightened of what we look like when the Christ of the Cross ceases to be our all in all.

By God’s grace I will pray for whoever wins this election, and by His grace I will pray for the church daily – for as it stands now, regardless of which candidate wins the professing church loses.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Hurricanes, Control, and Frailty

Hurricanes remind me of our frailty and that as much as we like to think otherwise that we don’t control everything.  They also remind me that when compared to the majority of humanity that as a nation we exercise a good deal of control over our immediate environment. Perhaps this is one reason why 9/11 was so shocking, our space was invaded, our control was shattered. In other regions of the world the loss of so many people at one time would have been yet another sad but true chapter in a world of uncertainty. Loss upon loss is the way of much of the world, we forget this.

As Sandy approaches our shores we are prepared and we are preparing; we have the knowledge to prepare, we have the means to prepare, and if we aren’t prepared it is our own fault. Much of the world does not have this advance knowledge (I’m speaking of the masses), and if it does have advance warning it does not have the means to prepare as we prepare. Living in our American cocoon it is easy to forget how others live.

But even with our advance warning and preparation hurricanes can kill us, after we control everything we can control we can still be killed, we can still die; whether by a hurricane or tornado or drunk driver or cancer – at our strongest we are frail – a falling tree can kill us – a tree that we can cut down with a chain saw can kill us; a virus which the naked eye cannot see can invade our bodies and bring this life to an end. Much of the world lives daily with the tenuousness of life, death is a part of life; for us death is an intrusion, an alien – since it challenges our frailty we  give it a quick nod and then get back to our lives of control. An argument for cemeteries and mausoleums is that they remind us of what we need to be reminded of – that death awaits us all and that we should live for eternity – that we are fools if we don’t think the amusement park ride will stop and we’ll have to get off.

Hurricanes are a reminder that we just can’t control everything, a reminder that life is frail and fragile, and a reminder that much of the world lives in conditions far different from that of North America.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

David and Sally’s Bowls

I think we’re down to two of them, and the two that are left are worn and have chips around the rims; we started with four of these bowls and now we have two. Until now Vickie and I are the only ones who know the memory associated with these bowls, and once you know it you may think it no big thing, but it’s a sweet memory to us.

The bowls are 3 inches deep and almost 7 inches across which makes them quite functional for chili and stews and soups and some pastas – I’m not likely to drip or spill using these bowls. They are white with pink and light-blue rings at the top and bottom and between the rings are floral designs 6 inches apart. We first used the bowls in 1989 for beef stew, a few days ago we used them again for the same beef stew recipe. I don’t know what the recipe is; I know it’s baked in the oven, that is has beef and mushrooms and carrots and a thick thick broth – it’s basic in content but it’s one of my favorite dishes.

These are “David and Sally’s bowls” because not long after that first home-meeting at Alice and Gordon’s we invited David and Sally over for dinner and that was the first time we used the bowls. Vickie decided to make beef stew (it was winter) and we needed some good beef-stew bowls, after Vickie made a trip to Pier One we had four new bowls for dinner.

David and Sally were the first guests we had in our home after our move from Baltimore to Richmond; there is no way to count the many meals we’ve shared with each other since that night, and I have no idea what the various meals have been – though it’s been a wide range – but I remember what we had that first night and I think of that night when I see the bowls.

To many of us a meal is just a meal, but to others a meal is an event with meaning. The Middle-Eastern friends and acquaintances we’ve had over the years still know the significance of eating a meal with others, especially in a home; eating with others is a big deal to me, even if it is limited to bread and drink. Perhaps the more basic the meal the deeper the meaning? (I’m thinking of a meal of pinto beans and cornbread with a couple in Nashville as I write this.)

Is there anything in life as precious as friendship? Abraham was called “the friend of God”, Jesus tells us that we are His friends, and the Scriptures so closely weave our relationship with God and others that we can’t separate the two – we can’t say we love God and hate our brother – if we do the Bible tells us that we are liars.

Friendship forms its own character, just like those bowls or a well-worn shoe. Friendship isn’t out to impress anyone and it isn’t perfect, but you stick with it and you realize that the imperfections are part of the package, they are part of this human pilgrimage. You aren’t going to find friendship at Pier One or in a self-help program, you can’t buy it, you can’t force someone into it, you can’t make it happen; but if you are faithful in relationships you’ll find it, if you pan for gold you’ll discover it, and when you do find it rise to the challenge of taking care of it for it won’t take care of itself.

Those bowls are not much to look at with the natural eye, but with the eye of the heart they evoke a treasury of friendship.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Lance Armstrong and All the Rest of Us

Rosie Ruiz and Lance Armstrong and me…not sure about you but I’m certain about me.

Rosie Ruiz won the New York Marathon a few years ago, at least everyone but her thought she did, maybe even she convinced herself she did; but it didn’t last long. After all, how could someone win a marathon without breaking a sweat? What about the fact that other runners didn’t recall seeing her? She was soon stripped of her title and all but forgotten; unless used as an example of cheating to win a race that she didn’t win – unlike Armstrong (if the testimony and evidence in his case are true) her deception lasted only a couple of days, not years.

But Armstrong, after years of rumors, allegations, and denials – now there will be seven years in the annals of the Tour de France in which no winner is listed; did Mr. Armstrong create his own little world in which he actually believed he won? Is a win obtained by deceit still a win? Many would say so, most of us act like it in one way or another.

As I wrote my Mind on Fire reflections on Psalm 1 I thought of Lance Armstrong; there were two ways to race the Tour de France just as there are two ways of life in the Psalm, there is the way of honesty, a way which is maintained no matter where we are in the standings, and there is the way of deceit and cheating; Mr. Armstrong apparently chose to be someone he is not. But is he all that different from us? I know I have kept him company and I know I’ve worn yellow jerseys I have not fairly worn.

Anyone who puts a mask on pedals beside Lance Armstrong.

The pressure is intense to wear the mask, to act the part, to rationalize that the end justifies the means. But what is the end? The end is standing before God to account for the way we ran (or pedaled) the race. Psalm 1 speaks of this end. There are professing Christians who somehow think they have a free pass to live as they want without accountability, forgetting that passages such as 1 Corinthians Chapter 3 and 2 Corinthians Chapter 5 make it clear that while our relationship with Christ is sealed and certain, that we are all accountable for the things we do and the way we do them – all bogus wins will be exposed before the judgment seat of Christ – no fake wins make it into heaven.

This morning in my devotions in 1 John I read, “God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” When we rationalize deceit we choose to forget who God is.

At another level, how often do we engage in Christian ministry using the drugs of this world? That is, how often do we justify our use of strategies that are no different from those of Wal-Mart or Lexus or Apple in order to achieve success in ministry? Lance Armstrong chose not to rely on his natural body alone, he chose to put drugs into his body. How often do we choose to supplement the Holy Spirit? We profess to follow Jesus Christ, the One who says, “I do nothing of Myself.” He also says, “Without Me you can do nothing.” We nod and think, “That sounds nice, but we need to produce some numbers and excitement.”

I don’t know about you but I want to cross the finish line of life clean – no matter where others think I am in the standings.

Lance Armstrong isn’t like the rest of us? Who are we kidding?

Psalm 139:23-24.

Monday, October 22, 2012

How We Met David and Sally - II

The night that Alice and Gordon Jenkins invited us to a gathering in their home was the first night we met David and Sally. Ann Nichols (I’ve written about Ann in earlier posts) was there as were a few other local folks, and then there was Frank.

As I mentioned in the previous past, I had been acquainted with Frank for a few years, having been around him in various home-group meetings. Frank was associated with a group based in Oklahoma that I considered beyond the pale of Christianity in both practice and doctrine; however, when I last saw Frank in Baltimore he indicated that he had left the group – I took him at his word.

Finding weirdness in the house-church movement or in other non-traditional forms of Christianity is about as easy as finding carrots in the produce section of a grocery store. Identifying areas of warped development and immature teaching, and areas of over-emphasized doctrine in non-traditional forms of Christianity is also easy. The thing that is forgotten is that the same can be said for Christianity in its traditional forms; the difference is that poor doctrine, even heretical doctrine, and non-Biblical practices are provided respectable garb in traditional settings whereas in non-traditional settings they can seem just plain weird – the substance can be the same. Most over-emphasized doctrine or practice that I’ve witnessed in home settings has at least been in the context of believing Jesus Christ is Lord and God, and that the Bible is God’s Word; one is more likely to find outright heresy in traditional forms of Christianity, such as denial of the Resurrection, denial of the Bible, denial of the divinity of Jesus.

The format of home meetings is often: singing, praying, open sharing, and then someone bringing a message, and then more praying and singing. As I recall that night the singing was sweet, the praying was sincere, and the sharing was relaxed and intimate – done in the context of friendship. Then Frank began speaking and the longer he spoke the more I sensed that the cake had hot sauce in it – the message didn’t taste right. I am a simple person, and I mean that sincerely – I didn’t say I am humble, I’ve got an ego, but I do think I’m simple. I’m simple because I am both stupid and desperate. I’m stupid vis-à-vis smart people I know, people who can scale theological heights and mine theological depths and weave tapestries of theological intricacies – I like listening to those people; I’m desperate because I know I need Jesus. It seems the older I get that the dumber and more desperate I become. So because I’m both simple and desperate there is one thing I look for as the main and dominant ingredient in any cake – the Christ of the Cross and the Cross of Christ – the centrality and supremacy of Jesus Christ.

Frank’s message degraded Jesus Christ, bringing Him down and bringing us up – making Jesus no more than one of us; Frank was dethroning Jesus. I realized that Frank had not disassociated himself from the Oklahoma group, nor had he been honest with me. Once I was certain of what Frank was saying I spoke up, sharing the Lordship of Jesus Christ – and I spoke up strongly. That was the end of Frank’s talk – in fact it was soon the end of the meeting.

As we left the Jenkins’s home that night Vickie and I wondered if we’d hear from anyone again; after all, it was Frank who had given us Gordon and Alice’s phone number, perhaps they subscribed to Frank’s thinking. What a way to first meet people – interrupting a “speaker” in their home and putting an end to his nonsense.

We need not have worried, the next day David called to say, “We all agreed with what you said.” That was the last time we saw Frank (and now you know why I haven’t used his real name) but it was not the last time we saw David and Sally.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

How We Met David and Sally

We moved from the Zuck homestead the weekend of September 21. Little did we know in February or March 1989, when first driving down the Zuck lane, that in 2009 we’d know that lane as the drive to our home. Little did we know that in twenty years we’d spend three restorative years on land that has been in David’s family for generations.

When Vickie and I moved to the Richmond area in 1989 we didn’t know anyone and we didn’t have jobs. A short time before our move from Baltimore an acquaintance visited us in our home, someone who I had been around occasionally over the years, I’ll call him Frank; you’ll see why I’m not using his real name in a future post.

“Frank, we’re moving to Richmond,” we told him.

“I know some people in Richmond, let me give you their names and phone number.” Thankfully Frank had his address book with him and he gave us the names of Gordon and Alice Jenkins and their phone number.

Prior to the move Vickie made an appointment with a real estate agent to show us some houses (even though we didn’t know anyone or have jobs we did have enough sense to know we needed a place to live), as it turned out the agent was located in the Brandermill – Hull Street Road area of Chesterfield County. We looked at a few houses before we called it a day with the agent, and then we called an owner who was renting her house with an option to purchase, this house was in the general area in which we’d been looking at houses with the agent. Jan the owner told Vickie that she was getting ready to leave but that if we came right then we could see the house. We came, we saw, we rented, and we eventually purchased the house.

Now remember, we didn’t know anyone in Richmond. We didn’t know where Alice and Gordon Jenkins lived, and we’d never heard of David and Sally Zuck. We didn’t know the difference between Chester and Chesterfield and Midlothian and Hanover and Henrico and the Fan or Carytown – we had no regional orientation whatsoever.

After we moved we called Gordon and Alice and introduced ourselves, telling them that Frank had given us their contact information. They invited us to their home for a “meeting”, friends were coming over for fellowship…and guess what? Frank was going to be there. For lack of a better short description, Frank was a teacher in one stream of the house-church movement, which is how I first met him. Alice and Gordon had been involved in the charismatic – house church – alternative Christianity movement for years and often hosted meetings in their home.

As it “happened” Alice and Gordon lived about twenty minutes from us, off Midlothian Turnpike; as it also “happened” David and Sally Zuck, who we met that first night at Alice and Gordon’s, lived about ten minutes from us. We could have moved to Hanover or Henrico or Chester or the Fan or Carytown but we didn’t – we moved to the area where the Jenkins and Zucks lived – we didn’t know anyone when we first moved to the Richmond area but God designed our move so that friends were waiting for us, and He ensured that we moved close to the couple whose contact information we had been given, and even closer to the couple with whom we would become lifelong friends. Of course, after that first meeting at the Jenkins’s we wondered if we’d ever hear from them (or anyone else who was at the meeting) again – but that story is for the next post.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

One Last Turtle

One day this past week I stopped by our former home on the Zuck Homestead to pick up some things to move and check the mail; as I was driving down the lane back to North Spring Run Road I saw a terrapin crossing the lane; I stopped, got out, picked him (or her – I’m uneducated on these things) up and carried him to the grass on the other side of the gravel lane. “Now you take care of yourself and don’t cross this lane again.” 

There was poetry in that turtle encounter for me. I’ve always loved turtles, especially terrapins, ground turtles. Being from Maryland I’ve never though twice about the University of Maryland’s mascot being a terrapin – I grew up with terrapins and have always been fascinated by them. There are plenty of schools that have tigers or lions or Trojans as mascots, but terrapins?

Patrick always had a thing for turtles, water or land, it made no difference. Alice also has an affinity for turtles. While I do not share the Revere family’s affinity for snakes, we do have common ground when it comes to turtles. We have often shared our turtle rescue experiences – some probably foolhardy considering the traffic involved – we aren’t likely to pick up hitchhikers but we are prone to stop and rescue turtles.

The turtle strikes me as being thoughtful, minding his own business (unless enjoying the fruits of my garden), and generally going through life without fanfare and without demands on others. He is unobtrusive and has yet to succumb to materialism in that unlike cars on a NASCAR track, he will not sell his shell to Madison Avenue. I imagine that a turtle and one of Tolkien’s Ents would probably enjoy each other’s company. 

Well, here’s to turtles, the Reveres, and to friendship – to affinity with our Father’s creation, to stewardship however we are able to express it; here’s to a brief moment of poetry on a gravel lane.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Nature Boy and Gromit

A few months ago Nature Boy died and went to Narnia; not long after that Gromit followed him. Nature Boy was Patrick’s Catahoula Leopard Dog, Gromit was Patrick’s Boston terrier. I realize that they were Alice’s and Seth’s and Silas’s dogs too, but having said that…they were Patrick’s. Nature Boy was an old man; he walked old, he spoke old, he eyed you with the eye of old. Nature Boy associated me with food, Gromit associated me with stick throwing – I really didn’t have much of a relationship with Gromit because he was a bit temperamental. If Gromit was in Patrick’s pickup truck and the window was down and you ventured close he bit you. He was okay in the yard on in the house but when he was in that pickup truck he was on guard duty and he didn’t bother to ask, “Who goes there? What’s the password?” He’d shoot first and didn’t bother about questions.

When Gromit saw me outside the truck he’d bring a stick and insist that I throw it, not taking “no” for an answer and without an apology for the last time he shot me from the truck’s window. When Nature Boy saw me he came to see if I had food for him, he was the “leftovers go-to guy” of our home.

We’ve been moving from the Homestead over the past three weekends. Our time at the Zuck Homestead was a journey through a wardrobe in many respects, a place of respite and reflection and renewal; and a place of grappling with internal Calormenes. The house we lived in is a house we passed numerous times in years gone by; first we knew it as the house where David’s aunt Catherine lived; after Catherine died David and Sally purchased it from David’s cousins for Sally’s parents, Sal and Wanda. Wanda died in that house, it was her last home. Once when we were visiting from Massachusetts we slept in an upstairs bedroom that would one day be my office, a room lined with books and also a room where we rolled up the carpet to practice ballroom dancing.

Our church, New Venture Christian Fellowship, held a Sunday morning worship service around Christmas 2005 in that home. I led Wanda’s memorial service in the house. Little did Vickie and I know that one day we’d be back not to visit but to live. Little did we know that the very room where we prayed and sang songs was a room where we would build a fire, entertain friends, and contemplate the present and future and the mercies of God.

When we went through the wardrobe in the fall of 2009 Nature Boy came down just about everyday to check things out. Lily, our Border Collie, was just a puppy then and Nature Boy was pretty intimidating with his large size and commanding bark, not that he would hurt her, but since Lina, our Basset mix, didn’t know Nature Boy she made sure she was around Lily to protect her during Nature’s forays.

It has been strange walking the Homestead these past few months without seeing and hearing Nature Boy on patrol; it is strange to go to the Revere house and not have an excited Gromit dart at me with a stick. Watching Alice and Seth and Silas on a walk down the lane without their dogs is a vision not quite right. Nature Boy and Gromit stayed on a while after Patrick left us, then I suppose they felt they’d done all they could do and went through their own wardrobe to be with Patrick.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Bird Feeders

This evening I put up four poles; two are topped with hopper feeders with a bird-seed mix, one supports a niger-seed tube feeder and a safflower-seed tube feeder, the other supports a suet feeder and a tube feeder with a bird-seed mix; all four poles have baffles to discourage squirrels and other critters from ascending to the feeders. This was a big deal to me; a big deal to Vickie. We’ve moved, and in moving we’ve left one bird community and are now inviting another bird community into our yard. Did I mention this is a big deal to us?

Two or three days ago I took the feeders down from the Zuck Homestead, a place of rest and renewal for us for three years, and a place where we’ve entertained a bird community; wrens and titmice and cardinals and blue birds and cow birds and pileated woodpeckers and downy woodpeckers and red-breasted woodpeckers and red-headed woodpeckers and nut hatches and chickadees and blue jays and thrushes and…well the list goes on. I didn’t want to take the feeders down, even though they were mostly empty due to the fact that we’d moved almost two weeks ago. If you’ve never fed birds, never watched them, never really watched them, never watched the fledglings trying to figure out their new world, you might think I’m even weirder than you thought. But if you have known the joy and amazement of focusing on an aspect of creation, whether birds or not, then you understand in some measure what I mean.

I think back to our house in Strasburg, to the dozens of cardinals who frequented our feeders and grove of cedar trees and wonder how they are doing; or I think even further back to a Christmas morning on Physic Hill Road in Chesterfield when a Scarlet Tanager made a special appearance at our feeder; or think still further back to our home in Becket, MA when a group of turkeys put on a dance around our feeders that rivaled anything the Rocketts have performed. On Physic Hill Road I used to watch one tree by our feeders for 30 minutes at a time and marvel at the interplay of creation that unfolded – birds and squirrels running and flying to and fro; I could write a book about a day in the life of that one tree. Then there was the Saturday in Beverly, MA when while visiting a friend in Beverly Farms I saw my first Baltimore Oriole; when I got home and told Vickie she told me that she had seen one in our neighbor’s backyard that morning too, one that we had the pleasure of seeing off and on for weeks in our neighborhood. I’ll take a Baltimore Oriole over a Lexus or BMW or Mercedes any day, or even over a gallon of banana ice cream…and I love banana ice cream.

Our bird friends on the Zuck Homestead have been with us for three years; they’ve given us pleasure and delight; their habits have fascinated us; their company has comforted us. I suppose that sounds strange, those words “comforted us”. But when we behold creation we know there is a Creator, and while we humans may be poor at praising our Creator it seems that the birds generally do that pretty well – even the predatory hawks and owls play their role on a fractured planet. I wish we could leave a forwarding address for the birds on the Homestead but we can’t. They won’t know why the feeders are no longer there; there were some birds still there this week even thought the feeders were empty. The good news is that the eye of their Creator, the eye of our Father, is on the sparrow; and being on the sparrow His eye is also on us, on Vickie and me and on you. I can trust our Father to care for the birds on the Zuck Homestead and I can also look forward to a new community of creation in our home in Chesterfield.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Dumbphones and Baseball

Vickie and I went to a few Richmond Flying Squirrels baseball games this year; in addition to watching the games we watched the fans.

There was the guy behind us one night that drank too much before arriving at the game and who continued drinking after his arrival; this was the only instance of this we encountered during the season. If he had kept it up someone would have likely complained to management but as it turns out his wife or girlfriend finally had enough and when she left he left. After he left a man sitting next to him said, “It’s a good thing he left on his own, I saw that he had a pistol.” Indeed.

Then there was the man and woman who appeared to have just met each other as part of a group of friends at the game, they sat in front of us. He spent the entire game talking to her and she spent the entire game appearing impressed by what he was saying – I don’t think they watched one play of the baseball game since they were playing their own game.

A behavior that we saw at every game was Dumbphone obsession; people texting and emailing throughout the game. This behavior spanned age groups, it included young adults and it included older people. The saddest exhibition of it was the night a dad was sitting with his son who looked to be around 5 years old. The son was really into the ball game, talking to the players, trying to encouragement them; displaying joy and excitement at the play on the field; he was a cute little boy. He tried to talk to his father about the game, to share his experience with his father, but the father was too busy doing…guess what? Yep, he was on his Dumbphone. Finally, after a few innings the little boy moved down a couple of seats and sat with an older couple and talked to them. Talk about spending time with your son; a microcosm of life today.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Shoe that Went Fast – In My Mind

There we are running from the back of the house up the hill in our backyard; when we reach the top we look down; not at the bottom of the hill but at our shoes, our PF Flyers. Did we or didn’t we? Did we go faster or not?

How old was I? Six? Seven? Eight? However old I was my brother Bill was two years younger, I know that much. I guess he’s always been two-years younger and I guess he’ll always be two-years younger…unless one of two things happen which we won’t dwell on right now.

Did we or didn’t we? The advertisements said we’d go faster. Well, after all, we were running up hill. Let’s run down hill and see how they work. Down we went.

Same question – did we run faster than before running in PF Flyers? Suppose we didn’t? Then we’d been had; then we’d talked our parents into getting us something that didn’t work as advertised – should we tell them? Should we share our doubts with them? Should we even talk about it to each other? Maybe Bill ran faster and I didn’t? Maybe I didn’t know how to properly use them?

Vickie got a solicitation last week that looked like it came from the US Government, it’s the kind of thing you get when you get to be a certain age. If you’re young, or old, or poor, or are in financial straits the advertising people think it’s like shooting ducks whose feet have been frozen in a pond – the young and the old and the poor and those struggling financially don’t have a chance…unless they read the small print…but of course a lot of those folk can’t read the small print…like I said…ducks whose feet are frozen – bang! Bang! Bang!

This isn’t to say that the general adult population isn’t taken for a ride every time they watch an automobile commercial; it isn’t to say that general population doesn’t swallow every weight loss gimmick and wonder food and pill on the market – the difference is that you’ve got to spend a bit more on production costs with the general population – appeal to the ego, make it sexy, make ‘em want to be like the rich and the beautiful.

As I write this I have images of Wonder Bread from my childhood, the slogan went something like helps build strong bodies twelve ways; I’m not going to dignify the slogan by looking it up to check and see what it actually was. The point is that decades later the darn slogan is in my head – I guess they got a good return on investment, though I haven’t purchased Wonder Bread for years.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


I wrote it down but I didn’t need to. As I looked at it on a Post-It Note I knew I need not have written it. I still took the note, putting it on the outside of my laptop computer; but I knew I didn’t need it. There are some numbers and letters I write down in case I forget them, I try to put them in places not obvious to others, but yet in places that I will remember in case I need them – of course sometimes when I need them I can’t find them even though I put them in a place that I would remember. Computer and security passwords are the classic ones in that category, and the systems that require you to change your password every so often are a challenge to me; but I knew I’d remember 518.

I’ve taken to using Greek when writing down passwords, if someone finds them and translates them more power to them, but it’s better than anything I’ve thought of so far; and let’s face it, the memory isn’t what it used to be. But 518, well 518 hit me when I heard it and I knew I need not have written it down.

Many of us will have our own 518 and most of us have no idea when we’ll have it; this is yet another example of why I’m glad I don’t have God’s foreknowledge. It’s hard enough to handle foreknowledge as a pet owner. I make an appointment for a dog to have surgery in two weeks and for two weeks I know about the surgery and the dog doesn’t. On the evening before the surgery the dog wonders why it didn’t get its evening treat, green beans in Lily and Lina’s case. On the morning of the surgery the dog wonders why it isn’t getting fed, have Mom and Dad forgotten? Is there no more puppy food in the house? What happened? When the dog and Dad and Mom get in the car the dog thinks it’s going for an outing (near as I can discern dog thoughts anyway). Even when we get to the vet’s the dog still doesn’t know that this isn’t the usual checkup. Nope – I can hardly handle what little bit of foreknowledge comes with being a pet owner – I’m right thankful I don’t have no more foreknowledge than what I have with my pets. It’s best that I don’t know about my own 518 or yours.

It strikes me that while most of us will have a 518, and that while all of us will have a place similar to 518 – whether outdoors or indoors – that we don’t think about it much; in fact most of us are on a quest of perpetual denial that there will ever be a 518 in our lives…or in the lives of those we love.

When I walked into 518 she was there, there with her husband and one of her daughters; two teenage granddaughters were stroking her arm. She was, as they say, “out of it”. She was my age, an age that looks younger all the time, an age that I actually enjoy. She was, however, heading for the exit door quicker than I am – though again you never know, and again I’m thankful I don’t have foreknowledge. She went through that door the following evening.

When I awoke the morning after her death one of my first thoughts was that this day will be my friend’s first day without his wife. He has never had a day like this and he’ll never have another day like this – this is the first day without his beloved. As a pastor I’m sure he’s had these same thoughts when walking with parishioners through times of separation, but now he’s the one waking up without a spouse, I hurt for him that morning and I hurt for him as I write this. Life is fragile and tomorrow it might be me or it might be Vickie; every day is precious…you just never know when on a certain date you’ll have your own 518.

That evening was not the last time my friend will see his wife for their marriage was rooted in Jesus Christ, their marriage drew its life from Jesus, and Jesus tells us that if we are in relationship with Him that we’ll never taste death. This isn’t hopeful thinking or denial or pie-in-the-sky smoke and mirrors. The longer I live the clearer I see that the eternal is real, that there is good and evil, love and wickedness; and that the things that really matter ought to be the things that matter – everything else is grownups playing with toys – whether those toys are boats or houses or corporate or political positions; just as children play as if they are adults, adults play as if they are God. Uncle Sam’s dollars are the same as Milton Bradley’s Monopoly money, it all goes back in the box when the game is over – what doesn’t go back in the box is the way we’ve lived our lives.

518; I really didn’t need to write it down.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Atonement and Mark Twain

I’ve been reading Philip McFarland’s, Mark Twain and the Colonel: Samuel L. Clemens, Theodore Roosevelt, and the Arrival of a New Century. Apart from some contemporary and unnecessary political and social commentary by the author (did he write the book for this reason?) and some redundancy - McFarland repeats things in chapters previously covered in earlier chapters (do we all have short-tem memory loss?) I’ve enjoyed the book. For one thing, I’ve gained some insight into why Clemens was so cynical toward Christianity, something I may explore in a future post, but what I’ve been pondering for the past few days is Clemens’s life-long struggle with guilt over real and imagined sins. From feeling responsible for the death of a younger brother in a Mississippi riverboat explosion (which was not his fault), to regrets over his selfishness (real and imagined?) toward his wife and daughters, Clemens in some respects lived a tortured life – especially so in the last few years of his live after losing his eldest daughter and his wife, and then later losing yet another daughter just when his relationship with her was blossoming. Self reproach and guilt were his responses to losing the first daughter and then his wife, a deadening of conscience via naturalistic rationalization was his remedy when the second daughter died.

As I pondered Clemens’s guilt the words of David in Psalm 32 came to mind: How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity and in whose spirit there is no deceit!...I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, I will confess my transgressions to the LORD; and You forgave the guilt of my sin.”

What do we do with guilt? We can deny it. We can deaden it. We can justify our actions. We can medicate it through any number of actions that serve to divert our attention or alter our consciousness. Or we can acknowledge our sin to God and seek His forgiveness. Anything less than acknowledgement of our sin to God and seeking His forgiveness is to live the delusion that we are the arbiters and judges of our own lives, that we actually have control over our destiny. It is my assessment of my own life, as well as my observations of the state of humanity, which confirms the futility of living with an acknowledgment that many actions of my own life have been wrong, many words hurtful, and many opportunities for doing good left undone – and living with the guilt and remorse that properly attends this acknowledgement. Such a life is futile and can only lead to despair, or to denial, or to behavior that deadens and medicates the guilt. David, in Psalm 32, writes of the only healing and assurance and relief to be found in the vortex of guilt, remorse, and despair – the forgiveness of God found in Jesus Christ. As John writes in his first letter: If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Men and women need not live with guilt for Jesus Christ loves us all so much that He came to give His life for us so that we can receive God’s forgiveness and live in peace with God, with ourselves, and with each other. I’m reminded of Paul’s words: Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…

It is also a delusion to think that if our good works outweigh our bad works that somehow the good works cover the bad works, the bad actions – this is impossible – for we are talking about sin, about transgressions of the Law of God, the moral and ethical law which He placed in the universe. Murder is murder before the court and is judged as murder without regard to whether the defendant has kept all the other laws of the land throughout his life; a theft is a theft and whether I have given many other things away to others in my life does not lessen the act and fact of my theft. The murder stands alone, the theft stands alone, the adultery stands alone, the hoarding of money and goods and talents that would benefit others stands alone. When I stare the action, the undone deed that could have helped others, the thought, the motive, in the eye and do not deny what I see; when I examine my heart, my inner person under the spotlight of truth and do not deny what it reveals – then I know in my heart of hearts that no amount of good deeds can make atonement or wash away my sin – it simply can’t be done – what I’ve done I’ve done and there it is – whether others see it or not, whether others know of it or not it is there, written in the volume of my life. I am a fool to think otherwise.

Thank God for Jesus Christ who loves us and died for us and rose for us and comes again to us in His mercy and grace and forgiveness. How frail we are on our strongest days and how absurd to think that we are anything other than what we are – a race of people who are destined to die no matter what our technology may be; but thank God that those who are destined to die can also be destined to live in a relationship with God through Jesus Christ – that is hope and that is assurance when we surrender the delusion that we are masters of our destiny and trust ourselves to Jesus.

Clemens need not have lived in guilt over his narcissism, and he need not have sought relief from guilt and sorrow through the humanistic rationalization that we are the products of time plus matter plus chance and that the world, at its heart, is materialistic and deterministic. Jesus was there for Mark Twain all of the time, but now Mark Twain has no more time.  

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Toll Plazas

Have you ever approached a toll plaza with long lines of cars at some toll booths when there are other booths that are open but either have no cars or only a car or two in their lanes? I see this often – it used to surprise me, it doesn’t anymore. It is an example of the way we live – we follow the line of cars and assume the other options aren’t good options.

The toll booth of life that most people line up at isn’t one that leads to life – yet people keep pulling in line.

I was talking to a coworker about a pretty nasty and pornographic book that is popular these days, she has a copy and is going to read it – others I know are reading it. I asked her, “Why read something that you’ve told me is nasty? Why do people do that?”

She responded, “That’s a good question.”

I don’t know if she’ll pull out of the line at the toll plaza that she’s in, but maybe she’ll think about it and direct her car elsewhere.

I ponder the hate-filled rhetoric displayed by professing Christians toward those with whom they disagree – and I wonder why they are in line at that toll booth. That is not the toll booth of Jesus Christ, that is not a way that He goes. I think about the energy that is consumed while driving through the toll booth of vitriol and disrespect – why? It is because there is a long line at that toll booth and we go with the momentum. The speed at which people arrive at the toll plaza is such that the natural inclination is to go with the flow – no matter where the flow leads.

We cannot love and hate at the same time, we cannot be reverent to God and irreverent to others at the same time. We only have so much energy to expend each day, only so many thoughts, only so many words, only so many actions – we deceive ourselves if we think we can engage in hate and vitriol with impunity, without it soiling our minds and hearts, without it soiling our souls. This is not rocket science, this is just common sense – it is also Biblical.

If I have a glass of pure spring water and I put dirt into it I then have impure water. If I have a glass of impure water and put pure spring water into it I still have impure water.

The difference between a natural toll plaza and the toll plaza of life is that in a natural toll plaza no matter which toll booth you choose you’ll come out at the same place; in the toll plaza of life that is not the case – the choices we make determine our destinies – not all toll booths lead to the same place.