Saturday, December 10, 2011

An Advent Prayer of Joy

Psalm 126
A song of ascents. 
1 When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,  
we were like those who dreamed.2 Our mouths were filled with laughter,
   our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
   “The LORD has done great things for them.”
3 The LORD has done great things for us,
   and we are filled with joy.

 4 Restore our fortunes, LORD,
   like streams in the Negev.
5 Those who sow with tears
   will reap with songs of joy.
6 Those who go out weeping,
   carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
   carrying sheaves with them.

Dear God,

May this morning bring us assurance of the eternal joy we have in you.  In the midst of this advent season, among all of the displays of our world we’re given a message of joy.  Bright colors and catchy songs pervade our lives and tell us we should be happy.  Yet even the coming of Christmas doesn’t end our worries in this world.  We lift our troubles before you this morning God because as much as we try to hide our suffering behind polite smiles we need you in our lives and in our world.  We pray for the day when polite smiles aren’t needed and we beam with a joy that comes from restoration. 

Be with us God as we mourn the losses in our lives.  In this season we cherish our time with loved ones, but the absence of some grows even larger in our hearts.  As we deal with physical struggles we ask for comfort.  When our bodies break down, we pray even more that you rest in our soul and give us peace.  Politics and economics bring spirit crushing anxiety when governed by the rules of the world.  We pray that you help us to practice God’s politics and live in a heavenly economy that brings life and light into our lives and the world.

Fill our mouths with laughter, fill our tongues with song, for the Lord has done great things for us.  We need look no further than our hands can reach from left to right to find proof of your faithfulness to us.  We thank you for the life-giving relationships in our lives.  Through good and bad we thank you for our friends and family.  We curse the traffic and hate the crowds this time of year, but help us to notice the friendly smiles, the people who hold a door for us or offer their spot in line.  Right after you made us you said it was good, let us remember that and hope for the day when humanity will be restored in all of the goodness in which you created us.

Until that day God may we seek your will and strive to live out all of the goodness that is in us through the grace and goodwill of your Son, Jesus.  In all of our troubles remind us that God is with us.  As we prepare ourselves for Christmas and remember the birth of Christ, help us to draw strength from the knowledge that just as you entered the world through a baby to draw us close to you, that we may continue to allow Christ into this world through us.  You have done great things for us Lord, and we are filled with joy.  Amen.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Prayer of Rest and Forgiveness

Dear God,

We come to you in thanksgiving. May our hearts and minds rest in you. We thank you for stillness. As we sit in your space give our bodies rest from a week of work, school, and play.  Clear our minds of all the clutter we've filled them with this week.  Help us to give away all of our thoughts that we may think only of you.  We pride ourselves on our independence and how well we take care of ourselves, this might not be all bad, but relieve us of that pressure so that we may rely wholly on you.

Thank you for taking care of us even when we don't recognize it.  Help us to see you for all that you are to us.  More than a good idea, more than a set of values, you are the God who created us and longs to draw us close.

Forgive us for the space we create between you and ourselves.  Forgive us for ignoring you because we're so content with the way things are.  Forgive us for the hurt we cause each other because we're so wrapped up in ourselves.  Forgive us for misrepresenting you and causing others to doubt you.  Forgive us for our overconsumption.  Forgive us for turning negative when things don't go our way.

We know that you are with us, may we remember this and let it drive our words, thoughts, and deeds, daily.  We preay for our world, that we could truly find peace and understand how living together should work.  We pray for our country, that we could make wise decisions with civility.  And we pray for our church, that we would bring your light into this world, reflecting the glory of the God whom we serve.

Break our hearts for the things that break yours God and give us a submissive spirit that we might be shaped into the men and women that you have intended for us to be.  We ask all of this in name of our Savior who taught us to pray, Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread.  And, forgive us of our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory.  Forever, Amen.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Really Pat?

You may have heard the news about Pat Robertson's latest offensive comments.  This time it didn't target gays or foreigners, but the diseased.  In a recent television appearance, Robertson replied to a caller asking about how he should adivise a friend who had decided to see another woman because of his wife's advanced Alzheimer's. 

I grew up fundamentalist, so I think I know the answer here.  Tell the friend to stop, ask forgiveness, and love on his wife until death.  From birth to seventeen years old, I attended a good old King James, Bible Believing, Independent Baptist Church, three times a week, every week.  That makes over 2500 sermons before I even became an adult, and most of them had something to say about sex, drugs, and/or rock and roll.  Don't take me the wrong way, the people of that church showed love and care with their actions, but the message out of their mouths came clear.  Adultery and Divorce are wrong.

I've never been a big fan of Robertson, but I thought he would at least get this one right.  But no, he said "I know it sounds cruel, but if he's going to do something, he should divorce her and start all over again, but make sure she has custodial care and somebody looking after her."  He admits that marriage is until "death" but then says that Alzheimer's is like a living death.  So that makes it ok I guess.

This is so wrong, and the reason why I believe Christians (yes, I am one) need to understand the source behind their convictions.  For starters, our nation is great, and I love family, but let's be clear.  I believe in a man, who I also believe was a God (the God even).  That this God-man lived on this earth and suffered death at the hands of his creation.  Miraculously, he didn't stay dead.  He returned to this earth until ascending into heaven.  If you're not a Christian, that sounds foolish.  If you are, it probably doesn't sound foolish enough.  If you really believe that (and I do) its a pretty big deal.  Bigger than a pledge or blood relationships, or all of the legalistic morass we let ourselves get bound up in.

Let's look to some reason.  If said wife has "lost her mind", we might conclude that she is no longer "like the living", therefore a covenant relationship like marriage may be voided on those grounds.  She is less than human, not deserving the same right to expect faithfulness from her husband as one who possesses full mental health.  If that's the case, then how can you argue that a fetus in the womb possesses full life that can't be violated.  Is the potential of life more valuable that the fulfillment of life embodied in its final journey to death?  Does the fetus deserve any more the right to birth than a person deserves the right to maintain full dignity and humanity even unto death?

Too much self-serving logic going on here.  Of what value is life?  Can we argue over it's beginning at conception or birth while we sit idly by watching execution take place?  How did a discussion of Alzheimer's take us to capital punishment?  Shane Claiborne wrote just today a defense of Grace in the face of death.  Should we dismiss the Psalms and get self-righteous over the fact that King David, guilty of murder, should have never been allowed to live long enough to write them?  Should the bulk of the New Testament be rejected because the writer, Paul, would have willingly accepted the penalty for his crimes if his conversion had been true?

We need to think!  Humanity, infused with the very breath of God is exceedingly deep, but we flippantly decide who is deserving and who doesn't have the privilege to the rights of that humanity.  We are too ready to set our minds firm on issues of abortion, death, the right to life, and dying with dignity when these issues deserve deep and mindful consideration and soul-searching. 

But unfortunately for many, it's just a whole lot easier to find out what Pat thinks about it.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Prayer for Sunday, September 11, 2011

Dear God,

When words fail to meet our need to express our desires for you we are grateful that you know us even better than we know ourselves.  When we can’t even know what we should be asking from you we are thankful that you have known what we need even before we were born.  We come to this place today to connect with you.  Bless us with the knowledge that you are in this place, that you are with us.  May our worship be pleasing to you.

We come today with an acute mindfulness of this date, ten years past the day our world changed before our eyes.  Even today we try to make sense of what happened and our reactions to that day, both collectively and individually have yet to find an end.  Help our children to understand the significance of what they can’t remember, to know that comfort and safety are gifts to show gratitude for and not to be taken for granted.  As we pray and hope for comfort and safety for our children, we also recognize the value of struggle; as we struggle in this world may we do so together, walking step by step with you.

May you lead us to forgiveness God.  We may never know how much debt we owe to you.  The trials you’ve led us through in this life that we’ve failed to attribute to your hand or the trials to come in eternity that according to your promise you have overcome.  As we pray for our children we offer the same prayer for ourselves.  Your grace has brought us safe thus far, may we understand the significance of what we can’t remember, to know that your sacrifice in the body of Jesus has brought us from a living death into eternal life.  With this measure of forgiveness let us know that nothing is unforgiveable to us, the children of God.

You are a God of beauty, of restoration, of making good out of ugly things.  We reflect today on the ugliness of September 11 and pray that through your spirit we can turn this tragedy into a victory of love over hate, peace over war, sacrifice over selfishness, humanity over evil.  You have given no less to us, from us no less is expected.

We want this God, to walk in the light of forgiveness and mercy, but we know that it can’t be done from our own strength and will.  May we follow your will on this path.


Sunday, August 28, 2011

More Memories

After the last post about memory and songs, it seems that every time I turn on the radio I hear something that takes me back.  Not the songs that you hear everyday, but the ones that seem to happen randomly and take you back to those moments that reside in the back of your brain.  The memories that you've filed away and might never recall again until something happens to trigger it.

Here in Charlottesville, the UVa students moved in just a week or so ago.  After reading several facebook posts from residents complaining about the traffic the students brought to town I got in the car for a quick trip to the supermarket.  What did I hear but "Here's Where the Story Ends" by the Sundays.  That song was an anthem for my last summer at home before leaving for college myself.

I worked at KFC that summer.  The worst job I ever had.  My parents had lobbied for me to return to the factory, but I insisted on something different. (Parents 1- Me 0; they were right)  There was an assistant manager at the store.  She was 35-40 years old, mother of a few, former husband in jail, and on top of it, I didn't find her attractive.  I was only seventeen.  I'll spare the details, but she started behaving rather inappropriately toward me and I was scared.

On my last night at work, I showed up over an hour late.  A friend of mine had already quit, and skipped out completely on his last scheduled shift.  This manager's shift ended as mine began that day.  I couldn't bring myself to just cut out, but I thought after a half hour or so she would think that I had decided to skip out like my friend.  She didn't.  She waited up to see me.  I went back into the kitchen and wouldn't come out, and she wasn't allowed back since she wasn't working.  At the end of my shift she was waiting in the parking lot.

I got into my car and cranked it while she stood in the door trying to talk.  I didn't hear a word of what she said, but the tape playing in my car would leave a memory etched into my brain that remains to this day.  "It's that little souvenir, of a terrible year."  I finally pulled out of the parking lot leaving that job and everything about it behind.

Several weeks later I remember sitting in my new dorm.  I'd brought the tape with me and played it in the room as my roommate arrived.  We made small talk, but the interaction was awkward.  I'd just bought a fan that I needed to assemble, so that occupied my hands and gave me something to do.  When the track played on the tape, I remembered just how awful my last summer at home had been.  I sat on the edge of my bed and looked across the room at this new face listening to the words "Here's Where the Story Ends." and I new that every chapter of our lives can be closed with those words, but the story really never ends.  It becomes a part of our life and prepares us to create new stories that we will take with us forever.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Memories and Melodies

Ever notice how strong of a connection certain songs make to episodes of your life?  Last week I heard "Veronica" by Elvis Costello on the radio.  I either haven't heard that song in a long time, or just haven't noticed, but this time it evoked a flood of memories.

The summer after my sixteenth birthday my parents expected me to get my first job.  They always agreed that I wouldn't have to work during the school year if I could find full-time employment during the summer that paid a decent wage.  Growing up in Bassett, Virginia, the easiest option was the factory.

At the time, Bassett was home to at least five furniture factories.  My mother's three brothers, my father, brother-in-law, and nearly every other male I could think of in my family worked in the furniture business.  Factories were wide and tall brick buildings with smokestacks and tiny windows hiding most of what went on inside.  The only clues about what happened in a factory came promptly at noon and three-thirty every weekday, shortly after the horn that was heard across the entire town.  Worn, tired, and dirty men and women would rush out of the buildings, their demeanor and appearance making it clear that whatever went on in a factory, I didn't want any part of it.

School started at 8:20, so getting ready to punch the clock at 7:00 on my first day of work was no small task.  I worked in the same building as my father, but we didn't ride together.  His routine involved getting to work early enough to read for a while in his car, gather briefly with friends in the break room, and punch the clock at 6:55 to make sure he wasn't late.  (Punching in earlier meant you'd have to be paid for the time and the company didn't allow that.  Punching in later than 7:00 meant your time would be docked and my father wouldn't allow that.)

I intended to roll into the parking lot, exit my car, proceed straight to the time clock and punch in when the horn sounded official Bassett time-- 7:00.  Riding to work that morning, "Veronica" played on the radio.  The lyrics have nothing to do with the memory, but I found it catchy enough to stick in my brain for the summer.

The tasks required on the assembly line were mind-numbingly monotonous.  I couldn't help but sing "Veronica" over and over.  My brain was empty and idle within minutes of my first day of work.  Gluing the same wooden block into piece after piece of furniture.  Screwing identical blocks into identical dressers for hours at a time.  Standing in the same spot, rotating at the hip to retrieve drawers from a stack to shove them into the moving dressers until the entire line had run.  I knew that I wasn't going to like the job and I didn't.

So why does this song that reminds me of working in a drab, dark factory in my youth?  That experience of several summers taught me so many life lessons.  I worked with people whose lives were stuck in a dead end.  I learned the value of persistence and hard work to pull out of the holes you find yourself in.  I also learned to love the people who were stuck.  The people who no one ever saw behind the brick and mortar, working like bees every day to produce.  I learned what it was like to work for the sole reason of earning a paycheck and knew that working for money alone could never lead to fulfillment in life.

Most of all, I learned to appreciate my father.  I think he worked for Bassett nearly 50 years.  I loved working in the same building as him and watching the respect he'd earned.  On paydays, I heard so many people complain about how little they made in one breath while talking about how much they'd spent on alcohol in the next breath.  I never knew how he managed to keep his mind and body fresh, but somehow he found a sense of pride in a job well done and created life-giving relationships with co-workers.  He retired on the day that I finally finished college.  He'd never even made it to high school.

I worked in a factory for three summers and hated every minute of it.  My father endured what I could not for one reason alone: a loving commitment to family.  I would have never understood the depth of this commitment if I hadn't experienced it myself.  So while I hated every minute, I wouldn't give back a single second.  It's why I smile when I hear "Veronica" today.

I've been absent from A Pot of Stew for over a month now.  Mostly because I've spent so much time travelling this summer, but I've also been doing some other writing.  I've been working on a few articles, of course I've written a few posts at The Teaching Underground.  I've also been working on a novel.  No idea where that will go, but I'll let you know if it gets off the ground. 

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Turn off the Dark

I'd never been to Broadway before last week.  I'd never been to New York before last week.  Two years ago, October 2009, U2 played a concert in my hometown of Charlottesville.  I wanted to take my son to a concert, so I bought tickets for the Philadelphia concert the next summer.  Little did I know that Bono would injure himself and the show would be postponed for another year.  I held on to the tickets and we made plans to go last week.  My wife wanted to make it a family trip, so we decided to spend a day in New York before heading to Philadelphia.

Ever since she travelled to New York a few years ago to see the Lion King on Broadway, she's been wanting to see another show.  Our youngest son is so into Spider Man we figured that would be about the only option that he would manage to sit through.  Considering that Bono and the Edge composed the music I figured that it would be only fitting to see the show the day before the U2 concert.  I found discounted tickets on-line two days before the show about 3/4 of the way back in the Orchestra section (right side, row U).

The show was phenomenal.  The live action/high flying choreography was part graceful, part daredevil.  The characters of Spiderman and the Green Goblin flew both across the stage and overhead, as if the audience was a part of the show.  The set managed to evoke a comic book feel without becoming campy.  The set created quite a sense of depth and subtley became almost as much a part of the story as the characters.  The cast was excellent, but Patrick Page in the role of the Green Goblin was the most memorable.  His villianous voice perfectly matched the dialogue and music.  The character added just enough comic relief to add a laugh or two without turning the show into a comedy.

The story was not the strongest.  The music added emotion and weight  The deeper Spiderman themes of Choice and Responsibility were present, but certainly not developed.  However, it was a cohesive story, coming to a satisfying ending.

Any U2 fan will recognize the fingerprints of Bono and the Edge all over the musical score, from the instrumentation that seems to borrow several riffs from U2 songs to the vocals that seem perfectly created for the voice of Bono.  Several scenes include clips from U2 songs as incidental music: New Year's Day from a car stereo, Vertigo in a dance club, Beautiful Day on the telephone while on hold.  The soundtrack, like the show, finds a great balance of strong emotional pieces balanced with several more light-hearted songs.

That was the highlight of my first visit to New York.  Until I can convince my four-year old son that he can't cling to a wall, the memory of Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark will remain.  As far as memories go, this is one that I'm not in a hurry to lose.  The concert on Thursday was pretty good too.  More on that one later.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Relationships- The Glue of Humanity

So what do you do in the summer?

As a teacher I hate that question because I always assume that it is seeded with contempt that I've got three months of vacation.  First of all, June 15 to August 15 is not three months.  Second, I don't just lay around the house all summer catching up on the soaps or lounge by the pool all day.

This week, the first full week of summer vacation I traveled with twenty-two teenagers to Southeast Roanoke.  While there, we ran a day camp for children in a rather neglected community.  I got to watch a sixteen year old spend her mornings working with a three-year old autistic child.  I saw a fourteen year old deal with a child who came to camp every day with a different name.  A rising eigth grader bonded with a third-grader who still showed the effects of an unlucky birth to a crack-addicted mother.  We painted the porch of a WWII veteran because his elderly neighbor cared enough to seek out help and struggles against the odds to make a neighborhood neglected by the city look presentable again.  We entered the house of a woman who had a hard time getting rid of things, and help her pack things away and clean up her house.  Calming her anxiety was a bigger struggle that sorting through the accumulated stuff.

I learned last week that relationships are the glue that holds humanity together and when relationships are neglected or put on the backburner for other things-- humanity breaks apart.  I went to the home of one elderly lady.  When she started down the front porch steps to meet me I was afraid that she would fall.  Her feet were too sore for shoes.  Looking down I could see that her greatest need might be as simple as someone to trim her nails.  A lawn mower sat in the lawn, but grass was growing over its deck.  Her mental health matched her physical health.  She didn't understand that we were offering our services for free.  She insisted that her grandson would take care of it.  He is a landscaper.  He just cant work on her lawn as long as he has paying jobs that take the time.  Her neighbor knew her two sons.  Apparently they were alcoholics that caused her more harm than good.  In this poor old woman, I saw a soul without another soul to care for her.  Society has neglected her.  No one desires to have a relationship with this lady.

The veteran that I mentioned before, he's no better off.  He was so eager to share stories and talk, probably more so than getting his porch painted.  It seemed that his only companion was the nurse who came to his house every day to take care of him. 

We spent our week in a pocket of poverty.  It wasn't as bad as it could get, but compared to my lifestyle it was bad.  These pockets are easy to overlook.  They're out of the way.  We keep them clustered away from the paths that we cross daily.  As long as we have food on our table and clothes on our back, we can lay our heads in our comfortable beds and sleep well at night without a thought for the children who aren't sure what if anything they will eat for breakfast in the morning.  When we grab a to go cup of coffee and drive to our next destination it's easy to forget the poor old lady who can't get around because she can't get shoes over her untrimmed toenails. 

We drive by, we walk by, we fly over, but we seldom stop.  Stop to just see and hear America, the world.  Outside of our immediate five senses we allow ourselves to become ignorant of the reality of life.  We build an excellent buffer with our nicely trimmed lawns, personal automobiles, membership only swimming pools, and comfortable if not pretentious churches.  A buffer that we mistake for reality to mask and hide the ugly realities that we'd rather not think about.

It's not that we should all be considering "selling everything and giving it to the poor", at least I'm not so sure that Jesus meant that command for everyone.  It's easy to think that our job is to go in and fix the problems.  Jesus didn't do it that way.  Jesus entered our humanity and lived it with us, and continues to live it with us.  He didn't die to end human suffering, he died to enter suffering with us so that we may overcome in time.  He performed many miracles, but he didn't end poverty, hunger, or oppression.  He endured poverty, hunger, and oppression.  By doing so he intertwined the fate of humanity with the fate of the divine.  He created relationship with the world.

That is true relationship.  Enduring the hardship and walking alongside those in need.  Being willing to suffer with another and not just thinking that because I wear better clothes, have my own car, and extra cash on top of it that I can just use my resources to rescue others from their difficulties.  Whether it is poverty of the mind, body, economy, or soul, none of us possess the ability to rescue another but through our willingness to live life together in genuine relationships with others.  Relationships that intertwine our fate with the fate of others.

Relationship is the glue that holds humanity together.  I would bet that where we find humanity in ruins, not just places where people are poor but places that seem empty of hope, we also find that the root of that ruin lays in broken and unhealthy relationships.

That's what I've done and learned so far this summer.  I've got a few adventures still ahead.  I like seeing the counter numbers and site traffic climb when I post frequently, but lately I've gotten comfortable knowing that when I only get around to posting only every few weeks or once a month I'm only going to get a few readers.  But I've got a lot to do if I really believe what I just wrote about relationships.  I'll try to post a few more times this summer if you're interested.  I've got a few family trips, a week at a youth camp, and a big U2 concert to attend this summer. 

So what do you do in the summer?

Sunday, June 05, 2011

A Sunday Prayer to Reclaim the Reality of God

Acts 1
6Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
 7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
 9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
 10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
 12 Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk[a] from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

Dear God,

Weekends like this remind us that sometimes when things come to an end it isn’t the end at all, but a new beginning.  We thank you for being the God of fresh starts and new beginnings.  We thank you for being the God who will even work goodness through death.  When we forget that you have that kind of power, remind us God and help us to keep the faith.

Lord we just read today a story about your son, who walked among us, died because of us, and through your power ascended into heaven from where he came.  Don’t let us sit here today and just pretend we believe this, because if we really believe something like that really happened how can we be comfortable with just being comfortable.  Help us to ponder the reality of what we have heard and let our hardened hearts break under the weight of the mystery that God almighty cares about us and desires relationship with his creation.

We don’t get lost when we follow the leader; may you be the leader of our lives.  Help us to pursue you with an unfailing faith in your goodness, with a hope that we can become what you intend for us to become, with a love that overflows bringing blessing to all of your creation.  Forgive us for our boredom when we stop considering the power of your story and think it is familiar.  Forgive us for our apathy when we confuse a comfort that keeps us in our seat with blessing.  Forgive us for our selfishness when we strive to make ourselves first not remembering we’re headed for last place in that direction.

Most of us are here today for something.  Whatever the reason we came, I pray that we all would seek first your kingdom and your righteousness, that we would be willing to follow you into death so that we may learn what it means to live.  May we draw strength and encouragement from this community of faith as we journey in the path of God together.  For this we pray together the prayer that Jesus taught his followers to pray.  Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us of our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.   For Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever.  Amen.

Friday, May 27, 2011

To The Class of 2011

For the next few weeks, important people across the nation will stand in front of graduates and their families delivering thoughtful and articulate speeches to the class of 2011. I may never make one of these speeches, but after teaching the class of 2011 for the last nine months I decided to draft the speech that I would give them.

To the class of 2011:

Too many people will tell you today that you are our future. You’re not.

Thank you very much, but I have my own plans for the future and depending on yours they may intersect, but no, I’m not looking out with excitement about your potential to take care of my world tomorrow. I want you to change your world today.

You are not the future. That would mean that everything you do today has no other value than what it prepares you for at some future time. After today, some of you who’ve been in my Friend queue on Facebook will make the cut and I will confirm our friendship. But I’ll let you in on an important secret. Most of you have been my peers for months. I learn from you, I grow because of you, I become a better person because you were a part of my life. Now that you turn the tassle from left to right it merely becomes a matter of formality.

Maybe if you’d known this earlier you would have acted more like it. The classes you skipped, the tests you didn’t prepare for, or the homework you either half-way did or borrowed from a friend aren’t really the behaviors I expect from my peers. That’s ok though, just because I’ve called you a friend doesn’t mean that you don't still have some growing up to do. I have a little of that left myself.

But remember, you’re not my future, you’re your own present. So act like it.

All this future talk can lead you down the wrong road. For a long time, us adults were pretty immune from the whim of fad and fashion. It seems that technology has changed this as well. We’re motivated by the next best thing and constantly try to stay ahead of the curve. You’re graduating, it’s time to ignore the curve. Don’t spend your life chasing the tail of the world hoping to hop on it’s back for a ride. Learn who you are, embrace your identity. Whether it’s rooted in family, faith, or passion, embrace your identity and let the world chase your tail, and hop on for a ride.

Everyone will tell you that you’ve grown up in the information age, but the information age is coming to an end. Instead of chasing what’s next, discover what is enduring. The values that never go out of style—creativity, excellence, and generosity. Simply put, create stuff; do it well; and share it. Maybe you’ll make a few bucks off of it, but if you haven’t noticed, we’ve created a pretty rotten economy for you to inherit. Financial success is no guarantee, so you might as well work toward fulfillment. You’re more likely to find it than wealth, and really, if you find it, you’ve found wealth.

To everyone who graduates today, stand up if you were accepted into the college of your dreams; if you’re proud today of the accomplishments you’ve achieved in your sport or performing art; if you think of all your classmates and someone comes to mind that you’ve helped become a better person; if you’ve fallen in love or found a best friend; stand up if you’re just glad to be graduating and finally have high school behind you. ( I assume that includes everyone)

If you felt sick when the rejection letter came, have a seat; if you remember a moment when you forgot a line, hit a wrong note, or just blew a big game; if you’ve hurt someone in your class in a way you wish you could take back; if you’ve been heartbroken, or broken someone’s heart, or ruined a friendship by doing something stupid; if you’ve hated most every moment you’ve endured to make it to graduation today. (Again, I assume this covers everyone)

Congratulations to everyone who was able to stand tall! And also for taking a seat. You’ve experienced life. A rich series of events both bitter and sweet, sometimes all at once. Don’t fail to enjoy and savor the good, but don’t run from and hide from the bad. These are the moments that have made you the person you are and will continue to make you until death. Grab hold of them and own them. Be comfortable with yourself; and when someone asks about your future show them how you’re living it instead of telling them what you hope it will be.

Abraham Maslow said “I guarantee that if you strive to become anything less that what you are capable of you will never find happiness.” I believe that every one of you have something to offer this world. And we need it now. Don’t wait for tomorrow. Do something, do it well, and share it with the rest of us—today and for the rest of your life.

Monday, May 23, 2011

When I Try to Sing This Song

The title is the first line of the song "Gloria" by U2.  Bono follows it with I try to stand up, but I can't find my feet.  I've felt that way lately with A Pot of Stew.  Sometimes the urge to write comes, but ultimately writing is nothing more than an expression of ideas.  Ideas are important and deserve thoughtful articulation.  Too often we clutter the landscape of ideas with mindless chatter and incessant words.  I have more than enough ideas floating around in my brain to fill the interwebs with post after post after post, but I don't want to cheat my ideas and add further litter to the information superhighway.

The fleeting nature of the 21st century disturbs me.  We rush so much to be the first or to create something fresh that we no longer take time to ponder and reflect.  In my Psychology class I teach that normal human anxiety is essential to anticpating and preparing for what it to come, while normal human depression is a natural response to significance, slowing our lives to understand the significance of what has transpired.  Perhaps we are in a state of technology induced anxiety.  I've opted out of the race for a time.

Maybe it would have been polite to explain my absence from APOS before hand, but the idea really hadn't taken shape until I partially realized what I was doing.  I grew tired of "disposable" writing, fresh for the day and discarded on the trash heap of digital content.  The break has been good.

In the next few weeks, I'd like to write about several books I've read during this break.  I've also been working on a post for graduation.  I want to share several conversations I've had with a friend regarding faith.  I've heard from nine or ten people in the last month who read APOS, and honestly, it is humbling to know that even one person is interested in what I have to say.  So thank you, and I hope to post again soon.

In the meantime, enjoy an awesome song from and awesome band.

Monday, May 02, 2011

A Celebration of Death

The world is abuzz on May 2 with the news of Osama bin Laden's death.  Many of us waited eagerly to hear the unknown from the lips of our President on Sunday night while many awoke on Monday morning to the revelation that the embodiment of terrorism and hatred of America was no more.  In a fallen and imperfect world, sometimes there are no good decisions to make.  The death of bin Laden might have been needed to bring justice to those who suffered loss on September 11, 2001.  For others it may not be justice as much as much as justification that for the last decade our military efforts abroad have not been fruitless.  Perhaps the death of bin Laden restores our belief that when America sets for itself a goal, that goal we will reach.

We could argue that killing Osama bin Laden is an ironic way of showing the world that violence will not be tolerated.  We could say that after ten years, the murder of bin Laden is vengeance more than justice.  We could assert that in ten years of war, the United States is responsible for more innocent lives than bin Laden himself.

I can understand both sentiments.

I don't think the response to bin Laden's death in either case is joy.  Relief, for sure.  Satisfaction, I can understand.  I cannot believe that the proper response to any death is one of Joy.  Even if given that Osama bin Laden deserved this death, that his demise was demanded in the name of justice-- we have just lived through a failure of humanity to be accepted with gravity, not embraced in jubilance.

The only beauty in the story of death lies in the new life it has the potential to bring.  Only in the promise of restoration, reconciliation, resurrection can we ever find hope in death.  May we one day rejoice in celebration of reconciliation.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Day After

Easter is over, unless you are among the select few home from work because "Easter Monday" still means something.  The kids are coming down from their sugar highs and we gear up for grilling out and sporting the American flags as the Memorial Day/Fourth of July holiday season is upon us.  We are winding down from our school years and preparing for family vacations.  Beaches and pools beckon us.  And likely, church pews will empty.  Our charity and consideration for others so present during the winter season of Thanksgiving and Christmas wanes and our minds turn toward escape and relaxation.

I'm not sure if this is a fair description of what happens now, but for myself it becomes very easy to slide into this rut.  But today I think about what the day after resurrection means.  For Jesus' disciples, Maundy Thursday through Saturday must have been so confusing and sorrowful.  Easter Sunday would be incredulous and jubilant, perhaps so much so that they were stopped in their tracks.  But what about the day after.  The realization that the man in whom they had cast their hope, who had apparently died and left them abandoned and alone in their folly, had indeed defeated death and returned from the dead only to ascend before their eyes into heaven.

Do we really believe that?  Because the idea is pretty crazy.  Crazy enough that starting with the day after, Jesus followers had to honestly start asking themselves "what now!?"  Really, do you just drop your jaw and say "wow, Jesus just died and came back to life and I'm watching him ascend into heaven" and then just go back to whatever you were doing, or just start moving on toward the next "normal" holiday or season in the year.  The disciples knew this required action and they followed Jesus instructions to "go and make disciples."  They built the church and established the legacy that would sustain the Christian faith for millenia.  That's what they did the day after Easter. (ok, I'm using the word day in a metaphorical sense, but the question remains)

What are we doing the day after Easter?

Saturday, April 23, 2011


Psalm 37:40

The LORD helps them and delivers them;
he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
because they take refuge in him.

So on this Easter eve I come to the end of my journey. Forty verses in Psalm 37. I'm not a big fan of analysis; when we break things apart they lose their identity, but for this Psalm I have done just that. I do think that working with individual verses has been tough at times, but now at the end, I feel that I get the message of this Psalm-- the whole Psalm better for having done it. So this verse comes at the end of a Holy Week. Saturday night, almost 36 hours after noon Good Friday. I imagine the disciples, restless and weary, a dead messiah in a tomb, thinking about what the day after Sabbath would bring.

Then I think of all the messages of Psalm 37. Patience, trust, abiding, righteousness. I know that when I wake tomorrow, the tomb is going to be empty, but in my life, I wake many mornings wondering "how I'm going to move the stone." The women walked toward the tomb with that same thought on the first Easter. How could you maintain faith in those circumstances? But they still did not desert their Lord, they were faithful even in His death and just like Psalm 37 promised, they received the reward of Good News. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed.

Friday, April 22, 2011


Psalm 37:39

But the salvation of the righteous is from the LORD;
He is their strength in the time of trouble.

"Waves of regret, waves of joy, I reached out to the one I tried to destroy. You, you said you'd wait till the end of the world." It is Maundy Thursday, and that quote is a line from a U2 song. It refers to Judas, who would dine with Christ on Thursday, and partake in the "Last Supper" with our Lord. Today, we remember our time with Christ as he shares the truth that he is the bread of life; the way and the truth. We have no righteousness in ourselves, but only from the Lord. Tomorrow, we remember the day that the world failed to see the only source of our righteousness as we look to our salvation.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Psalm 37:38

But all sinners will be destroyed;
the future of the wicked will be cut off.

So many ancient religions seem to focus on not only creation but destruction. We've come to see destruction in a negative way, hardly wanting to associated it with a deity. Creator and destroyer, tear down and build up. Could we be facing our destruction as sinners? Does this mean I will be destroyed? Perhaps it does, and maybe I should look forward to it. Maybe the only way to have a future is to allow the sinner in me to experience death cutting away the future of wicked with only a justified self to walk into the future.

"Justified until we die, you and I will magnify.... Magnificent!"

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Psalm 37:37

Consider the blameless, observe the upright;
there is a future for the man of peace.

This verse contrast nicely with the previous verse. The temporary versus the permanent. The valuable versus the truly valuable.

How do we find a future? A real future that lasts and not just a few extra minutes to do more of the same. We stop looking for the wicked, we stop fretting over others, and we consider, observe. Who is blameless? Who is upright? We have many close examples in our world and from history. Certainly they are good to follow, but God has provided the blameless and upright for us to observe and consider.

With our eyes set on Christ, not caring for directions or map, but one step at a time following the only righteous and holy one into our future.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Psalm 37:36

but he soon passed away and was no more;
though I looked for him, he could not be found.

On several occasions I've dealt with the grief of losing a student or former student. When a student dies, you remember the petty things that you used to get caught up in, or how the behaviors that once drove you crazy no longer seem so severe. You realize that while education is invaluable and important, there are other things that matter more. That is the balance it takes to be a good teacher. You must realize at the same time how important you are and how unimportant you are to the life of a student.

Life can be the same. It is valuable and precious, but it isn't everything. This verse indicates that what we might think is everlasting will fade away. The trials of today have been overcome though we must still endure them. This world will pass away, at least the world known to us. May we spend our time on things eternal.

Monday, April 18, 2011


Psalm 37:35
I have seen a wicked and ruthless man
flourishing like a green tree in its native soil,

I've never had much luck with plants. I think much of my trouble is not understanding the right timing, placement, and soil preparation. Most of the time I just stick a bush or plant in the ground somewhere it is going to look nice, and then forget about it. I suppose that anything can flourish in its right place. That is probably why Paul described the "fruits of the spirit." If you simply drop a seed in its ideal location, it can grow like crazy. But when you're planted out of your element, it takes much more work. Sometimes I feel like this is the work of a Christian. To learn to grow out of our native soil.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Cross

I had the most unusual experience today at church.  Of course, today is Palm Sunday, a celebration of Jesus triumphant entry into Jerusalem.  It marks the beginning of Jesus journey to the cross.  Churches across the world wave palm fronds and remember the crowds shouting "hosanna, hosanna" to welcome the King.  The rest of the week takes a turn for the worse as Jesus partakes in the Last Supper with his disciples before his arrest.  Afterward he is turned over to the authorities and in no time, that same crowd is shouting "crucify him."

Our pastor chose to mark the alternate designation of this day as "Passion Sunday," rather than jumping from the celebration of Palm Sunday to the celebration of Easter.  Without crucifixion there would be no resurrection.  For this Sunday, our scripture was a lengthy passage from Matthew.  I've read it many times, Jesus before Pilate leading to his crucifixion.  I guess that sometimes familiarity is a bad thing.  I had to read the scripture for the congregation and right in the middle around verse 26, I came to a realization as if I were reading this for the first time.  Reading this passage about Jesus, being led as a lamb to the slaughter-- at least sacrificial animals were treated with some level of dignity and respect-- reading this passage I teared up and had to stop.  In that moment I clearly realized that I wasn't reading just a story on the page, but the story of a world gone mad, a world ready to snuff the very Son of God.  And even worse, I am a part of that world.  Not only do I live in it daily, I contribute to making it what it is.   This is the lesson of Holy Week, and the reason that Easter means so much.

 11 Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
   “You have said so,” Jesus replied.
 12 When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. 13 Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?” 14 But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor.
 15 Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. 16 At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas. 17 So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” 18 For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him.
 19 While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.”
 20 But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.
 21 “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor.
   “Barabbas,” they answered.
 22 “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked.
   They all answered, “Crucify him!”
 23 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.
   But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”
 24 When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”
 25 All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!”
 26 Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.  27 Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. 28 They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. 30 They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. 31 After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.  32 As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross. 33 They came to a place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). 34 There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it. 35 When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. 36 And sitting down, they kept watch over him there. 37 Above his head they placed the written charge against him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS.
 38 Two rebels were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. 39 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:11-54, New International Version, ©2011)

Saturday, April 16, 2011


Psalm 37:34
Wait for the LORD
and keep his way.
He will exalt you to inherit the land;
when the wicked are cut off, you will see it.

Patience comes up again. Waiting requires submission and trust. Impatience can be a sign that we aren't confident that things will work out so we start making our own plans. Usually in our anxiety we make poor decisions and act on impulse rather than reason. Sometimes I live my spiritual life this way. I start moving because I'm ready to see things happen so I forget to wait on God and His way. The result is usually bad. When I wait, and keep His way, I begin to get a glimpse of the land that I will inherit.

Friday, April 15, 2011


Psalm 37:33

but the LORD will not leave them in their power
or let them be condemned when brought to trial.

We spend so much time worrying about others. What they think of us, how they judge us. Sometimes the world beats us down so bad we accept its judgment of who we are. This verse lets us know that with God, we are not under their power, that their judgments mean nothing. The condemnation of the world is not the condemnation of God. It reminds me of Jesus words in John- In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


Psalm 37:32

The wicked lie in wait for the righteous,
seeking their very lives;

That sounds pretty paranoid. This Psalm talks much about the righteous, but Paul tells us there is none righteous, no, not one. So does that make me the wicked. I'm sure that I fit that category at times, but I am convinced that I have a righteousness that comes not from myself, but God's grace. I really don't think that "the wicked" are sitting around plotting a way to kill me, but I do think that often the ways of wickedness subtly slip into our lives and drain it.

I've been trying to live more healthy the last six or seven months. I remember a scene from "Super Size Me" where Morgan Spurlock downs a large McDonald's meal and gets sick from eating so much. When I first saw that I thought it was crazy. I could knock back a large McDonald's meal without missing a step. But now, I understand. It is easy to let our bodies become compromised by the food we eat without ever realizing the slow toll it is taking on our lives over the years. Over about sixteen years, I put on nearly thirty pounds. Those pounds come on slow and unnoticed, but if I'd kept up the pace, by the time I turn 55 I would have weighed 260 pounds. Hardly healthy. If I eat an value meal today, my body will protest.

We allow the same thing to happen in our spiritual lives. We let things slip in that seem to be no harm, but they slowly eat away at us. When our lives are in order, our souls will protest, but when we let our spiritual health slide, those same things just keep slowly stealing our lives until we're basically dead.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Psalm 37:31

The law of his God is in his heart;
his feet do not slip.

When I think about the law of God being in my heart I think of the phrase "I know that by heart." Odd that when we refer to something memorized we say "I know that by heart" and not "I know that by mind." When we really practice something and get good at it, we don't think about it any more. That's why it is so enthralling to watch a master musician perform, or awe-inspiring to watch a world-class athlete at their craft. There is an effortlessness about their mastery.

People don't watch me play guitar, because with the exception of a G and C chord, I cannot play by heart. I play by mind, and my efforts are clumsy and forced. You could tell by watching me that I know what to do, I'm just not very good at doing it. If we could have the law of God in our heart, our lives might look just a little bit smoother. Watching us live might be a joy as we effortlessly navigate the trials of life.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Psalm 37:30

The mouth of the righteous man utters wisdom,
and his tongue speaks what is just.

Justice and wisdom. Justice seems like folly in a world gone mad.

Reparations, amnesty, debt relief, free trade, open immigration, adequate housing, access to health care, fair trade, right to work, right to life, right to education, redistribution of wealth.

Monday, April 11, 2011


Psalm 37:29

the righteous will inherit the land
and dwell in it forever.

I find it interesting that dwelling seems to be the most important descriptor of what we shall do in this land that is inherited. There is so much to do with land: farm it, subdivide it, build upon it, work in it, but over and over it is dwell. We walk this earth for a finite season; so short we’re not even dwelling here, we’re on our way. Forever scares me and sometimes I’d prefer to think that I will have an end. But I don’t think that we will. If this land relates to our eternity, then what shall we do—we shall dwell; abide. The journey will be finished; the struggle behind. We shall dwell in the house of the Lord, forever.

Saturday, April 09, 2011


Psalm 37:28

For the LORD loves the just
and will not forsake his faithful ones.
They will be protected forever,
but the offspring of the wicked will be cut off;

So much of what we find in scripture is a reversal of our perception of reality. He who gains his life will lose it type of thing. I wonder if we don’t find the same here. The just are looking out for justice… for all. The wicked are looking for justice… for themselves. I think that we err this way with our patriotism sometimes. We are so bent on protecting our home, our borders, our children; that the children of the world suffer in war zones, refugee camps, sweatshops and brothels.

We disparage immigrant workers because we “can’t take care of our own.” But there aren’t very many of our own starving compared to the world. If we devote so much of our time on Earth to protecting—we clearly aren’t looking out for our treasure in heaven. Perhaps the faithful are doing just that, looking out for their treasure in heaven because they certainly don’t have anything of value in this world.

Thursday, April 07, 2011


Psalm 37:26

They are always generous and lend freely;
their children will be blessed.

In our world, we like to think that our children come first. I’m not so sure that is always the best; for us or them. When we spend much of our time elevating our child above others, making sure our child has the best, making sure out child doesn’t miss an opportunity.

A few years ago I attended a kindergarten program at my son’s school. You could hardly see from the back because of all the parent’s standing to video the show. And they all had to have their own video because their child was the star.

The righteous are generous and lend freely; living a life of giving openly displayed for their children. They don’t horde their possessions to shower their children, they allow their children to join them in sacrifice and love for others instead of love for self.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011


Psalm 37:25

I was young and now I am old,
yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken
or their children begging bread.

This one is tough. Will the righteous not face hardship? Do the oppressed and violated somehow have a hand in their fate because of their lack of faith? The horrors of warfare, holocaust and genocide; were they all wicked, deserving to be abandoned by God?

Are we not even told by Jesus that in this world we will have trouble? Yes, and we are also reminded that He has overcome the world. Jesus spoke to us about living water, and the bread of life. He urged us to store up our treasures in heaven, and asked what it is to gain the whole world at the cost of one’s soul.

Perhaps we expect a physical solution to a spiritual problem?

Tuesday, April 05, 2011


Psalm 37:24

though he stumble, he will not fall,
for the LORD upholds him with his hand.

I guess it would be important to understand the difference between a stumble and a fall. I’ve done both. When I stumble, it startles me for a moment. My heart rate goes up, my muscles jump to attention. I look around to see if anyone saw it, whether it counts or not. Sometimes I feel stupid and I’ve stumbled because I didn’t pay attention or was doing something I shouldn’t have. Sometimes I’m thankful and my stumbling makes me more mindful of my steps as I continue. I stumble a lot; I’ve got a weak ankle and it turns frequently. I drop just a bit and catch myself.

Sometimes I fall. When I fall, it doesn’t even matter if anyone is looking. When I fall it usually hurts, and sometimes leaves a mark. Usually my clothes get dirty or torn. If I’m going somewhere, often a fall will derail those plans or at least severely alter them. Sometimes when I fall I try things in desperation to keep myself upright and that usually ends in disaster; I pull something or someone else down and make a mess.

God tells us that if He delights in our ways, we may stumble, but we will not fall. I know what it is like to fall, and I sure want to stay on my feet; even if I trip up from time to time—it’s just not the same as falling.

Monday, April 04, 2011


Psalm 37:23

If the LORD delights in a man's way,
he makes his steps firm;

Firm steps. That’s what we all want, to walk without slipping, to progress without faltering. God will do this for us if He delights in our way. If he is pleased by how we live. This is another one that seems to just make sense. Sometimes it is my “stumbling” or “falling” that teach me the most. When I am travelling in a way unpleasing to God I should rejoice that my steps are not firm, that I will likely slip and fall at any time rather than continuing on in the way of destruction.

I’m reminded of the Tower of Babel when God said, we’ve got to stop them; if they’ve come this far imagine what they might do next. Only when our ways please the Lord will our actions serve to truly build up ourselves and humanity, and only in those ways do we deserve to walk with a firm step.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Little Easter Reflection 3

I'll never forget several years ago, an interim pastor at our church invited everyone back the next week for Easter by saying it is the day that we celebrate "God's greatest joke on humanity."

I thought it was brilliant. Death, the ultimate end of humanity, the fear of all, the proof that we are broken and finite-- defeated by death itself on a Cross. How ironic that the King would bleed and die to save. I'm reminded of Paul's words that the wisdom of God seems foolish to the world.

We've lost that. It was foolish to die on a cross when He could have destroyed all who opposed Him, it was foolish of Him do heal the soldier's ear who was there to arrest him. It was foolish to open his arms in love to the embrace and kiss of Judas. The love of Christ for humans appears foolish in our view of the world. If it wasn't so foolish, we'd probably show much more of this love than we do.

We've come to look at Jesus death and resurrection as tool for entry to heaven that we are thankful that he did it; don't totally understand why; but unwilling to accept it as the example of wisdom in our own lives.

Some might be offended by referring to Easter as a joke. When we refuse to love like Jesus but expect him to save us by His death- that is when we truly make a joke of Easter.

Saturday, April 02, 2011


Psalm 37:22

those the LORD blesses will inherit the land,
but those he curses will be cut off.

Blessings and curses. These words take us back to Abraham. God told him that he would be blessed to be a blessing to the earth. But those who curse him, God will curse also. God has entered the world of humanity to show it the way. This way will lead to blessing, a way that brings us closer to God. The Hebrew Bible shows us how impossible it is for humans to follow this way of God. It leaves us wondering how God can decide who to hand out His blessings and curses to. He first blessed one who understood that a blessing from God was for others as much as self. Through inheritance this blessing continued through generations and a people meant to be a holy priesthood showing God to the world.

God told Abraham that whomever blessed him, God would also bless and whomever cursed him, God would also curse. I think that then as it is now, the status of blessed or cursed often comes from the choices that we make in relationship to God. We choose to claim our inheritance through Christ or we choose to seek another way. Being cursed and cut off seems harsh and cold, but if I have spent my life avoiding God and moving away from Him, would I even want to inherit the promises He’s given?

Friday, April 01, 2011


Psalm 37:21

The wicked borrow and do not repay,
but the righteous give generously;

Does anyone borrow and not repay? Of course it happens, but I bet if you compared the number of people who think someone owes them money with the number of people who think they owe someone else the numbers wouldn’t match up. At best we may think “oh yeah, I really need to pay that person back,” but we probably never say “they’ll never see that again, it is all mine now.” I guess at the heart of this is the fact that I feel righteous by this verse. I don’t borrow money from people, and I always honor my household debts, that’s one point, but I also think that I’m pretty generous compared to most people in my situation.

But any scripture that makes me feel “good” causes me to worry a bit. I know that I can’t measure up to God, so when I start feeling like I’m getting close I think that I must be missing a point somewhere. So how have I borrowed, and not repaid? I think about the land that I walk on, and the small piece of property that I claim to “own.” Can I possess a piece of God’s earth and claim my own sovereignty over it? From whom do I borrow this land? I think about my education and the knowledge that gives me a title. Does this knowledge belong to me that I should hold privilege because of it and earn my way to comfort and luxury? I think about the institutions of school and church and government that have afforded me values, ideals, and prosperity; I consider these mine, but do I take the time to consider the backs that were broken and the lives that were given and taken for this.

Ultimately, I consider my life. Do I consider it my own, to spend as I see fit? Have I borrowed this life from my creator without a thought of repayment or have I given all, generously given all that I am in recognition that there is nothing in me apart from God.

Thursday, March 31, 2011


Psalm 37:20

But the wicked will perish:
The LORD's enemies will be like the beauty of the fields,
they will vanish—vanish like smoke.

I find this verse much easier to understand in the context of verse 19. We’ve just been given assurance that in times of trial, the righteous will be satisfied; the righteous will have at least “just enough.” But, the wicked will perish. To our 21st century ears this seems so harsh, and to others, it points to the “schizophrenic” nature of Christianity: a loving and just God willing to punish so harshly.

I see it differently. The universe has an order. As creator of that order, God communicates truths about it for us to understand. It can be difficult to follow God and rely on Him in times of prosperity. The Hebrew Bible constantly reminds us to “remember” how God brought us from captivity and how easy it is to forget our God when we’re living in the land of “milk and honey.”

When times are good, it is hard to follow God, and many of us choose not to. We were just promised however that those who follow God in the good times will be preserved in the bad. We’ve learned to rely on God with food on the table, so now we can easily rely on his provision when the cupboard is bare. He will sustain us. But the wicked, we’ve been living for ourselves and exploiting the fat of the land. I’ve gotten by on my own, but now, there are times of trouble, and I’m not good enough to make it on my own. I am a sheep without a shepherd. So while the righteous continue to live on the sustenance of God, I perish in the famine thinking that I can somehow make it on my own.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Psalm 37:19

They will not be disgraced in times of adversity;

they will be satisfied in days of hunger.

On the surface, this sounds pretty nice. If I’m one of the righteous, I won’t suffer like everyone else, my God will deliver me from all hardship.

Not quite. It seems that we will face days of adversity and hunger. Hearing that I will be satisfied in days of hunger doesn’t say to me that I can always expect a full belly. But I can expect my needs to be met. The problem is, we spend too much of our time worrying about our wants being met. We get consumed with a fear of losing our comfort and privilege that we’ve mistaken it for necessity.

This gives us a false sense of reality that in hard times we’re really suffering and struggling when the truth is that now we can not only trust our God to provide, but we can experience the grace of our God’s provisions. Times of adversity and hunger can become the times that strengthen our faith immensely as we learn to rely on God to satisfy rather than on the world to indulge.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Psalm 37:18

The days of the blameless are known to the LORD,
and their inheritance will endure forever.

That’s quite daunting. “The days of the blameless are known” but who among us are blameless? Every measure that we devise shows over and again that next to God’s holiness we fall way short. I doubt there are wasted words in the Bible. If there were no blameless to be known, this just wouldn’t be here. Can this verse be talking to me?

I’m so glad that inheritance is used again here. It reminds me of so much language from the New Testament about our inheritance in Christ. It reminds me that I am blameless through the grace of Christ.

So much of this Psalm relies on the conditional; it seems that so much of our world is based on conditions. If, then; over and over. The very operation of our universe seems to work on a very cause and effect, conditional set of principles. It’s almost like conditionality is a natural law. If being blameless is the condition for salvation then we’re all lost. And that is the beauty of grace, entering a system of conditions and breaking the back of sin and death. Forever.

Monday, March 28, 2011


Psalm 37:17

for the power of the wicked will be broken,
but the LORD upholds the righteous.

Sometimes it can be quite difficult to live a holy life. That is such an understatement. It is always impossible to live a holy life. It seems so much easier to live my way; do what I want; and look out for myself. If you’ve been reading these posts so far, you’ll probably recognize that last sentence as pretty close to the definition of wickedness that I’ve talked about so much. So by now I should know that no matter what sort of power I seem to exercise over my life; and most certainly over other’s lives, it will surely not hold.

While the righteous way seems more difficult, we’re promised that the Lord holds up the righteous. I wonder if in times when we feel as if God is letting us down, as if we’re living a holy and righteous life and still flailing; maybe we’re still striving in our own ways. How many of us can truly give up those ways to completely yield to God.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Little Easter Reflection 2

I admit that I'd never really even heard of lent until I was over twenty years old. I didn't have any understanding actually of the role of sacrifice and self-denial in Christian theology. The metaphor of being in the desert meant nothing to me.

I remember March 1991; I'd not missed an Easter service in my life. We were a very regular three time-a-week church family growing up, so it wasn't just about Easter, but there was still that sense and understanding of something special about Easter. This was my first year of college, and I had grown ever so spiteful of my faith. I wasn't backsliding, I was consciously and intentionally working to destroy my faith. I didn't want it. It was worthless to me. March had been amazing. I'd travelled to Florida with new found friends, hosted several guests on our return, and saw them on their way Easter morning. I'd gotten so caught up in the excitement that I didn't even know it was Easter until noon.

I took a walk by myself. The first time I'd really let myself be alone without some sort of distraction for a while. On my walk I sensed a great feeling of emptiness and despair, but I could not shed thoughts of Jesus. Looking back I feel like I knew that I would be running from God for quite some time, but He was holding on and watching all the way. I feel like I have a better understanding of being in the desert because of that experience and the years that followed, and for some reason, the video posted below brought all of the memories of that days experience rushing back to my brain.

Saturday, March 26, 2011


Psalm 37: 16

Better the little that the righteous have
than the wealth of many wicked;

This one seems easy. Even if it isn’t much, what I have in righteousness is greater than all the wealth of wickedness. We get so obsessed with quantity in this world that we often neglect the power of quality. I guess that is what a throwaway society does to us. I want more and I want it now. But a closer look at this verse seems to throw us a little quantitative curve. Not only is the little that the righteous have better than the wealth of the wicked; it is better than the wealth of MANY wicked. I think of the ancient Egyptian belief of one’s heart being measured against the feather to determine one’s fate in the afterlife. I imagine an army of wicked men one the scales, balanced on the other side against a single, lonely righteous man.

One who had lived a life of weight. The weight of God’s righteousness. A single life of great value in the kingdom of God. And I think, I want to be that type of man.

Friday, March 25, 2011


Psalm 37:15

But their swords will pierce their own hearts,
and their bows will be broken.

Swords and bows; this seems to be the tools of wickedness. We all have a pretty strong arsenal of swords and bows in our life. Swords and bows are weapons of offense, not defense, but in many of our lives, we’ve learned that the best defense is a good offense.
For me, it is usually words. I’ve developed a pretty keen ability to fire away some of the most hurtful lines, usually delivered at just the right moment to gain some sort of advantage over others.

But where does this get me. I usually find myself filled with hurt and regret when those weapons have been used. I’m broken. History provides numerous examples of the oppressors weapons of choice coming back to defeat them. The non-violence movements of Gandhi and King are excellent examples, but even looking at the fall of empires shows us that when we rely on weapons of offense, the tables are quickly turned.

This also leads me to think of our own nation at this time. Our swords and bows have so often taken the form of economic superiority. Would it be a surprise if the world of economics also became the sword that pierces our own hearts?

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Psalm 37:14

The wicked draw the sword
and bend the bow
to bring down the poor and needy,
to slay those whose ways are upright.

It seems odd that the poor and needy could be “brought down.” One would think that the poor and needy are already down. But we see countless ways in which the poor and needy are constantly kicked down.

A few months ago I was in a car accident. No fault of my own, I stopped to avoid a car that was in the middle of an intersection running a red light. While stopped, a truck hit me from behind. Through no fault of my own, so I assumed that everything would be taken care of. Luckily, I have insurance. I am wealthy enough to give someone money each month to hold in case something bad happens. Luckily, I can afford a policy with a low deductible of $250. If I weren’t blessed in this way, what would I have done with an undriveable vehicle needing $2500 in repairs that I couldn’t afford. How would it have affected my job without reliable transportation. Two months later and I still only have compensation for half of the damage. But I’m not complaining. Just sad to think of how this event could have been so devastating for someone else not in my shape.

I don’t bring down the poor and needy or slay the upright, but I am so vested in a system that does. I don’t draw the sword, I just let an institution or an idea draw it for me. Too often I get caught up in my individual piety and forget that this world is bigger than me. It really is quite hopeless to see myself as one of the wicked described in this verse. It really is quite hopeless. Hopeless.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. (1 Peter 1:3)

May we strive to be like Christ in whom our hope rests. Living in this world, but not of it. Fighting the system of oppression and seeking a new way of life given through the resurrection of our Savior.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Psalm 37:13

but the Lord laughs at the wicked,
for he knows their day is coming.

It sure does seem harsh to find our Lord laughing at the fate of others. But I do think that in the context of this chapter, it isn’t quite so. This chapter provides repeated warnings against fretting over evil doers and getting too wrapped up in their goings on. To put it in perspective, here we have God, laughing.

We can laugh at things that are of no consequence. Or when we are confident of the outcome and know that something is harmless. A few years ago, my football team, the University of Virginia Cavaliers played the USC Trojans. We were just out of our league in this game. From the opening kick-off, it was clear that we didn’t have a chance of winning. On one hand, had the USC fans and football program laughed at and ridiculed us it would have been humiliating. But, on the other hand, they could afford to relax, not get so worked up over a bad call, laugh it off when one of the opposing players got a little hot.

I think that God’s perspective of the wicked is much like that. He knows what is coming to them. He knows they can be a thorn in the side of his children. But he also knows the final score, and in the big picture, they’re not making as much noise today as it really seems.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Psalm 37:12

the wicked plot against the righteous
and gnash their teeth at them;

At first glance, it is easy to take this verse to justify all of the hardships we face in the world. We can feel a little better in our pain knowing that the wicked are gunning for us. But I think that it may also provide a check. How often do we plot against others or clinch our teeth in their presence. In this entire chapter, we see the righteous as meek and gentle, the evil are the one’s who are engaged in… well, evil.

But perhaps the very act of plotting and gnashing puts us in the same category with the wicked. Maybe Psalm 37: 12 and other verses like it should encourage us to be mindful of how we react to others instead of giving us reasons to expect persecutions and hardship. Sometimes we even come to expect this treatment from others if we live a holy life. So much so that we live on the defensive and begin to plot and gnash; I think that might have just created a circle.

Monday, March 21, 2011


Psalm 37:11

But the meek will inherit the land
and enjoy great peace.

So if, people are always looking for a fight, they’re probably going to find it in someone else who’s ready to fight. In a survival of the fittest scenario it would seem that the fighters would eventually kill each other off. So who does that leave? The meek. And if the meek are all that is left, who is left to fight? Ergo, great peace. This seems pretty logical to me.

But we still drive ourselves and our will directly into the selves and will of others. We drive ourselves toward our own will instead of God’s and inevitably we butt against something, usually someone who derails our path. Do we yield? No, we fight. And in the process, damage is done, wounds are given, and life is sucked out of us slowly. The meek will enjoy great peace.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Little Easter Reflection 1

My earliest memories of Easter are green pants and a yellow shirt. I hated dressing up when I was a child, but I never minded putting on my Sunday best for Easter. One year I remember my mother buying me a bright green pair of dress pants with a yellow polo style shirt to match. I remember loving putting it on and wearing it. I don't remember much else about that Easter, or any other Easters from my childhood, so I don't really know why this outfit stands out in my mind so much.

I also remember that as soon as I got home, the clothes were changed because the last thing I wanted to do was get myself messed up and dirty.  That's kind of what salvation is like.  Christ cleans us up, we put on "the clothes of Christ" and are made into something new.  That's what Easter is; the making of something new and fresh and clean.  God has entered my life through Christ and I am a new creation.  Clean and bright.  Why would I want to go out and get that dirty?

Saturday, March 19, 2011


Psalm 37:10

A little while, and the wicked will be no more;
though you look for them, they will not be found.

We fretted a lot in this Psalm over the wicked. Now God promises that they will not be found in a little while, but what do we do? We still fret. The wicked have all gone, and now that we have the land, what are we doing? We’re looking for them.

So much wrong and evil finds us in our everyday life, but we make it so much harder by looking for trouble. The Lord’s Prayer asks that He “deliver us from temptation” but we are so filled with self will that don’t recognize our need for this deliverance. Do we need evil in order to be good. Sometimes it is easier to bemoan the presence of evil knowing that by comparing ourselves we can come out looking good. But when we stop looking at evil and turn our eyes on God we find ourselves poorly lacking.

We find that in ourselves we can’t make it. And we learn that we must turn to our Savior.

Friday, March 18, 2011


Psalm 37:9

For evil men will be cut off,
but those who hope in the LORD will inherit the land.

We make jokes in our family about who gets what when my parents die. Some of you might think that is nothing to joke about, but I think it has become a little bit of a defense mechanism. If we make light of dividing our parents belongings when they die, we put out of our minds the very likely reality that they will die. In a healthy relationship, the inheritance is the last thing we want to think about.

An inheritance can seem like a long way off, maybe we even do such a good job at denial that it seems like it will never happen. I think our reward with the Lord often fits this pattern. It seems so far off and distant, that we really lose sight that we will have an inheritance in due time. At some point in the future we will be so well off, that all of the trouble we’ve endured will seem small. But we allow it to get out of sight. Out of sight out of mind. And we seek our own will; to take what we think we deserve now rather than waiting for something even better (that we don’t deserve) later.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Creativity, Gratitude, and a Big Win

Creativity, I believe, is the very image of God in every one of us.  Whether expressed through the words of a story on the page, hard work and effort to run faster than before, or in our relationships with others that nurture and sustain humanity.  We find no greater honor on this earth than for others to recognize this creative gift inside of us and value its goodness.

But it can also be devastating when this creative impulse gets overlooked or meets with derision.  This fear of rejection often stifles our natural creativity.  I know this fear, and even today sit anxious about how the public will judge my creative work.

Earlier today, the Hook, a local weekly newspaper here in Charlottesville announced me as the winner in their annual short-story contest.  John Grisham judged and declared my story the winner.  I am abundantly honored that he found value in my work.  The newsmagazine will publish my story this week, and while I’ve written on this blog for several years and published a few articles elsewhere, I find myself oddly self-conscious about this one.

I’m hopeful that public responds positively; I’m hopeful that the public responds at all.  I would like to thank Hawes Spencer and the Hook for sponsoring this contest.  Also, Stephanie Garcia who took the time to interview me and write some very kind things about me in the Hook.  Of course a thank you is in order for Mr. John Grisham for reading the stories and taking the time to judge them.  And I want to thank my wife, the only eyes to see this story before Mr. Grisham.

And thank you.  I appreciate all of you who have followed and supported my efforts at writing through A Pot of Stew and Teaching Underground; if you are new to this site, I thank you for your eyes today and hope that you will visit again.