Thursday, November 28, 2013

May we bring to all the gospel of life

So God created man in His own image,
in the image of God He created him;
male and female He created them.
And God blessed them. Genesis 1:27-29

So of all things, I am reading the Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis this morning. And it is an exhortation for joy and gratitude for God’s great love and goodness as demonstrated on the Cross. The opening line sets the parameters:  THE JOY OF THE GOSPEL fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. And it is an overwhelming and powerful call to joyful evangelism and I cannot but rejoice at the revival of His Spirit across the globe in this time of strife and fear and turmoil.

The Church which “goes forth” is a community of missionary disciples who take the first step, who are involved and supportive, who bear fruit and rejoice. An evangelizing community knows that the Lord has taken the initiative, he has loved us first (cf. 1 Jn 4:19), and therefore we can move forward, boldly take the initiative, go out to others, seek those who have fallen away, stand at the crossroads and welcome the outcast. Such a community has an endless desire to show mercy, the fruit of its own experience of the power of the Father’s infinite mercy. Let us try a little harder to take the first step and to become involved. Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. The Lord gets involved and he involves his own, as he kneels to wash their feet. He tells his disciples: “You will be blessed if you do this” (Jn 13:17). An evangelizing community gets involved by word and deed in people’s daily lives; it bridges distances, it is willing to abase itself if necessary, and it embraces human life, touching the suffering flesh of Christ in others. Evangelizers thus take on the “smell of the sheep” and the sheep are willing to hear their voice. An evangelizing community is also supportive, standing by people at every step of the way, no matter how difficult or lengthy this may prove to be. It is familiar with patient expectation and apostolic endurance. Evangelization consists mostly of patience and disregard for constraints of time. Faithful to the Lord’s gift, it also bears fruit. An evangelizing community is always concerned with fruit, because the Lord wants her to be fruitful. It cares for the grain and does not grow impatient at the weeds. The sower, when he sees weeds sprouting among the grain does not grumble or overreact. He or she finds a way to let the word take flesh in a particular situation and bear fruits of new life, however imperfect or incomplete these may appear. The disciple is ready to put his or her whole life on the line, even to accepting martyrdom, in bearing witness to Jesus Christ, yet the goal is not to make enemies but to see God’s word accepted and its capacity for liberation and renewal revealed. Finally an evangelizing community is filled with joy; it knows how to rejoice always. It celebrates at every small victory, every step forward in the work of evangelization.
Well, there are 100 pages of such exhortation. And as I put together my Thanksgiving dinner to do list for the four o’clock feast, I must smile at the line, Jesus does not tire of saying to us: “Give them something to eat” (Mk 6:37).

May today be a joyful celebration of God’s blessing, new every morning, great is His faithfulness. May today be a renewal against the gray pragmatism of the daily life of the Church, in which all appears to proceed normally, while in reality faith is wearing down and degenerating into small-mindedness.

And may the table be full of purposeful conversation: which is always respectful and gentle, the first step is personal dialogue, when the other person speaks and shares his or her joys, hopes and concerns for loved ones, or so many other heartfelt needs. Only afterwards is it possible to bring up God’s word, perhaps by reading a Bible verse or relating a story, but always keeping in mind the fundamental message: the personal love of God who became man, who gave himself up for us, who is living and who offers us his salvation and his friendship. This message has to be shared humbly as a testimony on the part of one who is always willing to learn, in the awareness that the message is so rich and so deep that it always exceeds our grasp. At times the message can be presented directly, at times by way of a personal witness or gesture, or in a way which the Holy Spirit may suggest in that particular situation. If it seems prudent and if the circumstances are right, this fraternal and missionary encounter could end with a brief prayer related to the concerns which the person may have expressed. In this way they will have an experience of being listened to and understood; they will know that their particular situation has been placed before God, and that God’s word really speaks to their lives.

And may we not prove hard of heart and mind; we are forgetful, distracted and carried away by the limitless possibilities for consumption and distraction offered by contemporary society. May there be a tenderness and sweetness as I gather with friends and family to celebrate in humility His generous blessings, and an eagerness to living with an open hand.

God is so good. He is so good to me, just one of His beloved children, one of His cherished image bearers. Honor and glory to His name, forever and ever.


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

His eye is on the sparrow

And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures." Genesis 1:20

I am struck by the swarm with swarms line, because indeed the world does swarm. And I who am not God, cannot even begin to wrap my so very finite brain around it all. 

And last night we did another movie-on-the-wall and popcorn by the fireplace and lots of blankets with John and Alyson and Nicole and I imagine we will do it again, because Alan would love it in the full bore poignancy sense of Cinema Paradiso, his all-time favorite movie. And The Fall traversed far and wide: Tupiza, Bolivia; Guangxi Province, China; Stakna Gompa, India; La Mancha, Spain; Tegallalang Rice Terrace, Indonesia; Hagia Sophia, Turkey; Sossusvlei, Namibia; Villa Adriana, Italy and Valkenberg Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa. And He is there amid the story of brokenness and restoration told to a wide-eyed and weeping French child, in the midst of the swarming swarms. And I read this morning an article by Mark Knoll about the decidedly non-parochial Church and far and wide He has been there through the hands and feet of Baltasar Jaime Martinez Compa who in Peru founded six seminaries and organized more than 35 towns to protect the indigenous people and Kimpa Vita whose call for a unified African spiritual community led to her being burned at the stake and Vasyl Hryhorovyc-Bars'kyj, a Ukrainian who in the early 18th century undertook a 24-year journey through Eastern Europe, the Holy Land, Asia Minor, and finally Western Europe, amid the brokenness and restoration of the swarming swarms. And I read another book yesterday (yes, I am on fall break) Emmanuel, God with us, and He is there in each and every broken painful moment present and alive and at work and He is here now, in this dark and quiet solitude with even me. Amid the daily rhythm of brokenness and restoration.

And each of the swarming swarms is His. And known. From the beginning of time stretched out in eternity.

And it was good. 

Monday, November 25, 2013

And it is always coldest just before dawn

And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. Genesis 1:14

May God be merciful to us and bless us, show us the light of His countenance and come to us. Psalm  67:1

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Saturday I felt trapped in the darkness. A heavy molten depth of despair had descended upon me and I was blind. I was trapped behind the thunk thunk thunk of bars of hopelessness. Which ticked off my fingers in oft repeated ease the many perceived sorrows of life.

But I headed off to the sharing service with a prayer and a whisper of hope–And God said, let there be lights to separate the day from the night, even though the night had crept into my day and I could not see.

What is true. 

And we sang When I taste Your goodness I shall not want.

And the guy with the bright orange mohawk and more piercings than Pierce himself affirmed that He is our Loving Father. 

And one by one my brothers and sisters stepped up to the mic and told stories of when the path lay dim.  Lights. And I scrawled their lessons learned on the back of the bulletin.

The evil one only wishes to steal, kill and destroy our joy.

And this is how darkness is slain: thanksgiving in the hard things.

Truly I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.

And He restored my soul. And the Light of His countenance shone round about. And the darkness was in no way overshadowing. And my heart, divided and enslaved by doubt was mercifully freed and made whole under His most gracious rule. And I rejoiced and was glad in it.

His love is sufficient. 

And when I scraped frost off the windshield this morning, the stars shone brightly in the early morning purple sky—and the stars God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth. 

And it was good.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Filling the void with purpose

And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.

And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day. Genesis 1:9-13

And it is not that I do not believe that God could say the word and instantly the mountains and valleys and beaches and plains and apple trees and yucca and pungent mint plants were instantly in place and he kicked back another 23 hours and 59 minutes and then declared it to be good.

But from what I am learning from the LORD God Almighty is that He is a God of process. And if it were just about the happily ever after part of the story then why don’t we get an instant eject Get Out Life Free card the instant we cross the line into belief, skipping all of the messy and awkward and death and rebirth and death cycles straight into glory and the twelve fruit trees along the River of Life?

And the trees bearing fruit brought to mind a long ago post with the tree poem that Alan wrote. And Wali’s orange pants which would make a great example for my class today about showing and not telling in character sketches. And as I read over life a year and a half ago and reflect on Wali in the Honors College at the U of A and still trying to make ends meet especially when his car is an old beater that calls it quits pretty often and that costs more money than he has in his Tucson Federal Credit Union account but he knows that I know that he will always pay me back so fast. 

And God is at work. Steady. Steady like the rain that is wonderful but not so fun for the Tour de Tucson bicycle race for thousands including Dustin tomorrow. 

But, as He reminded me so very long ago, well a year and a half ago, and really just a blink of an eye ago, in the big scheme of things, 
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,

so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.  Isaiah 55: 10-11

And even if the earth is really 4.5 billion years old like scientists with radiometric readings estimate, that too is so blink of an eye in the face of eternity. 

And Wali was wearing his orange pants yesterday. His pants for making things happen.

“Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to Me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.

Incline your ear, and come to Me;
hear, that your soul may live.  Isaiah 55:1-3

So sometime this morning, I am going to pile into the little black car with Igor the Moldovan, Wali the Kurd and Zach and Emma the Mennonites, and head down the road to knock off yet another item on Igor’s bucket list of things to do before he heads back to Hell, Moldavia for the uninitiated, in three days.  Where is Marco the Italian when I need him?  Mr. Intentional Conversation.  

Marco used to have slumber parties with Igor to get those sorts of talks going.  He found Igor a hard nut to crack.  I would even say he got snitty because Igor had no interest in the free wine and milk he held out for the taking.  And Igor really likes milk.  But perhaps Marco dug his pick deep into the caliché under the very thin layer of topsoil.  Maybe chopping all that wood together was the right sort of language.  Jack just drove all the way to the Grand Canyon and back to have another of that sort of talks with Igor. And at this very moment Jack and Igor are curving up over Gate’s Pass to the Desert Museum.  Tilling the soil now that the rototill has made a couple of passes. For nine months. 

Wali went out and bought his very own pair of orange pants just like Marco’s.  Wali.  Five days ago he got word that the State Department was not going to protest his asylum.  The political asylum he applied for five years ago.  His first free day from work, yesterday, he was in my living room sorting through the universities of America with me.  This morning when I woke up there was a draft of his essay for the U of Arizona honors college and a draft of his essay for University of Texas at Austin and his résumé for me to revise.  And he is visiting three schools in Chicago next week.  And has a long list of other essays to write for Emory, UBoston, NYU, and Loyola.  University of Chicago was too much.  They wanted an essay addressing “What does Play-Doh™ have to do with Plato?” or “Spanish poet Antonio Machado wrote, “Between living and dreaming there is a third thing. Guess it.” That was a bit over-the-top for this kid who sells life insurance in his free time, when he’s not pulling down yellow cards for aggressive play in soccer game.  His Facebook post this morning: Stop making excuses and Take Action. Its your life! Be in the Drivers Seat.  We have some mechanical details to discuss.  But he is a hungry young man.

So the five of us are headed to Tombstone, the town too tough to die.  I have Gatorades in the freezer.  And a sack of apples.  And is it about these sorts of conversations?  Or is something bigger at work?  

Saturday night Alan read his latest piece to the cluster of rock and roll musicians gathered around the shish kabobs and baskets of homemade bread in the backyard.  His piece about the old eucalyptus tree which looms over the house, and that I pray for every time a windstorm hits.  

The Tree
June 2012

One cannot open the papers or watch the news without coming away with two jarring impressions: 1. The world is filled with injustice and 2. The scoundrels working the injustices are, for the most part, getting away with it. These impressions mock the notion of an all-powerful God who is the defender of the weak and a righteous judge. 

Today while out watering the garden I am presented with a disarming metaphor that affords me some helpful perspective.

A magnificent old tree dominates this yard. The tree was originally planted along a fairway of a golf course built at the turn of the last century, until developers converted the course into a housing subdivision in the 30s, but spared the tree. Almost a century later the huge trunk is gnarly and twisted with a thicket of massive branches stretching high into a swirling canopy that mercifully shades the house from the western sun. 

The huge size of the tree and its sprawling canopy are an irresistible draw for kids of all ages. I remember standing in the yard with the realtor when we bought the house. He stared wistfully up at the old tree and confessed to me that as a child he and his brothers lived in this house and they along with their neighborhood chums spent endless hours playing up in its branches where it took a romantic leading role variously as a pirate ship, a sniper's blind, fortress, etc. I found ample evidence to validate his claims - traces of old rope swings still clinging to the spreading arms, and vestiges of long-lost girlfriend's initials whittled into its forgiving trunk. Obviously it had a storied history.

As a younger man I built a tree fort with a look-out high up in its branches for my own adventurous daughters. The mighty branches cradled many a riotous tea party and sleep-overs with friends, silently overhearing whispered secrets of love and longing on languid summer evenings. 

As the last of my daughters headed off to college the abandoned fort grew weathered and rickety. I remember weeping as I finally tore it down, the demise of the tree fort a definitive symbol of the end of childhood and of the passing of an era. 

Later on my daughters came back to be married beneath the spreading branches of the tree in the yard. Glowing lights and paper stars festooned the highest branches illuminating the night, with long silks draping from the massive limbs to suspend writhing Turkish maidens celebrating the nuptials with dance and spinning fire.

In preparation for these events we spent a summer crafting stairways and an elevated masonry deck around the perimeter of the trunk. I remember examining the old tree and concluding that a tree that old was probably pretty much a spent force biologically. Still we put the footers well aways from the trunk, pouring the concrete footers extra strong with lots of steel to support two courses of concrete block. These stem walls were back- filled with tons of fill dirt and clad with flagstone and brick pavers. 

The weddings were a great success, but I could not have been more wrong about the inertness of the old tree. For while the weddings revelers danced on the lawn, the tree was dancing its own time-lapse tango beneath the earth, its powerful roots flexing and heaving like an enraged Ent on steroids. The first indication came with the shocking sight of the tree "eating" the last remnants of the old tree fort. 

High up in the tree's crown was a lone rung, part of a ladder that once went from the main deck up to a lookout. Unable to pull it out during the demolition, I just left it. Over time one end of the stout 2x4 completely disappeared into the rippling bark of the tree, exerting pressure on the other end pinched by a burly branch, literally folding the 2x4 until it burst into splinters. Beneath the earth a slow-motion tsunami flexed and heaved the ground above, the restless roots rebelling against the imposition of concrete and steel. Seemingly from one day to the next cracks ran up the side walls, chunks of stucco popping off with hairline cracks yawning into inch-wide gaping divides. Poured concrete ruptured and split, exposing the steel bones within, and the deck sheathing of heavy flagstones buckled and flipped back with the expanding girth of a tree that was anything but static. This was an unstoppable force of nature.

I have grown old and grey beneath this tree, and yet the tree appears to be the same as the first day I saw It. Today I water beneath this behemoth with newfound respect, suddenly cognizant that my perspective on the passage of time prevents me from seeing the dynamism of a living and animate object that moves in a chronology outside the limits of my perception. I cannot see it, but over time I can clearly see its powerful impact and dynamic persistence.

Just like our Father God. Just like God's justice. Just as His power and wonder grips all of history down to the tiniest details of my life.

There you have it.  The LORD God Almighty is at work.  That little day trip did not take Him by surprise.  Nor the gchat with Jerry Jordan this morning. Or the Facebook message with Igor yesterday about facetiming with a kid in the library who is studying Russian. Nor the trip Cate and I are planning to the cabin with her Young Life girls. And even, yes even as I drag ninth graders through yet another revision process all about lead sentences and strong verbs I am praying for eternal seeds to be sown as we consider who are truly heroic characters. 

And His Spirit is present. In full dynamic persistence.  From the beginning of time.

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,

so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.  Isaiah 55: 10-11

Let it rain. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

I am not sorry

And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day. Genesis 1:6-8

So last night I picked up Jincheng from downtown stage crew and he was very much tired and a little bit cold because we were waiting for each other in different parts of behind the Leo Rich theatre. And when he got in the car I asked, “How was it?” and he said, “It was boring,” and I apologized and said that I was sorry that I signed him up for stage crew because I had thought that it would be something different and interesting.

And I take that all back. I woke up this morning with a clear fire-in-my-belly understanding that what Jincheng needs in his life more than anything else right now is to be bored. He is never bored because he is always plugged into a fake electronic world of flexible thumbs and swirling colors and probably lots of shooting and blasting rockets and he blocks out everything that is real and true and beautiful and growing and big under the expanse of Heaven.

And luckily I had one of those wow-I-have-no-papers-to-grade-no-dishes-to-wash moments last night and John who now lives with us gave me a book to read: Being Wrong. A great book that I could pretty much underline every single word in its 339 pages. And I thought it was kind of funny but really very true that Kathryn Schultz couldn’t really cite wikipedia in her notes but she did acknowledge that although everyone knows it is a pretty questionable resource, no one could write anything today without it. And the main point is that, boy, have I been wrong thinking ol’ Jincheng could break out of his prison with just a few pep talks. He is totally stuck and doesn’t even know what lies outside of his small blinking screen. And there is a whole expanse waiting for him, a glorious vastness.

And so I am going to wade in and yank the plug. And really I know I have all of the weight on my side of the rope; unless something dramatic happens immediately he will have to return home with a stack of failure notes to his big family rock pile that he dreads more than anything, running an import export marble factory.  And I will have failed with this perfectly sweet young man who simply has no idea about life. Who sits in the car when I go into the grocery store because he is terrified of all foods except for white hot dog buns and red apples. And In and Out burgers.  Who trailed around Downtown Saturday Night behind Mr. Greet Life with a Huge Smile and Everything is Glorious and a Delight and Flavorful Giovanni tapping on his screen. And I had to snatch his phone from his fingers while we were crossing the Brooklyn Bridge on a bright blue sky with just a few heaping clouds so that I could take a picture for him to send home.

And maybe I could a little cord yanking of my own. So very big this God, who speaks. And it was so. Who never fails.  

God is patient, God is kind. He does not envy, He does not boast, he is not proud. He is not rude, He is not self-seeking, He is not easily angered, He keeps no record of wrongs. God does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. He always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

God never fails.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Visible light is just a tiny fraction of the whole spectrum

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness.  God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. Genesis 1:3-5

Light is not a physical substance.  Classically it is considered to be a varying electric and magnetic field that spreads across from one place to another. Quantum physics says that light can also be considered to be particles called photons that carry energy and momentum but have no mass. In both descriptions, the light energy is carried by a very real and quantifiable mechanism. 

For the past two days little clusters of students have gathered around test tube racks on blue picnic tables to count bubbles evolved from Elodea pondweed. A very real and quantifiable mechanism produced by light, a nonphysical substance.  

And I helped a few students with the lab report verbiage. How to capture with words how light is the source of all life? All life’s energy is derived. Except light. It neither pushes nor pulls; it simply moves.

And I AM the Light of the World. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.

And He is at work. Sometimes unobserved. But never impotent. It is not in His nature.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Under His watchful eye

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Genesis 1:1-2

Be still.

In my science mind I had always imagined this hovering as a tumultuous, swirling chaos, an intensely potent explosion of pulsing energy.

Hummingbirds are beautiful, but they seem a bit jittery in their hovering. In the education world we call them helicopter parents.

And the English teacher mind is not so fond of the hover word either. Verb : hover - be undecided about something; waver between conflicting positions or courses of action; oscillate, vacillate, vibrate, hesitate, waffle, waver, shillyshally - be uncertain and vague, hang over, as of something threatening, dark, or menacing; loom, menacing, burdensome, or oppressive; eclipse, overshadow, dominate.

But there is another sense of hovering.




He shielded him and cared for him;
He guarded him as the apple of His eye,
like an eagle that stirs up its nest
and hovers over its young,
that spreads its wings to catch them
and carries them aloft.

And The LORD God who sees for all eternity spoke over the void, fully aware of the hurricanesandtornadoesandtragicandbrokenandrebellionandgriefandalltheotherwordsspitoutbyNPRradio but He is God.

And He saw that it was good.

Be still.

Though the darkness be noisy with systems,
Dark fancies that fret and disprove,
Still the plumes stir around us, above us
The wings of the shadow of love:
Oh! Princes and priests, have ye seen it
Grow pale through your scorn;
Huge dawns sleep before us, deep changes,
A child is born. 

                        “A Nativity” G. K. Chesterton

Monday, November 18, 2013

The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. Romans 15:5-7

So it was a lovely Sunday because I got all of my schoolwork done on Saturday and I went to the Vineyard Saturday night because Alan had a morning soccer game and thus Sunday stared at me totally and delightfully wide open and empty. 

And I finished Romans and read the paper and ate my oatmeal and forgot to meet with Nati and I was already to walk the dogs around the park when Nicole arrived from a sleepover on Mt. Lemmon so I ended up going to a nearby church that I have been driving past for twenty years and was always just a little bit curious what went on inside those doors. 

And what happened is that we sang “We Glorify You LORD” over and over.   

And the pastor was one of those people that believe that we are all going to stand in big choirs in heaven singing praises for eternity to Him Who Sits on the Throne, and I don’t particularly agree with him, but I sure got a good glimpse of how that could be sweet.  

And Nicole’s friend from Minnesota led us in prayers for healing. And I prayed for the worship leader who was a dad of some of my students so long ago and had gone to Mexicali with me, and my hand on his knee burned and he was healed and could cross his legs pain free for the first time in years and years. But nothing on the entire checklist that Cindy the nurse had made the day before on our hike to Sabino Canyon for me to go see a doctor about and she emailed me a good doctor that very afternoon seems to have changed for the better.  And we went out for date and goat cheese pizza afterwards and hung around the living room and told stories of the adventures of life with God especially the bit about welcoming one another as Christ as welcomed you and that was good.

And we prayed for Juan Gabriel. 

And then over to Heather and Dustin and Everette’s for yummy fish and beet salad and Breyer’s vanilla ice cream last night. So very delicious especially when we dwelt on the idea that being thankful has rippling repercussions. But the conversation turned a little discouraging as we talked about the living in harmony with one another part because that is really hard because we are all a little off-key. And really I would just love to tell some people what I think and take back my toys and march away. Far away.

And He is a God of endurance. Which reminds me of Tom Copp’s remaining under that entered just about every sermon he taught for so many years. Endurance or steadfastness or patience are all translations of hupomeno, from two words: meno means to remain and hupo means under. The testing of your faith produces the ability to remain under. And in Gordon MacDonald’s book When Life is Hard he says The thing we most want to do when life is hard is to jump ship, but staying put is the very thing God wants to teach us. This is key: If God can get you to the the ability to remain under the pressure, He can give you every other good thing He wants for you. All of the character qualities God wants to pour into your life are coming through the funnel called “remaining under.” He wants you to stick with it, hang in there, and in NO circumstances give up.

And ol’ Peter says, Humble yourself, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you. Remain under the pressure by God’s grace and in His strength and when you meet the test by perseverance, a lot of great things are in your future.

And James says, Let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be complete, lacking in nothing.

And I was editing a devotional by Matteo yesterday, since I had so much delightful free time, and Matteo says, And here it is the point: Your Kingdom come: HIS WILL. His will is not the easy happy ending Walt Disney movie, but a man who dies, bleeding and with nails. His will is, from our perspective a sacrifice, from God’s perspective a gift. 

Thus God seems to fulfill step-by-step His to do list: I was in prison and he promised me a land of freedom, He nourished me with food and gave me drink, new clothes for the new life and then He washed my feet.

Pila, Italy, August 1, 2013, 22 p.m. During the 130 miles march of this summer toward Assisi we celebrated the ritual of the washing of the feet. Yes, He washed my feet. They were quite sweaty and smelled of hours of walking under the boiling sun. Our monks washed the feet to everyone while singing Maranatha. I could also emphasize the poetry of the moment...under the pines..the sun going down, crickets starting to sing...but it was not at all about that. It was a loving touch: those hands with water, that kiss on my feet. Oh Creator, you take me as I am, your promise is fulfilled, you give me eternal wishes, you give vocations of love.

And He is a God of endurance and encouragement. May He grant me to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together we may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

And somehow hospitality is all tied up with this. 

And remaining under.

Thank you Father God, for this very specific word of encouragement, a word to endure, to remain under, until your good work is accomplished. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

And this morning the very full moon rose high in the pre-dawn blue sky full of black almost-full-of-rain-but-probably-not clouds. But the moon still held forth promise, bright and shining. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

So I got me a pen and paper and I made up my own little sign

So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Romans 14:19

Well, there is no doubt that Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. I was sort of going down rabbits holes in the conversations in my mind–discussions round and round with those who disagree with me and my brilliant thinking on so many issues. Rushing hither and thither. Determined to take control of every thought, at last I marched over and opened up Romans and read the chapter for today.  

Do not quarrel over opinions. Romans 14:1

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? Romans 14:4

Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Romans 14:10

Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer. Romans 14:13

I think Paul is trying to make a point.

And the point is, I am going to stand before my God and give account for my stewardship of what He has given me. And every knee will bow and every tongue will give praise to God, and all the rest will fall away and be consumed. 

Time is short. Therefore give no occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For the kingdom of God is of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Rubbing the sleep from my eyes

Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. Romans 13: 11-14

 I am pretty sure that that most of us are would be surprised to see quarreling and jealously ranked right up there with sexual orgies as works of darkness. But I totally get it, since my life is quite filled up with the quarreling and not so much with the orgies and drunkenness.  

And really, I imagine that orgies and drunkenness result in bad headaches the next morning and maybe stained furniture and sticky trash to be taken out, but after a good scrub and a long nap, the residue is sort of washed away. 

But quarrels. Yikes. They drag on forever and can poison every interaction and sneak into all of those loose thoughts and drive people away from our Lord and Savior, or at the very least, poison His body into settling into being ineffectual puddles of sludge rather than being fresh flowing rivers of Life. 

No provision for the flesh. No distractions. Every moment is to be lived in what is good and pleasing and perfect. To walk in the light as He is in the light. And Nicole is putting together this manual for the book Do What Jesus Did and we talked about whether she should include this big fat checklist of things that hold us captive to help sort through lives and look for footholds for the Accuser to stand upon or whether we should simply sit quietly in His presence and give Him free rein to wander through our mind and heart and body and look for wicked ways, but either way the point is No Excuses. 

And every person has their favorite finger-pointing stance. In the opposite direction, whether it be violent video games or unforgivenness. Political intrigues or yoga. Ambition or Magic Eight Ball. So I am not so much in favor of lists. Because they can be distractions in and of themselves and sort of smack of smug look what I can do-ness. But it’s not me. It Him.

But put on the Lord Jesus Christ. Bind that little What Would Jesus Do band around my wrist and His words shall be as frontlets between mine eyes: Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. And the second is likewise: love your neighbor as yourself.

And nothing else.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Staying out of debt

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. Romans 13:1-7

It’s kind of interesting to me just because it felt so random and unexpected, that just as I was reading Romans 12 one more time this morning, before I turned the corner into Romans 13, that I was overwhelmed with a sense to pray for President Obama. And it was a prayer full of mercy and encouragement, for someone under constant attack, someone who is trying to do right in a crazy mixed-up world of politics: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. 

I mean it was so strong that I thought I was supposed to somehow figure out a way to email him like at that I was praying for him, somehow navigate the world of whatever. Crazy strong.

And then I rolled into Romans 13.  And the question here is, beyond do we really trust that God is in control and at work, and The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He will, is what should Christians be known for, what should our reputation be in the eyes of the world? 

Because we are name-bearers.

And I need to be aware of this name-bearing at all times. And not get distracted by the thinking of the world and its feigned powers and what’s what by the greased palms of politics but instead be changed within by a new way of thinking. Then you will be able to decide what God wants for you; you will know what is good and pleasing to Him and what is perfect.

And this is what I am to be known by: respect and honor (yes, as in Outdo one another in showing honor) and above all, loving my neighbors as myself. 

And I am going to keep it in first person singular because that is how I am to live. In truth. He is in control. He takes care of His business, and I take care of mine. May the prayer of the righteous accomplish much. What is good and pleasing. And the greatest of these is love. Love your neighbor.

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

And the rocket's red glare, and the bombs bursting in air

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Romans 12:9-10

So wandering throughout all of the commentaries on this passage, it is the consensus that The Crux, yeah, as in the cross, of good and pleasing and perfect is love.  And there is nothing half-hearted or feigned or discriminatory about this love.  We are to hate non-love, evil, as it were hell itself, which, I guess, it is.

The word "abhor" means to hate; to turn from; to avoid. The word "evil" here has reference to malice, or unkindness, rather than to evil in general. The apostle is exhorting to love, or kindness; and between the direction to love all people, and the particular direction about brotherly love, he places this general direction to abhor what is evil in relation to the subject under discussion, that is, malice or unkindness. –Barnes

αγαπη ανυποκριτος· Have no hypocritical love; let not your love wear a mask; make no empty professions. Love God and your neighbor; and, by obedience to the one and acts of benevolence to the other, show that your love is sincere.
Abhor that which is evil - Αποστυγουντες το πονηρον· Hate sin as you would hate that hell to which it leads. Στυγεω signifies to hate or detest with horror; the preposition απο greatly strengthens the meaning. Στυξ, Styx, was a feigned river in hell by which the gods were wont to swear, and if any of them falsified this oath he was deprived of his nectar and ambrosia for a hundred years; hence the river was reputed to be hateful, and στυγεω signified to be as hateful as hell. -Clarke

Not only must there be kindness to friends and brethren, but Christians must not harbour anger against enemies. It is but mock love, which rests in words of kindness, while our brethren need real supplies, and it is in our power to furnish them. Be ready to entertain those who do good: as there is occasion, we must welcome strangers. Bless, and curse not. It means thorough good will; not, bless them when at prayer, and curse them at other times; but bless them always, and curse not at all. –Matthew Henry

This certainly clears out my schedule. We as believers spend far too much energy and time in non-love.  

And as I was in the three-day process of meditating on Romans 12, reading it over and over, holding it up as a lens for considering the world around me as to what is good and pure and perfect I attended a Veteran’s Day Honor Celebration. And the cutest kids ever sang songs, and pledges were spoken and grand applauses rang out for those who have served their country because a great deal of sacrifice has been offered up over the years. 

But I gotta say the main speaker guy broke my heart. He was an Air Force lieutenant colonel or something and he showed us videos from his pilot control panels and missiles from antiaircraft guns were flying and planes were down and bombs were dropped that exploded accidentally and the whole point was the brotherly affection as they dropped their load of bombs over Baghdad and then always got back in time for dinner.  Day after day. And then he read Romans 12:1-10 in a loud cheerful voice. And my heart was with the folks, friends and family of people I know and love huddled on their floors with plywood in the windows because they got blown out every day and I am not sure they always got back for dinner.

And I have no idea what to do with all of my sick at heart at all of the pomp and circumstance and glory being modeled to my sweet little students, and they had all of the sixteen-year-olds stand up and these are the kids who wanted to go to World War II so badly they lied about their age and then have all of the eighteen-year-olds stand up and this is who fills our ranks. And it’s kinda hard to yank my thoughts away from it, as I am wondering about blessing our enemies always, and not cursing them ever. 

And the Lieutenant guy didn’t read the rest of the passage:
Wish good for those who harm you; wish them well and do not curse them. Be happy with those who are happy, and be sad with those who are sad. Live in peace with each other. Do not be proud, but make friends with those who seem unimportant. Do not think how smart you are.

If someone does wrong to you, do not pay him back by doing wrong to him. Try to do what everyone thinks is right. Do your best to live in peace with everyone. My friends, do not try to punish others when they wrong you, but wait for God to punish them with his anger. It is written: “I will punish those who do wrong; I will repay them,”says the Lord. But you should do this:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
    if he is thirsty, give him a drink.
Doing this will be like pouring burning coals on his head.” 
Do not let evil defeat you, but defeat evil by doing good.

And our Sunday teaching was what do we do when our brothers and sisters disagree with our understanding of Scripture. And there really wasn’t an answer except to pray. And what do I do when so many of my brothers and sisters who I love and admire and work with all day every day to disciple young people to make a difference in their world have beloved fathers and mothers and uncles and cousins and sons and daughters dedicating their lives to what I understand to be abhorrent. 

And around my neck I wear a small sparkly diamond and silver pendent from one of the people who lives under the bombs. And one of the tiny diamonds has fallen out because I wear it all the time. And eleven people died in Baghdad yesterday.  And 229 civilians have died this month so far. And over 7,500 this year. And yesterday she mixed a combination on Candy Crush Saga and I know that because of Facebook. And her family ended up in Syria for a while but then one day she sent me a YouTube clip taken from the balcony of her apartment, of soldiers piling out of army jeeps and machine gunning rows and rows of funeral marchers and they all just fell to the ground all spattered in blood. And her family has filled out all of the forms and stood in all the lines and been interviewed so many times and are still waiting to immigrate to Canada because they got approved to come to the United States but they would have to leave Grandma behind and they couldn’t do that, so she plays another game of Candy Crush while she waits. 

And those faces of the bombers, from the PowerPoint we watched as we listened to the chorus, I know them too. And I remember when that one kid was Injun Joe and hid in the closet, and I remember sitting with another late after the sixth grade campfire and looking at the stars and wondering what life would bring.  And yet another other kid threw up on the ferry to marine biology camp Catalina Island and I held his head in my lap because he didn’t feel so good.

Dear LORD, have mercy. You do have mercy. On all. 

Wish good for those who harm you; wish them well and do not curse them. Be happy with those who are happy, and be sad with those who are sad. Live in peace with each other. Do not be proud, but make friends with those who seem unimportant. Romans 12:14-16

And my mom is signing up to teach English to refugees from Iraq and Pakistan and Syria because that is what brings her joy. 

Friday, November 8, 2013

Giving away what we cannot keep

So we, though many,are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. Romans 12:5-8

Suddenly Paul gets very linear. The big Therefore, since God extends His mercy to all, is spelled out in short punchy sentences, sort of like my overwhelmingly long weekend to do list. Bullet point after bullet point of what this good and pleasing and perfect looks like in real life. 

I am one of those project-based teachers.  Which, I know, I know can be very messy and very aggravating and sometimes people don’t pull their full weight and one person sneaks the whole thing home one night and finishes it the way she wants it to look. Kind of like life.

But yesterday was pretty sweet.  It was the presentation of the first mini-assignment for The Odyssey groups. And the whole group stood up in front and delivered. And then they articulated the strengths and contributions of each member and what they learned about learning and what they were going to try and do better as they dug into the big main section.  And really and truly the product was bigger than the whole of the parts. And most important, over and over again the teams said that they became friends, they grew together, they become one of another. 

And Heather has been working with the small group leaders and working through the idea of “giving away the ministry"...meaning, how can we go out of our way to identify the spiritual gifts of our group members and find ways to create space so they can cultivate their giftings. Their giftings from the Spirit that we are all to put into practice, according to what we have been given, with generosity, with zeal, and with cheerfulness.

And it is so much easier to just do things myself. Or that is the lie that I tell myself as I put together these monster to do lists. But that is a lie that cripples the church, which is just what the Father of Lies wants. The mentality of I am the leader, you are the sheep forever and ever leads to a stagnant, selfish and weak body, living in disobedience. It is not about me, thinking more highly of myself than I ought and what I can get done, but about Him and what He can get done, through His gifts and through the members of His body. 

And it looks an awful lot like project-based learning. A to do list with a built-in rubric. And this is a corporate command; let us not store these gifts on some comfortable, out-of-the-way shelf, but unwrap them and put them to use for the building up of the body. With quantifiable generosity, with zeal, and with cheerfulness. Now.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

I used to teach kids that "get" was a weak verb. It's not.

So brothers and sisters, since God has shown us great mercy, I beg you to offer your lives as a living sacrifice to him. Your offering must be only for God and pleasing to Him, which is the spiritual way for you to worship. Do not be shaped by this world; instead be changed within by a new way of thinking. Then you will be able to decide what God wants for you; you will know what is good and pleasing to Him and what is perfect. Romans 12:1-2

This is the good news that we are to preach to the ends of the earth: we are free from the body of sin through of the sacrifice of Christ Jesus because of God’s great mercy. We are to live in the truth as He is in the truth, and not be conformed by the thinking of the world, but rather live and act by what is true, what is pleasing to Him and Him alone.

And what is pleasing is an attitude of gratitude. Nicole told me this morning about Rachel’s Challenge’s I Get to Do This attitude. I get to get on a redeye express to Philadelphia and rent a car and find my hotel and get all nice to speak to children at eight o’clock in the morning. I get to go speak to a community meeting in a church basement tonight after a hurried dinner at Sweet Tomatoes after four back-to-back presentations K-12 all day long. I get to get up and do it all over again. And it makes all the difference, this I Get to Do This attitude.

I get to be a part of the journey of a skinny hunched over Chinese kid who is so very happy to be on the junior varsity basketball team and when he called at 7:39 to ask to be picked up from the other side of town I reminded him that he had bus money and I was going to pick him up on this side of town and then he texted me at 9:00 and said the bus hadn’t come yet and I got to drive across town and pick him up and I wasn’t crabby at him or anyone in particular but at the world in general especially the person in front of me who turned right from the driving lane and not the turning lane and then he wasn’t there but I found him wandering down the street. Cold and tired and hungry. And happy about basketball. I get it. And I hope I get it all day long. And tomorrow. Step by step.

Every step held up to the thought–is this good and pleasing to Him? Is this perfect? This is true worship–acknowledging Him in all that I do and think, and yes even feel. Feelings are controlled by thoughts. Let my thoughts be His thoughts. And I know His thoughts are thoughts of mercy on all.

Take my life, and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee;
Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise.

Take my hands, and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love;
Take my feet and let them be
Swift and beautiful for Thee,
Swift and beautiful for Thee.

Take my voice, and let me sing
Always, only, for my King;
Take my lips, and let them be
Filled with messages from Thee,
Filled with messages from Thee.

Take my silver and my gold;
Not a mite would I withhold;
Take my intellect, and use
Every power as Thou shalt choose,
Every power as Thou shalt choose.

Take my will, and make it Thine;
It shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart; it is Thine own;
It shall be Thy royal throne,
It shall be Thy royal throne.

Take my love; my Lord, I pour
At Thy feet its treasure-store.
Take myself, and I will be
Ever, only, all for Thee,
Ever, only, all for Thee.
-Frances Ridley Havergal (1836-1879)

Pleasing and acceptable acts of worship.

Jerry Peyton from SlavesNoMore reminded us in chapel yesterday of this truth, as he read from Amos five:
I hate, I despise your feasts,
    and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies
 Take away from me the noise of your songs;
    to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
But let justice roll down like waters,
    and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

May this righteousness fill cup after cup of cold water for these little ones today.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Non-linear logic that interacts with the whole of eternity

For God has consigned all to disobedience, that He may have mercy on all. Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways!

“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been His counselor?
Or who has given a gift to Him
that He might be repaid?”

For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen. 
Romans 10:32-36

When Ali first came to live with us, his writing drove me crazy and it did not make any sense at all to my poor linear logic mind.  While Americans assume that sequential thinking process which builds straight to the point is correct, Far-Easterners prefer spiral or non-linear logic that encompasses a holistic perspective and results in an analysis that is more systemic, circular and interactive.

This is something I care about, the linear bit.  I got up at 3:30 this morning so that I could walk dozens of stumbling literary analysis through the thesis•support•detail•support•detail•conclusion structure.  I can remember my blank stare as Ali swirled his pen over the paper explaining his thinking.

And quite honestly, Romans thus far seems to swirl around and around with contradictory phrases that smash up against one another incomprehensibly. And irrationally. And how can I base my life on this?

But I do remember the Big Idea (yes, I have written The Big Idea over and over already this morning). Where does it end up?  What is the point, the grand summation of all of that systemic spirals?

And here it is: God will have mercy on all. And yep, His ways are unsearchable and inscrutable and there is a lot of hardening of hearts and partial hardening of hearts to open the pathway for others to enter and chopping and grafting and regrafting. And it is a mystery. But the punchline is For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.

All things. Especially glory. Forever. Amen.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A prayer for today, every day

It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. Romans 9:16 is a thoughtful response to the “determinism” approach to Chapter 9, explaining the hardening of hearts and hating of Esau which so stands against the Loving and Merciful God proclaimed throughout Scripture, demonstrated in our day-to-day lives, and declared in the offering up of His only begotten Son.

And while every Pharisetical bone in my body would like it to be about my White AngloSaxonWorkEthic and maintained schedules and checklists and paying my bills on time and willingness to put another plate on the table and then happily do dishes, it is not. And glory to His name, because in all honesty I join Paul, Pharisee of Pharisees, in acknowledging For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.

And His mercy is deep and broad.

For this reason I bow in prayer before the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth gets its true name. I ask the Father in His great glory to give you the power to be strong inwardly through his Spirit. I pray that Christ will live in your hearts by faith and that your life will be strong in love and be built on love. And I pray that you and all God’s holy people will have the power to understand the greatness of Christ’s love—how wide and how long and how high and how deep that love is. Christ’s love is greater than anyone can ever know, but I pray that you will be able to know that love. Then you can be filled with the fullness of God.

With God’s power working in us, God can do much, much more than anything we can ask or imagine. To him be glory in Christ Jesus for all time, forever and ever. Amen.

This is my prayer for you today.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Free at last, free at last

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.  For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Romans 7:21-24

Wretched indeed. 

My four days in New York City were framed by a book that Max handed me the very first night, a book of essays handed to him his very first day on the job as a public defender in the Bronx. This book was gathered together as a response to the question posed to public defenders time and time again, enough so it becomes “that question,” a cliché, however sincere, offered up as pleasantry fodder at cocktail parties: How can you represent those people?

And the book is a compilation of answers from people who have paid the price, put in the long, non-billable hours seeking for redemptive humanity hidden in the lives of their clients, whom for the most part are guilty. We are all guilty. Just some of us were born into a life lacking social niceties and tenderness and resources and access and they land in the file folders of the public defenders.

And I cannot quite believe how much of New York City I crammed into the four days, two of which we spent squished up in filled to capacity with stand by only seats airplanes, drinking soda water with lime after soda water with lime. 

And I wandered the neighborhood of upper class Brooklyn Heights with adorable trick-or-treaters dressed up as dangling jellyfish or Sherlock Holmes with cheerful parents hauling them around in wagons and running strollers past equally cheerful jack-o-lanterns and stringy while cotton strands. 

And I fell asleep in a beautiful bed overlooking the sparkly lit-up Hudson River with the window cracked open for fresh almost-sea breezes and savored cup after cup of freshly ground organic and free trade coffee. 

And brunch with Uncle Jim and who of all people, my angel brother Scott, at “the grandiose Machiavelli (which) is like visiting a museum of Italian food — complete with long-winded exhibition catalogs. Reams of paper arrive with the menu, bearing tales of the muralist who decorated the walls, the ceramist who designed the plates, the coloratura soprano who even now is singing into your ear,” catty-corner from Jim’s apartment and pretty much where he eats breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, guaranteed a friendly smile in this rushing-quickly-past city. And better here than family-style meals in some sort of bleak group home with an endless soundtrack. 

And Jincheng and I made the great trek across the Brooklyn Bridge, through Wall Street, Chinatown, Little Italy and at last striding up Fifth Avenue into Niketown, five-stories of hype and energy and power where he outfitted himself for today’s high school basketball try-outs. Jincheng cannot really match my stride when I get going.

And  home again, home again, jiggity-jig, to roast chicken and potatoes and apple pie, all handcrafted by Andrea-home-from-work and dinner with Ali Rawaf. Ali ever-so-gracious and just a weary of the full bore nature of life in the city, but can I say how wonderful it was to see him in this beautiful, but barely wider than a hallway apartment with fourteen-foot ceilings and everything exactly in its place apartment? 

And an early morning walk with Andrea, along the brand new park with just-turning leaves of every single color that is bright against the blue blue sky draped by the Bridge on one side and the Statue on the other. After dropping ol’ Jingcheng off with directions to the hop-on, hop-off bus at Times Square, but he just went to the candy store. 

The beat goes on. Julius Caesar in the Dumbo set in a women’s prison which quite honestly and without a doubt the most amazing artistic anything I have ever witnessed. Maybe even including David in Florence. Guacamole and margaritas with Janice and Michael, in town for the great race. Janice from Mexico, who joined in with the dust and peacocks and dirty-faced urchins for a never-to-be-forgotten year, here once again, within an arm’s embrace. Dinner with Steve and Max and Andrea at a little just-off-the-path Argentina place. Which sort of seamlessly rolled into bagels and lox brunch with the extended family, one of whom could speak Chinese with Jincheng, overlooking the Hudson, except for another Uncle Jim moment at Starbucks and a kiss good-bye. And reading through the entirety of the Sunday edition of the New York Times with a roomful of happy silent family and then one last race down Broadway to catch the M60 for La Guardia. After a loooooong delay because of the NYC marathon we somehow managed to slide into our seats just after last call before they shut the door.


And the point of all this, besides writing it down before it floats out of my mind, is that I saw thousands and thousands of faces in just a few short days. Nameless to me. Neither here nor there. A quick glimpse and gone. 

Yet I basked each step of the way in the peaceful declaration of He is Mine. She is Mine. And the oft-repeated line of the essays, well there were several...Am I better than my worst moment? being one of them. But another is the truth, There but for the grace of God go I.

And as I bumped into loved ones all over these islands, I was reminded of our made-in-the-image-of-Godness.  And knowingness. As in the number of hairs on my head knowingness. Each and every soul. Even the ones with stories recorded in this book of abject brokenness.  We are all broken. We are all wretched.

And who am I to accuse? God himself declares us not guilty! Who, then, will condemn them? Not Christ Jesus, who died for us while we were yet sinners? 

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! Because of Him we have the hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

When we let this freedom ring, when we let it ring from every tenement and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old spiritual, "Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last."

Thank God Almighty.

Friday, November 1, 2013

and it rains on the just and the unjust alike

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. Romans 4:17

Righteousness isn’t about being perfect. We just aren’t. Romans two and three and four make that perfectly clear.

But Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
    and whose sins are covered;
blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.

God gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. That is the whole marvel of creation. He speaks, and life appears.  In an empty void without form.

The early morning clouds are different here, as I watch from my bright orange couch eleven stories up, settled with a cup of coffee overlooking the Hudson River. A siren and a few truck rumbles squeeze into the silence and then dissipate, leaving it unaffected. Outside the blustery greyness batters an American flag above a Greek-revivalist POW memorial. I read a real-live rustling New York Times this morning rather than my two-minute tradition of scanning the electronic headlines. It certainly adds more heft-in-my-hands weight to the world’s activities.

The thing about traveling is that it is a blessed reminder about my smallness. More heft to the written Word and the expanse which He addresses. The world is so very much bigger than my daily up and down Speedway dashes. Jincheng and the two cats and I flew to Kennedy airport by way of LAX, so that is a lot of perspective. But it all ties together. Oddly enough Fluffy and Henry in the carry-on bags were a conversation magnet. We chatted with a family from Pakistan, a salesman from Berlin and a woman whose cat died seven years ago and she still grieves. And as we waited at baggage claim, Fluffy and Henry introduced us to an NGO staff member and a Nepalese water engineer stacking up boxes of water purification machines and I was so very happy to get their names and card because I just assigned John and William Nepal yesterday for their biome research project which includes the requirement of interviewing a local water expert and/or NGO. Cha-ching. And I gave them my two United Airlines lounge passes because they have six hours at JFK before another 14-hour trip. With seven boxes.

And the world is not so big. It is all bound together by His work and His purpose and His beauty out of nothing.

Hope beats eternal.