Tuesday, December 22, 2009

From the Writer's Almanac

This was today's poem from The Writer's Almanac. Enjoy.


by Anne Porter

Nobody in the hospital
Could tell the age
Of the old woman who
Was called Susanna

I knew she spoke some English
And that she was an immigrant
Out of a little country
Trampled by armies

Because she had no visitors
I would stop by to see her
But she was always sleeping

All I could do
Was to get out her comb
And carefully untangle
The tangles in her hair

One day I was beside her
When she woke up
Opening small dark eyes
Of a surprising clearness

She looked at me and said
You want to know the truth?
I answered Yes

She said it's something that
My mother told me

There's not a single inch
Of our whole body
That the Lord does not love

She then went back to sleep.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Letter to Non-Believers by Shane Claiborne

To all my nonbelieving, sort-of-believing, and used-to-be-believing friends: I feel like I should begin with a confession. I am sorry that so often the biggest obstacle to God has been Christians. Christians who have had so much to say with our mouths and so little to show with our lives. I am sorry that so often we have forgotten the Christ of our Christianity.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Quarry Walls

You should have seen the granite face,
the sixty-foot walls ash and gray.
I stood in the emptied chamber,
the heart
of so much land taken away -
taken as stones in chunks, to be pummeled and pounded,
burned into a chalky powder.
They took the earth from its place to make of it something useful.
They stripped the diverse and dense hills - the land of pine and birch and oak, the home of white-tail and vulture and finch.
They made of it a scraggly ruin of fallen stone.
Extracted except for piles at the base of the transgressed walls.
And for what?
To take the rock and return it not into the land, but upon it,
as roads,
as pavement,
and harshness.
So, I was not surprised
to see the weeping walls,
the water running from the cliffs and through the crevices,
crying upon the granite face,
frozen in places.
Transgression and harm.

My heart may have fallen prey to despair, but for the life I saw
in the walls and in the air,
in the geese and in the doe.
For even the marred land is still living,
the very tears streaming down the face and emptying into that quarry floor -
that was rejuvenation
God reclaiming
the Kingdom come,
in steady persistence,
in a way - thanks be to God -
deeper and more sustained than the violence
we visit upon the earth
in our days as grass and struggle.
We shall be overcome
when the river pours not only from granite
but from heaven
to earth's empty floor.


Tuesday, December 08, 2009


The following statement comes from The Evangelical Manifesto: A Declaration of Evangelical Identity and Public Commitment and was published in May of 2008. The whole manifesto is worth reading, but I was particularly struck by the following passage which details the need for Evangelicals to be radically refashioned in their own life and witness. It conforms to my own beliefs and views regarding the Church and culture:

Our second major concern [as Evangelicals] is the reformation of our behavior. We affirm that to be Evangelical or to carry the name Evangelicals is not only to shape our faith and our lives according to the teaching and standards of the Way of Jesus, but to need to do so again and again. But if the Evangelical impulse is a radical, reforming, and innovative force, we acknowledge with sorrow a momentous irony today. We who time and again have stood for the renewal of tired forms, for the revival of dead churches, for the warming of cold hearts, for the reformation of corrupt practices and heretical beliefs, and for the reform of gross injustices in society, are ourselves in dire need of reformation and renewal today.

Reformers, we ourselves need to be reformed. Protestants, we are the ones against whom protest must be made.

We confess that we Evangelicals have betrayed our beliefs by our behavior.

All too often we have trumpeted the gospel of Jesus, but we have replaced biblical truths with therapeutic techniques, worship with entertainment, discipleship with growth in human potential, church growth with business entrepreneurialism, concern for the church and for the local congregation with expressions of the faith that are churchless and little better than a vapid spirituality, meeting real needs with pandering to felt needs, and mission principles with marketing precepts. In the process we have become known for commercial, diluted, and feel-good gospels of health, wealth, human potential, and religious happy talk, each of which is indistinguishable from the passing fashions of the surrounding world.

All too often we have set out high, clear statements of the authority of the Bible, but flouted them with lives and lifestyles that are shaped more by our own sinful preferences and by modern fashions and convenience.

All too often we have prided ourselves on our orthodoxy, but grown our churches through methods and techniques as worldly as the worldliest of Christian adaptations to passing expressions of the spirit of the age.

All too often we have failed to demonstrate the unity and harmony of the body of Christ, and fallen into factions defined by the accidents of history and sharpened by truth without love, rather than express the truth and grace of the Gospel.

All too often we have traced our roots to powerful movements of spiritual revival and reformation, but we ourselves are often atheists unawares, secularists in practice who live in a world without windows to the supernatural, and often carry on our Christian lives in a manner that has little operational need for God.

All too often we have attacked the evils and injustices of others, such as the killing of the unborn, as well as the heresies and apostasies of theological liberals whose views have developed into “another gospel,” while we have condoned our own sins, turned a blind eye to our own vices, and lived captive to forces such as materialism and consumerism in ways that contradict our faith.

All too often we have concentrated on great truths of the Bible, such as the cross of Jesus, but have failed to apply them to other biblical truths, such as creation. In the process we have impoverished ourselves, and supported a culture broadly careless about the stewardship of the earth and negligent of the arts and the creative centers of society.

All too often we have been seduced by the shaping power of the modern world, exchanging a costly grace for convenience, switching from genuine community to an embrace of individualism, softening theological authority down to personal preference, and giving up a clear grasp of truth and an exclusive allegiance to Jesus for a mess of mix-and-match attitudes that are syncretism by another name.

All too often we have disobeyed the great command to love the Lord our God with our hearts, souls, strength, and minds, and have fallen into an unbecoming antiintellectualism that is a dire cultural handicap as well as a sin. In particular, some among us have betrayed the strong Christian tradition of a high view of science, epitomized in the very matrix of ideas that gave birth to modern science, and made themselves vulnerable to caricatures of the false hostility between science and faith. By doing so, we have unwittingly given comfort to the unbridled scientism and naturalism that are so rampant in our culture today.

All too often we have gloried in the racial and ethnic diversity of the church around the world, but remained content to be enclaves of separateness here at home.

All too often we have abandoned our Lord’s concern for those in the shadows, the twilight, and the deep darkness of the world, and become cheerleaders for those in power and the na├»ve sycophants of the powerful and the rich.

All too often we have tried to be relevant, but instead of creating “new wineskins for the new wine,” we have succumbed to the passing fashions of the moment and made noisy attacks on yesterday’s errors, such as modernism, while capitulating tamely to today’s, such as postmodernism.

We call humbly but clearly for a restoration of the Evangelical reforming principle, and therefore for deep reformation and renewal in all our Christian ways of life and thought.

We urge our fellow-Evangelicals to go beyond lip-service to Jesus and the Bible and restore these authorities to their supreme place in our thought and practice.
We call our communities to a discerning critique of the world and of our generation, so that we resist not only their obviously alien power but the subtle and seductive shaping of the more brilliant insights and techniques of modernity, remembering always that we are “against the world, for the world.”

We call all who follow Jesus to keep his commandment and love one another, to be true to our unity in him that underlies all lesser differences, and to practice first the reconciliation in the church that is so needed in the wider world. In a society divided by identity and gender politics, Christians must witness by their lives to the way their identity in Jesus transcends all such differences.

We call for an expansion of our concern beyond single-issue politics, such as abortion and marriage, and a fuller recognition of the comprehensive causes and concerns of the Gospel, and of all the human issues that must be engaged in public life. Although we cannot back away from our biblically rooted commitment to the sanctity of every human life, including those unborn, nor can we deny the holiness of marriage as instituted by God between one man and one woman, we must follow the model of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, engaging the global giants of conflict, racism, corruption, poverty, pandemic diseases, illiteracy, ignorance, and spiritual emptiness, by promoting reconciliation, encouraging ethical servant leadership, assisting the poor, caring for the sick, and educating the next generation. We believe it is our calling to be good stewards
of all God has entrusted to our care so that it may be passed on to generations yet to be born.

We call for a more complete understanding of discipleship that applies faith with integrity to every calling and sphere of life, the secular as well as the spiritual, and the physical as well as the religious; and that thinks wider than politics in contributing to the arts, the sciences, the media, and the creation of culture in all its variety.

Above all, we remind ourselves that if we would recommend the Good News of Jesus to others, we must first be shaped by that Good News ourselves, and thus ourselves be Evangelicals and Evangelical.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Lot to Learn

I’m sitting in our living room, on the north wall, the one right below the trees Anna etched upon the wall, the one across from the wall where three boards from the old barn hang as art. The walls around me are sand yellow, or – rather – “graceful willow” according to the label on the gallon can. The floor is covered in shag carpet with the colors of a different type of sand, the sand of rocky beaches. It is as if this home rose out of the ground, which was our goal. We wanted the interior of this place to speak about the world outside.

What we did not plan for, though, is that there really is no barrier between the outside and inside of our home. Surprisingly, construction terms like “shell” and “insulation” apparently weren’t in use when homes were built in the late 1800’s. I mention that as a way to explain why we have recently killed six mice in three days through the old trick of peanut butter and snap-traps. Those are the most recent invaders. Earlier, it was the lady bugs. Before that, the wasp and flies had their run of the house.

We are doing our best to persist and stake a claim on this land.

A few feet away from me, Anna pulls a needle and thread through the red binding of a modern Christmas quilt. She plunges the metal into the cloth, than pulls it out like a hook from the sea, up towards the ceiling. On the back of the slipper sofa a roll of thread and a pair of Ginger scissors lay awaiting their next job. Slowly, I believe Anna and I are drifting backwards into a time of home economics.

We have no television in this home. There is no internet. Our lone portals into an outside world are as follows : a handheld radio we turn on in the morning occasionally to listen to NPR, Anna’s iPhone, Netflix, and two local newspapers that appear two days out of seven and present a macabre world of local news, celebrity gossip and farmer’s almanacs.

Actually, I lied about the internet. We use the iPhone for that purpose. But, it is internet in need of a technological enema. The cellular reception streams just enough information to keep us on the fringe of society. Anna consults some design blogs. I check sporting news on ESPN. Often I forget to check the weather, uncertain if my light fleece vest will be enough to get me through the day.

We have a few other indulgences. We eagerly await the arrival of a Netflix movie to our mailbox, connecting us to art and cinema in ways we could not otherwise unless we drove all the way to the north side of Indy.

Sometimes, though, that is precisely what we have to do – like the days we travel the fifty miles or so to the nearest Trader Joe’s, stocking up on necessities and luxury items, returning home like old farm families from the market.

The last time Anna went, she spent just over $230. We both were aghast. We admonished ourselves for the expense, but then we looked again at the five bags sitting in our kitchen, stuffed full of whole wheat flour, extra virgin olive oil, marinara, havarti and parmesan cheeses, full pound bars of milk chocolate with almonds, and several bottles of Honey Moon Viogner to stash for dinner guests (or, more likely, for those days when our children’s screams reverberate off the walls for far too long).

Forgive us our indulgences as we forgive yours.

But, really, the luxuries are not much. Consciously or by necessity, we have chosen to live a fairly meager existence these days. This farm home is just over a thousand square feet, which is neither large nor small. There is one bathroom, nicely redone, but nothing lavish. The wind howls through the old windows on cold nights like this one, just as it does through the wooden boards layered up the body of this old farmhouse.

I have about finished the painting of the exterior. Unfortunately, I likely will not finish the remainder before spring. The burgundy trim only extends to a height of fifteen feet where it abruptly ends. The ladder extended no further, and even then I was becoming uncomfortable with the flimsy aluminum and the great height.

Besides, in recent months, my attention has turned to another chore: collecting wood for the winter. Two months ago, I had an old Paulson saw repaired at Humphrey’s Outdoor Equipment store on the north end of 231. They flushed out all the fluids, replaced the fuel line, put on a new bar and chain and got it churning again. I was well on my way to local heat, gathered from the fallen timber to extend my father-in-law’s runway. Then the engine shuddered and froze upon itself.

I put the lifeless saw back up in the blue shed. Two days later I was back at Humphrey’s. I picked out a Stihl Farmboss, a carrying case, and a new chain. Total cost: just over $380, which seemed just as damaging as the groceries. But, the investment in the saw has quickly proven worth it. The boss starts easily, and churns through logs. Plus, it is an investment, or so I rationalized as I took out my debit card to pay for it. $380, would – in fact – quickly be returned in the decrease in gas costs. Sure enough, the gas bill arrived this week. The cost was a pleasing $0, and at the bottom the service man noted that he saw the smoke coming from our outdoor wood-burning furnace. Said he would check back in come spring.

Now the leaves have all fallen from the tree. Life itself won’t be back until the spring. For the world has gone quiet and hushed, into the winter season. I have learned a lot, with a lot more to learn.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Laughing with

I just heard Regina Spektor's song "Laughing With", which came out several months ago. I thought I'd post it here to get some thoughts. I first heard it on the radio, and - personally - it held more meaning in that form than watching the video. Anyhow, here are the lyrics as well:

No one laughs at God in a hospital
No one laughs at God in a war
No one's laughing at God when they're starving or freezing or so very poor

No one laughs at God when the doctor calls after some routine tests
No one's laughing at God when it's gotten real late and their kid's not back from that party yet

No one laughs at God when their airplane starts to uncontrollably shake
No one's laughing at God when they see the one they love hand in hand with someone else and they hope that they're mistaken
No one laughs at God when the cops knock on their door and they say "We've got some bad new, sir,"
No one's laughing at God when there's a famine, fire or flood

But God can be funny
At a cocktail party while listening to a good God-themed joke or
Or when the crazies say he hates us and they get so red in the head you think that they're about to choke

God can be funny
When told he'll give you money if you just pray the right way
And when presented like a genie
Who does magic like Houdini
Or grants wishes like Jiminy Cricket and Santa Claus

God can be so hilarious
Ha ha
Ha ha

No one laughs at God in a hospital
No one laughs at God in a war
No one's laughing at God when they've lost all they got and they don't know what for

No one laughs at God on the day they realize that the last sight they'll ever see is a pair of hateful eyes
No one's laughing at God when they're saying their goodbyes

But God can be funny
At a cocktail party while listening to a good God-themed joke or
Or when the crazies say he hates us and they get so red in the head you think that they're about to choke

God can be funny
When told he'll give you money if you just pray the right way
And when presented like a genie
Who does magic like Houdini
Or grants wishes like Jiminy Cricket and Santa Claus

God can be so hilarious

No one laughs at God in a hospital
No one laughs at God in a war

No one laughs at God in a hospital
No one laughs at God in a war

No one's laughing at God in a hospital
No one's laughing at God in a war

No one's laughing at God when they're starving or freezing or so very poor

No one's laughing at God
No one's laughing at God
No one's laughing at God
We're all laughing with God

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Loving the World

"To believe in God is to believe in the salvation of the world. The paradox of our time is that those who believe in God do not believe in the salvation of the world, and those who believe in the future of the world do not believe in God.

Christians believe in the “end of the world,” they expect the final catastrophe, the punishment of others.

Atheists in their turn invent doctrines of salvation, try to give a meaning to life, work, the future of humankind, and refuse to believe in God because Christians believe in him and take no interest in the world

All ignore the true God: he who so loved the world! But which is the more culpable ignorance?

To love God is to love the world. To love God passionately is to love the world passionately. To hope in God is to hope for the salvation of the world.

I often say to myself that, in our religion, God must feel very much alone: for is there anyone besides God who believes in the salvation of the world? God seeks among us sons and daughters who resemble him enough, who love the world enough so that he could send them into the world to save it."

-Louis Evely, In the Christian Spirit

Monday, November 16, 2009

The People of God

Every once in a while I find myself talking with a stranger or catching up with an old friend. Such an occasion came this last weekend as I reunited with several old college buddies. And, as often happens at reunions, the conversation quickly turned to twenty questions: Am I married? Do I have kids? Where do I live?

Eventually, I had to tell my friends what I now do to feed myself and my family. And with some hesitancy, I told them that I now serve as a pastor.

Why the hesitancy? What could keep me from freely proclaiming myself as a servant of the Lord? Simply: I know what the follow up question is going to be. It is almost inevitable:

"So, how big is your church?"

It is amazing how often people ask me this.

And let me just say this: I hate this question. I think it is a horrible, God-awful question.

The people who ask the question aren't bad people. It's like my old college buddies. I have nothing against them; in fact, I appreciate and love them. But, as much as I love them, I really cannot stand that question.

And the reason that I hate this question is that it is oozing with misperceptions and false cultural values. For one, there is the assumption that it is my church, that somehow my talent or work or energy have created and sustained and built this community. That, of course, is complete bogus and most of the pastors I know who fall into actually believing this sentiment end up running on treadmill of do-it-all that is neither sustainable nor helpful.

But, there is more. There is also implicit assumption that a church can be designated or defined by a number, and while it is true that facts and figures do help us understand or comprehend things, it is also true that ours is a culture where human beings and communities are continuously devalued and are wrongly described by life-less numbers. We live in the world where McDonald's has now served billions and billions. Ours is the age where the local hardware store can't stand up to Walmart. Well, I want to stand in opposition to such forces. I believe in the value of specific individuals over the profit of major corporations. I believe in the worth of communities over individual gains.

So, when someone asks me how big my church is, I feel a deep urge to help them rethink their question with me. I want to help people see that the reason I love my work is that there is no way to quantify it. I want people to realize that good communal work done in the service of God is done in ways that require more than a fact or figure. It - thankfully - can never be summed up with one number. No, thankfully, pastoral work ... like being a part of a church ... is something that is intrinsically alive because of God's loving activity. It goes beyond stats and into the realm of flesh and blood. The Church is defined by Christ and by the individual members of the body.

And, this gets to my real feeling. When people ask me the "How big is your ..." question, what I really want to do is tell them about the people, the individual members of the community that I am a part of. I long to relate what a gift it is to live within that community. I want to tell them how much of a blessing it is to know and feel that my life is somehow very much bound up with the ups and downs of a wide community.

Because you cannot put a number on community. You cannot put a number on God's work and Kingdom. All you can do is work within it and experience the grace, the humility, the struggle, the loss, the gain, and the hope that exists within.

Which is why when people ask me how big my church is, I need to say, "I don't know. Why don't you come and join us and find out?"


Wednesday, October 07, 2009

A Little Favor From Our Friends @ Wall Envy

Several weeks ago, Jeremy Black came out to the farm and did us the huge favor of taking a ton of pictures of our family. Jeremy and his wife have been developing a great photography business called Wall Envy. Check out their site. And check out some of the pictures from the photoshoot out near Kendall farm.

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Tuesday, October 06, 2009


Nicholas and Alexandra Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is one of those historical books that reads with such fascinating personas that you cannot help but think, "This really happened." And the single brightest star in this Russian period...none other than the mysterious monk, Rasputin.

View all my reviews >>

Life and Constrictions

Once again, days have moved into the past and our correspondence through this blog has been missing. There are several reasons for the absence. Anna and I often blame the lack of internet in our home as one of the major reasons. That, in part, is true. With the inability to sit down and write an update conveniently or quickly, we have moved on to other forms of communicating with our friends and family. Anna - much to her own surprise - has begun using Facebook much more regularly. She also now uses her iPhone to check those select blogs and people that give her own life substance and invigoration.

I have tried to use Facebook, developing an on-again, off-again affair. But, it just hasn't taken yet for me.

And, I cannot blame the lack of internet for my absence. I am fortunate enough to have a laptop and internet access throughout Greencastle.

The major reason for my silence goes deeper than availability. It results from my life being radically different and from the result of what I would call a "birthing" process. For these past several months have largely been a process of pressure and exertion for me personally and for us as a family.

I know that I have been working harder at life and for life than I ever have. I'm not sure that is entirely a good thing, but - for better and for worse - I have been expending energy to get an old house into a decent place to live. For better and for worse, I have been extending myself to a congregation, seeking to aid them in their life as disciples and in their life as a community of believers. For better and for worse, I have been trying to find my place in Greencastle. And I am consequently left with little energy or time to write.

This concerns me, but I take solace knowing this may just be a season, which leads me back to the "birthing" image.

Recently, I read that God's movement in our lives is always like His activity with the Israelites in Exodus. First of all, God continuously brings us through places of "constriction." Like God's desire to pull his people out of Egypt, God's desire is to pull us out of the unbearable pressure of slavery. However, this delivery does not come easily. God's way of delivering us comes with great travail and hardship ... like passing between the mighty walls of water, being chased by hordes of opposition.

It is not easy, but God does deliver. And that leads to the second movement: God delivers us into a new, open space. God puts us out into a broad, open field.

The analogy to labor is undeniable: from confinement to constriction to deliverance and new life.

And within that analogy, I would say that I am still very much in the area of constriction. I am finding myself in the intense pressure that comes from being born anew, from having my world radically altered ... from going from an father to one child as an associate pastor living in the city to being the father of two kids as a solo pastor living out in the country.

In other words, the reasons are many why I don't blog as often nowadays. But, in due time, I hope that the way will open to write more frequently. But, I do not know. I am being born again, and I cannot yet see where God is delivering me ... to what place I am being born into.


Monday, October 05, 2009

Go Irish

I made it to my first ever ND football game this past weekend. Finally ... and what a game!

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Further Reflections on Being a Craftsman

I am considering submitting this piece to a few online sites or even publications for pastors ... and, before I do, I would greatly appreciate any feedback, criticism or other thoughts.


In the course of the last month, two rhythms have been dominating my life. First of all, I have been searching out, studying the Scriptures and communicating the Christian hope - primarily by studying the letters of Paul. And, secondly, I have been putting my body and hands to work to remodel the bathroom of the old farm house. These two labors do appear at first as separate, unconnected efforts: one is - we assume - of the mind and reserved for the pastor's office or library while the other is - we believe - reserved for the hands and for the noisy domains of the shop.

But, while doing the first work of study, I came across the following statement about Paul:

"We begin to realize that, far from being at the periphery of his life, tent-making was actually central to it. More than any of us has supposed, Paul was Paul the tentmaker. His trade occupied much of his time - from the years of his apprenticeship through the years of his life as a missionary for Christ, from before daylight through most of the day. Consequently, his trade in large measure determined his daily experiences and his social status. His life was very much that of the workshop, of artisan-friends like Aquila, Barnabas, and perhaps Jason; of leather, knives, and awls; of wearying toil; of being bent over a workbench like a slave and of working side by side with slaves; of thereby being perceived by others and by himself as slavish and humiliated; of suffering the artisan's lack of status and so being reviled and abused." - Hock, Social Context, pg. 67 as quoted in Ben Witherington III's Conflict & Community in Corinth.

In other words, for Paul there was no separation between who he was as a man of letters and who he was as a craftsman, as a day laborer. In fact, as the quote above suggests, Paul the tentmaker apparently helped keep Paul the apostle grounded.

Honest work of the hands can keep the head sharp and bent low: This is one of the gifts I am receiving right now, and it is part of my maturation both as a pastor and as a person. I am beginning to discover that the strain and sweat I put into properly laying a floor helps form how I approach teaching the faith - which is its own type of building process. And - similarly - I am beginning to discover that the concentration and effort demanded from my body for physical labor should be mirrored in how I approach writing a sermon or building up a community of elders.

But, again, this is more than just a cross-pollinating of hands, heart and head. It is a humbling of the heart that keeps me grateful for ministry and mindful of the gift I have been given to pastor and minister.

Still, I speak of this gift fully realizing how easy it can be to neglect it as gift, and I say it realizing that ministry has often been a flight from humility - both for myself and many pastors.

To be a pastor for several decades - centuries even - has been considered a true white-collar job. In fact, before the starchy brightness of doctors' smocks, the clergy collar was about as high as one could get in society. Sadly, over time, the pastoral office has become associated with high degrees and big offices rather than tradesmen' quarters and tools.

But, the simple reality is that ministry is not better than other forms of labor. It is not a white-collar job, set above and apart from blue-collar work. For ministry in its truest sense is the work of service, and as such, there is no better training ground than a service-sector job. In fact, some of my best training for ministry has come not from seminary, but from being a server at a restaurant and now as a (rather poor) home repair man. And in my current call, some of my best teachers and instructors in the art of ministry are the men and women who daily practice their trade and skill in humility and service to others - including the man who works ten hour days providing tree service, the teacher who works hours after school to help create a better environment for her students, and the shift foreman who daily maintains and protects both his workers and his plant. It is these persons who faithfully show forth what it can look like to be a servant and steward.

Now there is another point to be made here as well. Not only was Paul's humility maintained through his trade, Paul's tent-making also aided him by keeping him in community. This is a significant statement, one that cannot be ignored by modern ministers.

Being connected (that is being dependent upon and contributing to) to the community one serves is critical to a successful ministry. But, for many ministers, this connection is hard to maintain for reasons larger than any one minister.

There is no doubt that the pastoral profession has been more and more pushed to the fringes of American culture so that the pastoral office that was once one of the key voices in the community has become easily ignored or disregarded. And while this displacement may open new paths for our prophetic voice, the simple reality is that being ignored and dismissed leaves a lot of pastors feeling insignificant.

It is worth noting that there has been a fundamental shift in being respected in a community to being a respected voice within the church. Pastors and preachers are now known largely for what they are doing with their churches, not within their communities. But what this points to - again - is the disconnect between ministry and community. And this is precisely where Paul's life and model might be helpful for us in ministry.

When Paul came to a community, he came not just as a distributor of the gospel. He came as a tentmaker, someone who had an actual skill that would allow him to set up shop in a community and contribute to its needs. More than that, as a tentmaker, Paul was able to place himself in the very crossroads of a city's culture, which provided him incredible opportunities to befriend people and to see and hear what was really going on in a community.

No, of course, many ministers will feel untrained or uncomfortable moving into a community and offering a labor or skill for profit, but the point here is not to make carpenters of pastors. Looking at my home repair jobs disqualifies that argument rather quickly. The point is to make sure that ministers see their work as work that is done in service to others and in community.

And, in that sense, the true predecessor in pastoral ministry - of course - is not Paul, but Paul's own Lord and Teacher, Jesus Christ, the same carpenter's son from Nazareth. For in Jesus we see the One who was willing to always be a servant to others for the welfare of the community.


Wedding up in Michigan

Here are a few pictures from that wedding I referred to up in Michigan. The wedding itself took place just north of Traverse City near Elk Rapids. There was a harbor with a small outcropping. The service was on a small strip of grass on that outcropping.

Meanwhile, the two families had rented houses on a nearby lake, which afforded me the opportunity to get behind a boat for the first time in seven years ... thus, putting me in "loathed" status with Anna ... (a) for skiing and (b) for leaving her two small children in the wake of my absence.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Where have we been in August? Why the long absence? Simply: we have been remodeling the only bathroom in the farmhouse, and by "we," I mean Grandpa Joe, Uncle Drew, Bob the Builder, myself, Anna, and Grandma Lis.

Ever since we moved in, we knew the bathroom was going to need to be replaced one day ... but the longer we were in the home, the more we knew the job needed to happen sooner than later. The plastic tiles on the floor were beginning to peel away from the floor revealing rotten wood and other un-pleasantries. Plus, we had done a quick fix on the original bathroom, putting up water-proof siding above blue tile ... then we tried to spraypaint the tile ... then, well, we knew we were beyond mere cosmetics.

So, about three weeks ago, the day after I returned from a wedding up in Michigan for two church families, we got into the bathroom and started demo work - taking the room down to the studs and tearing up about three layers of flooring that had been laid down through the years (when I was tearing up the final layer of wood-flooring I came across a newspaper from the late 1800's). Eventually, all that remained where four or five cross beams and a lot of space to fall into the basement.

I learned several things through this process: about subflooring, about denshield, about how absolutely nothing in an old home is to code and how nothing lines up as it should ... and eventually I learned how to cut, lay and grout a tile floor, which Drew pretty much did (you rock, Drew!). Meanwhile, Builder Bob and Grandpa Job did the majority of the plumbing. Thankfully, once the floor was completely removed, they had a tabula rosa to reroute all the pluming.

Then, late last week, Grandpa Joe put up the majority of the drywall, and I began to mud as I could. We also took a night to put in the new sink, the toilet, a vanity mirror, a lightbar and some additional storage for linens and things. While not completely finished, the job took just about two weeks ... and ...

Last night, we were able to give the kids their first bath in the new bathtub - making the whole process all the more worth it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

On Another Channel

As life has expanded and changed in recent months, I've begun another blog in another space - this one dedicated to my ministry with the people of Greencastle Presbyterian Church. You can find it at:



Monday, July 27, 2009

Bygones and Birthdays

Last week Anna took the kids up to Aunt Cindy's and Uncle Kirk's in Fort Wayne, IN. Kirk and Cindy are fortunate enough to live on a nice piece of land complete with their own horse barn and riding grounds. This meant Wyatt was able to take a ride on Bailey, one of Cindy's horses. Anna was super pleased to inform me that Wyatt did great on the horse - even pinching his knees in as Bailey took him up a fairly steep hill. And she assures me that Wyatt has a great sense of balance ... which I shamelessly take credit for. Here are a few pics from the ride.

And, yesterday, was my birthday, which happened to fall on perhaps the most beautiful day of the year so far. Wow, it was a great day - spent first at church in worship, followed by a day at Victory Field with Wyatt and some friends and concluded with a family dinner under the Bur Oak tree of our home.

After enjoying a wonderful meal, I received two incredible gifts. The first came from my wife, who did it again. This time a messenger back made of recycled plastic and including another of Anna's very cool mixed-media collages. This particular collage includes a stamp from Russia, a train ticket from one of my train rides from Bucharest to Timasoria back in college and a piece of a basketball. She knows me.

And, finally, my brother-in-law, Drew, surprised me big time with a sweet gift ... a 1971 Terranaut road bike. He picked it up at an antique store. Found it in pretty good shape, in fact. Then, he did some good work in updating a few things and restoring a few others. So, in all, I have a sweet way to get around Greencastle now. I am blessed.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Get it Straight

In the process of updating my iTunes library on the ol' work laptop I came across a Ten Shekel Shirt album: Risk. The opening track from this album is spot on ... just a great way to frame all of life. Here are the lyrics ... unfortunately I can't find a video to post:

It all begins with a risk...
Cause your desire is for this
To be loved and to love
its what everything is all about

I'm allowed to live to make the Maker smile
I vow to give the best years of my life

Live's meant to be like a kiss
Cause intimacy is bliss
To be loved and to love
is what everything is all about

I'm allowed to live to make the Maker smile
I vow to give the best years of my life

To be loved. Oh, to be loved.
And to love like You love is what everything is all about.

I'm allowed to live to make the Maker smile
I vow to give the best years of my life
Right now I live to make the Maker smile
I'm free to give the best years of my life

Now if I can just locate their first album, Much. That too was solid.


Monday, July 06, 2009

External Things

We started work on the outside of the house today: mostly scraping away at the old paint in preparation for a new coat. Anna and her mom and the kids managed to pick up some huge buckets of paint as well: a deep red, beige and tan.

Hopefully, we'll have some work-in-progress pictures up in the next couple of days.


Friday, July 03, 2009


Elise is walking everywhere these days...when she's not swimming, that is. She eats constantly, remains tiny, and I'm continuously blown away by how well she can communicate. There is never any doubt what this girl wants or is thinking... Below are pictures from the train ride mentioned in the next post.

Thomas and friends

Every once in a while, I make it in town to update this space with a few things from the homefront...

We have been busy, as is always the case when you live out in the country, we're finding. It is amazing just how much good work there is to be done. Constantly. For a break, my mom and I managed to get over to Connersville, Indiana with the kids to see Thomas the Tank Engine -- life size. We took a half hour train ride in a passenger car pulled by Thomas, and spent another hour or so taking in various Thomas-themed activities. I've got my eyes out for the original British edition stories...I think Wyatt would dig those.

Wyatt riding on the train (an original from 1932).

Me trying to explain all the abandoned forms of industry left along the train track by modern advances.

Wyatt after the ride, posing with "the big, big, big Thomas."