Tuesday, March 31, 2009

thorns and thistles

Wyatt is almost three, which means that he is still young enough to get away with wearing no pants or underway without facing serious jail time. Although, we have made a rule in our own home that Wyatt has to at least wear underwear if he is going to be galivanting around the place. Sometimes he honors this request. Other times, he revolts with the brazenness of a nudist.

Anyway, I mention his nude habit as an intro to a story Anna shared with me yesterday ...

Anna was attending to Elise when Wyatt showed up in the room with no pants on. Anna said half-heartedly that Wyatt needed to put on his underwear. And Wyatt did not respond except to turn around and begin crawling on his knees ... at which point Anna realized that he had a big red spot on his left posterior mound. Upon closer inspection, Anna discovered a sizable thorn embedded in Wyatt's rumpus. She incredulously asked Wyatt, "Wyatt, did you not realize you had a thorn sticking in your bum?" And Wyatt just looked at her bemused and unaware.



Monday, March 30, 2009

Adventures and Quests

Through the kindness of Rex McDaniel, I received a free edition of the Mars Hill Journal recently. Thank you, Rex.

And, yesterday, I had the time to listen to the journal as I drove east bound for Indianapolis. The edition that was sent to me was a collection of discussions Ken Meyer has had with authors, philosophers, poets, and other cultural analysts - a type of "best of" compilation.

One on the conversations was on the role of Tolkein's great works - including The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. The gentlemen who was discussing these works spoke of Tolkein's distinction between an adventure and a quest. An adventure is what Bilbo Baggins went on, and what will be displayed on the big screen as The Hobbit. What makes an adventure is that Bilbo goes "there and back again." Or, in other words, Bilbo sets out to explore the unknown for the sake of excitement, but all the while he intends to return home. The journey is to add some spice to his life, but it is not his life.

On the other hand, the quest is a journey that we do not necessarily choose, but it becomes our life. It is something that we are called into, and often times it requires that we leave everything behind with no hope of returning home.

Two things struck me about this distinction. One, I realized that the past six plus years of my life have been something of an adventure. I went "there and back again." I even thought of our journey out West as an adventure when we first began. But, I must admit: I had no idea we would ever return.

This leads into the second "aha". I am feeling myself entering into a new season of life ... the quest.

A gentleman from our presbytery stopped by recently to help Anna and I think about our financial situation, which was something we've been needing to do for a while. But, amidst our pouring over budgets, our goals and our current situation, this man asked me a really direct question: "What do you want to communicate with your church? Who do you want them to be?"

I realized that this was indeed the question I needed to be asking myself. And it goes deeper than my role as a pastor. It becomes, "What do you want your life to be ... to communicate?"

Later that evening, Anna rightly said that we should probably be thinking about the type of family we should be. What do we want our marriage to say? What does our home represent? Or, in other words, how does God want to use us for His purposes? Asking that question launches us on our quest.

And, thanks be to God, I think I'm beginning to see. Pieces are falling into place. Purpose is coming forth.

I believe we are being called to seek the welfare of this community (Jeremiah 29:7). I believe God wants to use our individual gifts, our collective hopes, our home, our work in this place, and the very land that we inhabit to build up these people for God's glory. I believe I'm being called to cease the adventure and begin the quest.

I am hopeful. I am nervous. For we are stepping into unfamiliar territory even though we know the terrain. And - perhaps more terrifying - we are going to face the reality of limits and possibilities. To call a place home is to choose, to decide. It is to be rooted and fixed.

So, I have arrived back in land I know. But, I have a feeling that I have been called back to this place to learn in exciting, novel, and endlessly challenging ways how to really be here.

Seek the welfare of the community. When it prospers, so will you.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Little Tree - a Lesson on Identity

I wrote this a few weeks ago for Ash Wednesday:

Once upon a time, there was a tree living in the countryside. Besides the harsh winters, the tree enjoyed his environment very much. The land was full of good hills to block fierce winds, there were plenty of fresh streams, and the sun’s loving rays fell on this land gently in the spring, summer and fall. And, on top of that, there was plenty of company for the tree. He was surrounded by mighty oaks and tall pines, rivers were surrounded by willows and to the south was another grove of hickory and maple.

Ever since this tree was a young sapling, he longed to be like the other trees of the land – especially the oak. He saw the mighty strength of the oak and the vibrant colors in the fall, and the tree became fascinated with power and riches. He longed day and night to join their company – to be admired for his strength, prominence and adornment. So, daily, he would walk the woods trying to impress the mighty oaks, flexing his branches and standing firm upon his trunk. And the oaks were very impressed indeed. They gave him plaques and honors and made him a member of the Mighty Oak Club.

Well, these achievements lasted for a while, but soon the tree started to notice that the tall pine trees seemed even more wonderful. They never lost their decoration and their pliable limbs moved gracefully in the wind and held the snow with such majesty that the little tree was determined to be just like them. So, he began searching the ground for needles. And, eventually, he had enough needles to clothe himself. Then, the pines started to notice him and give him attention. The other trees also started to praise him, and the tree said to them, “Oh, little old me. I am nothing special. Just another tree.” But, in his heart, he was delighted, and when the people came to celebrate Christmas, they choose him as the tree to decorate. He was overwhelmed with joy.

But, after Christmas, the tree grew sad again, longing to be noticed and appreciated. So, he decided he would become a willow tree – and a weeping willow at that. He watched the willows for days and days, and over time, he too learned how to sag his branches. It wasn’t long before people started saying, “Now, look there: There is a willow that is full of piety and humility. Why he has not raised his branches to the sky in months now.” And the tree had to try as hard as he could to keep from smiling.

By the summer, while the other trees of the land were trying to resist the heat by remaining still and lying quietly next to streams, the tree began looking for the next audience he could impress. He had already won the favor of the oaks and pines and willows and maples and beech trees. So, he started roaming the land day after day. Every where he went he adapted and changed to impress the trees of the forest. And one by one, the trees clapped and bowed and saluted.
But one fine day, late in the summer, the tree came home to rest for the evening. And as he was preparing his costume for the next day he suddenly heard a voice from the sky calling out to him.

“Little tree, little tree, do you not know? Have you not heard? Have you not bee told? You were not created for your own glory. You were created by me – to bring glory to my name for your own satisfaction.”

And the little tree hid behind his branches, and began to plead, “But, my maker, I have learned so much, and seen so much, and …”

But, before the little tree could go any further the voice interrupted him again and said, “Little tree, you have broken my heart. Did you not know that you have only one audience? And that audience is me. And I have loved you from the day you were planted. I have loved you in your sapling days, and I loved you during the coldest frost and bitterest wind. I nourished you and fed you with my love.”

And, the little tree thought he heard a sniffle and a sob.

“Little tree,” the voice said again, “you’ve spent so much time trying to win the approval of others, you’ve neglected yourself … and you’ve forgotten me. Little tree, don’t you know? You are a fruit tree, but since you have spent so much time vigorously seeking the praise of others, you have cultivated no roots, no inner strength, and – alas – no fruit. Little tree, you’ve forgotten why I made you.”

And with this, the little tree could no longer be mistaken. A mighty sob resounded throughout all of heaven and a steady stream of rain began to fall on the tree.

Monday, March 09, 2009


Wyatt and I rode bikes in the drive-way on Saturday. It had been so long since I took the time to play with him. And what a joy it was. The simple, pure joy of family. Amen.


Friday, March 06, 2009

Best of 2008 - #6

The Deer’s Cry – Shaun Davey

I’m sitting in a small room with the door and windows open; jasmine and sea-breeze come streaming in and I am intoxicated with the scents. I have come from Indiana for a week-long stay on a hill over-looking the Pacific Ocean, and I cannot get beyond this: the desert hills of Southern California are drowning in aroma.

I am coming alive again – breathing in life and refreshment. As I’m doing so, a wise soul who pastors nearby in the fanciful world of Laguna Beach is speaking to myself and a handful of others. He is from Texas, so his voice is sure and deep, and his eyes are a water-mist of pain and hope. You can see his love for God and God’s people in those eyes – an ocean of years and prayers and struggles and joys and hopes.

He’s talking to us about the need to find ways to go deeper, to find wells of life and love to sustain us in life. And, he has brought with him a CD. He mentions a prayer from St. Patrick, the “Breastplate”. The prayer itself is held in high regard by Celtic people, and is likely older even than the Saint who brought the Christian faith to the isles of Ireland. A prayer for travelers, perhaps? It is also known as “The Deer’s Cry”.

I have read this prayer before – heard it even. Another pastor friend once spoke it aloud over the dust and before the rising of the sun south of Tijuana as we prepared to enter a Mexican slum to improve a house. It is a grand prayer. But, as the jasmine and sea-breeze circled the room this day, “The Deer’s Cry” came alive.

In 1983, Shaun Davey – a composer and director – was given the text of “St. Patrick’s Breastplate”, and immediately he began preparations to make it sing. That seemed wise, for it was likely a song to begin with. Later, he discovered Rita Connolly, the woman whose voice he knew needed to sing the prayer, and in 1990 Rita and Shaun developed it for a Granada TV documentary titled, “Who Bombed Birmingham”. Later still Shaun managed to get Rita to perform the song as part of a larger work by Shaun titled, “The Pilgrim” – a series of Celtic traditional songs, prayers and poems. That was all that was needed. Since then, it has become a tremendously successful and oft-requested song. Unfortunately, that is in Europe, and it has not found popular success in America as easily.

You won’t be able to hear song here. All the clips I found come no where near the quality of the cd version, and this song is one of those that needs to be heard in all of its beauty and transcendence (I will include the prayer at the end of this post). Buying the CD would be worth it (click here). But, I just wish I could sit you down in that room in the high hills of that monastery where I first heard it. Oh, the goodness, the sweetness and protection!


The Deer's Cry or St. Patrick's Breastplate

I arise today through the strength of heaven.
Light of sun, radiance of moon,
splendor of fire, speed of lightning,
swiftness of wind, depth of the sea
stability of the earth, firmness of rock.

I arise today through God’s strength to pilot me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
from all who shall wish me ill
afar and a near
alone and in a multitude.

Against every cruel, merciless power
that may oppose my body and soul.

Christ with me.
Christ before me.
Christ behind me.
Christ in me.
Christ beneath me.
Christ above me.
Christ on my right.
Christ on my left.
Christ when I lie down.
Christ when I sit down
Christ when I arrive.
Christ to shield me.
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me.
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me.

I arise today.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The Farmhouse

And the work goes on now into the third month. We've displaced family; we've scraped and sanded and painted and primed. And my father-in-law told me the last 10% will seem the longest. It is. It is.

But, bit by bit, we move closer to moving in. In fact, we're hoping to do just that this coming weekend. It is time - if for no other reason - to give Joe and Lisa their home back.

A wood-worker in the church came by yesterday and finished up the book shelves he had built for our bedroom. Fine work he has done for us ...

And Joe and Lisa worked their tails off on Sunday to put up laminated covering for the bathroom walls. The bathroom and kitchen now stand as the two rooms that await our attention. We are going to spray paint the blue and beige tiles that are at the base of the bathroom. And, tonight, we discussed what to do with the bathroom floor.

This is just a fun picture of a plant I picked up at Lowe's in Owensboro. Actually, I got two: one for Wyatt's room (pictured here) and one for our room. Turned out to be a really good score. Anna says these plants are great at nullify toxins in the air.

And ... the kitchen ... which we have begun to paint and prime and seal off. Friday, I'm hoping to use a spray painter to cover the ceiling in B-I-N's. That will be an adventure.

Feel free to check the album again to see the progress in the rooms.