You Won’t See Me Follow You Back Home

2005 seems like a lifetime ago.

In many ways, it was.

As 2005 began, I was herding my five kids around, trying to work a full-time teaching job, inching my way back towards the church, and grieving. Of all those things I was well-aware,  except the grief. In the moment, I’m not sure I knew what to call it, how to feel, what to think, or what to hope for. I just knew that my life was wrecked – in large part by my own hand; my kids were in pain; and every passing day seemed like a searing exercise in survival.

Those days hurt. I didn’t call it pain back then; I was confused, and struggling, and burning the candle at both ends. I was lost, mostly. But resilience is an amazing thing, and it seems to me that most of us simply do what has to be done, and slog through the muck, and cry when we need to, all the while holding on to that slim hope that someday, things might not hurt so badly.

I think that was me, 12 years ago. Pain is pain, whether you bring it on yourself or you suffer at the hands on another. Truth be told, seems like it’s always a bit of both, isn’t it? From both ends, my heart hurt.

I look back now and I see that woman – so young, although she felt so old. Just past forty. Somehow finding the wherewithal to buy a house – by herself – and move her little broken family into its sanctuary. I was sleeping alone in a master bedroom that was larger than any one person ever needed – its abundance of space a sometimes bitter reminder of what often felt like desolation. (Eventually, I took the smaller room and moved all three of my daughters into the oversized master – definitely one of my smarter decisions on all fronts.)

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August, 2013, Ashland, VA

Berber carpet and moss green walls; I see it so clearly. And what I’m thinking of tonight is a time when I lay on the floor and sobbed as I listened to Jimmy LaFave sing Walk Away Renee. Maybe you know the song, originally recorded in 1966 by a band I’ve never heard of. If that’s all you know, it’s kind of a throwaway pop tune.

But if you’ve heard Jimmy LaFave sing it, you’ve invited into the deep recesses of a broken heart.

And if it’s your own heart, you might find yourself cracking wide open. When LaFave wraps his raspy voice around the chorus for the last time – and you KNOW it’s the last time, when she’s going to walk away and he’s going to let her go – everything spills over into sorrow.

Just walk away, Renee / No, you won’t see me follow you back home

Now as the rain falls down upon my weary eyes

I start to cry 

Just walk away, Renee….please, walk away…

Nobody likes pain. I cried a lot , 12 years ago, but mostly tucked the tears away and leaned hard into just getting things done. That’s what the situation required, and so day after day, that’s what I tried to do. Funny thing is, though; while you think you’re getting it done, there’s a high likelihood that you’re missing a few things along the way.

Maybe a lot of things. Important things.

There are so many times I wasn’t there for my kids, because getting things done meant leaning into my identity as a leader at my workplace. Getting things done put layers and layers upon those things upon my soul, and I am going to tell you the truth right now: 12 years later, I am working on peeling back all that had to get done and figuring out who, exactly, I am. And dealing with some amends that have to be made.


I found out yesterday that Jimmy LaFave has terminal cancer and a short time to live. My thoughts turn to that moment in my bedroom, that season when I played Austin Skyline over and over and over again, exorcising geographical and romantic demons like a warrior.

Except nothing every really got exorcised; that deep wound in my soul is still there, and it throbs and thrums as I listen to Walk Away, Renee in a different house; one that is mostly empty, with a self that’s mostly older and slower. Not much like a warrior any more.

That’s probably a good thing. There’s not much I want to fight these days.


Just four years ago I had the good fortune to see Jimmy LaFave in concert at Ashland Coffee and Tea. He is a tremendous interpreter of American folk music. His voice stirs my soul. And now he’s living with the end in sight.

We all know that life is short; everybody is headed for the same ending. But something about terminal brings everything into a sharper focus. I can’t help but think about all that’s been lost along the way; the tears that still flow as I hear him sing this song are as much about his numbered days ahead and the ones I still count that flow behind me.

A great article about LaFave.

No Easter Baskets

Hello, blog; it’s been a while. IMG_0631

A full month, to be exact.

I am always writing in my head. Always, all the time, every hour of the day; I’m scripting something that I am seeing or feeling or doing. My head is chock full of words.

Getting them out is another story.

But here I am, today, at the end of a day that started with a gentle alarm at 4:50AM and then a not-so-gentle rustling from the other side of the bed. It’s Easter Sunday, and that means a long day of service and family and energy and excitement.

Just a short time ago, Easter was a season with a long list of things to do. New outfits for each of the kids (matching, when they were younger); Easter baskets (usually with chocolate and seeds in them, for our cravings and our lesser gardening instincts…). A big family dinner gathering. Those are things I remember from the ‘good old days’ that were a scant 10 years ago; days that seem to have come and gone in the blink of an eye. Now my baby is 17, and he slept in and drove himself to church today in a pair of new dress shorts I bought him for his spring break adventure, a cruise to the Caribbean.

My, how times have changed.

As the traditions have fallen away, I have dug a bit deeper into ‘the TRUE meaning of Easter’, as an full-page ad proclaimed in the Richmond newspaper today. I have an intellectual and academic understanding of the event; raised Christian, I understand the implications of Holy Week and all that happened. Maundy Thursday; Good Friday. Prayer vigils on Saturday, celebration on Sunday. I know what it all signifies, and although my current place of worship shies away from liturgical observation of the church calendar, those days are rooted in my heart. It is a true thing about most of life: When the clutter and noise clears away, the opportunity to understand and appreciate truth widens.

That’s kind of where I am with Easter this year. Not that raising a family was clutter and noise, but let’s be honest, shall we? Five kids add up to a lot of clutter, and no small amount of noise.

Now there is one, and he was gone all week; so I had time to think.

Towards the latter part of Holy Week I ended up claiming a short break – two days away from work, three days away from home. We were in a new place, a higher altitude. We did new things – a float down the Shenandoah in a canoe has long been on my bucket list, and we checked that off Thursday afternoon. Friday evening – Good Friday – found me on the floor of a bedroom behind a closed door, seeking some introverted healing quiet. My beloved husband had brought a couple of guitars along, and I reached for the warm wood of the worn Martin, a small-bodied guitar that holds a resonant history.

Now, I don’t play much guitar; I am a pianist, primarily, and that’s where I focused the hard work to become a proficient instrumentalist. But I am able to work my way around basic chord progressions, and in that quiet room, my raw fingers found the formations for enough chords to string together some music.

Hymns. I love old hymns, the words that I soaked in as a child on a weekly basis; the melodies and harmonies stitched on the staves in the Methodist hymnal, four parts that create the basic chordal structure of pretty much all contemporary music. All that music IMG_0678is buried deep in my soul, and so I found those chords, and I whispered the words towards the thin, hollow wooden door.

My fingers began to ache. When you don’t play guitar for a while, there are no calluses, no worn, familiar ruts in your fingertips. It’s all fresh, thin skin, and the metal strings dig deep. On Good Friday night, the metaphor was not difficult to find.

My thoughts wandered to a new song – new to me, at least – and I searched the guitar for those chords (that come so easily on the piano; it is a good thing to be challenged!) I struggled to find the words, and in the end, I had to do a quick google search; I found the chorus and whisper-sang this song, the one that is currently at the top of the list for my favorites:

What a beautiful name it is; what a beautiful name it is / The name of Jesus Christ my King /  What a beautiful name it is; nothing compares to this / What a beautiful name it is / the name of Jesus

Without the baskets and the shopping and the great compulsion to create holiday memories, I focused on two things during this Holy Week: What I really believe about the Easter story (and why it matters), and the role and responsibility I have as a staff leader at my church. Both areas are packed with changes of which I’ve been unaware; things I’d been missing. With a bit of time and space, and some quiet introspection, I saw more clearly. I paid attention. There were, I dare say, some revelations that bubbled to the surface – both in a spiritual sense, and also in a professional or vocational sense. These are questions and challenges I have been running hard after for some time now.

When the clutter and noise clears away, the opportunity to understand and appreciate truth gets very wide, indeed. From the bends of creation I experienced tangibly as we navigated the Shenandoah, to the deeply personal twists and yaws of the inner depths of my heart, it was a profoundly moving week for me.

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I have friends and family – people I love and respect dearly – for whom the Easter story is little more than a myth. They don’t buy into the commercialism or the spiritual aspect. They don’t believe the resurrection and they generally want no part of organized religion. It is interesting to me – and, as yet, still a great mystery – that as my own spiritual experiences deepen and widen, I find that my respect for those who choose a different path does the same. I wonder if there is some semblance of integrity and love for fellow humans that gets buried under the evangelical mandate to see vast numbers of people saved from destruction and damnation; a love that is freer to bubble to the surface as my own passion, fascination and devotion to Jesus and the creator expands and pushes and pulls from within my soul.

To put it bluntly, the more I know of Jesus, the more I am drawn to the people who aren’t interested in knowing him – but not as projects: as people. This is, undoubtedly, mostly about a change in me and what I believe – and how I am called to live out that belief.

And that’s the thing I am most grateful for, the things that this Easter journey has drawn out of me: I am growing, and changing, and morphing. I am a human being living in the midst of humanity, clinging to an amalgamation  of supernatural, miraculous, historical teaching and people and experiences that are impossible to explain – that yet hold a wondrous attraction for me. The more I am willing to let myself be unmade, the greater the joy set before me.

This is a good thing; this is a measure of grace, and not at all where I expected this writing to end up. But with so much coursing through my brain, it was worth sitting before the blank page and popping the cork.

Happy Easter, y’all.

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That Time I Met Rick Warren

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Seven days ago I was in Southern California. The sun shone, every day. The nights were cool. The attitude, everywhere, was chill. The coffee was exquisite and the avocado toast was mind-blowing. Fish tacos – EXCELLENT. The scenery? Well, there are no words. Every day, the Pacific. Every day, the mountains. Every evening, the sunset.

Every stinking day.

Glorious.

And I met Rick Warren and we had our picture taken together, and in that span of five seconds I was yakking instead of posing.

Typical.

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I traveled to Southern California to attend The Lobby, a conference / networking event sponsored by the Small Group Network, grown out of Saddleback IMG_3845Church. It was unlike any church conference event I’ve ever attended – and there have been multitudes. I can easily say that it was the most productive, profitable investment of time (a scant 45 hours; I left wanting more, but in retrospect, it was just the right amount of information and time) and resources (the fee covered lodging – at the event location – and major meals, which were outstanding) that I’ve experienced in the ministry world.

I could wax poetic about the entire experience. My journal is full of things that are still – a week later – reverberating in my head. Those things will serve me well in weeks to come.

Speaking of journal; they gave us a bona fide mini-Moleskin with the network logo on it. Sweet!

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But I’ll refrain from sharing all my notes. I want to tell you instead about Rick Warren. And I must say first this: that I went in skeptical, jaded from too many encounters with celebrity pastors and a distaste for the culture we’ve created with our spiritual leaders. I was prepared to be unimpressed.

I was wrong.

I took a lot of notes; Warren speaks quickly, tangentially, creatively; every other phrase is powerful. Memorable. Quotable. His passion leaks through in every sentence. He taught some specific content, and he did it well. He is a master wordsmith, and he communicates well.

But what spoke to me most profoundly was his posture as he spoke about the death of his youngest child by suicide. Four years ago, Warren’s 27-year old son Matthew took his life after struggling with mental health issues and deep depression. He spoke openly and with a raw vulnerability about his journey through that time.

His honesty connected deeply; my soul began to leak in empathy and in the reality of the fear and pain in my life, as I have walked through parts of that valley with people I deeply love. In those moments of openness, I experienced something quite unexpected; a connecting and a bonding in a room of 150+people that revealed and reflected the truth of what we were all there to affirm:

We’re better together.

When we share our lives openly, authentically, with hands open and hearts vulnerable; when we take the risk to open ourselves to others, our entire experience of life becomes deeper. Richer. Fuller.

More like who we’re meant to be.

Rick Warren said many things that rang true; I have a long list of his quotable utterances. They were meaningful, and I will not forget them. His honesty – his willingness to talk about his pain, to refrain from preaching and pontificating and instead simply speak his truth and share his pain – gave us a point of connection, as parents whose children suffer. As people who grieve the grip of mental illness on those we love.

But for the purpose of this post, I will share the one that resonates most with me; the one that reminds me of the paradox of faith in Jesus. In many ways, this short sentence is the culmination of so much of what was shared around tables and by the speakers.

It is imperative that I lean into this truth – for myself, for my family, for my team, and for those we serve. Here, in a nutshell, is what I brought back from California:

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In God’s garden of grace, even broken trees bear fruit. 

I learned a lot at The Lobby; I made great connections. There are people I believe I’ll see again, who will make my life and work better.

But this truth; this is what I need to remember. We are surrounded by brokenness; it is within us, it is without us. Everywhere, we see pain – or we see the desperate edges of hidden pain, leaking out beyond the edges of well-kept lives. We see people in pain, we see people causing pain. In the midst of that pain is this truth: Each of us is created by God. Each of us matters. We are called into the mess, to love one another; to live it, to offer ourselves to our neighbors so that they might taste and see that they are loved, that the One who made them is good, that there is redemption and restoration for all. In remembering my own brokenness, I embrace the humility that most resembles the One I follow. In this humility, I can serve with purpose.

Truly, we are better together. We are not just called to believe – we are called to belong. 

Warren said he took pictures of each of us because he would pray for us – by name. I believe he meant it. When I sat beside him, I leaned in and quietly said My daughter is bipolar. I would covet your prayer for her

And I know he heard me.

#DontDoLifeAlone

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Surrender Is Everything

IMG_3806And so I am in southern California.

I am here for work. So far, it’s been an incredibly long day of airports and airplanes and delays and navigating strange places. The alarm went off at 3AM this morning, and 16 hours later there is a conference session to sit through and a lot of networking and small talk.

Nothing would make me happier than to sit in this little room, which smells strongly of furniture polish and disinfectant, and read a book. Or write. Or talk a nap.

But I am in southern California because the vocation to which I have committed myself requires new learning, a new challenge, and a serious commitment on my part. After a little over a decade, there are some parts of my job that I can do with my eyes closed.

Actually, if you consider how I play piano and lead worship, often I do it with my eyes IMG_3819closed. Literally.

But I’m in a new season, and we are examining how our church and the culture is changing, and what it’s like to function in a multi site environment, and what is required of leadership, and so I’m in southern California to learn how to connect people to God and to one another in more effective ways. I’ll spend three days soaking up info and meeting people and taking notes and processing. Then I’ll spend a couple of days with my youngest daughter, who just happens to live an hour from the conference center.

And then I will come home, and I will hit the ground running.

I like to travel. I like seeing new places and discovering new things. Truth be told, I’m very introverted, so sometimes it’s a struggle to all the meeting and greeting and getting-to-know-you.

(Lord, please let there not be any games….)

I’m glad to be here; I’m grateful. It feels very much like a privilege, for sure.

But it also costs something. Time, energy; a week away from my husband and youngest son, a week away from my coworkers in the middle of planning and preparing and launching a new series. This time doesn’t come cheap.

Today’s reading in Bread and Wine is title ‘Surrender Is Everything’.

…at every moment we practice a surrender that has no limits, a surrender that includes all possible methods and degrees of service to God. It is not our business to decide what the ultimate purpose of such submission may be, but our sole duty is to submit ourselves to all God sends us…

The free gifts he asks from us are self-denia, obedience and love. The rest is his business.  Jean-Pierre de Caussade

I know it’s hard to look at a picture like this and think I’m practicing self-denial and surrender. What a gift, to stand in such a place of beauty.

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But perspective and purpose is everything, isn’t it? The wind was whipping, and the air was chilly. The rocks were difficult to stand upon. It is beautiful, for sure – but to actually be present in this place wasn’t free of distraction.

I didn’t stand there long; just long enough to take a few photos and marvel at the beauty.

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There is much asked of me here, both in this place as I learn and grow, and when I return to serve my church. It’s time to head downstairs and meet some people; give up my alone time, defer the nap until later….

If you can use anything, Lord – you can use me…

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You Are The Man

Read about the life of David and it’s as rich as any drama in history. From his humble beginnings to the corruptive power of lust and entitlement and the way it propels him into adultery and murder – it’s a powerful story, and there is a rich resonance to any human, if we look at it in context. The larger arc pulls us into an examination of human relationship with God; forgiveness and favor, repentance and redemption.

But this morning I’m thinking mostly of the moment somebody gave David the last ten percent.

Around my workplace, we use the phrase ‘last ten percent’ to indicate that we’re going to do some truth-telling. The idea, pulled from Patrick Lencioni’s book Five Dysfunctions of a Team (which is fundamental to the DNA of our work culture), is that most folks share the first 90% easily.

You did a great job! Thanks for your hard work! I love this idea! We appreciate you!

It’s the last ten percent that is often left unsaid.

You did a great job! But you missed the deadline.

Thanks for your hard work! Can you tell me why you didn’t do the follow-up tasks we agreed upon?

I love this idea! But it’s just the not the right fit for this project.

We appreciate you! But you’re late to every meeting.

Nobody likes the last ten percent – but it’s essential to have clarity. It’s authentic. And most of all – it builds trust. It is essential to authentic relationships and a healthy workplace, and I have come to believe that it is an important foundational key to our understanding of ourselves at a deep, soul level.

So David, a powerful king, indulges his lust for another man’s wife. He sleeps with her. She gets pregnant. He secretly arranges for her husband to die in battle so that their secret will be safe. He apparently gets away with it all.

And then, as the scripture says, God was not pleased with what David had done, and he sent Nathan to David.

Nathan tells David a long story about a rich man who took obvious advantage of a poor man to indulge his desires. David hears the story, is appropriately indignant, and declares that the rich man ought to be punished.

Nathan gets right up in David’s face and says, YOU ARE THE MAN!

And there’s the last ten percent.

The truth came out. Things went from bad to worse in terms of suffering and pain, but the truth was on the table. David owned his misdeeds, accepted the consequences, and life went on.


This morning I had a ‘YOU ARE THE MAN’ moment with a short four pages of text. To preface: Because of my line of work, and because of my propensity to want to teach and help and encourage pretty much everyone in the world, and – true confession – because I can get a bit judgy at times, when I read things or learn things or discover things, my immediate first response is generally some form of OH HOW CAN I TELL HER THIS? IT’S JUST WHAT SHE NEEDS. HOW CAN I SHARE THIS WITH THE WORLD? THIS WILL BE SO HELPFUL! HE REALLY NEEDS TO HEAR THIS. 

I refrain from being too judgy with my own self, because this is – mostly – a noble response. It’s the teacher in me. But I know that I have to be careful, because too often, in my desire to save the world, I can overlook the message meant for me.

I couldn’t escape today.

To set it up, I must tell you that after a good, strong month of clean eating – #Whole30 – I have loosened the rules for my food intake a bit. It’s a challenge, because what I’ve learned via #Whole30 is that probably 90% of my eating has to do with my brain and my emotions. That’s what the entire process was about for me – discovering just how deep the connection is between the emotional satisfaction I assign to the consumption of food and the lengths to which I will go to not only consume that food, but justify it.

It’s messy.

Anyway, I have loosened the rules, because I am focusing on a few other important things and I need the margin that has been occupied by food vigilance. Plus, my allergies are killing me, and only ice cream makes me feel better (see also: JUSTIFICATION). So, Tuesday night we had Mexican food, and the chips were flying. Thursday I had ice cream. Yesterday, I had a sugary concoction from Starbucks, and that set the synapses in motion. I was craving thick, heavy comfort food all day long.

We decided that date night would be take-out and a movie in; he said, Call Nino’s and order me a chef salad. That’ll be enough for me tonight. So I called, and I ordered him a salad, and I ordered baked penne, and to just cut to the chase, I ate it all.

Every last noodle, every lick of gooey cheese.

And then I sat with two pounds of pasta in my gut and felt horrible; not like I was beating myself up mentally, but seriously – I felt sick to my stomach. And while Hacksaw Ridge cast its violent shadow across our tv screen, I asked myself, Why? Why do you do this? And I knew the answer was simple.

Because I can. 

When we had four kids under the age of five, living on the kids’ dad’s part-time youth minister salary, spending the majority of our grocery budget on diapers – there was no room for indulgence. No such things as, Oh, I feel like pork chops tonight – I’m going to run to the grocery store. No impulsive stops at Dairy Queen for Blizzards. No thought of indulging that taste for Cheetos or bacon or chocolate chip cookies or lime Tostitos.

It wasn’t an option.

Fast forward a quarter century and there is room for indulgence. We are by no means wealthy, but the grocery budget expanded and most any minor whim can be accommodated. And because I can justifies a good many impulsive behaviors. On the surface, not such a bad deal – isn’t that why we work hard?

But on the other hand, there is much going on in the emotional landscape of such indulgences; and a good bit of it causes enough discomfort that I would rather look away.

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Rather than continue to over-explain, I am going to simply post the entirety of today’s reading here. It was my Nathan moment; as I read each paragraph thinking What shall I share of this today? Who needs to hear it?, I felt a slow dissolution of that perspective to the pins and needles of my own personal resonance. Not just about food; about everything. All the things. And me.

By the time I got to the end, it was obvious; but to accentuate the point, four words floated up into my consciousness:

YOU ARE THE MAN. 

Lord, have mercy.


Living Lent

Barbara Cawthorne Crafton

We didn’t even know what moderation was. What it felt like. We didn’t just work: we inhaled our jobs, sucked them in, became them. Stayed late, brought work home – it was never enough, though, no matter how much time we put in.

We didn’t just smoke: we lit up a cigarette, only to realize that we already had one going in the ashtray.

We ordered things we didn’t need from the shiny catalogs the came to our houses; we ordered three times as much as we could use, and then we ordered three times as much as our children could use.

We didn’t just eat: we stuffed ourselves. We had gained only three pounds since the previous year, we told ourselves. Three pounds is not a lot. We had gained about that much in each of the twenty-five years since high school. We did not do the math.

We redid living rooms in which the furniture was not worn out. We threw away clothing that was merely out of style. We drank wine when the label on our prescription said it was dangerous to use alcohol while taking this medication. “They always put that on the label,” we told our children when they asked about this. We saw that they were worried. We knew it was because they loved us and needed us. How innocent they were. We hastened to reassure them: “It doesn’t really hurt if you’re careful.”

We felt that it was important to be good to ourselves, and that this meant that it was dangerous to tell ourselves no. About anything, ever. Repression of one’s desires was an unhealthy thing. I work hard, we told ourselves. I deserve a little treat. We treated ourselves every day.

And if it was dangerous for us to want and not have, it was even more so for our children. They must never know what it is to want something and not have it immediately. It will make them bitter, we told ourselves. So we anticipated their needs and desires. We got them both the doll and the bike. If their grades were good, we got them their own telephones.

There were times, coming into the house from work or waking early when all was quiet, when we felt uneasy about the sense of entitlement that characterized all our days. When we wondered if fevered overwork and excess of appetite were not two sides of the same coin – or rather, two poles between which we madly slalomed. Probably yes, we decided at these times. Suddenly we saw it all clearly: I am driven by my creatures – my schedule, my work, my possessions, my hungers. I do not drive them; they drive me. Probably yes. Certainly yes. This is how it is. We arose and did twenty sit-ups. The next day the moment had passed; we did none.

After moments like that, we were awash in self-contempt. You are weak. Self-indulgent. You are spineless about work and about everything else. You set no limits. You will become ineffective. We bridled at that last bit, drew ourselves up to our full heights, insisted defensively on our competence, on the respect we were due because of all our hard work. We looked for others whose lives were similarly overstuffed; we found them. “This is just the way it is,” we said to one another on the train, in the restaurant. “This is modern life. Maybe some people have time to measure things out by teaspoonfuls.” Our voices dripped contempt for those people who had such time. We felt oddly defensive, though no one had accused us of anything. But not me. Not anyone who has a life. I have a life. I work hard. I play hard. 

When did the collision between our appetites and the needs of our souls happen? Was there a heart attack? Did we get laid off from work, one of the thousands certified as extraneous? Did a beloved child become a bored stranger; a marriage fall silent and cold? Or, by some exquisite working of God’s grace, did we just find the courage to look the truth in the eye and, for once, not blink? How did we come to know that we were dying a slow and unacknowledged death? And that the only way back to life was to set all our packages down and begin again, carrying with us only what we really need?

We travail. We are heavy laden. Refresh us, O homeless, jobless, possession-less Savior. You came naked, and naked you go. And so it is for us. So it is for all of us.

Barbara Hawthorne Crafton – from Bread and Wine

Mirrors Of Dangerous Grace

In today’s reading from Bread and Wine, Walter Wangerin writes of mirrors – those tangible glass and silver ones that show a cropped reflection; and then those that exist more as metaphor and hide nothing. He references relationships as mirrors – when we wrong someone we love and we see our worst selves reflected in their pain.

Wangerin writes of mirrors of dangerous grace and our need for them ipo_2016-04-05-17-26-59n order to heal.

That’s a powerful word picture, and a compelling concept. The unexamined life is not worth living – so said Socrates. For examination, mirrors are required. But the challenge of a reflection that reveals those things we’d rather not see looms large for most of us, who seem destined to secretly wonder if we’re enough in a hundred different categories. An examined life found wanting leads to places we’d sometimes rather not go. Sometimes it’s easier not to look.

But I am. Looking, that is.

And I have found an interesting mirror. It’s a Hulu show called The Path. I’ll say in advance that the F-bomb is tossed about quite freely, so my tacit recommendation of this show is qualified for that reason (I’m still a good bit old-fashioned in that regard). I’m going to defer to Wikipedia to offer a concise overview:

The Path is an American television drama series {which} portrays members of a fictional religion known as Meyerism. Eddie Lane lives in Upstate New York with his wife Sarah and their two children, Hawk and Summer. They are all members of the Meyerist Movement, which combines aspects of New Age philosophy, shamanism, Christian mysticism and Utopianism with a few elements of Sufism, Tibetan Buddhism and Freemasonry ritual. Eddie returns from Peru, where he had undergone a spiritual retreat designed to advance him further up Meyerism’s spiritual ladder. Unbeknownst to his family, while in Peru, Eddie experienced a revelation which causes him to question his faith in Meyerism. Meanwhile, Cal Roberts, a friend of Sarah’s and one of Meyerism’s top leaders, is looking to expand their influence and deal with the imminent death of their founder, Doctor Steven Meyer. – Wikipedia

That’s the gist of it. The characters are very well-developed and the dynamics of both the actual family and the ‘church family’ ring true. I have found it to be incredibly compelling, and on my day off it’s not unusual for me to absorb two or three episodes in a combination of binge watching, laundry, and house cleaning. And as I am prone to do with any good story I encounter, I find myself drawn into the scenes; it’s not difficult to place myself right in the middle of it all, with emotional engagement that goes far beyond entertainment.

With this show, it’s often uncomfortable. I’ve given a tiny bit of thought to some of the personal feelings that bubble to the surface and to the powerful draw I feel towards some of the characters. But mostly, I’ve turned off the screen and looked away. But it stays with me, and the discomfort never completely abates. I have wondered why.

Today, I have a name for this; The Path, for me, is a mirror of dangerous grace.

I see so much of what is deeply familiar to me in this story of people who are passionately the_path_s01_stilldevoted to a belief system, one that is based on goodness and light, on decency and undeniable experiences. There is a powerful commitment to family, a longing to do right by those who are broken and marginalized.

There is, also, an inescapable tinge of evil lurking around the edges. Corruption bubbles up, beckoned by power and lust and desire. Lines are crossed and beliefs challenged and carefully constructed worlds begin to fall apart.

There are so many angles to this for me, past the part that is purely entertainment and a well-crafted television show. The Path as mirror refracts bits and pieces of familiar history to me in the family drama, the fundamentalist all-or-nothing faith, the semi-blind obedience to a charismatic leader. But the reflection that catches my attention most in this current season is the one that suggests something I’m not very comfortable with.

The way I see this story of well-meaning but misled believers in ‘The Light’ might be the very way a large part of the population sees me.

The believers in The Path are a group of people who claim allegiance to a man most have never met, one who says he has seen – and climbed – a ladder in the sky, one that allows believers to connect and communicate with ‘The Light’, which further develops the theory that all people are damaged by their past and their mistakes, and that personal enlightenment and development leads true believers to bring about healing to humanity, the environment, and the entire world. Taken at face value, it’s not difficult to scoff at these nonsensical  and somewhat ridiculous beliefs and naive passions. Of course, it helps that the filmmakers give us enough back story to undermine a good bit of the sincerity of the leaders – but, all the same, the very premise of these people basing their entire lives on a well-meaning but somewhat farcical fairy tale, hanging odd wood carvings of all-seeing eyes in their homes and pledging total allegiance to the movement – well, of course none of that is true. That’s just silly. Obviously.

Isn’t it?


I am a believer, a follower of Jesus. I claim allegiance to a man I have never met, but one whose gathered teachings, passed down through generations, tell of his connection with the all-powerful creator of all things; this man said that by believing in him, followers can live forever. He promised that a mystical spirit would reside within those who believe in him, guiding them to all truth and righteousness. He and his followers firmly believe that a future day is coming when this present world will end and a new kingdom will emerge. He died, but he came back to life, and then essentially disappeared, leaving instructions for his followers to tell everybody about him.

……..

And there it is. Despite years of tradition and institutions and an entire culture – behavioral, artistic, economical – built around the Christ, when you stand back and look at the bare bones of it, one might say, Well, that’s just silly. Obviously. 

That’s a dangerous mirror. It feels dangerous to type the words, even.

But there is truth there – let’s be honest. I know many people, some who may be reading these words even now, who are kind-hearted, good, loving humans – good people who reject this faith that I hold. And for me to bury my head in the sand, condemn them as ‘lost’, see them as ‘other’, draw lines that divide and exclude, or think myself better-than – well, that feels a lot like a refusal to look in the mirror.

And if I refuse to look, I forfeit grace – dangerous though it may be.

As easily as I dismiss the silly notions of nonsensical faith in a supernatural ladder that prompt a group of people to live righteous lives of help and sacrifice – well, how easily do others do the same as they peer into the lives of those of us whose faith and philosophy revolves around Jesus?

If this were a debate, of course, we’d bring in historical accounts and the veracity of the Bible and all sorts of other evidence for God; but comparing apples to apples, I can see it. And considering our current political and cultural climate in America, is it any wonder that people looking at the public, private, political and personal lives of followers of Jesus might feel the same sort of derisive pity that I feel when I watch the followers of The Path in a fictional television show?


I believe. For a variety of reasons, my faith is secure. I am confident in saying that humans need a center from which to operate in society – a moral, ethical compass, a narrative that makes sense of the world. We need a philosophy of life, and if one is not handed to us or adopted from some other source, we’ll come up with something ourselves at some point. I believe that Jesus was real, and I believe that the basic theological doctrine of Christian faith is true. This is the choice I have made.

Interestingly enough, the older I get and the more I let go of binary ways of categorizing everything in life; the more I open myself to an identity and an experience of God that is all-encompassing and ever-present and often unexpected; the more I shift perspectives and freshly read the scriptures; the more I am willing to relinquish what I have been taught that I must believe in order to be safe – as all those things shift within me, the more powerful and solid my faith becomes. The more fullness I feel. And within comes an understanding that a world that would scoff at Christian faith because it can appear at times as baseless and empty as an episodes of a television show is not my enemy.

Mirrors reflect truth – especially relational ones. Accepting, embracing, and then acting in truth requires respect. And I believe it is possible to live in a firm foundation of faith while simultaneously loving and respecting those who do not embrace that faith.

The scriptures tell of an encounter Jesus had with a religious scholar; he asked a somewhat loaded question, because the church leaders who held power and position were interested in derailing Jesus as his influence grew. Hoping to trip him up, the scholar asked, Which command in God’s law is most important? Choose, Jesus. Elevate one over the other; pick a side.

But Jesus refuses to play divisive games. He opts for the high road. The one I follow, the one whose story I believe, the one whom I have experienced in supernatural ways; this Messiah replied with words that I embrace and lean into, a center from which my actions and attitudes ring with truth and reflect what simply must be a basic foundation for any human life:

Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence. This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: Love others as well as you love yourself. These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them. – Jesus, Matthew 22.37, The Message


Don’t be afraid to take a hard look in a real mirror. Grace is worth it.

The Flood That Drowns

I grew up going to church – a Christian church. I knew the ins and outs of the traditions and the touchstones of faith. I knew that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. I knew the books of the Bible.

I knew a lot about Christianity, or so I thought. In hindsight, I think perhaps I knew a lot about going to church, and social gatherings, and the particular tools and equipment used in our rituals.

A little past the mid-century point of my life, I am less sure about anything I knew, or thought I knew, about how this all works. I stand back and look at the vast amount of information available about different sects and practices and theological positioning and interpretation and style and what it means to follow Jesus, and I think, Lord, have mercy. I’ll never sort this out.

The glut of information available to us via the internet is unfathomable. And it can be confusing; it’s enough to make me throw up my hands and give up.

Or throw up my hands and simply work with what I’ve got.


In spite of the vast possibility of experiences and ideas and information available, in these past few years I have chosen a more reductionist method of understanding the spiritual dimensions of my identity as a Christian. And the ultimate reduction is bringing it to my experiences, my understanding, my truth. In the end, isn’t it all about me?

There’s a great paradox there, because ultimately, yes; it comes down to me – my life, what I can control, choices I make, the reckoning of my behavior. But at the same time, my existence cannot be divorced from my place in the community – my interaction with others, my responsibility to family and friends, my place as part of humanity. And so, our lives – whether lived through a Christian lens, or another faith, or none at all – ebb and flow in constant flux between what works for us personally and what works for the whole of the community.

And these days, that’s where the fascinating, intriguing, wonder-filled understanding of Christianity resides for me. The Bible, as story after story of humanity – and the Creator’s interaction with it. Jesus, the example of a life so crammed fill of wisdom and compassion and in-your-face honesty, wrapped in a supernatural cloak of power and grace. My community, doing life as best we can, connected by moments of grace grown out of desperation and fear, victory and joy.


Yesterday I spent a couple of hours waiting for an iPhone repair. The Apple store is always
filled to the brim with people in various stages of seeking something. It’s always packed, it seems; and everybody is waiting. Everybody presents some form of desire; looking for a new thing, or resolution to some brokenness. We talk to the greeter, we are pointed to the altar, we offer up our shattered phone or failing MacBook, we trust a man or woman with knowledge to guide us.

Usually we get what we want. Sometimes it costs us dearly, but we pay the cost because we trust the company and the brand, and we so desp180serately want what they have to offer.

Alan – my repair guy – told me to return at 2:15. I ventured into the outdoor mall to get a coffee, found a place to park and work on my MacBook, and waited. A storm blew in, and as the rain began in spurts, I dashed back to the store. I was early by about 10 minutes, but I checked on the repair anyway. It wasn’t ready, so I leaned against the counter and started playing with something new, tethered to the table, right next to the greeter.

Another employee started a conversation with him; I gotta get to church tonight. I didn’t go this morning. 

I immediately started eavesdropping.

I’m giving up soda, again.

I did that a few years ago – never got a taste for it after that. 

Yeah? Crazy how that works. I really like Pepsi, but I think I can do it.

They’re bringing Crystal Pepsi back – remember that? 

Yeah! Remember? ‘Oh, it’s clear – it must be good for you!’ Ha!

I jumped in to the conversation; I’m giving up an hour of sleep every day.

And just like that, I was in connected in a moment that held much more weight than the expensive gadgets tied to the tables around us. We talked about what it’s like to wake up early, to feel the quiet, to see the sun come up. It was a mere six minutes of conversation and connection…and then the storm got more intense and I asked him to check on my repair status again.

It was ready.

I got my phone, paid yet another guy in a blue shirt, and headed out into the rain.


My reading this morning, from Bread and Wine, focused on baptism as the beginning of this procession toward Easter. Jesus was baptized; it begins the story of his interaction with his community. He showed up at the river and John the Baptizer, recognizing him,  protested: I’m the one who needs to be baptized, not you! But Jesus insisted.

‘Do it. God’s work, putting things right all these centuries, is coming together right now in this baptism.’ Matthew 3.15

I’m working with what I’ve got; in sorting out this faith journey, standing on what I know will form in me a better self and a better member of this community. In Bread and Wine, William Willimon says The chief biblical analogy for baptism is not the water that washes but the flood that drowns.

Discipleship is more than turning over a new leaf. It is more fitful and disorderly than gradual moral formation. Nothing less than daily, often painful, lifelong death will do.

That doesn’t sound too appealing, does it? But there we have the point of a Lenten discipline, a walk through these 40 days. Without a willingness to lean into the mess – the ‘fitful, disorderly drowning’, I cannot possibly appreciate Easter – or anything else about being part of humanity – fully me, connected by fleeting touch points to others.

What a privilege, this life we are given.