Wednesday, October 19, 2016


Last Wednesday was Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. 

Now, forgiveness yields freedom and God’s freedom calls us to pilgrimage. To be free is to journey.

I like the way theologian Jürgen Moltmann puts it: “The first thing liberated beings do is to enjoy their freedom and playfully test their newfound opportunities and powers.” (Theology of Play, vii.)

For instance, after the Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt they could go wherever they liked. They were free, indeed. But which would be the best way to go?

God, in mercy, led the people to show them the best way to go by giving them signposts along the way.

First, God led the people by the sign of fire and smoke.

Second, God showed them the best way to go by giving them the Ten Commandments. They are the “ten best ways to live,” according to Jerome Berryman, author of Godly Play.

The third sign ordered their coming and going, resting and working in a rather unique way. It was the sign of the tabernacle.

The tabernacle was a sign to the people that God would be in their midst, at the center of their community, as they went on pilgrimage from slavery to enjoy their new freedom.

And so, it is fitting that soon after Yom Kippur there is the Feast of Tabernacles called Sukkot. We are in the midst of Sukkot right now. This year it began on Sunday October 16 and ends on Sunday October 23.

It is also called the Feast of Booths and, to observe the festival, many Jews today build small shelters on their property. Just up the street from my home, there is a large apartment complex with a small courtyard in the middle of the building’s three wings.  Every year our Jewish neighbors who live there build a shelter to observe the festival.

The booths and the tabernacle portray home as a temporary place. God is on the move and, because our true home can only be found in God, the journey with God becomes our dwelling place.

The message is clear: don’t settle. Be ready to pack up camp and follow where God leads. Your livelihood is found in freedom and adventure.

I am drawn to this way of thinking about home because of its playfulness. To be sure, there is tension intrinsic to this sense of home because we are accustomed to thinking of home in incarnational terms, theologically speaking.

The incarnation is that moment in history when God became flesh in Jesus and “made his dwelling among us.” It was the moment when God “settled down”, so to speak, and grew up in a neighborhood, making a home in a small town in northern Israel. It’s fascinating that when God took on flesh he never left the land of Israel.

Yet, by being present to a specific location, God unleashed a work in the world that is beyond comparison. The Christ-event begins with the incarnation (making a home) and ends with a part of the story that still hasn’t ended: Pentecost.

And Pentecost is that part of the story where God moves wherever he likes in unpredictable ways.

Thus, boundary and freedom are always connected.

Notice that in the incarnation God imposes limitation on God’s self by becoming a human while at Pentecost the Spirit moves humanity to freely follow the untamed purposes of God.

Taken together, the two form a dialectic that continually stand in tension and this is the very quality that constitutes play.

But what’s even more fascinating is that each part of this dialectic, taken on its own, contains the tension of boundary and freedom.

On the one hand, the incarnation represents a boundary in that God becomes self-limited, yet it is by this very limitation that God playfully breaks the rules. After all, who would have ever expected that God would become a human and truly “make his dwelling among us”? The incarnation comes to us as a surprise precisely because the infinite becomes finite. The categories can no longer be partitioned neatly. In the incarnation there is boundary, and by that boundary there is freedom.

And the same is true of Pentecost. The Spirit, who is as uncatchable as the wind, gets “caught” by us. By taking up residence in the human heart, the Spirit of God, who may be found everywhere, can now be found locally in the specific faces of limited human beings.

So, with the incarnation we have a boundary that leads to freedom while at Pentecost we have freedom with boundary. The two cannot be extricated from each other.

This tension is foreshadowed by the meaning of the tabernacle. God, who goes before the people in the column of fire and smoke in the wilderness wanderings, is unapproachable. Yet, God wants to dwell among his people, to be known—so God also places himself in the middle of the camp. God is thus both center and circumference.

The tabernacle assures us that God is our home. It is a place of pure presence. Yet, the tabernacle is intended to be put up for a season and then carried with the people when God prompts them to break camp and move out. God is thus a home that never stays in one place.

I love how God shatters our either/or categories. How playful!

Yesterday afternoon I was out for a bike ride and, as it was nearing sunset, I passed many Jewish neighbors making their way to worship. Everyone was clearly happy, not just because it was a beautiful afternoon but because of the specialness of the holy season. As I biked south on the path, a tall man with a full beard, dressed in black suit with a white collar shirt and a big black hat, saw me coming his way. He smiled broadly and said, “Isn’t this a lovely day? How are you?”

Among other meanings, the Feast of Tabernacles reminds us that we are on pilgrimage with each other, no matter our differences. Along the way, God is in our midst. It is up to us to notice the movement of God in those we meet on the journey, to celebrate the life of God who is ever-present, but never merely static. This God opens our eyes to see the world, made in colorful beauty, and one another, sacred, sought and seeking.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

when the hurricane hits

Run for high ground. The hurricane hit land.

We have radars to track these things. We could tell the storm was coming. People predicted it.

But some didn’t want to leave their home. And those that ran for safety are now living in the throes of confusion. When they return home there will be no home. Everything will be gone. It seems that all is lost.

The election is only a few weeks away. Come mid-November a new reality will begin to sink in. But here in these weeks leading up to Decision 2016 it feels like a hurricane. Very disorienting.

What have we built and how did we build it? When the storm passes, what will become of what our hands have made? Will we build more of the same?

I wonder if anyone knows how to build differently. One thing is certain: if we didn’t see the storm coming, we weren’t paying attention.

A conversation. He said: “It felt like the storm would never get here. We watched it and watched it, night after night. On Tuesday the news said three days. On Wednesday…two days. Okay. Well, it’s coming. Thursday: one day.”

On Friday they drove north and west, further than most. By then, traffic was not so bad. Those who were going to leave…left already. Those who decided to stay…stayed.

“It felt like the storm would never get here. It was very slow.”

The system seemed to crawl, so when it hit land, the storm seemed more severe. The winds persisted, the water accumulated. Nearly 17 inches in the space of 10 hours. If you were in your home, you endured listening to the wind beat against the house while the power was out. It was very frightening.

The problem with the hurricane was its speed. It was anything but momentary. It lingered. Still, you could see it coming.

But few prayed for wisdom in the waiting. Decisions were made momentarily for a storm that was anything but momentary.

The news cycle seems to portray the latest revelation about the candidate as if it is, well…news.

It isn’t. You could see it coming, if you were paying attention.

The attempt to control the message should concern us. It’s a manufactured storm designed to disorient and provoke fear, to call forth a cycle of attack and counter-attack.  And the unmitigated hubristic response should concern us. The proud lies cut a swath of terror. Anyone who dares stand in the way of the tempest will be blown to bits.

This is not a place one calls home. This is spiritual exile brought on by the storm.

In exile the lies now enslave us. We hardly notice them anymore. We have come to expect them. We have fact-checkers but our response to their reports bears no weight because everyone is lying. It is simply a question as to whose lies seem less threatening.

But a lie is a lie. A peaceful world cannot be built on lies because lies are chains that are hard to break. This is spiritual exile brought on by the storm and the spin swirls faster. It has become a hurricane. A crisis.

To survive and to break the cycle of lying. It seems impossible.    


But exile has an upside. It becomes possible to shatter illusions when you hit rock bottom. We do not have to kid ourselves anymore. When you are in a foreign land, it becomes apparent you are no longer home.

Here in this strange land, we have stories of home to remember, to relish in the telling. The best one is an origin story. It can orient us, if we let it.

This has happened before. A group of people in exile remembered an origin story and found their bearings. They knew what to do because they knew who they were.

In Babylon, the Jewish exiles put together the pages of their history to remember the beginning, to recall their identity. The storm had hit like a hurricane. Suddenly, their home was destroyed and they found themselves in foreign territory.

Here in this strange place, with no hope of returning home, there were at least two ways of remembering the genesis. And these exiles needed both versions of the story, like grasping bread in one hand and wine in the other.


In one story, there was a God of mystery, hovering over the formless void, unafraid of the dark, deep, wild water. God, unfazed, speaks and says, “Let there be light.”

And the luminous world as we know it, at once terrifying and soothing in beauty, was made: the sky and sea, the land and plants, sun and stars, fish and birds, animals and humans. To be sure, it is a work of such dazzling complexity that it still fascinates us anew millennia later. Last night’s moon made us breathless and today’s red leaves meet death with fanfare. Yes, the creation is dazzling and complex.

Yet, this account of the creation portrays it as a work of simple grace, each part good and necessary, each part exactly what it is without pretense. There are no lies here. Just goodness.

Peace in the midst of complexity. Shalom in the presence of transcendence. That is our genesis.

This world sprang from peace. God, undaunted by the wildness of the abyss, spoke a few restful words and smiled when he beheld what was made.

Thus, when everything was made, what could God do but return to rest? The world as we know it sprang from Sabbath and returned to it. Our lives are ordered by rest. Even God’s work was restful.

That is good news to exiles. After all, what is the one thing slaves never get? Rest.

And restful work is play. God made the world in play and God played when he made the world.

The theologian likes to ask, “Why did God make the world?”

There are many good reasons, no doubt, but the best answer is: because God wanted to make the world. That’s all. It’s an expression of delight.  The world was made in joy.

We like to paint Genesis 1 as a text about God’s power, and it is—but God has no power apart from joy. Why else does Scripture say the joy of the Lord is our strength? If God’s joy is our strength, it is also God’s strength.

Yes, God’s power is joy, the fruit of which is shalom.


We tell this story as the Jews in Babylon told it. In exile.

The dissonance between our present reality and our origin story is apparent. It unsettles us even as it orients us.

The choice to remember the story when all seems lost is the choice to hope. By remembering the story, we declare our intention to persist in the pursuit of peace.

Such persistence is hope. Hope is a quiet rebellion, the choice to believe when everything is out of whack. Because it believes, it needn’t coerce. The strength of hope is its dogged but unforced persistence.

We persist in the pursuit of peace, no matter the circumstances.

And so the Jewish people were told by God to seek the peace of their place of exile. They were told to build homes there, to pray and work for the prosperity of…Babylon. That word from God came through the prophet Jeremiah.

And that bit of instruction shocked them. But it makes sense. To remember the origin story is to seek peace in every place, since the origin story is a testament to a world where peace enjoys complete dominion in every place.

The alternative is to despair and give up on the origin story.

The Jews in exile have another story about what happens when we give up on our origin. It is a story in a place called Shinar. There, the people had given up on the origin story so they had no recourse but to make a name for themselves. They decided to make a great city with a tower. We know the place today as Babel and the Jews in exile knew Babel as Babylon.

I believe there are too many instances today where we see this story in action, where Babel’s blueprints are dusted off for another round of building.

After all, the political banter feels like…babbling.

“We want to make a name for ourselves. Let’s build something everyone will admire so that if they are lucky enough to live here they will thank their lucky stars but if they are one of the nameless multitude on the outside they will wish they were here. But there is only so much room here. So just let them go on wishing.”

 That is a narrative borne of despair. It is only told when we give up on our genesis. It is the ultimate alternative to hope.

Hope remembers our origin of peace. It is not America’s origin. It is our common human origin. It is a narrative for everyone.


Because God made everything in play, God made it freely and God made it in freedom. You cannot play if you are forced to play a certain way.

This is the crux of the second origin story: freedom.

The world was made in delight, in dazzling complexity and gracious simplicity, blessed and good—united in diversity, colorful and rich, fruitful and pulsing.

And the world God made is good because it is free.

Now, the scandalous grace of this freedom lies in the fact that God limits the exercise of his power so the human creation has space to exercise its power. It is real freedom.

This is the God who walks among us and needs to ask, “Where are you?”

Modern day evangelicals do not like that question from God. It doesn’t seem very godlike. What kind of God has to ask where his pots are? Doesn’t he know?

“Of course he knows!” the Christian says. And then they conjure a reason that this particular question appears in the text.

But the text doesn’t record such a reason. You have to reach back or forward to get the reason. Taken on its own, the second origin story makes God seem like he really needs to search for us.

And the writer wants us to let that sink in. The God of Genesis 1 who knows everything chooses to be a God who seeks the truth, as if he needs to discover it.

“Where are you?”

Yes, it is real freedom. We can go where we wish. Depending on where we go, God has to come chasing after us, looking for us, seeking us.

That’s God’s mission. To win at hide and seek, to find us because we chose to run away.

It’s a story. Don’t get uptight about the theological errors that disturb you in this discourse. The errors are meant to disturb you.

Or comfort you.

Depends on if you’re lost or found.


This origin story orients the captives by remembering that even in exile there is a greater freedom. No one can take away your freedom to do the right thing. No one can take away your freedom to trust God at his word. No one can take away your freedom to love. We can care for the world. We can “name” the animals. We can work the ground. We can choose to give our heart to others. We can give and share, drink and laugh, tell stories and dance. We enjoy innumerable freedoms.

This origin story reminds the captives that the highest freedom is continuous with God’s dominion. In fact, the only boundary in this freedom is the boundary that marks the land outside the place of God’s dominion.

Thus, the paradox of this origin story is that the boundary itself does not lie north, south, east or west of the human locus. After all, you can’t outrun God by going in any given direction. The only place you can outrun God is at the center. 

That’s right. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is “in the middle of the garden.”

Yes, that is a direct quote. The story says it.

And the story says this boundary tree is placed right next to the freedom tree; that is, the tree of life. The freedom tree is also in the middle.

The story says it.

The tree of life is a tree that represents the ultimate liberation: freedom from the boundary of death itself.

Now, because the human creation was made in freedom, humans are presented with a real choice.

Some think it unfair and unwise of God to put a so-called tree of temptation right in the middle of the garden.

But, consider: it wouldn’t be fair of God to make us free and then deny us the freedom of real choice. That’s not freedom. The play of God necessitates our choice not to play. That’s freedom.

So, the freedom tree necessitates a boundary tree. And both lie at the center of the situation.

Thus, real boundaries are not crossed by walking. They’re crossed by wanting what God doesn’t want.

Since God made us in freedom, when we want what God doesn’t want, we experience our new freedom as alienation, pride, envy, suspicion and greed.

We are still free but the quality of our freedom is corrupted and subject to decay.

When we act according to desires that aren’t God’s we become free to manage the anxiety that comes with such a choice. Thus, the second origin story tells us that having children and rearing them well becomes a source of angst. Working becomes stressful as we strain and groan to make a livelihood and retire well. We begin to fear the non-human creation and make it subject to us. We rape the earth. We begin to fear one another, which leads to violence. The violence has a mimetic quality to it. We see that a measure of power and security may be obtained by force of will over another. So, the violence escalates. To put others in their place we need to kill and we worry if we are making the right decision to attack or appease aggressors.

The storm swirls. It becomes a flood. We are going to drown in it. We hope that somehow our anxiety will be laid to rest if we just work harder at it and try to manage the hostilities in this unsafe world.

And, as we scheme solutions, the storm continues to swirl. It becomes a hurricane. We are caught. It seems to linger. We wait for it to pass. But it is not moving on. And once it has moved on it will only be for a time. But, wait and see: it will come again. This time with a new name.

It's still the same storm. It just has a new name. And it will be just as devastating.

This is our freedom.

This origin story is as instructive as it is disturbing. The Jewish exiles told it, I believe, because there is at least some comfort in explaining the existence of pain. It helps us make sense of how things got to be the way they are today.


Storms are generated by pressure. Two forces collide and the sky can’t contain it.

Many experience the campaign season as a storm because of this. The irony is: both sides employ a singular force to generate the storm. One force comes from below and claims democracy will end if the other force wins. The other force comes from above and claims democracy will end if the other force wins.

It is the same force coming from opposing locations. The competing narratives create confusion and anxiety but the storm is our own making.

We tend to lean towards one force or the other in an attempt to calm the storm. We feel our side is the magic side that will put everything right. But our mentality is complicit in creating the storm.

Besides, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. For every power-move on one side, there will be another pushing back. And the storm will do nothing but continue to grow in strength. The pressure will increase. The opposing force will not diminish by force.


The two origin stories describe well the reality of forces that stand in tension with one another.

In Genesis 1, we see a transcendent God. In Genesis 2, God is immanent.

The Genesis 1 story speaks to the storm and says, “Nothing ends without God’s say so. God started everything and nothing will be finished until God’s work is finished.”

The second story speaks to the storm and says, “Humans choose their own ends.”

The first story shows God’s action; the second story shows restraint.

We are troubled by the two stories because they feel problematic to us presented side-by-side. The transcendent God of Genesis 1 does not act in Genesis 2-3 when we most need him. We need a God who is imminent, but immanence without transcendence is limited. The second God asks where we are precisely at the moment when humans are most in need of his omniscience and presence. It is as if the two stories presented side-by-side are the human way of asking, “And where are You, God? Weren’t You supposed to be here? Weren’t you supposed to know what we would make of ourselves? Weren’t you supposed to save us this heartache?”

But what troubles us even more is the tension presented by the paradox that the first story tells us we are good and then the second story tells us we are not. Which is it?

That is why we have a storm at all. We are good and we are not.

We look around and we see the image of God in one another, so we know, deep down in our soul, that we are spectacular in holiness and mystery. The very breath of God fills us with life. We are sacred and creative. We are capable of sublime music and ponderous art. We possess in our collective humanity an infinite expression of form and color. There is something of God in us.

And we are free. Free to choose the good, but also free to choose death. We are equally as capable of generosity as we are of greed. We can envy or exult in another’s success. We can serve or dominate. We can consume or generate. We can trust or suspect. We can illuminate or obscure.

That is why we have a storm. God would call out the best in us—and we would call out the best in each other—but we choose not to do so.

Fortunately, even with the limitation God places on God’s own action in the second story, the first story is still told first for a reason.

Throughout the course of history, the textual editors could have reversed the order. They could have started with a God who knows not where we are.

But the experience of God by the people of God never warranted such an edit. The experience of God by the people of God in exile confirmed that, in spite of the evil so prevalent in the world, God’s fundamental nature is unfazed by the chaos we perpetrate.

Still today God hovers over the wild, dark water and calls forth life. God’s voice is more persistent than ours. God’s voice is hope and joy even when life feels threatening. The imprint of hope in the human spirit is not ours; it’s God’s. God hopes more than we do. His word is a word of hope. His life is a life of joy.

That is why the first story has always been told first and always will be told first. We are made for more than our faulty choices. We are made to begin again.

And when that finally happens, the storm will be over. There will be rest, fullness of rest and joy. There will be play and worship forevermore. Work and family life will not be accompanied by anxiety. The creation will flourish. Our mouths will be filled with laughter and those who have sown in tears will reap with songs of joy.

Whatever happens with the storm these next three weeks, let us remember there is a God above the storm and we are made for better things. Let us live as the people of faith did in exile long ago, remembering whence we came, whose we are, and who we are free to become.  All is not lost.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

God's first nickname

“In this text we read about God’s first nickname.”

I love the way our professor put it.

In Genesis 12, God made a promise to Abram that he would become the father of a great nation. As time passed, however, Abram’s wife Sarai did not conceive. They became worried, so they decided Abram should try to have a child through Hagar.

Now, Hagar was from Egypt and she was a servant of Abram’s. She did conceive and gave birth to a son.

Meanwhile, Sarai still had no children. The thought was painful to face and the pain was made worse in the presence of Hagar and her son. Sarai began to mistreat Hagar, so Hagar took her son and ran away.

There, by a spring of water in the wilderness, God asked Hagar: “Where have you come from and where are you going?”

That is a good question for all of us.

Well, Hagar explained everything to God and God heard her.

To remind her that he heard her complaint, God told Hagar to name her child Ishmael, which means “God hears.”

In response, Hagar named God. It’s the first time in the Bible someone dared come up with a special name for God…a nickname.

And here is the nickname Hagar, the Egyptian slave, gave to God: El-Roi, or “God sees.”

What she really wanted to remember by the nickname, however, was not just that God saw her but that she saw God…and lived. The text quotes Hagar: “Have I really seen God and remained alive after seeing him?”

God hears…God sees…and we hear and see God. It is relationship.

To me, the whole scenario feels like a father playing peekaboo with his child. I like to think that Hagar’s name for God is free and playful. I like to think God liked his new nickname…”Now-You-See-Me-Now-You-Don’t”…Peekaboo.

I like to think God’s first nickname is just that: Peekaboo.

What’s your nickname for God?   

Monday, October 3, 2016

this is my story, this is my song

There is an old hymn running through my heart and mind today. The chorus starts with these words: “This is my story; this is my song…”
I started thinking about it because of a Scripture text we read together this morning during family prayer time. We’ve been reading through a particular version of the Psalms, written by Eugene Peterson, in a unique rendering of the Bible called The Message. About three weeks ago we began reading one psalm almost every weekday and today’s reading happened to be Psalm 16. Here it is:

Keep me safe, O God,
    I’ve run for dear life to you.
I say to God, “Be my Lord!”
    Without you, nothing makes sense.
And these God-chosen lives all around—
    what splendid friends they make!
Don’t just go shopping for a god.
    Gods are not for sale.
I swear I’ll never treat god-names
    like brand-names.
My choice is you, God, first and only.
    And now I find I’m your choice!
You set me up with a house and yard.
    And then you made me your heir!
The wise counsel God gives when I’m awake
    is confirmed by my sleeping heart.
Day and night I’ll stick with God;
    I’ve got a good thing going and I’m not letting go.
I’m happy from the inside out,
    and from the outside in, I’m firmly formed.
You canceled my ticket to hell—
    that’s not my destination!
Now you’ve got my feet on the life path,
    all radiant from the shining of your face.
Ever since you took my hand,
    I’m on the right way.

When I read David’s song this morning, I thought: “What a fitting thing to read on my birthday!” I felt like the story of my life is reflected in these words. 

I’ve run for dear life to you. I say to God, “Be my Lord.”

                I remember when I first gave my life to God. I had spent about two and a half years leading a double life, I’m sad to say. So, when I finally realized that turning my life over to God was an all or nothing deal, my first thought was: “God will never take me back. Not after all I’ve done to deny him.”
                But that afternoon in the summer of 1984, I was overcome with a sense that God was not finished with me yet, that God loved me and would always accept me…that he would freely forgive me for going my own way for so long. I cried my eyes out that afternoon, and ever since then God has changed my life. This is my story; this is my song.

Without you, nothing makes sense.

                One of the first things to change was my approach to school. I knew that God wanted me to give my all in whatever I was facing. More importantly, I knew that God would help me, that I could call on God to help me be a learner. As I offered my mind to God, and prayed for God’s help with school, I saw that God was able to help me learn well, to make sense of things.
                I don’t mean to imply “I know it all”; rather, I mean to say that the Spirit of God is able to shed light on what was darkened before, to instill one’s heart and mind with understanding that has no origin in mere human intellect.
                The wisdom of God is foolishness to humans, but by God’s Spirit, and not by any merit of our own, someone can see meaning where others see meaninglessness.
                These days it seems our world is becoming increasingly confusing. We are hard pressed to make sense of how we should respond in the midst of ambiguity and controversy. So, believing in God seems like foolishness to us. That’s what faith is for and that’s why faith precedes genuine understanding. Many of history’s greatest thinkers concur.

My choice is you, God…and now I find I’m your choice!

                In the summer of ’84 I made my choice to follow God, but that decision was small in comparison to God’s choice to pursue me—and all of us. God went to great lengths, sending his one and only Son to come close to us, to die for us. God showed us the full extent of his love for us in Jesus, all to say: “I choose you! I want you to know me!”
                I can think of nothing else that surpasses the wondrous thought that God comes after us to show us his love.
                This is my story; this is my song.   

I’m happy from the inside out

Joy. That has become my passion these past five years or so. I am convinced that a life without joy is a shriveled life. I call the joyful life "a PlayFull life."
No matter how many accomplishments one may acquire, no matter how wealthy one becomes, no matter how esteemed or famous one may be…if you don’t have joy, you have nothing.
Too many people live under exorbitant stress. Too many are “driven” to become “something”, to “succeed.” We buy and sell to become happy. We fix and flatter. We spin and splurge. But we often do so because we have an unconscious urge to prove ourselves to others…and ourselves.
That is not joyful living. But the “inside out” happiness David talks about here is the antithesis of the pressured life. It is a simple trust in a God who delights in the world, who rejoices over us with singing, whose laughter makes waves, seen and unseen.
If God is love, he is also joy. After all, you cannot love without experiencing the Joy of love.
This is my story; this is my song.

Now you’ve got my feet on the life path,
    all radiant from the shining of your face.
Ever since you took my hand,
I’m on the right way.

                Yes, God took my hand. God turned me around. He put my feet on the path of life. And God, my friend, who has been with me one year after the next, keeps lighting the way when I would turn to the darkness of doubt and self-sufficiency.
                On this, my birthday, I want my story and my song to be about the God who grants joy, forgiveness, hope, and meaning. I want my song to be about the God who provides and guides, who remains faithful, even when I am faithless…who believes when I cynically scoff.
Let my story, my song be about a God who saves to the uttermost.


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

what i cannot finish

Let the loose end be.
Don’t tie it up.
The greatest works of art
are unfinished;
to complete them would be a desecration.
Leave some space for the imagination
to fill.

Just so is my love for you.
It will ever be undone.
Let’s be imperfect together,
indebted forever.

Today started twenty-five years ago
and tomorrow is perpetually out of reach,
like hope, an experiment with no end,
or the moon and her seasons, turning,
brightening, fading and flourishing
in cycles. So many things I cannot finish
because they are not mine to control.
Even weakness and power meet but false ends;
I can diminish for you, let me be stronger with you.

Take what I’ve started and cannot finish.
Hold this growing love for you.
Regard my devotion as complete in incompletion,
for I never want to finish loving you,
nor could I if I tried.


what i cannot finish
a poem by troy cady
for Heather on our 25th anniversary

Thursday, July 21, 2016

the dog, the lion and the falcon

The Dog, The Lion and the Falcon
by Troy Cady

Turning and turning in the widening gyre  
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere  
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst  
Are full of passionate intensity.

-excerpt from The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats

Yesterday, a man who holds a PhD in theological studies and is a distinguished professor at a Christian college, put forth a view as to why Christians should vote for Donald Trump in the upcoming election.

He likened Ronald Reagan to a lion and Donald Trump to a dog. He said that, as Christians, we should vote for Trump while praying the dog becomes a lion. Here is what he wrote:

“…I am a Christian, a man who believes that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ pleads with us to petition him to bring about change, transformation of our leaders. As I have done so more than once in this thread, I cite the apostle Paul who writes to us, Christ's body, ‘I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth’ (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

“I also believe that Ecclesiastes 9:2 speaks truth: ‘Anyone who is among the living has hope—even a live dog is better off than a dead lion!’ Ronald Reagan, our Republican Lion, is dead and gone, sad as it is. Right now, we have a Republican Dog, Donald Trump. Is there hope for such a Republican Dog? Yes, but the hope does not reside in the Dog; our hope resides in God, who can transform the Dog into a Lion.

“I am not a fatalist. Hence, I refuse to expend my energies in pointing out all the flaws and foibles and foolishness and foundering of the Republican Dog, Donald Trump. I refuse to participate in contributing to Democrat Jezebel's victory. Instead, I am calling upon fellow Christians to join with me in praying that our God will convert our Republican Dog into an authentic Christian Man, that he might also become a Republican Lion.

“Donald Trump's character flaws and faults have been on full display for a year. What's the point of my continuing to point them out by trashing the man? Do I believe in the power of the gospel? Do I believe that God is our redeemer? Do I believe that God is delighted by my trashing the man or by my praying for the man? I choose to pray for him rather than trash him; he's done enough trashing of himself. In God's providence Donald Trump is the candidate of the party that advances those ideals and principles most in common with all things Christian. Therefore, I will expend my energies in praying earnestly that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ will move mightily with regard to the Man and the Party that ‘we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.’"

I will just say it: I am deeply troubled by this rhetoric.

First, “Donald Trump is the candidate of the party that advances those ideals and principles most in common with all things Christian.” This is a flawed view of Christ’s relationship to culture. The Jesus of the Gospels would have a thing or two to say about either political platform, Republican or Democrat. If Jesus were on the speaking schedule, his words to the Republican National Convention would not be: “You’re the party most in common with all things Christian. Way to go! I’m proud of you!”

This is a call for us to do some serious soul-searching. It is not a time for political posturing in defense of a way of life we’ve always idealized. It is time for us to admit we don’t have all the answers, to humble ourselves and pray, to ask God’s forgiveness for the ways we (yes, as Christians) have exacerbated the mess. It is time to humble ourselves.

Christ cannot be co-opted, held captive to any political philosophy. This cuts both ways, right or left. The way of Jesus is, in fact, counter-cultural. The first Christians did not spend their time debating political philosophy. They dedicated their time, their energy, their physical resources and, in many instances, their very lives to healing the infirm, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and proclaiming that there is only one way to be saved, by faith in Jesus whom they proclaimed as the Christ.

That word Christ carries a world of meaning; he is the Anointed One, the true King. Christians have no other King. Ronald Reagan is not our Lion. Only Jesus can be our Lion. Besides, Jesus is both Lion and Lamb—that’s what makes him such a wonderful Lion. In my mind, Trump needs much more lamb and a lot less lion in him. That is why the professor is right; Trump is a mere dog, rabid and dangerous. This is important to keep in mind because Christians today come dangerously close to enthroning persons who are not the King, who do not embody what the King teaches.

True, no one who is elected will be perfect. And, true, we need to pray for our leaders. This means we need to pray and believe equally as much for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama as we do for our Republican Ideal darlings. Do we do that? If Trump is a dog and we pray for him, maybe he will become someone worthy of leadership. But, isn’t the same true of Ms. Clinton? Is she beyond redemption? Can’t God transform “Jezebel” and make her a “Mary”? Yes. Yes, he can.

Well, maybe it is wise to vote for neither of the two candidates, and many Christians will choose a “third way.” Other Christians feel this is foolish: “Anyone but Hillary,” they say—even if he is a dog.

Yes, it may be true that voting for a third option strengthens the case of your opponent. But consider: the character flaws we see in Donald Trump prior to taking office will only undergo increased pressure once he is in office. Have we not learned? Even evangelicalism’s own Billy Graham writes how shocked he was when he found out what Richard Nixon and his administration had done.

And that was just the beginning. I think of the scandal that has eaten away at the Oval Office, steadily eroding our confidence, betraying the trust of the People. Even Ronald Reagan, the Lion, did things in office that cannot be called “Christian” with a clean conscience. It is noteworthy that America’s politicians use phrases that lure evangelical voters to bite their line but that doesn’t change the fact that their mastery of political verbiage is nothing more than a worm on a hook.

We are all culpable. All of us are responsible for the violence. All of us are responsible for the racism. All of us are responsible for the greed, the consumerism, the individualism. Yes, our political leaders, all of them (left or right) are responsible. And, yes, our business leaders (including Donald Trump) are responsible. We have made the world what it is. We are responsible for the world’s wars. We are guilty of the hatred and vitriol.

 Because of that, now is not a time to lead merely “quiet lives.” As a start, we should be weeping loudly.  We should be anything but “quiet.” Now is a time to cry out from the depths of our souls.

We should cry out because…in this country’s history the subjugation of our black brothers and sisters was allowed to continue because of those very “Christians” who led “quiet lives”. “Quiet Christians” perpetuated slavery in the abolitionist era and “quiet Christians” turned a blind eye to systemic discrimination in the Civil Rights era.  Such “quiet life Christians” stood by and watched as Native Americans were robbed of their land. Such “quiet life Christians” stand up for one set of issues but do not stand up for another.

The fact is, both the political right and left fail to nurture God’s whole sense of justice and peace in the world. If we think that is not true, we are deluded. If that were the case, changing the world would be as simple as convincing everyone to side with your political persuasion. But, even if everyone became a Republican or Democrat, we have to face a sobering truth: the world would still be a big, hot mess. We would trade one set of imperfections for another set, and neither set would be any better or worse than the other, qualitatively speaking. They would both fall short of God’s whole sense of justice and peace. We need to admit that.

Besides, we follow in the footsteps of the first Christians—and the early Christians were anything but “quiet.” That is why they were martyred. They spoke up. They troubled the waters. Their message, their way of life was subversive to the power structures, whether political or religious. Peter was not imprisoned for being “quiet.”  James was not killed by king Herod because he was “quiet.”

That is why it is important for us to keep in mind that we are to lead peaceful lives, just as much as we are to lead “quiet” lives. Christians are to work to make the world a better place, to embody the peace of Christ that puts an end to war, violence, and discrimination. There is no lust or greed in a peaceful world. Life, all life, is revered in a peaceful world.  A peaceful world is a world that enjoys all the colors God made. A peaceful world is a place where those who are naturally quiet can be quiet but those who are naturally vocal can speak up. Everyone does not have to be the same in a peaceful world. The biblical idea of peace is a sense of holistic well-being; “all is right with the world.” It is a place where justice is done. It is a place of honesty and generosity. It is a place of mercy, concern for the down-and-out. A peaceful world is gentle and humble.

And a peaceful world is led by peaceful people.

I am not saying, “Vote for so-and-so” or “don’t vote for so-and-so.” Vote your conscience and do not insist every person needs to vote your conscience. Let them vote theirs, judgement aside.

In either case, I can’t help but feel these words by William Butler Yeats describe well what we see today. In quoting these words I do not mean to paint a “doom and gloom” picture, but I do hope these words can remind us of our need for something true, good and innocent:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre  
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere  
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst  
Are full of passionate intensity.

Right or left, we very well may end up with neither a Lion nor a Dog, but a Falcon who has soared high beyond earshot of the Center. If that is the case, let us lead lives of courage and hope, even as we work towards peace and quiet.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

i am among you as one who serves

Listen. Here is a mystery.

When the time drew near for violence to be done on the innocent, he knew the violence was coming. He knew he would suffer and die at the hands of those with power.

But their power was false power. Yes, they killed him, but the power to kill is not very powerful. It is the weak who kill, not the strong. The strong serve. The innocent one said so himself.

Here is the mystery. When the time drew near for violence to be done on the innocent, the innocent said, “I am among you as one who serves.”

That is power.

This is a mystery to remember before and after the violence, in the midst of violence. The innocent one is alive and he is still among us as one who serves. That has not changed, nor will it ever change. He is a king who serves. His servanthood is the very thing that made and makes him king.

To follow the servant king is to serve. Nothing more. The power of the king is no-power. I said it was a mystery, didn’t I? It truly is. Pray to be a child and embrace the mystery.

This is a truth to practice when violence is done. He is among us as one who serves.

Just serve.