Saturday, November 28, 2009

Human hopes, human fears...advent begins.

The seasonal valley we are entering promises to darken around us. The absence of light will send many into depression. We, along with those around us, are concerned about so many things. Steely fear stings us deep within, sending a lump to our throats and causing our eyes to squint in suspicion of our neighbor. Who can we trust?

Yet, hope teeters on the horizon. Perhaps the sun will not set behind the dark peak, but find an opening where rocky cliffs fall to the sea? Perhaps we will have light to guide us the rest of our way?

It is human to hope. It is human to fear.

One of my favorite Christmas songs is O Little Town of Bethlehem. We sing The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee, tonight. In these lines we read again the juxtaposition of hope and fear. The meeting place for these two? What is the location of their coming together? Christ.

And what will be the outcome of the clash? Which will prevail: hope or fear?

You tell me. Conquering foes ruled his homeland. Political division was rampant. The religious elite abused the poor, and held them at arm's length from faith. No one even noticed--and no wonder--when the helpless infant was born to illegitimate parents staying in some animal shelter. The only ones who caught on were some stargazers from another nation and religion, and a few ruffians at the bottom of the pay-scale camping out and watching sheep. Hope? (I've often thought that God could have used a marketing agency.)

And so we enter the holidays shadowed by long shopping lists and in fear of the worsening economy. We grieve loves we've lost, and long for something more. Religion is offering little direction and politicians are only heightening our fears that no one cares about anything but power. Somewhere an unobtrusive God is hiding in an unsuspected location. And our chore is to find the Christ.

Don't bother asking the kings, or the spiritual elite.

Perhaps he's living amongst the poor? (Matthew 25:40 & 45)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Simple Gifts: Thanksgiving Thoughts

Our harvests come one trip to the grocery after another. We can't remember having planted. Our safety through a hard winter is a foregone conclusion. Our shelters are built for us--we merely pay the mortgage. And disease is something we scoff at--H1Nwhat? How can we relate to the seafaring lot who landed on strange shores and scraped a living from the soil thanks to helpful locals? How can we even hope to find a place for gratefulness as we approach Thursday?

Perhaps a dose of one of the classic Christian disciplines might be in line for our holiday maladies. When we are silent, we appreciate our ability to speak. When we practice solitude, we learn to relish the presence of others. When we fast, we appreciate the taste of the simplest meal. When we serve the poor, we are grateful that we have plenty. When we sacrifice, we recognize our abundance.

I love the Shaker hymn Simple Gifts.

Tis a gift to be simple, tis a gift to be free.
Tis a gift to come down where we ought to be.
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
twill be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gained,
to bow and to bend we shall not be ashamed.
To turn, turn, will be our delight,
till by turning, turning we come round right.

Perhaps this week you will find time for the simple joys of simplicity.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Preparing for Advent--One More Time

It is far too simple to stand on the outside, and think I know what is inside. As I approach Advent, it is far too easy to assume that the titles, texts and themes I prepared in early October are completed projects. We know what's going to happen, right? The Word becomes flesh. God is with us. Don't be afraid. A virgin with child. Approaching Advent can feel like a late year return to the same old amusement park, with a well worn season pass.

But this is no time for amusement. "A-muse".
"A" = not.
"Muse" = think.
Not think.

This is not a season to enter with a closed mind or a closed heart. For those who will lead congregations or bible studies or friends in the process of living another Advent, I throw out this challenge: Live it new. Live the story for the first time. Discover the staggering truths of this season just one more time

And let's drop the pretense that we can teach or lead in this mysterious territory. Seek to see the invisible. Try to believe the impossible. Pray that we can explain the unimaginable. And we will approach our task humbly, with wise-men hearts--knowing there is a king somewhere at the end of the journey, but not yet sure where to find him.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The beauty of small beginnings

I made quite an issue of providing artificial kindling this morning. A full double sheet of newspaper, rolled into a long tube and tied in a knot. I put three of those contrivances in the wood stove, arranged a couple of large logs over them and set them afire. When I came back with my coffee a few minutes later, the logs were blackened, the paper was gone and so was the flame.

So stepping through the fog and out to the carport woodpile, I grabbed the hatchet and began to chip off small pieces of a larger log. Slivers mostly. A few cut away from the log as thicker brittle sticks--much larger than slivers, yet unimpressive. Carrying my treasures back inside I arranged them in a hollow pile, then poked the tiniest pieces of newspaper underneath them. Ah, the power of small beginnings.

I knew when I began with the grandiose display of knotted newspaper that my fire had little chance. Heavy logs take time to get in the mood for burning. But the sliver effect--the small beginnings of tiny flickers reaching ever larger tinder...makes ever larger fire. And now the large oak logs have surrendered. The cabin is warming and the box of fire is glowing. And the quiet, day-off morning is beginning.

Small beginnings indeed.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Perspective on Winter

November is casting its gray shadows where I live. A friend once gave me sage advice: David, I learned a long time ago not to pay homage to the weather. We had been walking across a broad blacktopped parking lot in an Arizona summer. The temperature was well into the one hundred and teens. Jim was older than I, and had lived his entire life in the Arizona desert. My question had been, Jim, does the weather ever get you down?

Now I'm not going to pretend that dark days don't play their games with my outlook. But I will profess that I love this time of year. My son calls winter his favorite season. There is power in resignation and submission. As I often say: God is God, and I am not. Really, when it comes down to it, that settles lots of things.

Our first winter back in Brown County, we didn't have a four-wheel-drive vehicle to get us up the quarter mile hill and to our driveway. There were a few times when, after several runs at it, I had to park at the bottom and walk up the steep incline--in dress shoes--to make it home. The worse part were the times when the hill had started to melt and then re-frozen. A nice glaze of ice makes going downhill an adrenaline rush that you'd rather not have. Especially since at the bottom of the hill is State Highway 46, and 55 MPH traffic. (Finally I had justification to get my Jeep Wrangler!) My Jeep--or as I call it, my vacation between destinations--makes winter much more bearable.

I guess this is my annual appeal to people who love to complain about the weather (or who think there is something not fair about it, or who think life is better where the climate is different), this is my plea for them to consider letting the elements be the elements. Allow the high and low systems to come and go as they will. It feels good to embrace the brace of winter. And then be grateful when you have a warm place to go home to.

I've had to turn down two people this morning who need help with their rent. They may not be so fortunate as to have a warm place to call home this winter. Now that is something I'm tempted to whine I sit in my beautiful and centrally heated church office.

Friday, November 13, 2009


I get a lot of questions about the price of my book The Runaway Pastor on Several different booksellers are there offering the same book for various discounts (or premiums) as well as varying levels of shipping costs. Yeah, I don't know. All I can say is that I'm amazed at the intricacies of how this business operates. And, I guess I'm just glad that it does.

First of all, this online bookstore (known as the largest bookstore in the world) provides an easy way for a book to be purchased almost anywhere in the western world. They receive the mother of all discounts when selling a book, leaving publisher and author with a very small cut on the deal--so to speak. The large discount they get from the publisher is a small price to pay when compared to the service they provide. Besides, I have no illusions of making money on this book.

Second, the feedback system is amazing. Of course there is the review system. Readers are provided the opportunity to give each book sold there a rating between 1 and 5 stars, then they write and record their thoughts and put them up for anyone to see! If you have read the novel, and if you have ordered from before, I would invite you to review the book there. Thanks to all of those who have.

Another aspect of the feedback system is something I'm just beginning to understand: The book ranking. Each day on the book's page at there is a ranking that shows. At first these rankings seemed insulting. But there are millions of books in the system, and being ranked in the hundreds of thousands, isn't bad I guess. (I've had an occasional gust of the low 20 thousands.) This project is one with no marketing budget, no paid advertising, etc. So if it grows, it will be because one reader recommends it to another, and slowly it gathers a following.

My only hope is that the messages of the book will get through to those who need to hear it. Soon there will be questions for discussion at and bulk discounts from the publisher so reading groups at churches or elsewhere can discuss them. Each one will be keyed to a paragraph or chapter reading from the book. These questions give me hope that people will wrestle with the message of the book. (If you have a suggestion for a question, please send it in.)

Thank you for reading here. Occasionally I will update you about the book project at this place, and more often I'll just write about life from my perspective. Eventually I may use this site for the book, and start another to do such writing. At this point in my life, I feel an urgency for the message of The Runaway Pastor to get out there. And I'll follow that leading as long as I must.

(NOTE: Please check out Zee's blog. She is an incredible young writer I met when she was a little girl in Kiev, Ukraine. Just click on her name in the comment column, and follow through her info to her blog.)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Blessing, benediction and you.

Such powerful magic--when one looks into the eyes of another and speaks Love...with or without words. As a pastor, I have known this indescribable joy of connection. These connections have been one on one, yet are even more startlingly fulfilling when God's Holy Spirit of Love connects pastor with a congregation.

I often feel this mysterious connection as I bless the congregation at the end of a service. A blessing is a gift I only recently learned to give. I now end a service with something like: You are the people of God. And you are--and live amongst a world full of those--stamped with God's image. Go and be the person and presence of Jesus! It seems so much more fitting than asking God to "protect us on the way home and bring us back next week. You are dismissed."

And we are to be a benediction--a blessing--to those with whom we interface day after day. And so I give you this blessing today.

You are loved by Almighty God. This very day, you are the target of his devotion and affection. Now go and live in God's love and forgiveness, and offer this grace and peace to those around you.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Entering Rest

The earth draws tightly its cloak. The soil begins to harden imperceptibly. Days shorten and nights close in around the garden. Even the most hardy blooms bow for their last curtain call of the the year. Winter is coming; nighttime is calling us to nestle-in. It is time to rest, to let the pace die for a while.

Oh how we wish it were true. More organic cultures follow the seasons like a clock, welcoming the winter's night. They rest and restore relationships--not even considering that these things are preparation for the spring to come. They live the season, and this should be a time for breathing, laughter and snoring.

Not the electric light crowd. Rest is for the weak, not the weary! So we rush and squeeze our tired psyche's for another drop of productivity. Like a child refusing a nap, we neglect the sweet dreams of relationships, hearth and home. These are for weaker folk of days gone by. We must spin on toward our own demise and burn the wick until it meets its frazzled end.

What season will this be for you?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Sharing and Tending

I remember the first time I wrote a poem as a child. It was hard to share it with anyone. Perhaps the thought that had meant so much to me--that thing that had pushed me to write in a less than straight-forward way--perhaps it would seem trivial to the reader. (Like telling a girl you liked her, and her returning the note having checked the box that indicated she didn't like you back.) Sharing something exposes you to risk.

And reward. Yesterday I got a note from a woman in Florida who had ordered and read my book--The Runaway Pastor. She said she had started reading at 9 PM and finished it the next morning at 4 AM, after reading all night! That felt good.

But even more gratifying feedback has come to me from some pastors who are sharing raw edges of pain the book exposed. Saying it was "just a little too close to their own living..." for comfort. Yet they read and benefited. One pastor said: "There's a great deal of truth in that fiction." Another resolved to turn his heart back toward family. One pastor and wife told me that friends at their church had recognized their crashing relationship, and had stepped in over the past year to love them toward wholeness. I fear most won't be so fortunate.

With November, the cold weather has returned. Almost like there's a clock that is wound into a new time zone by the change of the month. So I've been lugging in firewood from the pile, and getting fires started in the stove (using the Boy Scout's fire-starters I bought from a friend at church). Yesterday I walked into a warm cabin, stoked the fire and reveled in the task of being a fire-keeper.

The colder seasons are a good reminder to tend the fires that are most vital to our lives. Love your family. Love you Lord. Slow down enough to love the life you've been given.

And as The Runaway Pastor enters its second week of availability, I hope that somehow what I have shared will inspire others to tend to the priorities that our maker would have us keep central.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Season Alone

Where I live, October is tourist season. (Most locals have ceased sporting the bumper stickers "If it's tourist season, why can't we shoot them." After all, tourism makes my home town go, and I happen to be a fan of visitors--and plenty of'em.) But something spectacular happens on November 1.

We have a beautiful State Park boasting dozens of miles of horse, mountain bike and hiking trails. One can walk--and I have--all day and never cross the same place twice. From April through October, there are lots of people puffing along these paths. But Sunday, someone flipped a switch called "tradition," and the park emptied for the season. It is truly amazing.

Last week I stepped aside with regularity for visitors wanting to know "How much further to the lake." Yesterday I had the place to myself. The leaves crunching with my footfalls, the water chattering in the creek and the fleeing squirrels, rabbits and deer were the only sounds that met my ear. Suddenly I remembered that for the next several months, I have thousands of acres to myself. I'll smile and celebrate the remainder of fall--and all of winter--alone with my trekking poles, water filter and the steam rising from my sweat-soaked shirts.

I paused for a while on the last summit, waiting for the sun to drop behind a distant hill. A songbird added its lacy joy to the stillness. I'll be back again tonight or tomorrow afternoon at the latest. One can't afford to waste such glory.

What are you reveling in?

Monday, November 2, 2009

What I'm learning about books.

I'm learning quite a lot these days, and some of it is as a result of The Runaway Pastor. For one thing, it is great to have good friends who encourage you along the way. I wrote this book two years ago, and friends, especially here at this blog site, have encouraged me bit by bit all along. Thank you! It has been fun. I remember putting the first chapters on line just over a year ago, and then hearing back from some of you and realizing that maybe someone else would enjoy/benefit from what was going on in my head.

I've learned that the process of getting published is just as tough as "they" say it is, and that having a determined and effective book agent is important. I've learned that the publishing business is changing beyond what anyone can believe, and that bookstores are in crisis because of the Walmarts and Targets of the world. Those nine and ten dollar hardbacks you are hearing about this season are going to be the end of many local booksellers. Only they can afford to work those prices and even take the losses (in order to get you into their stores). They could completely own the bookstore market within a few years. That is why instead of selling my books to my local friends directly, I supported my local bookstore by selling my books there.

I've learned that is a huge change in the way books are sold. I've learned that I need many online reviews there (your review would be coveted!)and that my ranking in the book world this morning was 27,804th--at the highest I've seen! I hear that is good for a start; but numbers like that--or one that was a hundred thousand higher--will calm any ego trips. I have NO IDEA how many books have sold. Won't know for about a month.

I've learned at a book signing yesterday that no matter the title, many people are interested in this book because they are hurting, looking for hope, and longing to run. I can't tell you how many "Runaway" books people told me I should write. Several people who "don't do church" spoke to me yesterday, and a couple with tears in there eyes. I hope to stay in contact with them. One told me she is looking for hope, yet doesn't know where to look. She knows I'm a pastor in town, and I now know where she works.

I'm learning that a diversion from my "day job" is a good thing. In fact it fits hand in glove. Mostly I'm learning to take a day at a time and see what happens. To stay close to you my friends and to love those that give me a chance. More later.

Peace to you.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Happy All Saints Day, Hope, and my first book signing.

I woke in the middle of the night and remembered Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration talking to Moses and Elijah. The ancient Celts observed a day near November 1 when they observed a time when a "thin place" exists between our world and the next. Surely transfiguration's mountain moment was such a thin place--Jesus being counseled by a couple of Old Testament heroes who had been gone for several centuries.

Today we wake to a new month and new Sunday. I pray both will be thin places for you. I pray you will know peace with your tomorrows, and a fearlessness in the face of mystery. I pray we can hold confidence in the most trying of times that there is the One who can speak "Come forth!" And that at the end of the journey there will be a "Well done." This morning I long to instill such hope in some dear people.

(Seems "hope" is an abused that has become hollow and less sacred. I wish we could reserve it for use amongst people of faith. I wish it were a word we shared amongst friends and heard only from poets. It should be the domain of intimacy, not fifth avenue.)

Today I'll have my first book signing. The entire process goes against my nature. I've never wanted an autograph, though I guess I have enjoyed a signed book from a few friends. I hope I'll be able to encourage a few friends with some written words in the front of a book.

I hope you will know peace today.