Wednesday, December 29, 2010

O, to be a poet on Sunday mornings

I've been marinating in a familiar text, as if I'd never seen it before. John's famous prologue--John 1:1-18--is amazing. We read this as if it is old news, but check this out.
The NIV, NKJV and KJV all translate John 1:1 like this:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Good news. A bit mysterious. But not nearly as far-out as John originally said it.

This past fall, as we traveled throughout Europe, we visited dozens of cathedrals and churches. Often, as in Michaelangelo's Sistine Chapel painting, God is depicted as an old, ye powerful and wizened man. White beard and all. These paintings were done in order to instruct and help us understand Bible stories and truths.

The same anthropomorphic teaching is written into some God-descriptions of the Old Testament. We read of God's right hand, of God's holy arm, or of God's eyes or face. We also read of God sheltering us under wings, and of God riding on clouds. These are not intended to be literal. They are ways that limited language can represent an unlimited God.

Yet, I fear these images, if we are not careful, can dampen our maturing comprehension of the person and presence of God. When God said there should be no graven images, perhaps this is what was to be avoided.

In the movie CONTACT, Jodi Foster plays the role of a woman who is chosen to travel into space where she sees some incredible, indescribable scene. Enraptured and unable to express the awe of what she takes in, she stammers: "No, no words. No words. Indescribable....They should have sent a poet."

In my thinking, John's prologue is such poetry. Listen to one literal translation of John 1:1 as taken from the original Greek. "In the beginning, was the SAYING, and the SAYING was toward God, and the SAYING was God." Now the word "SAYING" here is the Greek word "logos." It has also been translated as "mind," or "Word."

And so at creation, the Logos/mind/Word/Saying is speaking creation into existence. Compare Genesis and John here. God hovers over chaos and speaks light, and life and order into being. Consider the angel's message to Mary in the familiar Christmas story, the Spirit will "hover" over you, and your child will be called the Son of God."

This Sunday, I hope to open minds to mystery...the kind of mystery that says some indescribable energy--which we know as God, and we know is LOVE--is speaking grace and truth to us. And that in a very visible and touchable Jesus, we have seen what is the truth of this mysterious and mighty God. And that same hovering, mystery who speaks life and light into existence, speaks children of God into existence as well.

This Sunday, if for only few moments, I long to be a poet.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Reflecting on a Sabbatical: Part One

Journaled on Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Many have been asking me if I enjoyed my trip, or if we had a nice vacation. I can only answer with a "Yes." However, if I have time to speak with those who ask--I mean, if I have the time to sit down and look them in the eye long enough for each of us to see beyond the haze of cliche--then I can speak truth to them. The past three and one half months have been the most grueling and wonderfully transforming months I've ever lived.

I've never treated a journey with such reverence. I treasured each day of our recent sabbatical as a gift of life, not of place. So coming home has not seemed a desertion of pleasure, but a continuing of the sojourn. It has not been a disappointing return to the "same old." I have returned to a place I've never been. Same house, same job, same cars and dogs and bills. Different me.

I treasure the Italian apartment we called home for six weeks of our fourteen week, four-continent trip. But I don't long to be back there, in the way I have pined in times past for some surf-side beach chair. What Christ accomplished there, I am experiencing here, now, today--beside the fire in my home. And I benefitted from it earlier today as I encouraged a parishioner who is grieving, and yesterday in a nursing facility while ministering to a friend who has had yet another stroke.

The peace of Christ which is beyond understanding has worked in and through me. And that peace could not have been found on a three week vacation. It required entering daily into the mine of prayer. Daily, over the course of months. (This has not stopped). Finding peace required much confession and loving counsel. Peace was not gained like some loaf of bread to be picked up on aisle one. Peace emerged in tiny nuggets--minute, yet treasured fragments of authenticity and truth; extracted from massive boulder-sized frustration, selfish ambition, grief, and even some unknown resentment that I had been carefully and diligently sweeping under the rug of my psyche.

Spiritual work is not easy. And it cannot be hurried. The Lilly Endowment's Clergy Renewal Grant has provided me the time and the space to do the difficult work of sorting out my life and spirit. Fourteen weeks may seem a long time, but it was only after week thirteen, that I was ready for one more visit with my spiritual director. There I dropped my last anxieties of returning to ministry. I was ready: a new and centered man.

The global destinations we visited were spectacular. Some see them as the reason for the journey. They were not. They were only the setting of a journey of prayer and devotion. I traveled a far greater distance in my heart and head, than over land or sea.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

THE RUNAWAY PASTOR--Black Friday Special!

Runaway Pastor--Black Friday Special!

Get a jump on your Christmas shopping. Until midnight tomorrow, Friday, November 26, autographed copies of THE RUNAWAY PASTOR, by David Hayes, are available at discount prices. Here's the deal: Email before midnight, Friday night with the number of books you want. Then, as soon as we receive your check for the full amount, we will mail you your autographed copies. Be sure and let us know if you want gift or personal books signed "To _______."

Price: 1 Copy ---------------------- $11.
2 Copies ------------------- $21.
3-11 Copies------------ @ $10. per copy
12 Copies or more------- Ask for quote
USA orders only.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Currently posting at SABBATICAL BLOG

Current sabbatical posting at

You can also find pictures and more consistent blogging at my wife's blog.

Please follow my sojourns in the US, Europe, Asia and Africa there. I will be back to this site later.

Peace to you, and I welcome your prayers.

--stepping away for a while.

Monday, August 23, 2010

There have been times when I have wanted to run away. More specifically, I have wanted to run away from my job. And during those dark days, when I could see nothing but gloom and struggle, I wrote the novel to go along with the desire.

Many pastors, and others in compassion related work, have shared with me their desires to run, or the results of when they finally did. Most left their "jobs," but several, left their spouse as well. This is a story line in my book, The Runaway Pastor.

Many pastors who have "run" tell me later, that if they could only have had some time--the chance to step away and breath and feel, they believe they would have stayed in their ministry. And for some of them, they feel they might still be living with their spouse and their children. But the opportunity was not available. With most of them, there is substantial melancholy about their new life direction. "Life is easier," they say "I don't think I would have lasted much longer...but sometimes I wonder about what might have been had I been able to step away for a while, with the hopes of staying in." By the end of their speaking, their eyes are gazing far away, to some world that never was.

I am writing to share good news. Thanks to the kindness of the gracious congregation I pastor, and to a Clergy Renewal Grant from the Lilly Endowment, I have been given the opportunity to step away. Beginning this Sunday, and extending through mid December, I will be relieved of my duties, and I have been provided with means to attend a conference, take time away alone, then time with my family, and finally time away with my wife.

While I have not been The Runaway Pastor in reality, I now am afforded the opportunity to be the step away pastor.

Besides a sermon in Kiev, Ukraine, loving people wherever I am, and learning and networking for all I'm worth at a conference; I am not going to put many expectations on myself while I am away. But I will write. What I will write, I don't know. But if you are interested in following along--should I make it worthwhile--you will be able to track me at my new blog, Step Away Pastor. The actual address/URL is .

I'd love for you to sign on as a follower and sign-up for RS feeds. It would also be cool if you tweet or facebook, to pass these along when you read. I'm probably finished blogging on The Runaway Pastor for a while. Now, I'm being obedient to a call to be the step away pastor.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Struggling with a "Big Tent Christianity," and despairing over national division.

Last week was a synchro-blogging event for a thing called Big Tent Christianity. The idea is for Christians to come together and accept each other in a sort of "big tent" way. I got a bit cynical on one of my attempts, and sarcastic on another. Then, I was just plain defensive, trying not to offend anyone by who I let in my big tent. Finally, I just got sad and discouraged.

And my thinking went beyond the church and its tent. I despair at the division in my country, in our churches, and in seemingly every venue of human endeavor. We are thwarted from progress or from maintaining the good by the dark powers of division.

A great deal of blame goes to the media when it comes to our national bifurcation. Tension sells. And there are plenty of millionaires on TV and radio and the internet who create tension 5 days a week. In doing so, they create for themselves a very fine living...thank you very much. (I said "living," not "life.")

Saddest of all, the church and the state are tag-teaming in ways that are unbecoming to both. In the name of God, God's children are learning to rage at God's children. Hot button topics are used by left and right to polarize people--who are typically good at loving--into separate camps. Armed camps. Armed with words and threats and visceral anger.

Big tent??? I fear church people aren't even capable of loving those in their own congregational tent. Why go for a big one, when the spirit of the age--which we so gladly embrace--is the spirit of divide and conquer? It is all too common for people to judge the spiritual lives of others based upon their political opinions.

Thanks to a gracious grant and a sabbatical, I will be out of our country during the fervent peek of the approaching election cycle. What bliss. I will be seeking to live under the reign of God. People have lived under this reign for millennia. But today, many are exiting its blessings, in favor of hatred and division in the name of--and while waving the flag of--a kingdom of this world.

I am grateful for my country. I complement those who become active in the political process, so long as they follow Christ's teaching. A few beatitudes come to mind. Blessed are the peace-makers, Blessed are the meek, and blessed are the pure in heart.

As much as I love my country, I must reserve the right to love each of its citizens--no mattter their politics or religion. I must insist on this love. And I love citizens of all other nations, no matter their political, religious or ethnic persuasion. I can't help it. Sit down and look in the eyes of another human being. Hold their children in your lap. Listen to a father's dreams, or witness the twinkle in a mother's eye. Share your stories with them, and you will love matter the flag waving outside of their nation's capitol. You have to love them. It is what Jesus does.

I like big tents. There probably is one. I just despair of finding enough people willing to get along to populate it.

Check out Matthew chapters 5, 6 and 7 and choose a kingdom.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Jack of all trades, and a master of none?

I love the idea of learning new languages. When living abroad in the early 90's, I had the opportunity to get a decent grip on Russian. I also took the time at one point to learn some very basic German vocabulary, and the numbers served me well a few times in a pinch. I studied French in school, but know very little, and about six years ago I took a Spanish class. When in Israel I learned to say some please and thank you kinds of words in Arabic and Modern Hebrew, but remember very few,--shukran you very much. In college I had to learn to read New Testament Greek, and for my master's paper I toiled/toyed with Old Testament Hebrew very little.

This fall Shelly and I are going to have the opportunity to spend some time in Italy. And so now we are both studying a bit of "get you around" Italian. Molto bene!

It's funny how all of these languages kind of take up residence in different places of your brain. Sure, sometimes I'll get my languages mixed, like coming up with a Russian word in an attempted Spanish sentence. But for the most part, if you are thinking in a language--and around it for a few days--your brain engages that particular gear for the time of need.

Just in case you are wondering, if my survival depended on my ability to speak any of the above languages, I'd get skinny pretty quickly. I can still--after 16 years--speak a bit of Russian. And I can come up with the right words here and there in a few others. But really, for all the passion I've placed upon learning to communicate with the people I visit, I have little to show. I am a jack of many languages, but a master of one--and that is if you count my native English! (Some readers may wonder about that now and then.)

What is your one thing? What are you passionate about? When the last words are spoken at your memorial, what will be their theme? I want to try and keep my stubborn self focused on the ways of Jesus. I want to speak him to my world fluently. And I want that place in my brain to be engaged when someone needs him.

In Philippians Paul said: "This one thing I do..." I want that to be true of me too.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Gardening: For the Sake of Others

Question: What stings, makes people cry, messes up your hair, puts a smile on your face and will feed nearly one hundred and fifty people, and about thirty chickens fresh produce today?

Answer: A morning like I had!

Early this morning I picked-up a new friend from our Brown County Garden Community (CLICK HERE to see us on facebook!), we rode in my jeep with its top down (big smile on my face and messed-up hair) to a rendezvous point then on to a field of sweet corn. Once there we picked over twelve dozen ears of corn (being stung by a couple of nettles and a few deer flies), then rushed it back to a home for shucking. We cut out a couple of worms and ugly spots to give the chickens at the shucking house, and an hour after arriving at the field, I was on my way home for a shower before performing a baptism at the church at ten A.M. where I saw more than one set of eyes glistening with tears of joy. And tonight, 144 ears of fresh corn will be served at our local soup kitchen.

When a volunteer took me up on a sermonic dare to start a community garden on our church property, I had no idea the joys that were ahead for me and so many others. Yesterday our first harvest of green beans were delivered to the soup kitchen, and today it is corn that one of our garden and church members grew to share with others. Tomatoes are standing in line to become an offering once they blush properly, and peppers are working on their own magic.

Our church defines spiritual formation as: Being transformed into the image of Jesus, for the sake of others. I don't know how well we pull all of that off, but this gardening for the sake of others, is sure doing a lot for the sake of me!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Update on my novel and a review

Got some more good news from my agent this week. Thanks everyone for the ways you have both encouraged me regarding The Runaway Pastor and told friends about it.

Following is a review at the site.

This book addresses many pertinent issues not just for pastors, but for the whole church world. It is amazing how many men and women serving in pastoral ministry are close to burn-out, and need some relief. However, this is one of very few books that even addresses the issues that may contribute to burnout. I would recommend it for the pastors who are feeling like submitting a resignation is the only way out. I also highly recommend it for the church boards and administrators who, I think, would greatly benefit from the insight offered in this book about ministerial burn-out and some of the issues that cause pastors to go into other occupations. This book does not give answers to all the questions and stresses that pastor's face, but it provides a good place to begin the discussion about what pastors are feeling and why they are experiencing high levels of stress.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Fantasy life of the runaway

Last weekend I took some time to do a little beginning research for the sequel to The Runaway Pastor. Since Trent--the main character in my novel--seems to be dealing with an escape fantasy, I began there. What I discovered was not all that new to me, but the way it came to me was like a formula; like a two plus two equals four. All I'd seen before was a two and another two--without the four.

First, Neuro-psychology teaches us that practiced patterns become ingrained habit. If you play golf or tennis or if you type or drive, you know what it means to be able to do something without really thinking about it. "I could do that in my sleep," we often say. And it is true. Rehearsed patterns become ingrained.

They also become default behaviors. Like a water drop falling down a windshield; once a certain path is cleared, it becomes the easy way...the default pathway for other drops. We don't think about how we type our email address, it just pops out of our fingers. We don't plan to go (or remember going) to the fridge, but we find the ice cream sandwich right there in our hands. The neuron trail has been blazed, and we follow it by habit.

The second truth is that articulately and meticulously imagined actions are indistinguishable from real actions. It is true. Our mind cannot decipher the difference between a real action and a well imagined one. We've heard that before regarding violence in movies and video games. Perhaps we believe it to an extent. However, our mind has the capability of producing much more realistic "movies" than does the movie industry. Our fantasies are more real to us than video representations of reality.

So those two points are "two" and another "two." But the "four" had never accurred to me.

Well imagined actions, which are imagined over and over, become ingrained in our thinking. They form true neurological pathways in our brain, and become default reactions to certain settings. When Jesus said that lusting was indeed adultery, he wasn't kidding. When we read in scripture that "As a man thinks in his heart, so is he," it is mirroring contemporary teaching.

It seems the secular world has a hang-up on pushing fantasies. But what I am reading tells me that fantasies can lead to realities. And realities that we imagine are not nearly as exciting and joy-filled as our imaginations allow us to believe.

Jesus said "The truth will set you free..." Chasing fantasies down pathways of pleasure is not the way to freedom.

People have often asked me how Trent so easily left his wife, church and home. In my mind, he had already dreamed it into reality. I've been asked why Natalie was unfaithful to him. She had fantasized such betrayal over and over. How far do our habitual default responses carry us in our living?

My next research interest? How does one reset/retrain their imaginations and ingrained habits?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Runaway Characters are Acting Up Again

The writing of The Runaway Pastor was quite unintentional. There were agonies and feelings that needed expression. So many pastors were sharing their stories, that I decided to write a journal entry about a guy running away.

After writing a few pages, I saved the file as "Trent's Very Bad Day." (I was thinking of a popular children's book title.) And I thought I was finished. The next day I pulled out the lap top to add another bit to the story, and the characters just started appearing and doing things that people do.

I had often toyed with writing fiction. I once even had nearly one hundred pages into a pretty cool story set overseas. But a crashed hard drive, and a very full time job kept me out of the writing business. Then "Trent's Very Bad Day" became The Runaway Pastor, when I could not remove myself from the story; the story wrote itself, as the people did things people do. I too was often shocked at what happened.

This is why it has been so tough to write a sequel to the story. I've often told those who ask me about a sequel that I've "had that fit," and I don't feel the need to write any longer about those people. However this week, the TV in my brain went back to San Diego and Baylor's Bend, and I was surprised to see what was happening once again.

So a couple of days ago I started a sequel. And yesterday I tried to capture the half-hour of ideas that flowed through my brain on paper. It is in nothing like outline form. But there are scenes and glances, and conversations, and locations and all sorts of things happening. My friends in The Runaway Pastor are back at it. And so as I'm able, and with their permission, a sequel just may be on the way.

Thank you to all of you who encourage me! I still hear from a new reader of Runaway about two times per week. Pass the word along. Consider going to Amazon from my link--above and on the right--and buying a copy for a birthday, or begin your Christmas shopping now. (Later on, you'll be glad some of those gifts are already purchased!) Your pastor or church friends will like the book, but I'm finding many strong reviews from those outside of the church...and Trent seems to perk-up their interest in spiritual conversations.

Thank you again for all the ways you have encouraged me.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Some rambling theology and fearless hope...

John tells us in his first epistle "there is no fear in love". That when our love for God has been perfected, there will be no fear of punishment. I wasn't raised on that thinking. In fact, a different theme from the old testament was emphasized: "The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom." In this passage the aim is wisdom. In John's teaching, the aim is relationship. In the O.T. passage as I understand it, the word "fear" is better understood as "respect" or "reverence." (I buy that. God is awesome and to be respected and held in awe above anything or anyone. He is to be worshipped in utter broken humility.) Yet we are not to pursue fear!

And so what do we pursue? We pursue Christ. We accept his love and get on with the celebration of life eternal! We can't even take credit for this. John says that "we love God because he first loved us." Even though John spends considerable time speaking of sin, he seems to be asking people to focus on God's love, rather than focus our lives on avoiding or managing sin.

We are taught to "walk in the light," and reminded that we should not sin, or continue in the path of sinning. To stay in sin would be "walking in darkness," and it is equated not with breaking a list of rules, but with hating. That's right. For John, the dear friend of Jesus, sin equals hate. Darkness is hate. Light is love.

How did Jesus relate to sinners and sin? First, we see him being condemned by religiuos leaders as "a friend of sinners." They are not avoided, he loves them. While it is true that when he forgives the woman caught in adultery, he tells her to "go and sin no more." We mustn't forget, however, that his first words to her are "Neither do I condemn you." The assumption here is that the grace given in forgiveness is so overwhelming, that persistence in sin won't be a consideration.

What did Paul say about life after forgiveness? "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." REALLY? Is there condemnation for you if you believe you sin every day in word, thought and deed? I am beginning to live with the hunch that this good news is a lot better than I've been led to believe. That being called by John in his first letter to "live as Jesus did," and to see to it that "God's love is made complete in us," is not an invitation to some obstacle course with God sitting above waiting to see if we error. Rather it is truly a freedom to live as free people. Free not only from the guilt of past sin and the need to live in current ones, but free also of the weight of the law that constantly finds us falling short. I believe that our faith is intended to be fluid and real. Not forced and measured out in devotionals accomplished and temptations avoided. Rather, we are to flow the person and presence of Jesus from our living; naturally, and without fear.

Some of you theologians who know me, may be seeing signs of my native doctrine. The Wesleyan doctrine of holiness is full of such hope as mentioned above. Too often however, I'm afraid it is married to some post-gospel legalism that leaves us wanting.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

I don't have to possess her, to love her.

I remember like it was yesterday the afternoon when my wife and I--with our four year old and eight year old--stepped away from the embraces of family and other loved ones who were as close as family, and began our journey to live beyond the sea. Arriving at our apartment in Kyiv, Ukraine, we quickly took a vital tool out of it's box. It was a clunky, early edition FAX machine.

Not many years before that, snail mail was the only communication option besides hyper-priced overseas telephone calls. We were thrilled that we could place a freshly typed letter onto the moving wheel, and watch the machine swallow it. And to know that simultaneously, in my childhood home on the other side of the world, a copy would roll out for my mother (or into other homes of friends from our first and current church) to read and share. Hi tech it was indeed.

Just now I arrived home from a hospital visit in Indianapolis. My wife glowed a smile as she told me of her conversation with our exchange student daughter who had safely arrived home. I sat on our couch, punched up our skype program and dialed. Soon I was looking face to face with this dear girl. Her beautiful sister and mother looked on and shared our greetings. Shamelessly we shared "I love you's."

Funny, I thought, I'm not sure we ever spoke these words before our airport separation. But they are real and true now, and we all know it.

My weeping has stopped (for the most part). I am content that she is with her family. She is safe and well. I don't have to possess her, in order to love her. Probably some wisdom in that line for all of us.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

"Exchange" Daughter and The Pains of Love

I have often been afforded the agonizing honor of sharing in the last hours of a person's life. I've written about these moments before, but my grief this morning is of a different nature.

Just an hour ago, my wife and I left behind our "daughter for a year" at the airport. I haven't sobbed so much since a dear friend died a few years back. My heart is crushed. Making her scrambled eggs one last time, carrying her luggage to the car, and driving her down the hill (as I did so many mornings on the way to school or one of the many activities she was involved in) carried such a sense of finality. She is ours no longer.

I remember the first week she was here I introduced her to someone as my "daughter for the year." She looked me in the eyes with her determined gaze and responded, "I will be your daughter forever."

No, I am not her father, and she has a wonderful man she calls Dad waiting to welcome her home. And no, she is not my blood daughter. I have one of those that I treasure beyond what any words can say. But as I sobbed my good-byes this morning--as I let go of her at the airport security line--my heart broke as I never thought it could.

Koba Sivsivadze, oo vas yest chudesnee dochka! (You have a wonderful daughter!) But it has been my honor to care for her for the past year. Thank you for trusting our family to watch over her. She will change her world in everything she does, as she has changed ours in this little town in Indiana.

And I hope you don't mind me saying, while understanding my lesser role, Gvantsa will also be my daughter, forever.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A divided Church, purity or pride?

We hear a great deal about sustainability these days. More and more, I find myself questioning the sustainability of the Western church's trajectory.

Can we churches continue to split-hairs and divide ourselves one from another in order to distinguish ourselves as the most Jesus-like or the coolest? How long can we compete with one another on the grounds of having "better worship," "stronger teaching" or "purer doctrine?" Must we--like a centrifuge--continually throw to the fringes everything that cannot cling to some enigmatic standard or another? Must we purify ourselves of other sincere Christ seekers and followers?

Is this sustainable? Are we all straining at gnats and swallowing camels (insisting on our own peculiar standards, and ignoring Christ's call for unity)? Surely this is not what Jesus meant by, "I pray that they may one..." Is it not time for humility and unity?

We have developed rules to follow and items to believe which define for us the true followers. So who is it that has the best set of beliefs? Are all the rest of us lost?

Thank God, Jesus did not lift the standard so high when asking disciples to follow him. "Follow me" was all he required. His followers didn't even believe he was the Messiah at first! (And then only when God's Spirit revealed it--not a clever emotional sermon followed by a "sinner's prayer.")

I'd guess on judgment day he'll trash most of us and welcome the wise few?

No? You don't believe that?

Question: Then why not swallow our pride and unite with others who are on this journey of following the ONE?

Answer: Because Jesus alone isn't enough for us anymore. And that being true, beneath what banner could we possibly agree to bow?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Changing Chapters: A Community Garden is born

When I read a book, I enjoy short chapters. The chapters in my book The Runaway Pastor are too long for me. I like to read for a few seconds and knock one off. I like changing chapters because it gives me a sense of progress.

Changing chapters in real life can be more difficult.

A friend's status on facebook today: "Listening to my baby boy cry himself to sleep about moving away from his best friend. These are the moments you wish you could shield your kids from, heart break." A chapter is changing for this family--moving from seminary to their first job in a new church. And with all the dreams of making life better in the world, tonight their decision has broken their boy's heart.

I've made several of those cry yourself to sleep decisions for my family. And while they began as exciting looks into a better world, they included painful leavings behind.

But this week, there is a chapter change that is exciting...even exilarating for me.

Last winter I dreamed of a community garden at our church. We have all of this property, and we use it so little. There is hunger in our community, as well as many frustrated gardeners due to a lack of sun in our forest-living. But as many pastors can tell you, dreams are a dime a dozen, and often go by the wayside soon enough.

Thanks to the determined efforts of a couple who shared my dream, and those whom they have inspired; last night I wheel-barrowed my way through tilled soil. I (before gladly being replaced by a friend, then a friend with a tractor) was beginning the process of adding tons of donated composted amendments to the soil. I looked in front of me and saw a dream come true.

I arrived at the office early this morning and drove my jeep to the garden site, and just stared and smiled. In that soil, dozens of us will sweat. There will be frustrating weeds and blights and cut fingers. There will be stings and failed crops and ignored patches. But a page has turned. There will be new friends made--more than 2/3 of our gardeners are from outside of the church. The local soup kitchen will receive huge quantities of fresh, nutrient rich vegetables. And in one more new way, the stuff our church "owns," will be multiplied for those who need it. Kind of sounds biblical!

Take a look at our facebook page. Join if you want!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Hope is Growing

As our church prepares to plow up our soil to serve as a community garden, I'm dreaming of kingdom come. Check out this site .

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Wind of God

I've been thinking this week about the roaring wind at Pentecost. If you aren't familiar with the reference, here is a summary. When Jesus' followers (called disciples) were filled with the Holy Spirit (God's Spirit), it was on the day of Pentecost (a Hebrew Holiday). They were in a room together, when they heard a mighty-rushing wind. So I've been thinking about that.

I think of Genesis 2:7, when the creation story shows Adam, the first man, being made alive by the breath of God.

I think of Jesus (John 3) telling a skeptical, yet interested religious leader about how God's presence is like the wind. You can never tell where it is coming from or where it is going.

I think of Jesus (John 20:19-23) appearing to the disciples after his resurrection. They are all afraid and hiding. They have betrayed him and failed him and watched him die. (Yes, they feel like losers!) He shows up in the room and says "Peace!" Yeah, right. But he says it again and then he breaths on them. Then he tells them that people will be forgiven according to the level that the disciples forgive people. (That's the witnessing part, and I like it. Witnessing according to Jesus here is not making them an offer of, "If you will do this,God will do this." His version here is more that we are to be the present forgiveness of God. But I digress.

So then on the day when God shows up (Acts 2) to move into his new home (surrendered people who love him), there's wind. Sounds like God breathing life into his witnesses.

Taken a deep breath of God's Spirit lately?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Runaway hasn't Runaway

I know my postings have been few and far between for a while. Part of that is due to a busy schedule, many days out of town and plain old fatigue. I'd also have to admit that some of the complacency here is due to a lack of direction about what to write. It happens.

I enjoyed the foray into writing about prayer, and I'm still enjoying the new frontiers in that practice. However, it seems time to move on to something else.

So let me just let you know, if you all haven't jumped ship (I haven't even checked my analytics account to watch traffic in more than a month.), I'll try to get going again soon.

I am enjoying lots of feedback on my book, THE RUNAWAY PASTOR. Thanks for that, and for spreading the word about its message. Perhaps later this year, I will get back to the places that would like a signing party, and other promotion opportunities.

Peace to you, if you are there. :)

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Choosing prayer for all we're worth.

I think it is time I begin another theme or direction here. It was fun working with the idea of prayer as something that we avoid, even when we want to pursue it. Maybe fun isn't the word. Either way, it seems to me that prayer is tough work, and because of this truth, we often choose to avoid it. If we do what we enjoy and succeed at, then we also tend to avoid those things that make us feel inadequate.

So where does that leave us? What is your take on it? Do you avoid prayer for all you are worth? Or are you growing in prayer?

If I can take a paragraph or so to summarize, I think the beginning place that is most vital is the attitude of humility. Jesus said the pure in heart will see God, and humility seems the best route toward such purity. Following this, I mentioned a need for a place of prayer. No one seems to struggle with that. I think the practice of repeating prayers, especially the Jesus Prayer, the Lord's Prayer, and others is a practice that will help one deepen their prayer life. The use of a prayer rope is a tool that reminds us to pray, and that we are praying while we are in process.

The past several posts have come from this stream of thinking. I hope they have challenged at least someone to be more intentional about time in prayer.

This weekend I travel to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, where my entire family and I plan to hike to Mt. LeConte and stay at the historic lodge on top. On Saturday, I will awaken on top of the world as I begin the celebration of my birthday. I'll try and post some pix here for you to enjoy this journey into the clouds.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Avoiding prayer for all we're worth: A six year old could do it.

I was with an old college buddy of mine this week and he told me a great story of a nighttime prayer with his grandson. The six year old prayed: "God would you make it so everyone does what I want?" And as his papa was leaving his room, the boy looked up from his bed smiling, and said: "I sure hope he answers that one!"

How often do we pray in order to ask for some blessing? Some have lists of things they are asking for. At other times, we pray in the crisis--"O God help!" Both of these prayers--asking for blessings and for help in troubled times--are proper praying. In these prayers we give direction to God. Bless this, help that, or send this or care for that.

But this week I've been thinking about another kind of prayer. In Acts 10 and 11, there is a telling and re-telling of a story. Simon Peter was praying, and so was a Roman soldier. And as they were praying, they received direction from God!

I am trying to learn to pray long and sincerely, without asking for anything but transformation. And I'm finding that often such transformation comes when I'm ready to obey in new ways.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Avoiding prayer for all worth: The Mystery Factor

I want to write a bit about mystery, and more specifically about God as mystery. Many of us dislike any sense of uncertainty or mystery when it comes to God. We want to be able to describe his ways perfectly. It is expected that with enough Bible Studies under our belt, we can move beyond mystery and into knowledge or certainty. People come to me asking very difficult theological questions, assuming that if one has studied long and hard enough, he can live beyond mystery--that she can give exacting answers to the most difficult of questions.

We want a definable God with definable ways.

Sorry to burst the bubble, but I'm afraid we don't have one of those.

When Abraham was called by God, he was invited to go to a place that he did not know. Abraham was invited into mysterious living. His calling wasn't to what he could see or understand, but into obedience in places and time when God would seem to make no sense. His marriage, his fatherhood, his role as an uncle and patriarch were in all ways confusing. Read his story in Genesis 12 and following, and tell me you think he perceived God as anything but mysterious.

But when we pray, we want to get right down to the facts. We will tell God how things are and then define the appropriate divine response. "Lord, you know so and so has these problems, and we ask you to take them away." We assume God will solve problems exactly as we imagine.

So when I repeat prayers in order to center myself in God's presence, those prayers are not of my own writing. They are however, very much from my heart and will. I pray, "Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me." for long periods of time, and then I come to the place where I feel comfortable switching to "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on ___________." And in the blank I insert a person or situation or church or whatever.

In our western way of thinking, if we are not independent to pray what we want and how we want, then our prayers are not authentic. I disagree.

Often in our evangelical protestant way of thinking, if prayers are memorized, they must be only empty ritual. Again I disagree. And I do so because I believe that God is mystery, "his paths beyond searching out." And my task in prayer is not to instruct him, but to humbly place myself before in the prayer above. Or as in the "Lord's Prayer," with its phrase: "Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."


(Over the past couple of weeks I have been silent here. Our family lost a dear loved one, and we spent most of two weeks in California. I apologize for the lack of attention to this site, however, obviously my heart and attentions were rightly placed elsewhere.)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Avoiding prayer for all we're worth: Tools Part 3

In my pocket I carry a very small circle of yarn. It has been tied into knots all the way around. I can't tell where the beginning or end is, except that in the midst of the knots is a tiny wooden carving. And if you look closely, you can see the carving is a cross. I'm describing a prayer rope. There are prayer ropes with many more knots, or some with beads that many people call "prayer beads," "worry beads" or a rosary.

And by now, many of you are shocked and dismayed. "These are the tools of the superstitious, not Christians!" (I can hear it now, because it is exactly what I used to believe.) But I am going to ask you to hang with me for a moment. Because I am learning to use my prayer rope. I have been on and off now for a few years.

I don't use my prayer rope to count my prayers, but to keep me attentive to them. In Part 2 of this series, I introduced the use of centering prayers. Each time I begin the prayer again, I move to a new knot, again, not to count, but to notice that I am starting over. Because when you pray a prayer for an hour or so, or even for several minutes, it is easy to begin to drift in your thoughts. (Remember the introduction to this series--"Avoiding prayer for all we're worth." Here I admitted that I have trouble focusing for more than a few minutes. Thus, the tools are what I use to remedy this.) And so the feel of the knots brings my attention back if it has wondered during the previous prayer. And, each time I come around to the cross, I take a moment to pray a brief "Glory to you, Lord, glory to you."

My prayer rope helps me get in sync with my praying, but you probably don't have one. So here's a tool to see if this can help. (Not as good as the rope, but a start.) Touch your thumb to your pointer finger and say your first prayer. Then, move to your middle finger, your ring finger and little finger. You have completed a ssequence of prayers. Now start over.

Next time, I'll share a few more prayers I use for centering. In the meantime, I'd love to hear from you about these things.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Avoiding prayer for all we're worth: Tools Part 2

WHY do we struggle to pray, and keep our mind focused?
We are so limited. God, the One with whom we try to relate in prayer, is so unlimited. That is why humility is a great place to start when praying.

In our limitedness, we prefer speaking to that which will respond. Other people can communicate with us in the simplest ways. We say words, they say words. We are even able to communicate with pets to some extent. Funny, we receive more of the response we desire when we speak in a huge empty room, and hear our own voice come echoing back at us. But what we desire (a verbal response to our praying) is not what we receive when we practice prayer.

Speaking to God can feel like speaking into a vacuum. And with the lack of audible feedback, it is tempting to move on to something else that we can do. We take different approaches to our short-lived prayers: At best, we assume prayer is only one way--me talking to God--and so we often practice one way communication. At worst, we fear we have failed in what others seem to accomplish with ease. And failure is a poor motivator for continued effort, so we despair and cease trying.

New paths to prayer
And so this is where the tools come in. In this post, I'll introduce the practice of repeating a simple centering prayer.

Let me deal first with your fears. The idea of repeating a prayer raises red flags with some of you. It sounds like a disobediance of Jesus' warning not to us vain repititions. And you should indeed hear and heed that warning. He is not interested in your mindless, empty repititions. However, remember we begin praying in humility. And a humble heart does not hope to manipulate God with some stream of meaningless words. I repeat prayers every day of my life. There are some I pray each morning and evening--for instance the "Lord's Prayer," (called the "Our Father" by some). And even though I pray it several times a day, each time I seek to draw my heart's sincere attention to praying His words.

Many of you will agree with all I've said, but not like the word "centering" at all! I don't like it much either, but I don't have a better one right now. Maybe you can offer one?

This kind of prayer is a memorized, short and repeated prayer used to focus your heart and attention on God. The Lord's Prayer can be employed in this way.

I'd like to ask you to practice using this tool. If you know the Lord's Prayer or the Jesus Prayer, try spending five or even ten minutes repeating one of them. Here is a version of the first if you do not have it memorized.

Our Father in Heaven, Holy is your name. May your Kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For yours is the Kingdom, and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.

And the second is one used by many needy people who approached Jesus: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me." (Some add the words "a sinner" to the end of this prayer.) As I pray this prayer, in order to keep it "real," I will occasionally drop and add some words, as I go along. After you have quieted your mind into this prayer, you can also begin changing the "me" to the name of a person or situation or church...or whatever you are praying for. Just keep yourself humble in the process.

Keep these things in mind!
-This is not a race to try and say the words quickly. Your goal is to desire the prayer to be true.
-Your mind will wonder, if so, gently bring your attention back to the text and begin again. The more you practice, the easier this will become.
-Don't be dismayed if you struggle at first. With practice you will come near to God, and sense the ability to remain in him.

Paul tells us to "pray without ceasing." Do you? This tool will help you move in this direction--in God's direction.

Next time: a tool used by millions, distrusted or hated by many, but helpful to me.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Avoiding prayer for all we're worth: Tools Part 1

At the end of the last post, I promised that I would share some prayer tools with you. Because I find it hard to pray for more than a few seconds without losing focus, I have gone searching for these tools. Most people won't comment here, but I here via email and word of mouth that I am not alone in this struggle. And so, I will spend my next few posts striving to give you a few simple ideas and tools that may help you to pray.

(I believe that the best praying happens when we are together, praying as the church. I won't tackle that here, but will refer to it when I write about prayer books.)

For this first entry, I'll speak about place, posture/position and disposition.

We need a place to pray where we can feel alone and uninhibited. We need to have a prayer place. Jesus spoke of "going to your closet" to pray. No matter the fancy definitions of "closet" we may read, the point is that we must have a private place to go and pray. I can't find that for you. You'll need to work on that. Examples might be a garage, a separate room in the house or at work. When my children were young, I used to sit in the room with them with my head under a blanket. They knew to leave me alone when I "went" there.

I find that the posture, or position I take when I pray is important. I do not have any one single posture that I employ. However, I find that my body position is important. Why? We are not merely "spiritual" creatures. We are physical. God is saving us body and soul. There are times when I pray in my bed (the Psalmist speaks of this). There are times I kneel with my face up, and other times when my face is to the floor. There are times when I stand with my arms held in a receiving position, and other times when I sit quietly, with my hands cupped or folded on my lap.

These will make more sense when I go further into these elementary lessons.

So the first tools that I can give you, are to find a place and experiment with posture. I believe you will find it natural to know when to kneel, or sit or stand.

Perhaps it is even more important to speak of disposition. There is nothing more important in the process of prayer than humility. Think of effective prayers in scripture--when people pleaded with Jesus--and you will be thinking of humble entreaties. The thief on the cross, the woman with the issue of blood, the blind man beside the road, the father who's son was thrown into fires by demons, the synagogue ruler who's daughter was at home dying--then dead. Desperate humility typifies those who pray effectively. We too must have God's blessing, and we pray best when we humbly seek it.

Hopefully tomorrow I'll have time to write some more specific prayer tools. If not then, I will in the next few days. I am excited to share some stuff that is really helping me. Today, I enjoyed a few hours of prayer. He is worthy of our pursuit!

Peace to you.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Avoiding prayer for all we're worth.

Have you ever tried to pray for more than a few moments? I know, for most people on this journey the answer is "yes." Yet often when we face the daunting silence of prayer, I fear we step away. We are probably convinced that the old saying is truly wise: "Don't just sit there. Do something!"

I am seeking to spend more time in praying. This has meant for me longer times of prayer. Here are the challenges I meet: Silence, a racing mind, and that incessant need to be busy doing. And because of these, I often avoid prayer for all I'm worth. And I become worth-less as a result.

Entering into quiet is frightening. Turning off all electronic forms of distraction leaves our souls feeling not only alone, but naked--exposed. And it is for this very reason that periods of silence are important to us. We need to see what is exposed. Is it loneliness? Is it fear? Is it anger? Is it resentment? Is it lust? What surfaces when you get quiet?

A Racing Mind
I don't like failure. And when I pray and my mind leaves the prayer behind and focuses on something else, it maddens me. It humiliates me. This causes me to believe that I simply am "not cut-out" to pray. That it is a gift that others can enjoy, rather than a skill that must be honed.

I'm learning to sit with my busy brain. When it wonders away, I pull it back to my prayer. And yes, I do this over and over and over again. I want to find my heart (what the Eastern Church calls the "nous"). And the longer I practice this corralling of my busy mind, the more I tame my soul.

That Incessant Need to Be Busy
I never have my "to do list" finished. I rarely get close. There are always more meetings to schedule and hold, more people to go and encourage and more studying to do for future teaching, etc. And so it is extremely difficult for me to still myself for the purpose of prayer. It is hard to stop and be present with God.

Prayer is a decision to step away from busy-ness. And while it is not practiced for the purpose of making us more effective in our work, it will do just that. When we sacrifice our busy-ness and choose prayer, we sharpen our soul which I will define here as our mind (our ability to think), our will (ability to make choices), and our emotions (our ability to feel).

I am discovering that the use of prayer tools can be helpful. I will write about them next time. Peace to you as you seek to honor the Lord of Holy Week.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A gushy Lenten love note

In the last couple of weeks I have been challenged on several levels. First, to intensify my prayer life. I've also been pushed on the subject of humility and service for the sake of Jesus. And, I have found myself drawn deeper into a passionate love for Jesus. Yep, there it is.

I'm not speaking of a passion for the "good teacher" Jesus, or the "spiritual master" Jesus, or the "friend of the lowly" Jesus. And I'm not talking about a passion to do more Kingdom work, although such passions are worthy of our best efforts. I'm talking about a passionate love for Jesus himself. Like my love for my wife, or my children or my grandchild, or mother or sisters, etc.--I have been drawn back into the feeling of love for Jesus. I have not been here for a while (I am sorry to confess).

Spending time with someone, telling them you love them, and sacrificing for that love will do this for you. Action for the benefit of the loved one will draw love from your heart. Like a dried old leather saddle, my soul has come alive with the renewing oil of God's nearness. And something in me must say very clearly, that I love Jesus.

I know this is a more sappy post than you are used to here, but this writer is a bit more sappy these days. I've caught myself weeping as I read of Him, or as I sing on Sunday morning. Just plain old sentimental love for Him.

Now I know--and I have taught over and over--that "love" is not a feeling, but a commitment. Well pardon my Lenten blubbering here, but sometimes the feeling of love can be pretty intoxicating and even necessary. I'd hate to have done my thirty-plus years of marriage so far with a love that was strictly cognitive. There is something about passion and feeling that is necessary glue in such a relationship.

And so, with the Psalmist I am confessing, "I love you O Lord, my rock and my redeemer."

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Experience first the darkness: Lent is moving toward its aweful, awesome ending.

In this blog, I am inviting you and anyone you can find that is willing to share here, just how you spend the last week of Lent--Holy Week. I find sharing traditions to be a good thing, and an encouraging thing. In order to comment, just click comment at the bottom of this posting, and write a comment in the box. You don't have to have a google account. Just choose another option, and post your thoughts. So here are some of my thoughts. You can be more brief, or longer if you like.

This week has been a time of ramping-up preparations for next week--Holy Week on the Christian Calendar. We are preparing our Thursday evening service and Good Friday services, which basically are just long readings of Luke's passion narrative. Our sanctuary is dark and bleak. The cross is dominant up front, and the lights are kept low. On Thursday, we will receive communion and read about Christ's last supper. On Friday, the sanctuary will be draped with black cloths, as will the cross. We will read of Christ's arrest, trials, crucifixion and death. By the last reading, every light and candle in the sanctuary is out except for the "Christ Candle." The candle that represents to us his presence from Christmas until next Advent, is extinguished at the end of the service. (This of course, is not Jesus' actual presence, but rather it is our weekly reminder that when we gather, he is in our midst.) All is dark, as is our world with no Christ.
We leave in silence.

Then on Easter Sunday morning, we will begin outside (weather permitting) and walk symbolically around the building on our journey to the tomb of Christ. We will read of his burial and of the women walking to the tomb which will be represented again by the sanctuary. The doors will be opened as we arrive, and we will hear the incredible words: "Our Lord is Risen!" We will respond, as we do each year (if I'm not to choked and fighting tears) with, "He is risen indeed!"

The drama and darkness of Lent will succumb once again to the bright hope of Easter Sunday morning!

I learned long ago that the joy of Easter is little more than candy eggs and new clothes if we don't intentionally discipline ourselves to experience first the darkness.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

An Unexpected Welcome: Retreating at Catholic retreat sites.

A gentle, smiling group gathers for simple fare at lunchtime. They have just completed noon prayers. Scriptures have been meditated upon, Psalms have been read and sung, and you have been prayed for. Yes you.

I've made it a habit to spend some time away with cloistered communities throughout my sojourn. I've visited them in deserts, mountains, in the sweltering south and in the Midwest. Each time, whether a community of nuns or priests, I find myself surrounded by welcome and peace. My spirit is invited to rest and pray.

In my book, The Runaway Pastor, the lead character visits a Catholic monastery for a time of prayer and reflection. The reason I chose not to mention a protestant one? I don't know of any. We don't have a similar long-standing monastic tradition. I encourage people of my congregation to go to such Catholic retreat facilities because there is no comparable place to go and pray within my tradition.

I've had a few critiques about this. "There are protestant campgrounds and retreat sites that welcome people to go on retreats," they say. "Why not go there?" And they are right, these places exist. But they are not the same. What one experiences in these cloistered communities I speak of is an atmosphere which has known continuous praying for the world and singing of the Psalms throughout the cycle of hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades and sometimes centuries or more. Prayer isn't retreated to for these people. It is their atmosphere...the air they breathe. This is the kind of holy place they share with us.

Yesterday for only two hours, I sat, shared stories, prayed and ate lunch with a Catholic sister whom I've known for twenty four years. Today is her eightieth birthday. Sixty seven of her years have been spent in community praying daily. And while she ventured out to teach school, serve in soup kitchens, jails, homeless shelters or as a speaker in retreat settings for literally thousands over the years; this sister has operated out of the strength drawn from roots deep in prayer and scripture--deep in God's presence. And yesterday, I enjoyed that place of peace and strength, and began a few days of vacation with prayer as my starting place.

You may not be aware of these places around you. Such communities are in countrysides and cities. And the people who find their home there work hard like you and I do. But they also have espoused themselves to prayer in community. And when they pray, they pray for you and your world. I would not want to see the world without such leaven.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

End of the one week TV fast...blah

Well, yesterday marked the end of my week without TV. There isn't really much to report. How about you? I kept up with news online. I had to change a habit or two when entering rooms. But at the end of the week yesterday afternoon, I realized I wasn't jonesing to turn it on. In fact, I haven't yet.

I think the big deal is that I have no show that I watch every week. I'm never home consistently in the evenings when those are on. I do enjoy travel channel, discovery, Explorer etc., but I guess it was an easy experiment/fast for me.

About six of you told me you'd join in. How'd it go?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Lenten reflections, part way through...

Here are some of my thoughts as we stand four Sundays from Easter, and as we approach the halfway point of Lent.

I'm finding a purer self--a less pretentious presence. These are days of frustrating humility, but deeper peace and stronger confidence. There is more a sense of being able to do whatever is needed, and less discouragement midst the little hassles.

These are quieter days. And I am quieter within myself. I am stronger in the face of all temptations (not just the temptations I've brought upon myself by saying I wouldn't participate in things I usually consider routine). I've gained a bit of self-assurance that I can do all things through Christ. I'm not saying that I'm superman, but I'm stronger in this weakness.

I understand the need for self-discipline and want to remember this place, and not fear coming here more often. There are a couple of things I've set aside for this season which I may leave aside. Others I will pick up with a new understanding of their insidious ability to become idols/addictions.

I'm a grateful follower of the way of Jesus. And this Lenten journey has carried sweet suffering.

This is why I wrote The Runaway Pastor

My favorite amazon review yet. Maybe it is self-serving that I post this, but this review hits the exact reason I wrote The Runaway Pastor in the first place. Thanks for indulging me, and please, find a copy of the book and for your pastor's sake, read it. And if you are a pastor, well, please remember that you are not almighty. Here is the review:

5.0 out of 5 stars Runaway Pastor, March 4, 2010
Runaway Pastor is barely fiction! There is so much reality, so much bare naked truth, and so much raw life in it that it blurs the lines. At times, I vacillated between feeling comforted by the fact that someone else knows my plight and understands my heart... or embarrassed to think that someone has been peering into my deep dark secret places! I have served as a pastor for 20+ years and the last few years have taken an unspeakable toll on my health, both emotional and physical... on my mind, both mental and spiritual... and on my relationships, both in and out of ministry. Just over a year ago, my wife and I nearly crashed and burned. Were it not for the arms of God and a few well-placed friends acting as His hands, we would not be in ministry any longer. We would not be fulfilling our life calling. I never ran... probably because the creative access panel of my mind had been scorched and I merely wasn't clever enough any longer to plot my escape.

Please, read this book. Layman or minister... read it and wake up to the realization that we are in grave danger every day that we deny our vulnerability and our need to care for ourselves first. Bless God for working through you, David Hayes. Bless God.

Friday, March 5, 2010

And how would you like your pain? Now, or later?

Yesterday afternoon, I sat in the dentist's chair thinking philosophically. "Why do I like myself so much better now, than I do three weeks from now?" And what I mean by that, is this:

I knew, after consulting with the dentist, I had an unpleasant procedure (not a huge deal) that needed to be scheduled. Something in the way the guy looked at me made me think he might offer to do it right then! And inside, I thought, "No! Let's schedule this later!" (Actually, yesterday would have been a great time to do this. My day wasn't heavily scheduled. But I didn't want the pain now, it needed to be later!)

We never want the pain NOW.

So I thought to myself, IF I could have my way, I'd choose to not pay my bills until later. I'd choose not to exercise until later. I'd choose not to read to my children or grandchildren, or for my own growth until later. I'd choose not to work at my diet until later. I'd choose not to cook until later. (And I would go out to eat NOW. I would put it on a credit card and pay later.) Later!

We never want our pain or effort NOW.

We know that discipline is something we need. We know we need it today. But the steps involved:
-writing a budget and staying with it, and paying for what I can afford when I buy it;
-saying NO to myself about that cookie or fa(s)t food foray;
-quitting that debilitating addiction;
-reading a book or taking quiet time instead of vegging in front of the television;
these things are just painful, and require effort!

So we postpone our pain until LATER. After we lose our health and damage that of those around us due to poor eating habits; after we've abused our friends by stealing their money or robbing their medicine cabinet to get our next fix; after the collectors have set up residence in our answering machines and after we've abused our friend's trust because they know they won't get paid back for last year's "little loan;" and after it's too late to teach our children to read, or our soul to be still... Later please.

So, while I sat in the dentist chair I asked: "Can we do this now?" He responded by tilting his head and saying, "Afraid we can't get you in right now. You'll have to schedule with the front desk." And I did. April 1st--April Fool's Day will be my day to hurt a little. And next April, and the next and the next--if all goes as planned--my tooth shouldn't be hurting when I chew on an apple.

I heard lots about repentance when I was a kid. I thought it meant that you said you were sorry. That is the beginning of it. But real repentance means to be sorry enough to change. And that is something we'd prefer to do later.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Help me grow this community, or How to be a more active participant.

My "hits," or visits at this site have gone up over the past few months. Readers come from all of the United States, and provinces of Canada; and readers also visit from three to four dozen countries on six continents. I'm humbled and honored by this. Here's how you can help me to build this online home:

It REALLY helps when you leave comments after a post. By doing that, you help me create the community I want this to become, and you help others feel less nervous about commenting. (You DO know that I don't get paid for this, don't you?) And hey, if you have trouble remembering your password to leave a comment, may I suggest you just place your info in a word processing file? This isn't high security stuff, so keep it simple and save it to a file where you can find it. Or you can just make an anonymous comment anytime.

Also, when you check an impression box at the bottom of a post, it shows signs of life. Not even 1% of you do that, and it only requires a click! Try and remember if you would.

It is extremely helpful when you sign-on as a "follower." It lets us see who hangs out here, and again, not many of you have done that. It isn't really very hard to do. You get a google i.d. and go from there. I'd love to see you jump in with this step.

Finally, the thing that makes this work more easily is the "feed." See the orange button on a white background with the word "Posts" (and the one below with "All Comments") next to it? It is just below the search box. If you click on that and then on a service you use online, you can find out every time there is a new post here. Then you remember to visit, read the post, click an opinion box and start or join the discussion by writing a comment.

That's how this thing ties together. Use the "feed," read the post, click an opinion, leave a comment, and watch for more discussion.

By the way, I added a new feature to the blog yesterday. The search feature on the top right hand side is pretty cool! Google provides it free, but it allows my blog to be searched using keywords. I noticed that if the word "hiking" is entered for instance, several posts from the past couple of years pop up. Maybe it will help you in the future.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Deep Silence: Dumping TV for a week.

Our medical society is stymied as to why so many of U.S. Americans are stressed or depressed, and thus suffering from diseases that result from these two conditions. I have a decent history with stress and depression myself. No, I'm not proud of that; but it is reality. Why, in this age with so many tools and conveniences at our fingertips, do we never seem to escape the ravages of hurry and worry?

Here are a couple of guesses.

We don't know how to be still. Instead of utilizing dishwashers, laundry equipment, cell phones, computers, automobiles, and every other imaginable piece of time-saving gadgetry to our advantage, we use them to pack more into our living. We don't work hard and wisely with our tools in order to be done at a decent time and go home to our loved ones and relax. We work hard in order to get more gadgets and impress people with the toys and with the moniker of "busy." (People are impressed with busy people. Busy people are impressed with busy people.)

But happy people usually know better.

I have to believe that another source of our hassled existence is our non-stop media connection. Radio, iPod, email, facebook, myspace and TV are incredible tools. I also think they are deep pools of insanity. We lose ourselves in their jumble. We are addicts. (Do NOT try and tell me you aren't. If you do, I'll challenge you dump them for a couple of months and see how you react--most likely as a junkie without his fix, or an alcoholic without her bottle or a fish without its water. You'll say: There's no way I can go without it, its part of my job! I have to connect there or I'll get left behind!" Or, "I could turn them off any time I want, I just don't need to. In Barbara Brown Taylor's words from a few articles back, we see perceive our addictions as power tools. Not problems.

And indeed, they should be. Until we smear our needs and desires all over their glistening surfaces.

I'm relearning how to sit still; to be still and know that God is God, as a wise writer once said. Perhaps, it is better to say: Be still and know that our business and our busy tools are not God.

I read Jerry Mander's book Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television back in the early '80s. I just checked it out on Amazon, and it is still a highly rated title. It is not a religious approach to the question of media. It is not even all that much about television. But it is a mighty presentation (even if written from a bit of a Luddite perspective) of the way we as a human race are separating ourselves from natural (and I would add spiritual) moorings, and are paying a heavy, heavy price.

I'm trying to grow up and be a big boy. I'm trying to put away childish things. I'm thinking of dumping my dependence upon television. Radio has been a great first step. But, but, but....! No, I can get the news from my laptop. I can keep up with the weather there too.

OK, I said it here first. No TV for a week for me. But, I love the news!!!!, Nope. You can ask me how I'm doing. You game?

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Healing? Prayer? Real?

If I had another life to live, I might try to master mathematics so that I could study string and super-string physics. Reading around the edges of texts from these disciplines--as if reading a foreign language--I catch glimpses of tantalizing theories. Most fascinating of these are suggestions of interface between psycho-spiritual and space/time realities. I don't even know how to describe these adequately.

This week I thought about spiritual healing and the unexplained sense of a need to pray for someone, and how these things can happen over great physical distance. For instance: Have you ever heard of the parent who wakes in the night and just knows she needs to pray for her child--only to discover later that this was the exact moment of a crisis in the child's life? Have you ever been telephoned by a friend or relative, and before the phone rang, you picked it up to call them (and there was no obvious reason for the desire to call?) Have you known of someone that has been prayed for and then healed of a disease from which they should not have recovered? My answer to all of these questions is--"Yes."

How do these things happen?

Funny, it is not hard for me to believe that I can punch some buttons on my cell phone and speak with someone on the other side of the world. I can't explain how. I believe I can tune a radio in my car and listen to any sort of music or talk from distant cities. There are messages surrounding and saturating each of us as we look at this screen, and given the right tool, we can "tune" into them.

So why is it difficult to believe that I can pray (or care about or wish) for your well-being across miles or continental borders, and for you to be impacted physically? Can we truly "reach out and touch?"

Since I was a child, I've been taught to pray. I've been taught that I can speak to God and benefit another person or situation on the other side of the planet (i.e. praying for missionaries). But this feels somehow like a real stretch. I mean, effecting you from thousands of miles away is impossible, right? Why? Why can my phone vibrate in my pocket as a result of you calling me from far away, and I consider it commonplace? Why can I send this message into the wireless atmosphere of my living room, and feel it makes sense? How do I believe the television picture in front of me is simplistic--after it has been yanked from a satellite by a tiny dish on my roof?

Sometimes I think too much. But equally true is that sometimes I think we have very little faith in all things spiritual.

If you are interested in some research about the effect of prayer and well-wishing upon those in a distant place, check out the work of Elizabeth Targ. She is a bit controversial, and certainly doesn't intend to prove anything Christian. However, she has done some research that is tantalizing. I'll post a few of them for you.

No time to edit here, so hope there aren't too many uglies in my typing.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The nagging voice of temptation: A lenten story.

The glow of Sunday gatherings and joys had not yet faded late that evening. One of our newer attenders had written a response to the service on Sunday morning that her Lenten journey was very difficult, and had already produced fruits of joy. She has a background that would make you weep, and is no less a miracle witnessing to Jesus' touch than any person delivered by him in scripture stories. She text messaged me with a desperate request: "How do I respond to my [neighbor] who sent me this message?"

Her well meaning Christian friend had told her that she should not follow a Lenten fast. That her church didn't do that because it is only a tradition of men. Christ has set us free from those things, she said. She continued by saying that her church follows the Holy Spirit and his leading instead. And that they fast periodically only as he instructs them as individuals.

The hurting woman from my church (who is plagued by self-doubt and feelings of failure) was already well down the path of deciding that the blessing and gifts she was receiving via her fast were artificial. That it wasn't God blessing her. That our church was not Christian.

I asked her to tell her friend that we are trying as a church to obey a call I sensed for us as a congregation to pray and fast together. I want her to tell this sister of ours thank you for the concern, and to ask her to pray for us as we seek to become more sensitive to God's voice.

Yet in the back of my head there is an echo of a voice long ago that pursued our lord in the desert saying, "IF you are the son of God..."

How often do we in the church condemn other traditions, and belittle their attempts at following the only wise and eternal One? How often are we the voice of the devil?

And even as I condemn the judgmental ways of another, am I practicing the vice?

Lord have mercy.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Must Read Article by Barbara Brown Taylor

I read an article this week which impacted me wonderfully. It also largely shaped my teaching this week. Barbara Brown Taylor is an Episcopalian priest, and a thoughtful and thought provoking author. I recently mentioned her heart-wrenching book Leaving Church at this blog.

An excellent introduction to the season of Lent, and its purposes, this article--Settling for Less is a thought provoking challenge to truly experience Lent. I invite you to read it by clicking here.

Let me know what you think.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

About The Runaway Pastor and BREAKERS

Just before The Runaway Pastor was published and released, I had been making chapters of another novel--BREAKERS--available here. Once The Runaway Pastor was released, my attention turned to its promotion. At least for the first month or so.

I'd like to share a bit about BREAKERS (BREAKERS is only a "working title." It could change at any time.) This is a project I've been toying with for about eight or nine years. I used to give myself the week between Christmas and New Years to write. And BREAKERS was one of the first things I began. This was long before I ever thought of being a "writer." I just wanted to play with some thoughts and questions that were playing in my mind. Those thoughts still rent space in my head. In fact, they are even more prominent than when I began writing them.

So, those of you who were following along with the development of BREAKERS, don't think that it has forever been put away. I've had it on a side burner, so to speak. But it is beginning to receive some time here and there as I write about walls between the church and the world, or proper boundaries between those "unequally yoked."

In the meantime, I continue to receive encouraging words and sales reports from The Runaway Pastor. Report after report are demonstrating that people are beginning to understand better the conflicts and trials often faced by pastors. I know of one small group that has passed it around until nearly everyone has read it. A recent review suggests hosting a discussion group centered around the book and support of their pastor.

Keep your reviews, comments and spreading the news via word of mouth going. I continue to hear words of encouragement from people in "the book industry" saying they believe Runaway may just take off.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Update on The Runaway Pastor

I've had several comments about my book--The Runaway Pastor--lately from emails, facebook or just conversations when I'm out and around. I want to say thank you again for all of the encouraging remarks. It is also great to hear stories of people picking up copies at their local bookstores. And if you live within a few hours of my home in Brown County, Indiana, and think a book signing might work in your area, then feel free to contact me and we'll work something out!

I'd also like to remind you that word of mouth is the best marketing tool I have for the book, especially with no budget for marketing. Here is a great new review posted yesterday on (And if you have not yet done so, your honest reviews on Amazon--or elsewhere!--would be wonderful.)

This book will make you look at your pastor differently -- with a much deeper understanding of the routine pressures they all face on a regular basis. It's amazing that more don't run away from their ministry! The story is compelling and very fast-paced. It might seem odd to say for a book about a minister, but this is a real page turner and you will want to read all the way to the end to see how it turns out. The story centers on a very successful young minister who becomes more and more disillusioned about his transformation into a CEO, rather than someone who ministers to the needs of his flock. I'm sure pastors will see a lot of themselves in the story -- but hopefully will find a better way to deal with those pressures than the protagonist. Maybe reading this book will help some pastors, and their parishioners, to take steps to alleviate the stress before it overwhelms them. The book would make a really good study and discussion starter for church-based reading groups.

Thank you again for being patient with me as I occasionally post a mention of the book. I guess that's why I started this blog in the first place!

Peace to you.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Journeys and fasts and coming alive: What are you giving up for Lent this year?

I remember the first step onto the trail. It was odd--the three of us being taken from a beautiful home in the mountains, and dumped into a low-grade campsite next to a mountain lake. We "hiked" all of fifty yards before setting up our tents, and hanging our bear bags in neighboring trees. We made a campfire, had a snack and then turned in. There was a lot of hiking to do tomorrow.

The next morning we headed around the lake and up the side of a mountain. We were one hundred miles from our target destination. For the next three days, we saw no toilet, bed, shower, faucet, computer, TV, or A/C. During that time we had no cell service to receive calls or text messages. We filtered water which we drank by the gallon, and heated to prepare our coffee and dehydrated food. We washed with alcohol swabs, and slept on the ground with only a tent and sleeping bag between us and the cold nights and earth.

As we began the steep climb I wanted to quit. I knew I'd fail. I wondered if we'd be safe. I doubted myself completely. I knew it was more comfortable back home. I began to sweat and ache and stink. Why in the world was I here?

On the second evening, after a day during which we logged twenty mountain trail miles, my back ached from my pack's weight, and my feet bled from blistering. But I felt the sprouting of joy in my soul. I could do this. I was up to the rigors. I began to believe I could accomplish difficult things. My mind began to clear and my writing was alive and creative. The stuff that usually occupied me as I sought the maximum comfort in life, was nowhere in sight. I was alive...not hungry or sore or lonely or deprived!

In the years since that that hike, I have looked back on it with such longing. Those were some of the best days of my life. I long to spend time on that trail once again. Why? Because it was cushy and easy? No. Because everything that makes life easy was stripped away...and I was alive.

Lent is coming. This is your chance to fast something you heavily depend on. Something that comforts you. Something you love. Something that makes you think you are alive when you are enjoying it. Next Wednesday is the day. February 17.

What are you giving up for Lent this year?

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Mud-hiking into the snow

I took time before my last meetings of Thursday to do a quick hike in the hills. Mud sucked at the heels of my boots. A valley lake was blanketed in ice-turned-mush. If I hadn't watched the weather reports, I would have thought spring was beginning its thaw.

Yesterday, my day off, I made it two days in a row in the woods. The thermometer had not yet succumbed to the freezing mark. Having forgotten my trekking poles, I searched the sides of the trail until within the first mile, I'd found two downed branches--perfectly flexible and tough at the same time. My gloves soon soaked through with the snow and rain that saturated them.

I had layered well, and the rain proof outer layer worked perfectly...excepting my boots, which needed another coat of water-proofing. So I walked through a mixture of wet snow and rain, the dark sky unable to make up its mind. My toes were damp, but I decided to ignore them. The boots were warm, and my spirits were warming.

I'm beginning to think I need to be in the hills everyday, even though that is impossible. Time spent there multiplies the effectiveness of my working hours, and the pleasure of my day off. A friend once told me that our physical stress levels should match our mental ones. That makes a lot of sense, and explains why so many teach exercise as a stress reducer.

While meandering in and out of valleys and up the sides of slick hills, I sense a stillness I rarely enjoy. The world was still, and yesterday--with a storm imminent--even the skittering squirrels must have been hunkered-down. I took a couple of opportunities to stop in trail-side shelters to pause in their dryness. I found myself fighting guilt for just enjoying the view. Then I settled further into the gift of the hike and took it all in, relishing a gift that only I was opening.

When I arrived at the trail yesterday, I was in a foul mood. I should be ashamed, but must admit my self-pity. I'd forgotten my poles, the rain was steady and the snow that had already accumulated on yesterday's mud was--well, it wasn't all that inviting. But after a few gurgling streams, and allowing myself the arrival tantrum, I was able to smile--glad that you could not see me, and realizing that the ONE who did see me, still loved and embraced me in that place.

It took longer than normal to cover the distance I walked yesterday. I stood and watched rain turn to snow and snow to rain, allowing it to drip off of my hat and into my eyes. And I asked God to wash them of the selfishness that resents difficulty.

This week I've read A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life, by Donald Miller. And last night I started (and this afternoon should finish) Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron. Both of these are instructing me about various aspects of my very blessed life...and how I can make my story a little less selfish and a lot more meaningful to others.

Today I will read, work on my Sunday teaching, handle an administrative task or two and call on a few hurting people. And sometime this afternoon, I hope to put on my boots (that dried by the fire last night and now have a fresh coat of water proofing), and head into the much deeper snow, covering a much colder earth. I hope to listen to the places where tiny streams have not yet submitted to the freeze. I plan to sit down by the lake and see if the snow is mush on the surface, or if the water has refrozen and supports the white blanket just as the earth around it. I will revel in the snow clinging on dark branches that define the horizon in every direction. And I hope in some way the ONE who sees me and knows me, will prepare me to be a better shepherd for the people I love and spend my life with. (I have some pix from the hike if you care to see.)

Grace and peace to you.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Could you do without your pastor for a few months?

This post is about your pastor's need for an occasional extended leave. Some call these sabbaticals, and some call them renewal programs. What they are not is vacation. Clergy sabbaticals or renewal programs are a commonplace practice for many denominations or local churches. However, for many people who have pastors, it seems unrealistic at best or ridiculous at worst that a pastor would even desire such a thing. It takes nerve, I know, for me to write this post and then post it. In fact, if you are reading here, but aren't reading these words, then I didn't post it! [An attempt at humor.]

One reason I am able to write this, is that the leadership of the church where I pastor has granted me permission to work with them on a sabbatical scholarship proposal. By doing so, I assume they already agree with much of what is below. However, if any of them are reading here, I believe this article could help to inform them in regards to the reasons and benefits of sabbatical or renewal.

I am reading a book entitled Clergy Renewal, (Bullock/Bruesehoff--published by The Alban Institute). There is an enlightening outline in the forward. It answers the following question: Why should a congregational lay leader want their pastor to experience a regular renewal leave? The recommendation in this book is for a three months sabbatical leave once every four years. Here is a brief synopsis of the reasons given:

1) "The very nature of being a pastor involves continual spiritual growth. Spiritual growth does not happen by accident; it takes hard, intentional work. Basically it is a lifelong process involved in big chunks of time set aside for reading, prayer, solitude and reflection....Trying to do this while working between forty-five and fifty-five hours each week is nearly impossible." [I'm sorry, but I find it laughable to suggest those are sufficient hours to accomplish what must be done to keep a job in least from my perspective. I've been told quite clearly, and found it to be true, that anything less than sixty-five--and often ten to fifteen more--hours per week will put you on the unemployment line. And these hours can't include time spent in reading, prayer, solitude or reflection. I think one reason people fail to see the rigors of a pastor's life, is they cannot understand the rigors of constant reading, prayer, solitude and reflection in their own lives. And these cannot be times spent studying for next week's lesson, training session or sermon. They must be times of being in the Presence--for the sake of that Presence alone.]

2) This item deals with the need for clergy to get away to see how other congregations are adapting to changing times.

3) "Without such renewal leave, there is a stronger chance that clergy will, over time, demonstrate the key characteristics of burnout--namely, exhaustion, cynicism, disillusionment, and self-deprecation. It has been documented that people in the helping professions tend to burn-out the fastest, in part because the constant intimate involvement with the emotional freight of other people's lives can be draining. Burned-out clergy are much more likely to leave parish ministry, or seek another call, in order to get out of a place that is wringing them dry. Should that happen, the congregation will, in turn, likely experience a twelve to eighteen month search process of another pastor. If the search committee makes the wrong choice, the congregation will end up with a pastor who is unable to bring new life to the congregation. In fact, it may cost them several years of decline--not to mention a severance package! ...Every pastoral turnover costs a congregation years of progress. Sabbatical leave helps avoid such situations." [Wow, it saddened me to see this discussion end with only the ramifications for the congregation. I can tell you from personal experience that being exhausted, cynical, disillusioned, and self-deprecating--years on end--is not a good way to live. And, when pastors leave for another local church (when they could continue on where they are if they had a leave) they are not fixing a problem, they are just masking the symptoms. Plus, their family is yanked out of yet another home town in order to feel the temporary relief of assignment change. I understand this is a list for why lay leaders would care, but most lay leaders desire to care for their pastor (and his or her family) while also caring for their congregation.]

4) "Another lethal effect of burnout is that it makes a pastor dull, hollow, and uninteresting. ...Clergy vitality is the greatest asset in building up a congregation....The paradox of congregational ministry for clergy is that they are constantly invited to overextend--there is always someone they should have called or to whom they should have given attention--but doing so can torpedo the vitality that drives their ministry. Renewal can be a powerful antidote to this kind of debilitating burnout." [Again, I'd add from the pastor's perspective that being "dull, hollow and uninteresting" is not enjoyable.]

5) "The Pastoral role generally involves long, hard hours without weekends off, or even the occasional long weekend. Pastors are rarely afforded the luxury of having two consecutive days off...every weekend involves a major output of energy on Sunday. Friday and Saturday are often consumed by sermon preparation, wedding rehearsals and weddings, and so forth. Congregations too often assume that clergy can remain vital and healthy and maintain a sound family life with only one day off per week..." [And I add here, that I was taught early on in my ministry, that a day off is a myth. That I shouldn't aspire to one. Although I have tried to make it a reality, a day off is basically impossible for a tired mind that keeps thinking of one more let's get back to the authors] "This is a crazy norm. We don't know where it comes from, but it permeates every denomination on this continent. When you add up the time off clergy miss that most lay people take for granted, it becomes clear that a three month renewal leave every four years is a reasonable proposal that helps make up for that loss."

6) This final item deals with how congregations can become overly dependent upon clergy, and sabbaticals can provide opportunity for congregations to step-up.

I hope you will consider these things. Perhaps you will want to share this post with some friends who might help you lead the way for your pastor to be given a sabbatical or renewal leave.

Please feel free to comment on this, or email me. I know this is sensitive. But in a country where pastors are leaving the ministry by more than a thousand per month, and churches are closing their doors for the last time every day...we might not want to assume anything.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

No Wounds? No Scars?

I've been reading Three Cups of Tea, The New Friars and am just beginning sub-merge. These stir a deep part of me that I'm not sure I can even identify. But this post will be an attempt to do so.

In his introduction to sub-merge, John Hayes (no relation to me), speaks of this younger generation as "...increasingly disenchanted with a faith life that peaks on Sundays and wrestles the remainder of the week in a spiritual crawl space....I sense that they do not want to attend church services that confuse worship and entertainment, joy and enjoy."

I concur.

The past decade has provided me a unique opportunity to know several college and post-college Christian young people. I find them to be refreshingly radical in their outlooks and restless in their faith expressions. These are the reasons I relate to them.

Yet, I don't see this pain shared by young Christians alone. There is a radical nature in the call of Jesus that causes all sincere followers to expect adventure. I wasn't motivated to be a Christian so that I could have a cozy place to hole up on weekends. I wasn't called into ministry in order to make a living doing what I loved. My call was to make a living that mattered--to risk my life for the good of my fellow man and the planet--to introduce with my living the very reign of God.

The above mentioned books are records of risky living. They are stories--one after another--of young people going out into real and scary parts of the world, and experiencing real and scary risk. These are stories of heroes. These are stories of Jesus-meets the things that scare us most through regular ordinary people sold-out to his cause. These are the kinds of stories that drew me to faith, and that cause me to stay in it.

These stories, however, not only make me restless; they make me sad. They convict me and force me to face my safe and comfortable life. They force me to consider just how little like Jesus I have been in my expression of his reign and love. They make me understand just how little taking up my cross and following him I've done in my life.

We in North America (and "Western civilization" in general) live in a time of mega-churches and shrinking numbers of people going to church. We live in a day when following Jesus means you risk only being seen as smug, or as a prude. We will follow Jesus into the Christian bookstore, or with a fish on the back of our SUV. But we rarely fear for our health or our life or the safety or our children because of the Name. Perhaps that is why our faith is disrespected, banal, weak and bordering on being entirely useless?

Consider the radical challenge of the last lines of Amy Carmichael's poem:
No Scar?.
No wound? No scar?
Yet, as the Master shall the servant be,
And pierced are the feet that follow Me.
But thine are whole; can he have followed far
Who hast no wound or scar?

And this leads me to another couple of books. If you know of a pastor like Trent in my book, The Runaway Pastor, then you probably know one with bigger dreams than arranging for your entertainment and enjoyment on Sundays. There are a growing number of pastors who signed up to have the boldness of a firefighter or a Navy Seal, and have found themselves never risking a broken nail... They are leaving churches in percentages even more shocking than American Christians. You can read another one of their stories in Leaving Church a book by Barbara Brown Taylor. I've read it with tears of understanding, and it's on my nightstand again.