Sunday, December 3, 2017

Travelers, a brief announcement

Over the loudspeaker at the airport you might hear, Your attention please, Flight 312 arriving from Amsterdam will no longer be arriving at Gate 30, but will now be arriving at Gate 33. I repeat, Flight 312 from Amsterdam will now be arriving at Gate 33.

This type of announcement is expected, common, borderline mundane if you are familiar with airline travel. For a vast number of reasons, gates get changed, we are not typically told why on the ground, but we are basically told, Move! You are in the wrong spot. Your expected guest is arriving somewhere different than where you thought. This sort of announcement at the airport is strictly informational and not meant to startle or surprise or incite a riot or change the world. It simply tells family and friends that there expected travelers will be showing up at a particular time and particular location and it has changed. Go over there and they will meet you at the end of the hallway. Stay here and you are going to miss them.

Sort of like Jesus? You know the whole world was waiting for Jesus. At least the whole world that we study in Scripture. That whole world in scripture is Isreal and they were waiting for the Messiah. Waiting for a gate change. I imagine they were waiting for someone like David, or someone from a past war. Maybe a prophet like Elijah or Elisha. Maybe they were waiting for Moses.

A baby? Not a baby. In Bethlehem? Not in Bethlehem. In a Virgin's Womb? Beyond imaginable. Way beyond a simple gate change.

As the Tobacco Trail Church prepares to celebrate Christmas, we might start with this announcement over the loudspeaker at the airport:

The angel Gabriel has the mic, and says to Mary (I guess she represents the friends and family who wait at the wrong gate), Do not fear, Mary, you shall conceive and bear a son and give him the name Jesus. Great will be his dignity and he will be called Son of the Most High... Lk. 1

There were others at Gate 30, moving toward Gate 33. You and I, we are like shepherds, bumbling down a path, traveling from Gate 30 to Gate 33 in hopes that we will see him.

I'm not so sure the world sees Jesus very clearly these days. What he came for. How he came to declare peace among the nations. How he came to disarm rather than to mobilize. He did come to inspire our work and our rest and our families and our calls. He did come so that we might praise him and his father through his spirit. And when I say the world doesn't see him very clearly, that's not some other guy or gal I'm referring to, that's me, a Shepherd in this story. That's you, one of the Maji. That's your cousin, who plays Joseph in the play. That's some person from high school who wronged you, you think she is your enemy, but she's really just one of the angels making a difficult announcement. Telling the world something difficult to chew on. It will be a baby. It will show up in a nowhere nothing place like Bethlehem. The baby grew in Mary's womb. Who's Mary? We say. Right, nobody you've ever heard of.

We think we've figured out who everybody is in any story, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Let's be honest, I or you are the good guy. The other guy is Herod. No the other guy is just the innkeeper, trying to take care of his family. He didn't know he was denying the savior of the world a warm bed.

I want to see Jesus more clearly. I want to be more generous with my neighbors. I want to do these things this December thanks to this particular announcement, that He's coming and will be called Son of the Most High. I want to find him along a long and winding road to Bethlehem and at the end of it. I want to see him in a manger along with others stars in the creation drama, the creation musical. Those stars, seen by you and me, the intruding paparazzi, trying to catch a glimpse and a fame-filled photo that we can hold onto and share with others, those stars will be lowing cattle, and sheep, always sheep, maybe a donkey, three camels with kings who come to lie down, bow down, before the King.

I want to start with a walk today and begin to imagine seeing all these things. Accepting the announcement, waiting for the traveler, and then living with the truth. Let's take a walk.

*reflection before an Advent Walk on the American Tobacco Trail, December 3, 2017, the first Sunday in Advent.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Friends Are So Important...

My father has been saying this for as long as I can remember. Yesterday I was flooded with reminders of how important these words are for living a full life. I went for a run and then headed to the Open Eye for a cup'a'joe. Walking in with me was Zu on a conference call, but still chatting with me and Goofus. Goofus, the good doctor of Carrboro, was sharing the paper with me and we waxed on as we often do about how to live life to its fullest. Goofus is a seeker like me, always learning from others' prayer practices and their music and how they are able to achieve a sense of being in such a cluttered and busy world. Goofus asked for a quote for the day on the way out and I hunted through an important book for a quote just for him by Agnes de Mille said/wrote: To dance is to be out of yourself. Larger, more beautiful, more powerful. This is power, it is glory on earth and it is yours for the taking.

Then, there was Tom, waiting for our friend, Kerndog, so they could bounce around some ideas about publishing and public relations. I married Tom and his wife in May thanks to a referral from another friend, Gumbi. Then, in walks Squonk with my new Sport Slippers--a Squonk patent. These are retired shoes that have now been turned into casual slippers by cutting out the back heel. They are the perfect fit and we are now in negotiations with China and many running shoe companies in terms of marketing options for this cool new product.

Friends are so important. They are taking care of you and hopefully they let you take care of them. There is no right way to be friends. We all have different gifts to give and we all need to receive various gifts over the course of our lives. I believe that God surrounds us with just the right sort of people to nurture us into who we are meant to be. That even includes folks we would not consider our friends, but that is another story for another day.

For today, look around, who do you count among your friends? This may tell more about you than your resume or your own account of who you are and what you are about. It's not about the number of friends. This is not about acquaintances and it is not about popularity. You may have lots of close friends and that's great. You are probably an extrovert and can manage all those folk, but whether it is two or 200, your friends tell the story of your life. My mother never needs more than a couple of really close friends, same goes for my wife, but their friends speak of them as if life does not work so well without them.

If we were to look around at the most unhappy folks in the world they feel as if they have no one. No one to look out for them and care for them. If they died, no one would notice for a long time if ever. If you feel this way--do something about it today. Join a small group at church. Attend an AA meeting even if you are not an alcoholic. Find a group run and go every week. Sign up for a book club. Loneliness is a real emotion, but the human heart cannot sustain it for too long. We need other people and guess what...other people need you.

drafted 10/21/09

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Five Poetic Breaths (5/5)


A covenant to forgive
beginning with one's own self
Having mercy on one another
tolerating the frailty and the inconsistency
allowing the other to take a step away first to the side, then possibly
and not rushing the inevitable step forward back toward a semblance of what 
was once held in common or held in difference

Tolerating the shadow in the other
choosing not to resist the dark place how ever much yours resembles my own dark corners of existence

We ventured into friendship with commonality that now has welled up as something we might just fear and attempt to escape
because it is too much an echo and mirror of our own turmoil

We did not simply enter this union based on shared joy.

There are times when your creative funnel flows faster than my own and I have a choice:
jealousy and rift
joy and shared accomplishment

The best of friendship is that
once heard
try being unheard

Friday, November 24, 2017

Five Poetic Breaths (4/5)


I never really knew any one like I once knew a canine
I anticipated her needs
She needed
     more pets
She needed

in such a full and unabashed way all the things
that every human being needs

When it was her time to die
she walked, better, stumbled in her geriatric and tumor-laden condition,
toward it with no fear

She embodied what we hope for humans
a great life
an even better death
They are not so different
One does not even really exist

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Five Poetic Breaths (3/5)


to let go for this flow
allowing tasks, decisions
to pass
without you at the center of the solution
identified by your ability to fix and be healer of all

this letting go is to embody a restful posture in an un-rested world

this is a great discipline
safe security is found in the supposed pleasing of others where you
have become all toil, anxiety, and resentment
checking items off on a list that goes on without end
and brings no solace to you or others in your midst

chasing after the doing in such a way
that the other soul could more clearly lay poultice to their own wounded heart
but it doesn't
your scurrying does not actually please them despite their demand for it

the supervisor who acknowledges first your self-care is rare indeed
considered soft and vulnerable

but you cannot be determined by the other
that is but a mere deflection of your own difficult yet necessary choosing

a finding fault with that which you cannot control or the other who you spend time blaming

you must keep your work until the current is strong enough to float you out
do not sabotage it
but do not be a slave to your work or those who ask you to do it a particular way

you must make each decision in a manner that emboldens your work or else it is no work at all

schedule the rest and discipline it by your own need and then work will thrive
more so than if you had never paused to inhale deeply and partake of oxygen rich air

constant exhalation is just barely alive
you must rest and then resume

it does not come in a whole day set apart
sometimes it is simply a breath, a pause, a passing by to let someone else determine this outcome

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Five Poetic Breaths (2/5)


When he took to the hill
he carried the memory and anticipation of a high up and lonely homily
he was prepared to speak and listen only to the birds if they alone constituted his company

it was almost time when he sat in a teaching posture

The followers sweated in their own ascension
did they chose
or were they chosen
they were here now
atop the mountain with him seated and lest we forget the birds

the others stayed below
resting out of exhaustion or fear of what lay high up in the clouds
too much to see and hear
voices they were not ready to bear
would they ever be ready?

Long before, only one ascended, well, one and a helper went to the mountaintop
but now all were welcome
and few accompanied in a slow trickle behind

Once he sat, they knew to climb
then he uttered and pedagogy poured forth

flowed like a river
They couldn't catch up to the all of it
But they saw the movement, that's what mattered
Not taking it all in, but seeing this dynamic
the motion
They tasted a spoonful
the full flow would have drowned them
consumed them
actually destroyed them

He called them seasoning and flavor
He called them illumination
And light must be seen, not snuffed out.

Taught and heard on more than a score
of course they did not take it all in
but only saw the word move by and then hoped they would catch up to even one talking point
somewhere around the bend
would the river loop back on them

How would they be seen bright and flavored?
So many ways
The lighthouse pictured at the link above has me thinking about searching for the light. It has me thinking about the light that Jesus refers to in the Sermon on the Mount.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Five Poetic Breaths (1/5)


Alone seems like a good idea
in theory
a carving out
 from others
Space and time and distance
 to decompress
  and re-inflate

But not to him.

is utter despair
at this stage
in this flow
to be alone
is to be damned
utterly without

When does this transform
When will solitude be a welcome respite?

Not today
likely, not tomorrow

But one day, not so far down the road
Alone will be welcomed, embraced, even sought
Today, though, the world has forsaken him.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Prayer for Connective Tissue

I am praying for my cartilage
and I am not ashamed

why should I be
it hurts
and I want it to get better

I don't understand if, or how it will heal
but I pray for it, nonetheless.

I want to run again
of pain

I want to walk up and down steps and not try to absorb the shock with a lighter step.

I want to press confidently into the earth and trust my body from head to toe.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

What’s Going On

The ultimate starting question for the preacher
What is God doing here and now in the world?
What is going on here? Wherever here may be in your context.

Marvin Gaye captured it in 1970 wondering what was going on in the world as he saw and cried out for it. The Funk Brothers helped, even on bass from the floor of studio a.

Brothers killing brothers
Only a love that can snuff out hate

There is little understanding here today, what's going on, in 2017
Who is ISIS? I don’t know.
Can I trust Russia or China? I don’t know.
Is the Commander in Chief really my president or yours? I don’t know.

What’s going on?

Tuesday, November 14, 2017


Today I had an epiphany. In fact, a few.
I had put off my own writing assignment for 167 hours. What a hack! I gave eight students a simple assignment to complete and I could not do it myself for nearly a completed week. Only in the 11th hour, really the 167th hour, a full week late, I made myself try. The hour was drawing near and I knew I could not ask them to share on what I would not do myself.
So I stepped out:
Breathe for 10
Write for 15
Reflect quietly and give thanks for 5.

No wonder this 30 minutes was so difficult, so frightening. I had a storm of creativity that followed. I felt free and hopeful in ways I had not felt in months, maybe years. I had been waiting for a breakthrough and here it was as I dragged myself out of bed and on the way to the Divinity School. My nose was so very swollen and there was a tightening of my chest as mucus exploded up and down the shaft. I felt like shit. Praise God, I had not had a cold in many months, but to have one again in November was frightening and made me wonder if this would become my next sinus infection. Yet all of this virus (God I hoped, and not a bacteria) was no excuse for my delay on a simple writing assignment that I had assigned. I didn’t get sick until last Thursday evening so what was my excuse for not writing on Tuesday or Wednesday or Thursday of last week. I just did not want to sit down and write. My life has felt bleak, without direction, without friends, with family that ought to make me feel jubilant and that I don’t feel jubilant 24-7…that just makes me feel guilty. Why can’t I go back to sales and just make some damn money. Be good. Mary Oliver says I do not have to be good. Well, good, because I’m not.

But my pity party had to end. Thank God I procrastinated on my writing, my completion of my own assignment, and waited for the time to be God’s time.

If you don’t know what to do, just wait longer.
It may not be success in a next second world, but it might mean epiphany.
At least every once in a while.

Thursday, October 26, 2017


I watched and cheered yesterday as my eldest son had enormous success as a runner. I can't run these days. I am in a season of healing, at best, a season of limping at worst, while I deal with a painful injury to the cartilage and tissue behind my right knee cap.

He, my eldest son, has not been running much this Fall. He maybe runs once or twice a week with his mother. Usually finds an excuse not to get out there on the roads and trails. We don't argue about it much. He has school and soccer and more importantly, I don't want to fight about something as joyful as running. If you don't want to get out and train, don't. I want to get out and train, but this is not about my running, or lack thereof.

He looked effortless and smooth through until after the finish line. He was breathing hard, but his stride never fell apart. Clearly, an Autumn as a midfielder making crosses and square passes works for some cross country racing. He came to find me quickly after the race for the breakdown of how it went and what I thought. That a 14 year old will still give me a post race hug is about as good as parenting gets.

Sons want to share athletic successes with their fathers. I wanted to do the same. Talk to my dad right after. Or if he wasn't present, give him the long version, the play-by-play.

He's my hero. Running well on, well, very little running.

I want to have headphones in and do a track workout to this tune -- My Hero by the Foo Fighters.