Bearing witness

This has been a brutally hard month for me.  I’m not going to get into the reasonsit wouldn’t serve anyone to do thatbut the result, unfortunately, was not that I rose to the occasion.  Instead, I relapsed into a pattern of escape behavior.

That’s a distinction I learned last spring from a colleague here in northern Indiana.  Talking with a group of fellow pastors and our wives, he noted that we will inevitably have times when we are stressed beyond what we can bear.  That’s true of many people these days, but it’s universally true in pastoral ministryit’s just the nature of the work.  When those times come, he told us, we have two choices:  withdrawal and escape.

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Coming up for air

This was a rough month.  I haven’t posted because, for a variety of reasons, I’ve barely been on my computer.  The main exception to that has been time spent writing funeral services, as I had three this month (though I didn’t have the lead role in all of them).  I’ve had little energy to write anything else.

It’s not really over; I still need to do what I can to care for and support those who are grieving.  I hope there won’t be any more funerals for a while, but I can’t count on that.  Even so, I’m starting to feel my energy returning for the tasks I laid aside this month, including writing.  New Year’s is a fitting time to restart the engine.

2015 was an annus horribilis for me, but for all that, I’ve seen God’s hand at work.  Here’s hoping for gentler blessings this year.  Happy New Year, everybody.


Photo © 2007 Whit Welles.  License:  Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported.

Enter the phoenix

This site replaces two blogs—my personal blog, The Spyglass, and my sermon blog, Of a SundayThe Spyglass went dormant about five years ago, and the sermon blog went silent when I left the church I had been serving for seven years.  I’ve still been writing, it just hasn’t been posted anywhere.  I’ve still been collecting articles and ideas, I’ve just been storing them on Facebook or in Evernote.  It’s time to change that.

I won’t do all my writing here, because I’m working on a book on the Sermon on the Mount; I borrowed my working title for the title of this blog.  That project continues to be a priority for me, but it does have one great disadvantage:  that conversation is only with other books, which don’t talk back.  I’m looking forward to starting some conversations outside my own head.

In my previous blogging incarnation, I spent a lot of time writing about politics.  I expect to do so far less here.  The biggest reason I stopped posting five years ago wasn’t the birth of our fourth child, though the sleep deprivation that caused did play a part.  The biggest reason was that I lost hope in the American political process.  I didn’t have the energy to keep writing on politics, and I didn’t want to abruptly shift the focus of the blog, so (foolishly) I did nothing.  Starting over, I can let all of that go.

I have brought over all the posts from both blogs, though I’ve deleted a number of duplicates and near-duplicates.  The importation process mangled a lot of the formatting, however, and I haven’t cleaned it all up.  There were over 1900 posts imported (rather fewer now), and I may have fixed half of them.  If you happen upon a post for which the formatting is still a mess, please drop me a line through the contact page at the top of the site and I’ll try to get to it fairly soon.

I’m sure there will be more to fix, and more to tweak, but in this world, the search for perfection is often just a way to never get started, and it’s time to get started.  For now, I’ll leave the last word to the great Mark Heard.

Rise from the Ruins

There ain’t nobody asks to be born;
There ain’t nobody wishes to die.
Everybody whiles away the interim time
Sworn to rise from the ruins by and by.

The engines are droning with progress,
The pistons are pounding out time,
And it’s you and me caught in this juggernaut jaunt,
Left to rise from the ruins down the line.

We will roll like an old Chevrolet;
The road to ruin is something to see.
Hang on to the wheel,
For the highway to hell
Needs chauffeurs for the powers that be.

Go and tell all your friends and relations;
Go and say what ain’t easy to say.
Go and give them some hope
That we might rock this boat
And rise from the ruins one day.

Did you ever try to carry water in a basket?
Did you ever try to carry fire in your hand?
Did you ever try to take on the weight of the everyday freight
Til you find that you’re too weak to stand?

Why so pale and wan, fond lover?
Why so downcast and desperately sad?
We can walk, we can talk,
We ain’t yet pillars of salt,
We will rise from the ruins while we can.
We will rise from the ruins while we can.

Words and music:  Mark Heard
 © 1990 iDEoLA Records
From the album
Dry Bones Dance


Image:  Halloween Bird, © 2009 Ms. Phoenix.  License:  Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

Impertinent question of the month

When people find out my wife and I have just had a son after three daughters, most of the time we get some form of the same basic reaction: “Oh, so you kept trying until you had a boy, huh?” In a lot of cases, I suspect it’s people trying to make sense on their own terms of the fact that yes, we just intentionally had a fourth child—they can’t imagine themselves doing such a thing, except perhaps with some particular and significant provocation. In a sense, it’s not completely false; as it happens, we picked out a boy’s name years and years ago, and we rather felt that it would be sad if we never met the person to whom the name belonged. Aside from that, though, we would have been just as happy with a fourth girl. The gender isn’t the point.

I don’t want this to come across wrong, because I believe male/female differences are real and important and valuable; I believe the reality of our two sexes, and the deeper and more profound reality of gender of which our biological sexes are a concrete instantiation, matters more than we know. But my children are not abstractions, they are not generalities, they are not case studies—they are themselves. They are particular specific people, and the fact that three of them are girls and one is a boy is very much part of that, but it’s only part of who they are as whole people, and I wanted them for themselves.

Yes, they are created in the image of God, male and female, as are their mother and I; but that’s not all that defines them. They are creators and destroyers; they are accomplished sinners and saints in training; they are capable of genius and prone to folly; and so am I all of those things as well, and heaven help all of us as I try my best to do my part to raise them to be better and more faithful and more loving disciples and friends of Jesus than I am. Trying for a boy? No, as well say we were trying for a pianist (though judging by his infant fingers, we might have managed that); we were trying to welcome the child God intended to give us in trust, as his stewards, to raise in his name and for his glory, to join the others whom he had already given us in the same way. It’s not about us or what we want at all, it’s about him.

Though I will say, it’s nice to have a baby sleeping on my shoulder again.

Getting back on the horse

A couple days into October, I started having significant computer problems; I wound up having to get a new laptop, and what with one thing and another, it took a while—it was over a month before I had my new computer all set up and working the way I wanted. I did have computer access during that time, but it was somewhat limited, and so some things fell by the wayside. Including, obviously, this blog. Once I had the computer up and running, I should have gotten back to it, but I was completely out of the habit, and you know how busy November and December are for pastors . . . I do need to resume the discipline, however, and I’m finally stirring myself to do so. Keep at me. 🙂

An Observation on the Importance of Humility in Planning: With Special Direction to the Inadvisability of Premature Declarations of Victory

Yeah, the title’s very 17th-century, but I’m in a weird mood.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.

—James 4:13-17 (ESV)

Oh, well . . . I’m starting to feel better, and I think I’m actually rolling on writing again, so . . . praise God.

Up periscope

I thought I got a version of this posted a couple weeks ago . . . oh, well. For those who’ve wondered, no, nothing’s wrong; I just had a very busy July, then crashed the last week leading into vacation. I didn’t really have the energy to write over my week off, so I didn’t—actually, I didn’t do much on the computer at all last week. (That might be one of the reasons it was a restful week.) I’d intended to get back to writing earlier this week, but circumstances have not permitted; still, I have some things I’m working on. (That’s actually been part of the reason for my silence as well—I’ve been working on some longer pieces, and gotten rather bogged down.) The future is always contingent from our point of view, but it’s certainly my intent to get rolling again this week.

Planting trees in the blight

Over a decade ago now, as a seminary student, I made a foray into inner-city ministry at a street mission in Vancouver, BC’s Downtown Eastside. At that time, that neighborhood had the highest rates of drug addiction, HIV infection, and deaths from both of any neighborhood in the developed world. It was a grim place to be. My time there didn’t end all that well, for a variety of reasons—one of them being that I discovered I’m not well gifted for that area of ministry—but when I left, I left carrying many people in my heart. I still think about them, and pray for them, and wonder how many of them are still alive. (Given the odds, I doubt even half of them are, but I really don’t know.)

Now, apparently, there’s a massive development project going on right within the Downtown Eastside, putting in both high-end condos and good-quality affordable housing, combined with other efforts to turn the area around (such as cleaning up Oppenheimer Park, which boggles my mind); the National Post has one of its reporters living in one of the condos for a month, writing about the development and its effects on the neighborhood. It’s a fascinating series; I’ve linked to the oldest page of posts, and if you have a little time, I really encourage you to check it out and follow it up to his most recent pieces. It will be interesting to see how this story plays out over time; if this sort of project can bring meaningful renewal to a neighborhood like that—well, I wouldn’t have believed it possible.

Hmmm . . .

What was that again about “the best-laid plans of mice and men”? I was going to get last Sunday’s sermon posted on the sermon blog, and I had a couple posts I wanted to put up here—and instead, I discovered that Google has created some new and interesting template options for Blogger, and I wound up spending all my time playing with them. Well, tomorrow . . . Lord willing.