Sunday, December 28, 2008


We are headed off on a significant journey tomorrow.

We are going to the city 100 miles east of us to attend the birth of our tenth grandchild, a boy who will be born by C-section Tuesday at noon. He's our son and daughter-in-law's fourth son! Hooray, how exciting!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Mary, Did You Know?

The beautiful Christmas song “Mary, Did You Know?” was written by comedian Mark Lowry in 1984.

According to Lowry’s web site, linked here, his church asked him to write a play for Christmas. In writing the play, he wrote a series of questions that he would like to ask Mary, the mother of Jesus. These questions were later used in the church play as fillers between scenes.

Buddy Greene wrote music for the questions six years later, and the song became “a modern Christmas standard” that “has been recorded by more than thirty different artists including Michael English, Kathy Mattea, Kenny Rogers, Wynonna Judd, Billy Dean, Natalie Cole, Donnie Osmond and Clay Aiken.”

It is an unusual approach to the subject of Jesus’ birth; through the questions, we see it from the viewpoint of Mary. Often when we see things from a different perspective than we are accustomed to, it develops new meaning for us.

At this address on YouTube, you can hear the song sung by Lowry as a background to scenes from the life of Mary—and Jesus.

I pray that you will find great meaning in Jesus Christ this Christmas, and that you will understand in a new way how he was God’s perfect lamb.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Mystery Man--Angel?

A “mystery man” or “a good Samaritan” saved the life of a North Carolina woman, Shanena Martin, yesterday. She fell asleep at the wheel of her car and ran off Spencer Mountain Road near Ranlo, NC. Her car was wedged against a tree, half buried in brush and leaves. A woman who saw the wreck said Martin was trapped inside the smoldering car, appearing to be pinned by the dashboard.

A middle-aged man passing by stopped, assessed the situation, and managed to get the passenger door open. The witness said the man was “calm” and “focused.” He pulled Martin out of the car about 90 seconds before it burst into flames. Before anyone could get his name, he left, saying he had to get to work.

Todd Lewis, the Ranlo assistant fire chief, said Martin had a guardian angel watching over her. Does God send angels to protect us? I believe he does. And I believe he often arranges circumstances so calm, focused human beings are in the right spot at the time desperate help is needed. The Bible says those who love God and depend on him will “rest in the shadow of the Almighty,” and “he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.”

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Light Half-Believers

About a hundred and fifty years ago, Matthew Arnold wrote a poem called “The Scholar-Gypsy.” In the poem, he says we are "Light half-believers of our casual creeds."

Today, many of us are only light-weight half-believers, and we are casual about our beliefs. In fact, we often twist around the texts on which our beliefs are based—to suit ourselves and to make our lives more comfortable. If we adjust our creeds, we don’t have to suffer from guilty conscience.

I believe that is one of the main reasons membership in mainline church denominations has been shrinking in recent years. This shrinkage takes place mostly in physically comfortable places like America and Europe.

According to statistics, the Christian church is growing fastest in third-world areas like Africa and in places where it is dangerous to be a Christian, such as in China.

What does that say about us?

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Mary Oliver

I love the poetry of Mary Oliver; I have read several of her books, and so far, I love Red Bird best. She is seventy-three years old, and as she tells us in her poem “Self-Portrait,” she is “still in love with life. And still full of beans.” It’s true. In this book, there’s a melancholy I have not seen so much in the others I’ve read. But her love of nature seems deeper than ever, as well as her love and reverence for God.

To Mary Oliver, the precious creations of God are everywhere in nature. Here is her poem “Red Bird”:

Red bird came all winter

firing up the landscape

as nothing else could.

Of course I love the sparrows,

those dun-colored darlings,

so hungry and so many.

I am a God-fearing feeder of birds.

I know He has many children,

not all of them bold in spirit.

Still, for whatever reason—

perhaps because the winter is so long

and the sky so black-blue,

or perhaps because the heart narrows

as often as it opens—

I am grateful

that red bird comes all winter

firing up the landscape

as nothing else can do.

To read her poetry is to drink fresh spring water, to wade in the ocean, to experience the soul-deep colors of sunsets and bird feathers, to leap with deer and fly with geese. It is a celebration of life.

Oliver, Mary. Red Bird. Boston: Beacon, 2008.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


Last week I wrote about, more or less, the legalizing—or not—of various aspects of marriage, abortion, and homosexuality. A couple of days later, I saw a letter to the editor of our regional newspaper about homosexuality. While I’m in that mode, I decided, I will write about that—throw out some more opinions.

The letter, entitled “Understanding needed; homosexuality is not an abomination,” was written by H. Rudy Pace, a retired United Methodist pastor. He says, in part, that in the 48 years since his ordination, he has “seen the savagery of homophobia take its toll on many fine young people.”

Pace says “we live in a time now when there is no doubt that homosexuality is ‘who they are,’ not how they have ‘chosen’ to relate. The misunderstanding of the dark past persists . . . . many societies and religions continue to perpetuate the lie that homosexuality is an abomination.”

As a member of the United Methodist Church for almost 38 years, I have seen our international church almost split several times during its global conferences of recent years. The issue is homosexuality. I believe Pastor Pace is denying the truth of the Bible when he says religion perpetuates “the lie that homosexuality is an abomination.” In a way.

That would be examined.

What exactly is an abomination? Encarta lists these definitions:

1. something horrible—an object of intense disapproval or dislike

2. something shameful—something that is immoral, disgusting, or shameful

3. intense dislike—a feeling of intense dislike or disapproval toward somebody or something

Synonyms are outrage, disgrace, scandal, eyesore, atrocity, hatred, dislike, and repugnance.

Here are some of the things the Bible calls abominations:

shedding blood or using power to shed blood; creating idols; lying; killing animals in cruel ways; treating our parents with contempt; oppressing foreigners; mistreating or neglecting orphans and widows; committing adultery and unnatural sexual acts (and it lists a number of those, including involvement of family members and people of the same gender); cheating for financial gain; practicing sorcery and divination; consulting mediums and spiritists; and forgetting about him.

I would like for us to take note of something important here. All these things listed above—these abominations—are acts committed by people. No person is an abomination. He hates anything that separates us from him; that’s the abomination, the effect. And we commit many acts that separate us from him.

God loves all people, as the Bible says—over and over—with a love that is sufficient for all our needs, a love that can fill us with new life.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Matter of the Heart

This morning I heard a sermon that turned out to be a good explanation of how I feel about three important issues that cause great divisiveness in our nation: marriage, homosexuality, and abortion. Actually, the pastor was talking about divorce, but he touched on the “sanctity of marriage” and same-sex marriage. I generalized his words to include abortion. I happened to be a visitor at his church this morning.

Here’s what he said:

  • The Bible tells us to “Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's." That means we should obey our government’s laws.
  • We have separation of church and state.
  • The government cannot “sanctify” marriage. “Sanctify” means to set apart to be holy; only God through the church can do that. No law can do it.
  • Slightly more church-goers than non-church-goers get divorces. There is an obvious problem here.
  • The problem is the human heart. As Jeremiah wrote: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”
  • What we have to do is study scripture and pray and try to change one heart at a time. Only changing hearts will heal our land. Being legalistic and warlike won’t do it.

I have to agree with him.

Large numbers of Christians are almost waging war over these issues. My feelings about those things—and giving voice to those feelings—has brought pressure on me to conform during this Presidential campaign. I’ve had some trouble explaining adequately to my Christian folk who see differently. It's true that I’ve been a bit wishy-washy and unable to get a handle on things; however, I’ve been uncomfortable with the McCain-Palin (especially Palin) aggressive bashing of people who don’t agree. Also, I am uncomfortable with the Obama-Biden views of abortion.

Now I can put it into words, thanks to this morning’s pastor.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

John the Baptist

I’ve heard people say when they read the Bible, they often see something new in a passage they have already read a number of times. That happens to me, too. And sometimes it happens in a group—in this case, in the Disciple Bible Study I go to every week. We are studying John the Baptist, who was sent by God as a witness to the coming of Christ.

Last week, we read this passage, found in Luke 7:18-23:

John's followers told John everything that was being said about Jesus. So he sent two of them to ask the Lord, "Are you the one we should be looking for? Or must we wait for someone else?"

When these messengers came to Jesus, they said, "John the Baptist sent us to ask, `Are you the one we should be looking for? Or are we supposed to wait for someone else?' "

At that time Jesus was healing many people who were sick or in pain or were troubled by evil spirits, and he was giving sight to a lot of blind people. Jesus said to the messengers sent by John, "Go and tell John what you have seen and heard. Blind people are now able to see, and the lame can walk. People who have leprosy are being healed, and the deaf can now hear. The dead are raised to life, and the poor are hearing the good news. God will bless everyone who doesn't reject me because of what I do."

Notes in my NIV Life Application Study Bible say John was confused because he had been getting reports about the activities of Jesus that were “unexpected and incomplete.” I had always interpreted it this way. John was worried or was somehow having doubts.

But last Thursday night, our group discussion led to a new understanding. John sent some of his followers to ask questions of Jesus—to find out if he was the long-expected one. Why did he send two of his people? If he was truly worried, why wouldn’t he have gone himself to talk to Jesus?

John, we believe, never had doubts; he had known all his life. He knew that if he sent his followers into the presence of Jesus, they, too, would have this personal knowledge. And they would follow the path John had shown them, to dedicate themselves to Jesus—not to John.

John was the messenger, sent to show the way. And that’s what he was doing.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Bill Maher and Religulous

Through his new movie Religulous, Bill Maher claims to be doing God a favor, according to a story at this linked site. He says he is taking the pressure off God, who is always too busy.
According to a TV commercial I saw, Maher really “sets religion on its ear” with this movie.

Here are the ten rules he and director Larry Charles went by in making the movie. (They let us know that they stopped short of calling them Ten Commandments.)

1. Seek a guerrilla filmmaker.

2. Be honest about your past.

3. Seek memorable characters.

4. Steer clear of the 'exotic.'

5. Encourage controversy.

6. Don't skip politicians.

7. Be frugal.

8. Mock equally.

9. Use popular tunes.

10. Rely on the facts.

I probably won’t see this movie. Here’s my opinion: You can set religion and people “on their ear” all you want to, and even do a thorough job of it. But. You cannot play “gotcha” with God. Many people, Maher included, I suppose, think God is somehow so much a figment of people’s imagination—or so intertwined with people—that they can actually understand what might set God on his ear.

He is far beyond our understanding and above our plane of existence; he is the creator of the universe. He created light. And time. How could any tiny person begin to think he could pull a fast one on God? Amazing.

Well, I suppose it will draw attention to God, and maybe that will be good. If he wants to, God can make some very positive results come from the movie.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Astronaut's Diary from Columbia

Here is something only God could do:

When the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated during its re-entry on Feb. 1, 2003, seven crew members were killed. Only bits and pieces of the shuttle were recovered, mostly in east Texas, near Palestine. The shuttle was only minutes from landing in Houston when it came apart.

One of the seven victims was Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli astronaut. In a field near Palestine, thirty-seven pages of his diary were found, crumpled and wet, two months after the explosion. It has taken four years to restore and decipher most of the diary.

Two pages of it will be displayed in the Israeli Museum, beginning tomorrow. The rest of it contains much personal information, and it will be kept private, according to the wishes of Ramon’s widow. The part to be displayed has a Jewish prayer, “a blessing over wine that Jews recite on the Sabbath . . . . Ramon copied the prayer into his diary so he could recite it on the space shuttle and have the blessing broadcast to Earth.”

Consider the miracle that thirty-seven pieces of paper survived being exposed to the extremes of heat and cold during re-entry to the earth’s atmosphere. And then, it’s another miracle it lasted two months out in a field without being hopelessly scattered by wind, eaten by insects, or dissolved by rain.

Read the story at this linked Yahoo news site: Astronaut’s Diary Goes on Display in Jerusalem.

The picture is from Wikipedia.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Apples and Pears and Poems

Sometimes just to be silly, I call a poem a pome. I wrote the word in an e-mail to my brother a few days ago. He wrote back, “That’s not a word! You misspelled it.” He just thought I made a typo. I knew I’d heard it before, so I looked it up.

According to Merriam-Webster, the word pome refers to “a fleshy fruit (as an apple or pear) consisting of an outer thickened fleshy layer and a central core with usually five seeds enclosed in a capsule.” It comes to us from Middle English—pume, Anglo-French—pomme, and Latin—pomum. In French today, pomme is the word you’d use if you asked for an apple. A pomme de terre, apple of the earth, is a potato.

It is not surprising that the word has medieval roots. After all, nothing like that just comes popping up out of nowhere here in the twenty-first century. We often think we originate quite a number of things.

Now, if you think about it, a poem is not so different from an apple or a pear. It has a sweet, juicy central core and some seeds to plant.

The picture comes from Acclaim Photography web site.

Monday, September 08, 2008

An Old Prejudice

One night I came out of class late, the last to leave. I headed toward my car, which was waiting for me in the small parking lot across the street from our building on the edge of the community college campus.

As I locked the building, I noticed a fox ambling along, minding his own business, toward the center of the parking lot. He was just past the edge, going into the large circle of light cast by the sentry lamp. He was humming and chuckling in fox language as he thought of nothing in particular.

Then I saw on the other side of the parking lot’s circle of light, a skunk sauntering toward him, just as preoccupied with his own night-time errands, stopping now and then to study a cricket or a june bug on the pavement.

Suddenly they looked up and saw each other at exactly the same moment. The air around them filled with bristling shock as they both came to a screeching halt. I could almost hear them saying, “Omigosh, what will I do now?” They both turned and bolted away into the darkness.

What happened? Some ancient prejudice based on fear rose up and grabbed them by their throats, apparently. It reminded me of people I have seen.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Summer Time!

Monday, June 23, 2008

New Baby Girl

I am spending this week in the northern mountains. My son and daughter-in-law have a new baby girl, one week old yesterday. She has lots of very dark hair and dark eyes; she's very different from her big (19 months old--not very big) sister, who is quite fair and blonde with bright blue eyes.

She has a hard time staying awake long enough to eat before she falls asleep again--unless, of course, it is three o'clock in the morning.

I haven't seen them in a year because we live so far apart, all the way across the nation. But from now on, I am going to make sure I see them more often. A year is too long a time to miss in the life of a little girl.

Creating new lives is one of God's most marvelous miracles.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Cardboard Testimonies

I got to know and love God after about fifty years of slogging along through life without him. For a while, I thought it would be a good idea to show people what life is like without him; maybe they would see the difference.

But now I realize that was wrong; people see life without him everywhere, every day--they know. The thing to do is show people what life is like with him.

The Hillside Christian Church in Amarillo, Texas, does just that. Watch this YouTube video they did called "Cardboard Testimonies." It says a lot--but not much aloud--about what God has done in people's lives.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Wordless Wednesday: 1956 Photo

This is a picture of my brother, my mother and me, ready for church; it was taken about 1956.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Wordless Wednesday

See yesterday's post!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Painted Lady Butterflies

My grandchildren sent my mother, their great-grandmother, a marvelous gift for Mother’s Day (with the help of their mother). The two oldest boys, ages 5 and 7, giggled and told her a mysterious package would arrive soon and she must be careful about removing it from the box. She must not open the jar.

When the box arrived, we carefully took the jar out and set it on the table to read the booklet that came with it. The jar contained five Painted Lady butterfly babies. They were charcoal gray—very plain-looking and wormish, as caterpillars often are. The directions said we should set the jar somewhere out of heat and direct sunlight for about a week, while they crawled around and ate the nutritious brown stuff in the bottom. A net butterfly cage came along with them.

By about the tenth day, they had all climbed up and attached themselves upside down to the paper on the underside of the jar lid. They grew shorter than before, and they turned goldish-brown as they became chrysalides. At that point, we very carefully removed the lid, took out the round piece of paper, and pinned it to the side of the butterfly cage.

About five days later, we noticed one of the chrysalides was missing. Amazing! It had turned into a beautiful gold, brown, and white butterfly. Perching on the side of the cage, it was waiting for its wings to dry.

The instructions told us to then place a large flower, preferably a carnation, in the bottom of the cage and sprinkle it with sugar-water. I bought a carnation at the local florist’s for a dollar; we cut the stem short and put it in a small bowl to leave plenty of room for butterflying.

Within two days, four of the chrysalides had hatched (I suppose “hatched” is the right word) and the four new Painted Ladies were flitting about and landing on the carnation. My mother wheeled her chair to the back door and opened the cage to release them. Three of them fluttered away immediately, but one stayed in the open cage for a few minutes before leaving.

This was a wonderful experience for my mother; she loved watching the caterpillars become butterflies. Only God, the Chief Architect of butterfly birth, could plan such a process.

**You can order butterfly rearing kits at this linked Swallowtail Farms site. The picture comes from this nature site.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Wordless (well, almost) Wednesday

This is a NASA photo image of “the core of the Whirlpool galaxy M51 (NGC 5149) taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. It shows an immense ring of dust and gas that is thought to surround and hide a giant black hole in the center of the galaxy.” See this site:

(Perhaps you notice the cross image in the center of the lighted area!)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Wordless Wednesday: Button Bouquet

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Irony of Christianity

We live in a difficult world—one in which people are very closed off to each other. Probably, it has always been that way, just in different senses of closed-off-ness.

I myself am a dedicated believer in Jesus Christ as the way, the truth, and the life, and I am also a faithful member of the First United Methodist Church. Even so, I fully understand that many things about Christian people and organizations contribute to the closed-off-ness. Like my friend Sterlin, many have trouble accepting Christ’s way as their life because of, in his words, “its staunch and rigid theology and the sometimes uneducated missionaries that socialize the individual.” I know.

If you look at this situation logically, you see that people are the cause of it. It’s a very sad and ironic thing that lovers of Christ would unintentionally create barriers for others.

Saddest of all is the fact that so many people miss God’s love because of us. I missed him myself for the same reasons until I was 51 years old; then out of my emptiness, I cried out for help. He came rushing and thundering into my life and filled me. I saw with such gratitude that he really is real. And powerful, caring and loving beyond my comprehension.

He will be found if we want him—if we reach out, cry out, just say the word. Lots of people today (and always) think we can heal ourselves, actualize ourselves, fulfill ourselves. We can’t. People are imperfect; only God is perfect—only he has the answers we need. Love is the only source of healing. And God is the only real source of love; if we feel love, it’s because God put it there as a part of himself.

People and organizations aren’t in the picture, really; that’s a misperception . People will never measure up. It’s not about people—not about us. It is about him.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Wordless Wednesday: Wildflowers

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Wordless Wednesday: Watering

Sunday, May 04, 2008

What to Do about Anger?

Today I’m borrowing from Max Lucado’s UpWords Weekly E-Mail Devotional .

Max is very concerned—as we all should be—about the anger we see so much of today. He says anger becomes a tremendously explosive force, even built up little by little; rage is quite destructive. What can we do about it? Here’s his answer:

We can’t deny that our anger exists. How do we harness it? A good option is found in Luke 23:34. Here, Jesus speaks about the mob that killed him. “‘Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’”

Look carefully. It’s as if Jesus considered this bloodthirsty, death-hungry crowd not as murderers, but as victims. It’s as if he saw in their faces not hatred but confusion. It’s as if he regarded them not as a militant mob but, as he put it, as “sheep without a shepherd.”
“They don’t know what they are doing.”

And when you think about it, they didn’t. They hadn’t the faintest idea what they were doing. They were a stir-crazy mob, mad at something they couldn’t see so they took it out on, of all people, God. But they didn’t know what they were doing.

And for the most part, neither do we. We are still, as much as we hate to admit it, shepherdless sheep. All we know is that we were born out of one eternity and are frighteningly close to another. We play tag with the fuzzy realities of death and pain. We can’t answer our own questions about love and hurt. We can’t solve the riddle of aging. We don’t know how to heal our own bodies or get along with our own mates. We can’t keep ourselves out of war. We can’t even keep ourselves fed.

Paul spoke for humanity when he confessed, “I do not know what I am doing.” (Romans 7:15, author’s paraphrase.)

Now, I know that doesn’t justify anything. That doesn’t justify hit-and-run drivers or kiddie-porn peddlers or heroin dealers. But it does help explain why they do the miserable things they do.

My point is this: Uncontrolled anger won’t better our world, but sympathetic understanding will. Once we see the world and ourselves for what we are, we can help. Once we understand ourselves we begin to operate not from a posture of anger but of compassion and concern. We look at the world not with bitter frowns but with extended hands. We realize that the lights are out and a lot of people are stumbling in the darkness. So we light candles.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Wordless Wednesday: Mandevilla Vine

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Wordless Wednesday

The Lineup--er...Fe-Lineup

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Declining Life Expectancy

A CBS News article online reports that overall, the life expectancy of Americans continues to edge upwards, according to studies. However, reports in the news this morning said part of the population has had a downturn in life expectancy, and this is

. . . a worrisome turn: Half of Americans in the 55-to-64 age group — including the oldest of the baby boomers — have high blood pressure, and two in five are obese. That means they are in worse shape in some respects than Americans born a decade earlier were when they were that age.

That means trouble, health-wise, for a very large segment of the population—the Baby Boomers. The studies show that health has been declining in both men and women for about the last twenty years in some areas, especially the South, where widespread poverty exists.

An AFP news article reports that women in 1,000 of the 2,000 counties studied nationwide have “chronic diseases related to smoking, overweight and obesity, and high blood pressure." In other words, the decline in health is mainly due to lifestyle choices.

What does this mean for me, as a member of the Baby Boomers? It means for many years, I didn’t pay much attention to my eating and couch potato habits. I have never smoked, thanks only to the fact that my father asked me not to when he and my mother took me down to the University of Texas as a freshman; out of a sense of duty, I remained true to my word on that issue. But last October, my doctor said I had high triglycerides, and therefore was at some risk for a heart attack.

She gave me a prescription for some cholesterol medication. But after reading the side effects, I decided to try other things first. I completely changed my eating habits. Following advice in a number of health information web sites, I started eating more fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts; more fish and poultry and very little beef; and sweets only once a week. I started riding my exercise bike, walking more, and lifting (not very heavy) weights.

The result is that I have lost sixteen pounds, and my triglycerides number has dropped by more than half. I feel much better, to say the least. Maybe my life expectancy has risen a little.

*The picture comes from the AFP web site linked here.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Wordless Wednesday: Just Hand over the Chocolate

Monday, March 24, 2008

Easter Sunrise

I went to a sunrise Easter service out at a ranch that belongs to some members of our church. The house is situated near the edge of high ridge overlooking a valley or maybe it is a canyon. Down in the distance, you can see deer browsing in the grass or wild hogs rooting around. From the back yard where we sat, the sun was coming up directly before us. A large wooden cross was in the middle of the yard. The pastor stood near it.

The ranch owners’ grown daughter told us a story about how she had a plan when she was nine years old, to go to town. It was cold, and she was angry and barefooted, but she was determined to get to town to find her mother, who had left her with her older sister for a few minutes to run an errand. Her plan was thwarted, of course, before she got very far down the road; someone called police, and they came and got her before something awful could happen to her. God has a plan, she said. His plan is dependable, unlike hers, based on love.

We sang a few songs and we had communion. Birdsong filled the air. It was cold, but the March wind was fairly still. I was happy to be there with all those people I love, praising God for his amazing love and his plan, based on love.

His plan is surprising in its simplicity. I used to think I had to work my way to him, that I couldn’t deserve his love. But I was surprised to learn that his love is free; I don’t have to work for it or deserve it. It is a gift. This is the surprise of Easter. He is risen, and he lives, not as a worldly king, but as the son of God, the one who leads us freely to his father through love. I want to live my life in the surprise of Easter.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Easter Communion

Easter Communion

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Pure fasted faces draw unto this feast:
God comes all sweetness to your Lenten lips.
You striped in secret with breath-taking whips,
Those crooked rough-scored chequers may be pieced
To crosses meant for Jesu's; you whom the East
With draught of thin and pursuant cold so nips
Breathe Easter now; you serged fellowships,
You vigil-keepers with low flames decreased,

God shall o'er-brim the measures you have spent
With oil of gladness, for sackcloth and frieze
And the ever-fretting shirt of punishment
Give myrrhy-threaded golden folds of ease.
Your scarce-sheathed bones are weary of being bent:
Lo, God shall strengthen all the feeble knees.

Hopkins (1844–1889) was an English poet, educated at Oxford. Entering the Roman Catholic Church in 1866 and the Jesuit novitiate in 1868, he was ordained in 1877. Upon becoming a Jesuit he burned much of his early verse and abandoned the writing of poetry. However, the sinking in 1875 of a German ship carrying five Franciscan nuns, exiles from Germany, inspired him to write one of his most impressive poems “The Wreck of the Deutschland.” Thereafter he produced his best poetry, including “God’s Grandeur,” “The Windhover,” “The Leaden Echo,” and “The Golden Echo.” Since Hopkins never gave permission for the publication of his verse, his Poems, edited by his friend Robert Bridges, did not appear in print until 1918. His life was continually troubled by inner conflict, which arose, not from religious skepticism, but from an inability to give himself completely to his God. Both his poems and his letters often reflect an intense dissatisfaction with himself as a poet and as a servant of God. Though he produced a small body of work, he ranks high among English poets, and his work profoundly influenced 20th-century poetry. His verse is noted for its piercing intensity of language and its experiments in prosody. Of these experiments the most famous is “sprung rhythm,” a meter in which Hopkins tried to approximate the rhythm of everyday speech.

(Borrowed from

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Doing, Doing, Doing

In today’s entry in My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers wrote that God sows us by a whirlwind, flinging us out like a handful of seed pods. We must live by God's vision, Chambers says, and not lose it.

If we lose the vision, we alone are responsible, and the way we lose the vision is by spiritual leakage. If we do not run our belief about God into practical issues, it is all up with the vision God has given. The only way to be obedient to the heavenly vision is to give our utmost for God's highest, and this can only be done by continually and resolutely recalling the vision. The test is the sixty seconds of every minute, and the sixty minutes of every hour, not our times of prayer and devotional meetings.

Chambers says over and over in different ways that the vital thing is the relationship, the vision—being in love with Jesus. He bases that on the Bible; God is always more concerned about the condition of our hearts than what we do in his name.

Eight or so years ago, I was locked in a dentist’s chair having a crown done. I could see a little patch of sky, so I looked at it and prayed, and so kept my mind off my tooth and all that drilling. I was kind of at a place where I had been doing lots of things—Emmaus, mission trip, Sunday school teaching—and I didn’t know what to do next. I prayed, “Lord, what do you want me to do next? What, what, what should I do?”

And he answered, “Stop worrying so much about doing, and just be.” I interpreted that to mean he wanted me to just love him and be fully in the relationship with him.

As Chambers points out, we must let God fling us out and keep an eye on his cyclones. “If you select your own spot,” he says, “you will prove to be an empty pod. If God sows you, you will bring forth fruit.”

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Suicide Attempt

A woman I know tried to commit suicide this week. She is very sick now, with a terminal illness. A suicide attempt is a desperate cry for help, and hers is no different.

Life without God in Jesus Christ is empty of joy, full of despair, fear, and darkness. Life in God through Jesus Christ is strength to deal with terrible illness, hope even in the darkest times, joy beyond pleasure and happiness, and peace immeasurable by human understanding.

In John 14:27, Jesus says: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

My prayer is that this woman and her distraught family will open their hearts to his love. He is real and powerful.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

3:10 to Yuma

I just saw a terrific western movie--3:10 to Yuma, starring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale. Based on a 1950s short story by Elmore Leonard, it has much depth. It explores moral, ethical, and spiritual questions in a gripping story that is an intense shoot-'em-up.

Here is an excellent review of the film, at this linked site.

The picture comes from this site.

Thursday, February 28, 2008


A few days ago, I told my community college creative writing class, “You need to be sure to give your main character some situation to deal with, some angst, some disturbance of normal life.”

They looked at me and blinked a few times without reacting much. I said, “Do you know what ‘angst’ means?”

Most of them just kept looking at me and blinking. A few shook their heads. I wasn’t sure I knew, either, now that we got to that point. We looked it up. One student said it is a German word, meaning fear. People rather like the word angst; it has an appealing intellectual sound.

The handy-dandy Merriam-Webster says it is a “fearful concern or interest, painful or apprehensive uneasiness of mind usually over an impending or anticipated ill.”

Another definition is a “cause of anxiety.” Anxiety is a cause of anxiety? It is spiral in nature, then, feeding upon itself.

It gets worse: “an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physiological signs (as sweating, tension, and increased pulse), by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and by self-doubt about one's capacity to cope with it.”

We decided anxiety and fear are related, that fear is sometimes paralyzing. It can pull you down into some dark place where you feel very much alone with your disturbing thoughts. It can be debilitating. Much of literature (we think of our English 2307 stories as literature) shows characters learning how to cope with angst—or not.

I can’t say this in my class, because it is a public educational institution and it’s not allowed. But I can say it here all I want to: God never leaves us alone. We can depend on his love, which is stronger than any angst ever could be. According to this linked web site, the Bible tells us not to fear 365 times. God knows fear is widespread and contagious, and he does not want us to be enslaved by it.

First John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

In his love, we can find peace.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Amazing Grace is an amazing movie, directed by Michael Apted. It tells the story of William Wilberforce, a man God used in abolishing slavery in the British Empire in the 1800s.

Wilberforce is played by Ioan Gruffudd, pictured here. The British-made film gives the viewer a seemingly accurate taste of what life was like in the late 1700s/early 1800s in England. Wilberforce is portrayed as a strong, passionate, lovable man caught up in revolutionary ideas that would bring about great change in the entire society.

Many Americans don’t pay much attention to history, especially in other countries. I did not realize that slavery was a major part of the British economy in those times, just as it was in the American South, maybe more so. I think many people know little to nothing about Wilberforce and slavery; we should know about these things. God works powerfully in history.

Slavery was officially abolished, although not in a real way, in England in 1807, although the British remained active in slave trading until 1833. William Wilberforce, a convert to evangelical Christianity, was the primary leader of the abolition movement in the British Parliament. Wilberforce often sought counsel with Olaudah Equiano, John Newton, and others during this fight. After devoting most of his adult life to fighting against slavery, he died three days after learning that the slave trade would finally be completely abolished by Parliament from Great Britain.

All his life, Wilberforce was dedicated to the prevention of cruelty; along with two other men, Richard Martin and Arthur Broome, he founded the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. It is said that he often took in sick or mistreated animals such as rabbits, dogs, and horses, invited into his home groups of poor and hungry people, and gave away most of his income to charities.

Wilberforce grew up as an orphan, and he was greatly influenced by his teacher and mentor John Newton. Newton encouraged and inspired Wilberforce in his fight against slavery.

Newton suffered guilt feelings for many years because he had commanded slave ships for years, and as a result of his experiences wrote the famous hymn “Amazing Grace,” which everybody has heard somewhere. Here is the epitaph on his gravestone, which he himself wrote (from this web site):

JOHN NEWTON, Clerk / Once an infidel and libertine / A servant of slaves in Africa, / Was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour / JESUS CHRIST, / restored, pardoned, and ap­point­ed to preach / the Gospel which he had long laboured to destroy. / He min­is­tered, / Near sixteen years in Ol­ney, in Bucks, / And twenty-eight years in this Church.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Belly Laugh

The baby in this YouTube video has the most infectious laugh--watch it and be tickled!

It comes from a new blog--BloggedIn-News & Networking. This blog is a new creation of the Family-Friendly Blogroll, whose link you'll see at the top of the sidebar of this blog. Its purpose is to feature blogs that keep their content clean, suitable for families. I'm very proud that my blog is part of it, and I appreciate their efforts to help weed out offensive Internet stuff.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Olaudah Equiano, A Slave (ca. 1745-1797)

In about 1756, Olaudah Equiano was captured at the age of eleven from his African village and sold into slavery. With many other miserable, mistreated slaves, he was dragged across the African continent and shipped across the Atlantic Ocean. After ten years of slavery, he was allowed to buy his freedom. He became an eloquent advocate of the abolition of slavery.

According to the Dictionary of Literary Biography, Olaudah Equiano was “the most influential African abolitionist writer in both America and Britain.”

The Norton Anthology of English Literature editors, M. H. Abrams and others, tell us that Equiano’s life story “was an important contribution to [the abolitionist] movement, not only for its explicit arguments against the slave trade but also for its demonstration that someone born in Africa could be humane, intelligent, a good Christian, and a free and eloquent British subject.” Many British people at that time believed otherwise.

The web site of the Equiano Foundation tells us that

At the age of forty four he wrote and published his autobiography, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, Or Gustavus Vassa, The African. Written by Himself, which he registered at Stationer's Hall, London, in 1789. More than two centuries later, this work is recognized not only as one of the first works written in English by a former slave, but perhaps more important as the paradigm of the slave narrative, a new literary genre.

Equiano’s entire book , The Interesting Narrative . . . , may be found online at the Gutenberg Project . It is fascinating reading. Equiano is the basis for a character in the British-made movie Amazing Grace, the true story of William Wilberforce, who led the decades-long fight against slavery in Great Britain.

To be continued--

Friday, February 01, 2008

Hearing the Right Voice

On March 29, 1999, Global Hawk Unmanned Aerial Vehicle No. 2, a $45 million spy plane, puzzled its earth-bound pilots by going into the termination mode. It just wiped out all its classified computer data, set itself into death mode, and spiraled into the ground in “a pre-programmed, rolling, vertical descent from an altitude of 41,000 feet.”

Upon investigation, the Air Force learned that the unmanned plane committed suicide. $45 million down the drain on purpose. What happened? Apparently, it picked up a signal meant for another unmanned Aerial Vehicle miles away, took the message to heart, and killed itself. The Air Force said the incident was “unfortunate.”

Sometimes the same kind of thing happens to people. They listen to the wrong voice and self-destruct—voices saying “you’re not worth anything and never have been any good.” These are the voices of darkness and evil. The results are often unfortunate, to say the least, and unnecessary if we just listen to the right voice.

Voices from light and life come from God. God speaks to us through circumstances, through other people, through the Bible. Sometimes he speaks in an audible voice, a shout or a soft whisper. If we form the habit of listening, we can hear his gentle, loving voice.

The picture comes from this linked site.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

A Psalm

The book of Psalms is very beautiful. “Psalms” means songs. It has songs and poems to represent every imaginable human emotion. In my Disciple Bible Study group last week, our text suggested that we write our own psalm.

Here’s mine:

O Lord my God, you are my rock and my defender.

I praise you early and late.

Your love is better than all earthly life has to offer.

Protect my spirit from the words of the unbeliever,

I pray. Give me courage to speak your name.

Your love holds me up forever, and

My heart will always seek the beauty and truth

Of your love.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Saint John's Bible

In 1970, Donald Jackson, one of the world’s foremost calligraphers, told Diane Sawyers in an interview that his life’s greatest ambition was to write the Bible. Not long after that, Saint John’s University in New York City commissioned Jackson to direct the writing of the Bible as a series of illuminated manuscripts. This is the first time in about 500 years that a Benedictine Monastery has engaged in handwriting an illuminated Bible.

The Bible will all be written on vellum using quills, hand-made ink and pigments, and gold leaf. Computer technology is used only to set the layout measurements so the page content will be consistent in size. It is like the handwritten manuscripts made by medieval monks before the invention of the printing press.

Jackson has been working on this mammoth global project, directing and teaching, for over 20 years. A number of calligraphic artists from many countries participate in the work; Jackson himself is British. The Saint John’s Bible is scheduled for completion in 2009 and the total cost is estimated at around $4 million.

Saint John’s displays much of the Biblical manuscript online at this linked site. It is incredibly beautiful.

Why is Saint John’s doing an illuminated Bible? Here’s the reason, as the site’s author explains:

The goal of The Saint John’s Bible is to ignite the spiritual imagination of all peoples throughout the world by commissioning a work of art that illuminates the Word of God for a new millennium, in a way that is relevant to the 21st century. It is a prophetic witness to the Word of God in our day and beyond, an opportunity for learning and scholarship and a dignified expression of the Benedictine vision: "That in all things God may be glorified.”

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Homeless--Any Prospects?

Every night, nearly 200,000 homeless veterans sleep on the streets. “A disgrace,” says former Secretary of Veteran Affairs, Jesse Brown, “that we have men and women who served in American uniform who are out on the streets with no place to go and few prospects for a better life.”

The little bit of information above came from the web site, linked here, of Dignity Memorial, a homeless veterans’ burial program that provides free, appropriate funeral services for qualified homeless veterans. That’s a generous gesture.

But what about their lives? Are they to be left alone under a bridge or on a park bench until death, and then washed, dressed, and buried in a decent way? I believe I see some irony here.

A Google search shows this linked web site of National After much beating around of the proverbial bush about studies and assumptions, the author says

the total number of homeless people in the United States is “approximately

3.5 million people, 1.35 million of them children,” according to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. That is a disgrace.

The United States has the reputation of being one of the most advanced, wealthiest, least hungry nations in the world; many generous Christians live in this country, and the church is not persecuted. Why would so many people be destitute? Is our love too small?

Mark Labberton is the author of a Christianity Today article entitled “The Lima Bean Gospel.” He posits that the church today does not give much evidence of obeying the gospel call; maybe it isn’t politically correct to be zealous, and we worry about that. Labberton says:

Jesus Christ, the Lord of Creation, Redemption, and Fulfillment, calls the church the salt and light of the world. Jesus seems to have had in mind a community engaged in vigorous, self-sacrificing mission that goes to great lengths to enact costly love, that inconveniences itself regularly to seek justice for the oppressed, that creatively serves the forgotten, all to portray that the kingdom of God is at hand.

Depending on where we look in the world, however, that church seems to have gone missing.

We should take a close look at ourselves. When Jesus said we should love God with our whole beings and love our neighbors as ourselves, he meant it; he said those two commandments embody all the ten commandments.

If we truly loved our neighbors as ourselves, we would be loving sacrificially. It's pretty clear that we are usually quite willing to go to great lengths to ensure satisfaction of our own needs. So, logically, if we loved others as ourselves, we'd be more than willing to help people who suffer dire need.

The fact that we, the whole body of Christ, are not willing to act in sacrificial ways shows that our concept of God's love is indeed too small.

As Labberton points out, our God is the creator of the universe, including “300 kinds of hummingbirds” and great diversity among human beings. He says Christianity has been accused of being too bland and weak to offer any answers to the huge diversity of overlapping cultures today. We act as if our love—our gospel—is small.

The only answers, he argues, that will show Christ to the world “will require us to consider again that very thing Jesus says is central to God's kingdom, the most life-enlarging and non-homogenizing reality: love.”

The Bible says we should show our love in actions, not just talk about it:

If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence. 1 John 3:17-19

Love is the most powerful force in the universe. If the Christian church worldwide wanted to, it would act out this love, the sacrificial love of Christ. And then 200,000 homeless veterans would not have to wait around until they die to get help. Over 3.5 million other homeless people, including children, would not have "few prospects."

*I borrowed this picture from the "Oldtimer Speaks Out" blog; Oldtimer said the picture came from Flickr .