Saturday, June 30, 2007


Today we had a funeral for a parishioner who is also the mother of a friend. It brings a lot of things to my mind because it's also the birth and death day of our only daughter thirteen years ago – she lived just a few minutes.

Which makes death a theme for the day.

Don't know if you've ever thought about it much but it's there – and it never goes away. Whether you're religious or not, you will die. And you'll probably pay taxes, but that's a different story.

For most of us who belong to faiths that espouse an afterlife, this death is not a bad thing, but that wasn't always the case. There have been many religions where death is considered horrible, frightening for all but the select few because it consists of eternal suffering. Let me tell you, if that was the religious background I came from, I'd be looking at the atheists with envy.

Atheists, of course, just believe there's nothing after death. The show simply ends. That would explain a desperate desire to cling to life by any means necessary. This is your one shot, and if you lose here, then what is there?

Thank goodness for me, I believe along with my church that God exists, that God loves us unconditionally, and that God prepares a place for us (whatever THAT might mean) where we can live eternally in some measure of joy. Really, it probably means simply being in the presence of God, which is all the joy I think I need.

Is this deluded thinking? Well, no more than any other conception of the afterlife. Only, I know folks who have been to the other side temporarily, and they all claim it is wonderful. And yet, and yet, and yet … None of us will truly know until we go there ourselves.

So, I don't worry about it. I figure I'm happy with the way I understand God's role in eternal life – at least as happy as those who believe there's nothing, and much happier than those who only have suffering to look forward to. It's just that I don't have to cling to this life, I don't have to get in all the gusto right here right now, and I don't have to step on other people to ensure my survival. [NOTE: I don't believe all atheists are that type of unethical – in fact, many are highly moral and loving people. I just suspect letting go of the things in this life, including life itself, may be easier and more peaceful for a person unafraid of what happens next.]

Of course, you could rightly ask yourself, why are so many Christians afraid of death? The answer? Well, that's a subject for another day.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Abraham and Isaac

Yesterday I told you about my love of writing – and by golly, there are a lot of folks out there who love to do it, too. And I promised (threatened?) to tell you a little bit more about the project that has consumed many of my free hours over the past three years or so.

It's a novel called "The Hiding of Isaac," and it's all about the biblical patriarch Abraham and his need for two things: adventure and a perfect son. He gets adventure and thinks he has his perfect son, Ishmael. Only, that son is taken away and replaced with Isaac, who suffers birth trauma and turns out to be very imperfect. He can't walk right, he's slow, and he's painfully insecure.

In those days, a father had the right to kill defective children, so Sarah (in case you didn't know, that's Abraham's mother and Isaac's mother), hides him from Abraham until the all-important weaning ceremony. After that, it's too late for Abraham to harm the child. Of course, it all goes wrong at the weaning, and before long Abraham and Sarah are on the outs, Isaac is scorned by his father, and the family is split into two camps.

If you don't know how the story ends, all you have to do is read the bible (okay, Genesis will do). In fact, I tried to stay very close to the scriptures but also fill in the blanks. And you wouldn't believe the blanks in Isaac's story! The guy has four speaking parts in the entire bible. In every scene, he's passive – he's born, he's weaned (and at his weaning, his half-brother is mysteriously banished from the family), he's nearly killed by his father in a highly unusual sacrifice. It doesn't get better when he grows up. His father sends a slave to find him a bride but won't let Isaac go to meet her (or let her family see him), his son tricks him with a pathetic disguise… When neighbors challenge his right to some wells, he says, "Oh, okay," and flees. You get the idea.

What's not to love about this guy? You can make up all sorts of reasons for such odd behavior, and there's just not that much scholarly work to say you're wrong.

But why write about him? Well, first of all, it's a great story. The heir to the chosen family is mentally deficient. He is as imperfect as anyone in that era can imagine. Yet for some reason, God foregoes the ideal and chooses the imperfect – I mean the REALLY imperfect. And it works out.

There's an old joke about a devout Jewish guy whose Roman Catholic friend tried in vain for years to convert him. Then the Jewish man took a trip to the Vatican and returned a baptized Catholic. The Catholic friend was delighted but confused about the sudden conversion. The new Christian replied, "Well, when I saw how corrupt and confused and just plain crazy everything was in the leadership of this church, I figured it had to be God in charge or the whole thing would have fallen apart years ago."

Maybe the point of Isaac is that it IS God in charge – we don't need perfect or even great leaders. We just need to know who to follow.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Writing Life

I mentioned earlier that some of my hobbies include playing hockey, coaching soccer, missing free throws on an eight-foot basketball hoop in my driveway… But one of the things I love doing most in my free time is writing.

Mostly I write stories with and for my kids. I've written stories about a boy who travels into other peoples' lives in his dreams. I've written stories about a tiny creature that torments people and loves apples. I've written a story about a time-travelling family that chases an errant tube of toothpaste across eight centuries.

But in the last few of years, I've started writing stories for adults.

It started with a sabbatical I took in 2004. I had to do something, so I decided to write a book (everyone does). I'm no good at academic writing, so I opted for a novel (like I'd be any better at that!). What I came up with is a novel about Abraham and Isaac – where Isaac has birth defects and Abraham hates him for it.

I'm writing this because that has become a huge part of my extra time. I find myself re-writing and re-writing and re-writing passages at free moments. I mean, who do you know who goes to lunch with a copy of a manuscript to edit? Every day.

I've recently started to approach agents to see if they might want to represent the book – and let me tell you, I'm getting an education in the publishing business. To be honest, the chances of any manuscript published are somewhere around 10,000 to 1. And 70% of those that get published sell fewer than 100 copies! So, I'm not doing this for the J.K. Rowling fortune.

I am doing it because I find it life-giving. I learn more about myself when I delve into the lives of fictitious (or partially so) people – for they all contain a part of me. I'm planning a new novel – again, maybe one that I'll try to get published (I have a masochistic streak, after all). It's about a youngish priest who has a stroke and ends up in the same nursing home he's been making pastoral calls to. Not exactly a murder mystery, but it gives me some cool things to think about.

So, there's the Writer's Life. You write and write and write. You research and research and research. You edit and edit and edit. And then you pull your head out of the word processor or notebook and think, "That was fun!" Tomorrow, I'll tell you a little more about Abraham and Isaac.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Take Me Out to the Ball Park

Here's just a quick note. We're going to the ballgame in a few minutes. What fun!

Actually, I find baseball to be one of the most boring games to watch (I'm a hockey fan, what can I say?). BUT I do love going to the games because it's such a laid back, jovial atmosphere most of the time – at least at minor league games, which is all I ever go to.

I love folks wandering around chatting – it doesn't matter if you pay attention because chances are, nothing will have happened by the time you draw your attention back to the game. But it doesn't matter. It's clear to me that most folks who go to the games are in it for something more. Community.

That's why I tell folks they should go to church, too. They can fall asleep during the sermon if they want – that's fine by me. But to be there and hang out with friends and strangers, to be together in the same general pursuit (though no two people come to church for the same reasons), that's living.

Still, I'm taking my ball glove because hey, you never know – I might catch that homer.


Friday, June 22, 2007

Summer Break

Today is the first full day of Summer. Where we live, it's also the last day of school. My wife had to work, so I had the kids today – one had gotten out of school two days ago, and the younger one had only a half day.

So there I was with my older kid who was already bored before 10 AM, trying to get the Sunday bulletin folded and keeping an eye out for the bus that would bring the other one home. What do you do with a middle schooler when it's just you and him? Put him to work of course! We sat at a little table together and folded bulletins. Yippee!

Actually, it was a nice moment. We talked about the little things you hope a father and child can talk about, and then we went out to the parking lot, drew a big circle with chalk and played circle ball (some call it four-square). When the younger one got home, we played two-on-one circle ball (it's always them against me). When my wife got home, I ran out to make a pastoral call, worked on the sermon, and then played four-on-one basketball – two of their friends had come over to the house. By the time I had scored my second basket, it became tackle basketball, and I was the target.

We closed out the day by making a fire in the outdoor fireplace. Our youngest child loves to tend the fire, so we put that kid in charge. Believe it or not, some heavy clouds drifted past without raining down on us – but they left a gorgeous soft rainbow hanging overhead.

Why should you care about this? Because it's such a summer story. Because in those fun, light moments of the early days of summer, God shines through. There've been a lot of worries out there, and sometimes I feel crabby and fed up with it all. But then you fold some bulletins with your kid, you play circle ball, you build a fire (yes, we had s'mores) – and it all takes on the proper perspective.

God is there. God is good. Life is tough, but sometimes it's wonderful – and easy. I think it's going to be a good summer.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Farewell Lunch

Earlier today I attended a lunch with some clergy colleagues. We were bidding farewell to one of our own who is preparing to move to become an administrative official in his denomination.

We had a great lunch, but mostly we spent time reflecting on our long friendship and what it has meant to us. Now, you need to know that this friend, Jim, wrote to me ten years ago when I was getting ready to move here. He just wanted to introduce himself and extend a welcome. I was moved and haven't forgotten it. Our host came shortly after I got to town, so Jim and I paid him a visit when he arrived to welcome him.

For ten years the three of us have meet each week for "bible study." Often, we actually studied the scriptures, but just as often we talked about our families, joked about our horrible golf games (I don't golf, but I would regale them with stories of falling on my can in a hockey game), or fly fishing. Mostly, we talked about how we were doing – how we were keeping our heads above water spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically. Without them, I imagine I would have burned out long ago.

We've always had other members in our bible study, but they have come and gone, while our threesome has been consistently there. Now, our little threesome is breaking up. Had to happen some time – that's the nature of our business. And someone will come to replace Jim. But that special relationship will never be the same.

We didn't weep or make sad speeches as we prepared to part. We toasted each other with a glass of wine and enjoyed a beautifully cooked chicken meal. Then we went our separate ways as we do every week.

My kids are at that age where saying goodbye to friends – especially those who move away at the end of the school year – is excruciatingly painful. Well, it ain't easy for the adults, either. But perhaps we have at least the advantage of perspective. We know all things fall into place in their own way and their own time. And we can look back at ten years of friendship and be thankful.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


I got home late last night from a board meeting and then had a hard time getting to sleep because I was thinking about the meeting. Mind you, I'm an early-to-bed kind of guy, so getting home at 10:30 p.m. is excruciating for me.

Anyway, I lay there in bed thinking, what has any of this stuff got to do with God? I mean, we spent an hour talking about boilers and telephone service and locks on doors and insurance. That was before we even got to the fun stuff like budgets. As I was stripping off my clothes in the dark (my wife had already gone to bed), I was thinking, "This is what I was called to the priesthood for?"

And then I got it. This is what it means to be part of a community.


I hate a lot of the chores that go along with being a family member. Cooking breakfast, cleaning gutters, taking out trash. Don't even get me started about household budgets (where I'm even worse). But it is part of being in a family. I'll sit down with my kids and do homework despite the tears and the "You don't understand!" because it's what families do.

And, like it or not, the family called "Church" has its chores, too.

That won't make me any better at understanding the church budget or getting excited about fixing holes in the graveyard. But I belong there just as much as at the altar or the food pantry or the hospital bedside. I'm guessing you do, too.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Pig Priest Speaks

I am a pig priest.

What self-respecting priest would call himself a pig? Well, I would.

Because it’s true. I’m a pig. Don’t try to change me -- I'm happy with my pig-dom.

No, this isn’t self-loathing -- the novelist Barbara Kingsolver once called herself something very similar because she didn’t bother rinsing dishes before sticking them in the dishwasher. But she likes herself just fine.

That’s sort of me. Only, I don’t bother putting clothes away once they’ve been washed -- that’s what sofas are for. I don’t bother taking those dishes out of the dishwasher -- they work just fine there. Same for the kitchen counter. I always figured it was meant for holding books and mail, and soccer shin guards. And every time my wife steps into my study, she says “What a pigsty! You can’t even see your desk.” You get the idea.

But I’m an intellectual pig, too. I’ve seen a lot of blogs by colleagues and stand in awe of them. Not only are they cool looking sights, but these folks are just so smart.

Me? I’m the kind of priest who coaches soccer kids, drinks beer in the locker room after an “old farts” hockey game, and who picks up worms with his kids on a rainy day so we can see who can get the slimiest.

With all this, you might be asking yourself two questions. One, how’d this joker ever get to be a priest? And two, what has he got to offer the blogosphere?

Well, I often find myself asking that first question. In fact, most priests I know do. We find ourselves standing behind the altar celebrating mass and all the sudden the thought clicks in: “Someone’s going to find out that I’m a fraud and don’t know what the heck I’m doing!” Not that I wasn’t properly ordained -- it’s just that it seems so weird. I remember not long after getting ordained standing in shock and thinking, “This dude just called me ‘Father’ and he’s like 80 years old!”

I think you’ll find most priests are way out of their depth -- because God is just so big, so deep, so awesome. Even though most of them are much more brilliant than me, none of them are brilliant enough to figure God out. We all just try to do the best we can and hope nobody jumps up in the middle of the service and yells, “Fake!”

And what do I have to offer? I’ve been looking at a lot of blogs, and they’re fantastic. They keep you up on church news (all that schism stuff), and the world’s needs (poverty and war are still there, gang), as well as really good theology.

I look at things from a little lower level -- and find that God is there, too. Sitting at a minor league hockey game, I find grace. Listening to an elementary school band butcher the “Star Wars” theme shows me the genius of God's creativity. I find a piece of heaven in an early morning cup of coffee before anyone else in the house wakes up.

I expect to talk about the big issues, too. That Akinola guy? Fergetaboutit! But my focus is a little narrower, and sometimes you need to see the trees as well as the forest. Heck, sometimes you need to see the little seed at the foot of the tree, trying to make a go of it.
So, call me a pig. I won’t mind. Just remember, beneath all that mud pigs can be pretty smart.