Archives for September 2013

The 31 Day Challenge!

31 days of giving permission 200x130

. . . to disconnect

It’s been quiet here the last week or so.
And there’s a good reason for that.

I’m traveling right now,
a combination of business, pleasure,
and commitment.
There was no room for writing in this space,
not any way I sliced it,
so I gave myself permission to . . .


for a few days.
Not forever, and not from everything,
but from here, for now.

And you know what?
That simple act sparked something in me,
something which I’m going to be talking about
for the next 31 days, right here.

I’ll be talking about giving permission to . . .


Permission to do new things,
familiar things,

scary things,
easy things,
unusual things,
usual things,
startling things,
ordinary things,
things that we too often either
or deny.

Things that move us out of our rut,
or snap us out of our mood,
or force us out of hiding.
Things that add dimension to life,
that bring fullness,
maybe even transformation.

Are you interested?

Well then, just check in each day of October.
There will be a new topic everyday.
Some days there will be a lot of words,
some, not so many.
There will usually be a photo or two,
there will be room to laugh, cry,
sing, dance, doubt, lament, rejoice.

Because that’s who we are,
who we’re designed to be,
who we’re meant to be.

Interesting and interested.
Curious and open,
attentive, inventive,
creative and responsive.

So let’s start with disconnecting, shall we?

Take a break from one thing this week.
I don’t care what it is – something that gives you
just a squinch more breathing room in your day,
something that opens up a crack for fresh air,
fresh thinking, maybe even soul searching.

Are you up for it? 

 Tell me your one thing – put it in the comments.
Maybe that way, you’ll actually make that space in your day,
that tiny space. . . just to breathe in, to breathe deep.

Signing on with The Nester for the 2nd year in a row. Come on over and see the hundreds of others who will be enjoying this fun (and challenging) experiment.

Every day? For 31 days in a row?
I must be nuts
But you knew that, right? 

Making Poetry . . . Together

As we journey with our moms down this last leg of the journey, I find myself doing a lot of reading and research about dementia. There was a link this week to an absolutely beautiful video, a video that tells the story of an Alzheimer’s patient who began to paint lovely watercolors, whose right brain flourished even while the left brain was diminishing.

My mom used to draw occasionally, and if she had her vision, I would be loading up on artist’s supplies for her. But she can no longer see well enough to write her name, much less wield a paintbrush. So I began to wonder about words, and letting them flow when relaxed. Not words she was trying desperately to remember, but descriptive words, feeling words, reflective words.

We went to lunch yesterday, as we try to do once each week. She needs a break from the dormitory-like existence of a memory loss unit and I need time with her when she’s not focused on introducing me – yet again – to every aide, every resident. We crossed the parking lot outside her unit, rode the elevator up one floor and wandered down to the swimming pool and patio. There is small cafe where we can order lunch in a box, and after we had eaten our fill, I began to ask her some gentle questions and then to record them in my iPhone, using the notes app.

When we had finished, I read out to her what she had said, what she had noticed, what she had felt.

And it was lovely.

And uproariously funny at a couple of points, because . . . well, she has dementia, you know! And not everything connects to everything else in the usual way. 

Here, interspersed with photos from a gloriously beautiful afternoon, are my questions to her and her responses to me:

What do you see when we’re here having lunch by the pool?

I see that it’s wonderful,
that there is beauty here.

I love the tall and thin palm trees;
something about them reminds me
that I better get my hair done!

I appreciate the beauty of the day
because it is private here,
and the weather is great
And the tall trees surrounding
the swimming pool are beautiful.
I feel like putting on my shoes and walking.

I love sharing this beauty with you.

What do you hear when you’re sitting here mom?

Because I know there’s building going on,
I can hear that work.
Makes me want to take a walk
and see how far they’ve come.

I see my flag up there too.
And I stop and I think how blessed our lives are.
I’m glad that the flag is flying today.
There’s just enough wind so that it’s waving.

The flag is flying,
and it signals the comfort
of living in a good world.  

I enjoy all the green things.

I like to see the wind move
across the swimming pool.

Seeing the water makes me think that
God’s in his heaven & all’s right with the world.

And Yankee doodle is alright too.

Because she had mentioned taking a walk twice during our shared reverie, I suggested we walk by the new construction and over to the koi pond and magnificent, large magnolia tree that gives that section of the campus its name.

Sitting in the sun is good medicine, I think.

And so is making small poems together.

Missing Them

Whenever I can, I like to join in Heather King’s “Just Write” meme. Today was a day with a layer of sadness pushing its way up to the light, needing to be looked at and prayed through. Here is what comes when I ‘just write’ it out:

I sat on our swing today, for the first time in a few weeks.
It’s a favorite spot for being still, centering, reflecting.

Today, as I put my feet up on the bench and swayed beneath the old oak,
I held before the Lord the names of all my friends who are struggling,

and of all the dear ones closest to me, my children and my grandchildren.
The older two of our eight are wrestling their way to adulthood,
asking good, hard questions.
The youngest is living with chronic illness at the tender age of three.
And my friends are struggling with physical illness, with sick kids,

with broken marriages, and dying dreams.
It felt good to simply say their names,
to remember who they are,
to take their struggles into the presence 
of the God who loves us all,
and whose ways are mysterious, indeed.

And then I thought of them.
Our two mothers,
valiant, beautiful women, both of them,
women who poured themselves into faith and family

all their lives, their long lives.

Fiercely intelligent, strong, funny, tender, loving,
each of these women had a profound influence on who I am,
on who my husband is, on who my children are.

And I wept for them, and for us, and for all the unknowns
of where we are right now.
I admitted that I don’t understand why they suffer like this,
why their lives of faithfulness are ending in
confusion, anxiety, insensibility.

And I realized that I am missing them.
They’re here with us, we see them twice a week,
I talk with my mom on the phone in between those times.
They’re here.

But they’re not here,
not all of who they are. So I allowed myself to miss the
pieces that have floated away, the mothers I once knew so well.

Their long lingering is, of course, teaching me things.
Important things, necessary things.
Most especially, I am looking at my assumptions about
what it means to be a human person,
created in the image of God.
I am learning to release the idea that Descartes made so
‘popular’ generations ago: “I think; therefore, I am.”

I have bought into this mythology at a very deep level;
I have believed that intelligence is the single most important indicator
of the imago dei. I have dreadfully limited my understanding of
who we are as children of God, children who are loved
whether or not we can think coherently.
Whether or not we can remember,

whether or not we can communicate verbally,
whether or not we can command our minds to do what we tell them to do. 

And I am learning to let go, a little more each day,
and to value them, not only for who they have been in the past,
but for who they are now.
For these bodies that bore us are still lovely,
even as they gradually fade away.
There are whispers and echoes of stories we share,
there are wisps of songs that rise to the surface,
there are traces of who they are in a glance, a smile, a single word.

And there is love.

Always, there is love. 

My mother-in-law on her 97th birthday, January of this year.

My mom on her 92nd birthday, around the same family room table,
in the same memory loss unit, celebrating her 92nd birthday in July.

The Noise Inside

So. I’m taking this remarkable online writing class, one of the great workshop offerings coming from TSPoetry. This week’s assignment was to write about jealousy and it’s impact on my writing life. I would like to tell you that I am ABOVE such emotions, that I am spiritually mature enough to never have to deal with the green-eyed monster, that I am completely confident in my own ability to write what God gives me to write. I would like to tell you all of that. But, in truth, I cannot. I am grateful for this group of writers and the kindness and encouragement we share with one another.  AND, my classmates tell me I am not alone in this craziness; I find that oddly comforting.

 (I should probably tell you that we were to riff off of a chapter in Anne Lamott’s wonderful book, “Bird by Bird.” So this is my small attempt at humor.)

Sometimes it feels really crowded up inside my head!!

I recently wrote a piece for a A Deeper Family entitled, “The Crazy Lady”  In it, I described one of the voices that inhabits my head, the one that takes me to the precipice of anxiety and tells me I’m pretty dang worthless along the way.

And she’s a mighty force, that voice, determined to push me into incessant navel-gazing and unnecessary worst-case-scenario thinking.

What I didn’t say in that essay is that The Crazy Lady is not the only voice inside my head. No sirree. She is just the leader of the pack. Her posse includes a few other banditos, of varying ages and shapes, who somehow manage to inhabit my psychic inner space with alarming frequency, making life interesting on the best of days and wildly challenging on the worst. 

Shall I name them for you? Let’s see — there is The Little Girl, about age six, who needs some comforting now and again. And then there’s the gremlin-like version of my mother, The Parent Voice (or the infamous Inner Critic) who calls me names that I would never dream of calling another living soul, who constantly criticizes my every thought and word, and who often succeeds in making me feel like a worthless pile of crap.

And then we have . . . ta da! . . . The District Attorney, who is always trying to make sure the balance scales of life are even, or, if possible, tipped a tiny bit in my direction. I can see her now, in her fancy suit, pencil skirt, white blouse, tailored jacket. Large horn-rimmed glasses, minimal jewelry, hair up in a bun, and a pencil stuck just behind her ear, the better to jot down the names of others who are getting far too much attention, don’t you know?

Did you see who got ALL those comments this morning? It’s just not fair – your writing is at least as good as hers!

Are you kidding me??? SHE got a book contract? How is that even possible?

That person has not been blogging nearly as long as you have and just LOOK at the audience she has built. She’s got this ‘platform’ thing sewn up.

And it’s at about this point that, all of a sudden, the pencil disappears, the hair comes down, the tailored suit morphs into a long flowing gown that glistens darkly in the light and every piece of jewelry she owns is shining, dangling, teasing me into these kinds of thoughts:

Dahling, did you read that line? That perfect line of prose, those words that sing? What a pity that you can’t write a line like that.

I really think you should move onto something else in life. Your words are SO pedestrian, so redundant and reductive and altogether B O R I N G.

And then, in a flash, the glitter disappears, the hair turns the color of mouse fur, and she hunches over as if she’s embarrassed to be in the same space as all these other fascinating creatures inhabiting my head. She becomes a more pathetic version of the inner critic, mumbling and wringing her hands. I call her Miss Mouse.

I KNEW you should never have tried this – you just aren’t good enough.

That woman over there, she knows what she’s doing and she’s going to make a huge splash. But YOU? Not a chance.

Platform? Did you hear about something called a platform? Oh my, one more thing you simply cannot do.

So please, just shut it down, okay? Just SHUT IT DOWN, before you embarrass us all.

Sigh. It’s a wonder I get anything done ever, don’t you think?


In the spirit of playfulness and story-telling, posting this with Laura and Jen this week.


Full to Overflowing . . .

Jesus is an interesting dude.
Full of surprises, un-pin-down-able, a fascinating amalgam of
human and divine, comforter and cattle prod.

Take the leap-off-the-bridge-into-the-chasm story in John 2, for instance.
In this narrative, Jesus is standing on a precipice.
Oh, it doesn’t look like much of a leap — he’s at a party, not a smack-down.
A wedding party, one of those 7-day deals in the ancient Middle East,
where everyone hangs around, eats and drinks and talks
and then eats and drinks a little more.

He’s just called his first five disciples, and is growing ever more surely into
his own sense of himself and his destiny. Jesus is getting ready to inaugurate
what he will soon call the Kingdom of God.
But other than some heartfelt conversations with his new followers,
he hasn’t done anything yet.

I’ve always found it fascinating that in John’s gospel, Jesus’ ‘coming-out’ party happens in
a small, country town at what was most likely a family gathering. 
I mean Luke has him in a synagogue, at least. And Matthew has him up on a hill, doling out powerful teaching by
the bushel basketful. Mark, who’s always in a hurry, leaps right into exorcism
and multiple healings.
But John?
In a backwater town, at a party.
And one where his mother is scurrying around, trying to make sure the tables are full,
the guests are happy, the details are being covered.

We’re moving slowly through the gospel of John at church this year, creating our own lectionary, reveling in the meatiness of this last-written of the stories of Jesus.
And the pastoral staff has called for ideas — literary, artistic, reflective —
to help us consider the story of Jesus as John presents it to us.
Yesterday, one of the resident poets  in our midst read this wonderful
reflection on the opening verses of this story: 

Mysterious Ways

    “They have no wine,” his mother said to him.
       He rolled his eyes.  “Not now,” he whispered.  “Mom,
       please.”  She didn’t care about his secrets.
       Why bear the Son of God if all he does
       is keep it to himself?  Here was a time
       to make the promise good—and please the neighbors.
       “Forget it.  Absolutely not.  You don’t
       have any idea what you’re asking me.
       Woman, no.”  And he rebuked her with
       a godlike gaze.  But mildly she turned
       and told the servants, “What he tells you, do.”
              – Professor Paul Willis (originally published in The Christian Century,
                      reprinted here by kind permission of 
the author) 

 You have no idea how validating it was for me to hear that poem!
I have an interesting relationship with my own son,
one that involves eye-rolling from time to time,
and whenever I read this small gem of a story,
I, too, see the eyes roll and hear the sighs heave.
But what I really love here? That off-handed comment to the servants.
Complete confidence that eventually this son would come around
to his mother’s way of thinking.

And so, with a series of simple imperatives — fill, take, bring —
Jesus steps out into the New World, the one where scarcity is no longer the norm,
where abundance surges forth from the most surprising places.
Water into wine, and not just any old wine, either.
The finest wine of the entire week of feasting,
the best stuff showing up at the last minute.

And then, like a seamstress picking up a sparkling piece of golden thread, John weaves this story together with the overarching theme of the entire book: GLORY. 
“What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.” (verse 11)

Overflowing wine, delicious wine, the BEST wine — 
yet only the servants and the disciples know its source.
Doesn’t sound all that glorious, you know?
The crowds are not pressing in with words of acclaim,
the sky has not opened, the lame do not walk, the lepers are not cleansed.
But John tells us that GLORY happens here,
in the side patio of a sleepy town, where a party is winding down.

Most of the time, I live a pretty ‘small’ life.
I stay home a lot, I entertain and/or visit with family, I write notes on Facebook.
I like my smaller world these days, yet I don’t often think of anything I do
as somehow a reflection of GLORY.
But I’m rethinking that this morning.
I’m wondering if maybe we sell ourselves short,
or more importantly, if we sell God short.
Maybe it’s part of the scarcity mindset, the fear that we don’t have enough,
that we aren’t enough.
Wherever it comes from, I find myself praying today that I can
move away from scarcity thinking to reflecting on, remembering, celebrating,
and even reveling in the abundance that is mine.

Because the truth is this:
NOTHING is small in God’s economy,
NO ONE is forgettable in God’s memory.
And if Jesus can usher in the kingdom with no one
knowing it but the servant and five rag-tag disciples,
maybe we can be kingdom-bearers
in the middle of the dishwater,
the lawn that needs mowing,
the wiping of noses and the changing of diapers,
the attention we give to our school work,
the ‘hello’ we offer to the guy in the next cubicle,
the kindness we show to the salesclerk,
the interactions we have with neighbors,
the time carved out to be with aging parents,
the offering of hospitality even when we may not think we’re ‘ready.’

After all, Jesus hesitates for a moment in this story.
“Not yet!” he tells his mom.

And then, he turns to the servants. 

Joining this with Michelle, Jennifer, Ann and Emily this week:

Working Together: Mercy House with (in)Courage

Almost three years ago now, I began blogging in this space regularly. I was nearing retirement and knew that I would soon have a lot more discretionary time available to me. And I wondered . . . could I do more writing? More blog reading?

So I dove in, headfirst. This was when I began to understand why the internet is called ‘the web’ — everywhere I looked, I found links to somewhere else. And over and over again, those links took me to (in)Courage, DaySpring’s magazine for Christian women. I soon began to see that (in)Courage itself was also a web — at least 30 women writers were part of the creative team that made this magazine the thing of beauty it is.

I was definitely older than their general demographic, but it was fun for me to see young women — singles, marrieds, moms, not-moms — writing about, thinking about and acting out what the gospel looks like in our 21st century world. 

Somehow, I landed on a newsletter list. I have no idea how or why, but I’m glad to be there. Just over six weeks ago, I received a very special edition of that newsletter, inviting me to participate in a wonderful blogging opportunity. May I tell you about it?

Photo for MercyHouse by Bess Brownlee

Mercy House is the lovely brain-child of Kristin Welch, one of the very first bloggers I discovered all those months ago. A ministry of outreach and care to pregnant women living on the streets in Kenya, Mercy House provides living space and medical care for these women and for their babies, offering the love of Jesus in very tangible ways.

This fall, (in)Courage has teamed up with Mercy House to design a special Christmas Project — which we are calling . . . Ta Da!! . . . (in)Mercy. Together, we hope to raise enough money to keep the love of Jesus flowing in good, good ways. This God-sized project will roll out in 5 stages between now and Christmas and TODAY is kick-off day for the whole glorious shebang.

PHASE 1 – from now through October 6 – our goal is: $8,750 for a new van to help transport these lovely women to and from medical appointments

PHASE 2 – From October 7 – October 23 — our goal is $8500 for a new classroom to help these young moms continue their educations

PHASE 3 – October 24, happening at Allume – a text fundraiser to garner $1520 for a new generator for Mercy House.

PHASE 4 – November 11 – December 2 – $2150 for a new computer lab

PHASE 5 – going above and beyond the dreams of all those connected with this mighty ministry – $53,000 toward building a SECOND Mercy House, helping even more struggling women and children.

This is a huge dream, but not beyond the power of our God and not beyond the means of God’s people in Blogdom. 

That’s a total of $74, 000 in a little over three months!

Can we do it? We think so! 

PureCharity has set up an account just for us, to help make donations online and to track our success as we go. You can find our page at PureCharity by clicking on this link. And because of the brilliant way they have set up their site, you can also make contributions by . . . shopping! Hard to believe, I know, but go on over there and read all about it, okay?

We are now officially into Phase One: with 12 moms, 12 babies, 2 house mothers, a social worker, an accountant/assistant and a director, one 15-seat van is put into overdrive far too often at Mercy House. Please consider giving toward this first level of gifts and let’s get this wonderful, big-dream project off to a grand start!! Make your donation today, by clicking here to get over to PureCharity! THANK YOU!!

The Language of Lament – A Deeper Family


There are days when I feel immobilized by all the pain in this world. I’ve had quite a few of those in the last few weeks. Days when despite the sunshine, I see clouds of gray. Days when I wonder where God is, where hope is to be found, when relief will come.

Sometimes this is personal pain. More often, it’s pain carried by someone I love. And then, there is all.the.angst — the burdens borne by our big, wild, crazy world. I’ve lived long enough to see too much ugliness, too much suffering, too much.

I’ve tried cutting myself off from news sources. And that helps for a while, at least until reality intervenes at some other juncture in my life. You can only hide for so long, it seems.

I’ve tried focusing on the small graces of every day life. And that helps considerably. Counting gifts is good therapy, and a habit that I’ve lived with for a very long time now.

But, in and around the thanksgiving, there are those other days. The days that feel like —

massive overwhelm,
uncertainty deep in my soul,
tears beneath the tears,
knots within knots within knots.

And on such days, words escape me, gratitude is much harder to find, and I sense myself suffering what Madeleine L’Engle used to describe as the flu-like symptoms of atheism, the temporary variety.

          Where are you?
          How could you?
          This is too much!

These are the words that rise, the only words that seem to be appropriate in the midst of the ‘slough of despond.’ And these are also, by some miraculous gift of Goodness, the words that slowly but surely open the door to grace and truth.

These are the words of lament.

Humble Hospitality — A Homily for Pentecost 15

I was invited to step in to the chaplain’s role this morning at the beautiful retirement community owned and operated by our denomination here in Santa Barbara. My mother and my mother-in-law both reside there, in Heritage Court, the Assisted Living unit for people living with memory and cognitive loss. About 65 people came to worship in their beautiful, small chapel today, many of them using walkers and/or canes, some sitting in wheel chairs. It’s a wonderful mix of people, average age about 85, I think.

But preaching on hospitality in such a setting proved to be a bit of a challenge,
especially using the text before us in the lectionary for this week.

Throughout the text of this 12 minute homily, I’ve inserted pictures from a variety of family and church settings where we endeavored to practice a bit of what Jesus teaches us in these short stories from Luke 14. Some are from our daughter’s wedding two years ago, some are from Christmas celebrations and some are from our church’s participation in a Thanksgiving meal for foreign students, a wonderful time of good food and fellowship (and a little acting out of the original Thanksgiving story). I am still learning about the kind of hospitality Jesus describes in this passage and perhaps that last, all-church event, most nearly ‘matches’ what this lesson is about.

Humble Hospitality
Luke 14: 1, 7-14, Hebrews 13:1-8,
Proverbs 25:5-6
preached by Diana R.G. Trautwein
at the Samarkand Chapel
September 1, 2013

Our gospel lesson this morning comes from the 14th chapter of Luke’s gospel. It begins with verse 1 and then jumps to a small parable that Jesus tells between verses 7 and 14. Please, hear the word of the Lord for this Sunday:

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath, they were watching him closely.

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place.But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you.For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

All three of our texts for today have something to say about hospitality, about how to behave well at a dinner party. The proverb, the words in Hebrews and, of course, today’s gospel lesson.

And speaking of that gospel lesson . . . that Jesus – he is always stirring things up, isn’t he? Here he is, invited to the home of an important religious leader – at a time when all those religious leaders were watching him closely – and what does he do?

Well, he strides right into that dining room, and he takes a look around. I mean, he REALLY takes a look around.

And what does he see?

He sees that all the guests are trying to squeeze their way into the most valued seats at the table. All of them wanting to be seen as important, worthy of honor, an insider and not an outsider.

Can you relate?

Sometimes, it’s nice to have the best seat in the house, isn’t it? It feels good to be appreciated, to be honored.

And this was a time and a place when honor was really, really important. And shame was something to be avoided at all costs. And shame at the dinner table? Well, that was very high on the list of things NOT to do.

Have you ever noticed how many times Luke mentions eating in his gospel? Almost every chapter in the book mentions a table, an item of food, a banquet of some sort. Apparently, eating was a big deal for Luke. And table manners were a big deal, too.

This little story sits in the beginning of one of the longest teaching sections in this book. Chapters 14-17 are called ‘the travel narrative’ by some scholars. In them, Jesus has set his face toward Jerusalem and he is slowly finding his way there.

In each of these four chapters, time after time, Luke takes the opportunity to tell us the heart and center of the message of Jesus. And time after time, Luke chooses to convey that message in and around table etiquette, in and around feasting together.

So the setting for this small story is really not surprising when you take a look at the whole scope of the gospel of Luke. Jesus is going out to dinner, and Jesus never misses a teaching opportunity.

That first verse in our reading warns us that Jesus is already in trouble, that he’s being observed with care.

His response?

To observe right back. And to talk about what he sees, and to take what he sees and to build Kingdom Truth around it. Verse 7 begins with these words, “When he noticed. . .” Jesus was noticing, he was paying attention. His eyes were open, his heart was open, and he truly saw what was happening around him. And Jesus does what he always seems to do: he tells those dinner guests a story, a story with a lesson, with some clear instruction. And then he tells a related story to the host, too.

That little verse that Joe read for us from Proverbs just a minute ago, remember?

Do not exalt yourself in the king’s presence,
and do not claim a place among his great men;
it is better for him to say to you, “Come up here,”
than for him to humiliate you before his nobles.

As we read Jesus’ words to the guests, it almost sounds like he is doing a little bit of biblical interpretation for the friends gathering around the banquet table that evening. His words are very, very similar to the old proverb. Maybe we could boil down his message to the guests to just a couple of simple words: be real. Be yourself. Don’t try to be someone you’re not, and don’t assume that you deserve more honor than anyone else in the room. This is a Jesus-style lesson about humility, true humility, not false humility.

One of my very favorite authors and preachers is a man named Frederick Buechner, and I like what he has to say on this subject:

Humility is often confused with the gentlemanly self-deprecation of saying you’re not much of a bridge player when you know perfectly well you are. Conscious or otherwise, this kind of humility is a form of gamesmanship.

If you really aren’t much of a bridge player, you’re apt to be rather proud of yourself for admitting it so humbly. This kind of humility is a form of low comedy.

True humility doesn’t consist of thinking ill of yourself but of not thinking of yourself much differently from the way you’d be apt to think of anybody else.

[Humility] is the capacity for being no more and no less pleased when you play your own hand well than when your opponents do.

Don’t jump for the high seat, in other words, just take the low one. If you get a ‘promotion,’ great! If not, you’re still in a good place. Don’t think more highly of yourself than you should – be honest, be careful, be real.

So. The guests are admonished to develop the gift of humility in Jesus’ little teaching moment. What about the host? What about the big Kahuna, the leader of the pack, the guy who wanted to keep such a close eye on Jesus that he invited him over for dinner?

Well, Jesus’ words to this man are a little bit more difficult, don’t you think? In fact, I think they pretty much go against every natural tendency we have!

Don’t invite people who can invite you back, says Jesus. Do invite the folks on the margins, not the rich guys, not the popular guys, not the people in the center. Go for the ones on the edges.


This feels awfully familiar, doesn’t it? If you’ve read the New Testament at all, this idea, this counter-cultural, unnatural, upside down kind of thinking is just all over the place, isn’t it? To the dinner guests it was this little nugget: “All those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

That one is tough enough — learn humility and live humility.

But to the host?

To the host, Jesus pretty much re-defines the whole concept of hospitality, and that little lesson feels a lot more difficult to me.

When I think about being hospitable, I think about welcoming family and friends, maybe someone new who’s coming to church or a new neighbor. I don’t generally think about the people who are really on the edges of things.

And what Jesus is describing here? Well it’s definitely the edges. “The poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind. . .” Each category outside the center of things in first century Palestine. Definitely not folks on anyone’s guest list.

These were the ones who are not welcome. Anywhere. And these are the people who, in a culture that was so strongly centered around honor and shame, would be the shame-bearers. These are the people who would never be honored guests anywhere.

It’s true that we who live in 21st century USA don’t live in a shame/honor culture that looks like the culture Jesus lived in. We keep our shame more hidden, less obvious. In Palestinian culture, everyone knew where the lines were drawn.

So Jesus says – ignore the lines! Invite everybody into the center! In my house, in my kingdom, there is no shame. There is only honor, honor of the best kind imaginable.

I wonder. In this day, in this culture? Where can we find parallels?

This has been a week of remembering the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. Fifty years ago, he helped us re-draw some of those lines of shame didn’t he? Standing on the mall in our nation’s capital, he preached eloquently of his dream for a color-blind culture. And he built that dream directly on the words of Jesus, words like these in the 14th chapter of Luke’s gospel.

Yet we still live in a racially and ethnically and even a financially divided world, don’t we? I’m not just asking you, my friends here at the Samarkand, I’m asking ME, too. I live in one of the most expensive suburbs in the entire nation and it is far from balanced. It is far from welcoming the outsider.

So what does this teaching mean for me? What does it mean for you?

Maybe it starts with how we think about those who are outside our circles. And then, maybe it moves to how we talk about others, and then to what we will listen to other people say about others. Maybe it means being intentional about cultivating the fruits of the Spirit, about practicing humble hospitality wherever and whenever we can.

For you, it might mean things like this: inviting someone new to sit with you for a meal; sharing your row in chapel with people you don’t know well. Maybe even sitting someplace new in chapel from week to week so that others will more easily find a place.

Surely it means continuing to ask God for a humble spirit, continuing to practice love in the small things, continuing to reach out to others around you with grace and warmth.

My mom is a fairly new resident in Heritage Court and she sometimes struggles to remember people’s names. But I’ve gotta tell you, she never forgets to reach out and say, ‘hello.’ She never forgets to introduce me to whomever is nearby. She never forgets to ask people how they’re doing. My mom practices humble hospitality as she is able, even at this stage of her life.

I think maybe it begins by not seeing anyone as an outsider, by refusing to set up edges, by acknowledging the shared humanity of every person we meet, wherever we are, whenever we can.

So, as you head out to lunch today, smile at someone you don’t usually smile at. Introduce yourself to someone new. Let others take the seat you want in the dining room.

Small steps.

I think Jesus calls us to the ministry of small steps: hospitality offered in humility, and centered in gratitude.

Small steps.


If anyone is curious about the amazingly joyous wedding we recently celebrated in our family, after several years of sadness and loss, you can see/read more about it here, here, and here. 

Joining this with Michelle, Jen, And & Laura this week.