Archives for November 2015

One of a Kind: A Book Review . . . Bandersnatch!


My friend Erika Morrison is one of a kind. Earthy, funny, stubborn, passionate, highly intelligent and filled to the brim with Jesus-love. And I thank God for her!

She has written a lovely, challenging, heartfelt book that is just like she is.

Bandersnatch — An Invitation to Explore Your Unconventional Soul, is 230 pages of alliteration, story-telling, question-asking (and answering), and thought-provoking ideas. It takes time to read this book, time to absorb it properly, and those questions she asks will stick with you for a long time after you close the cover.

Her basic premise is one I’ve been gently espousing here at my blog and in my work as a spiritual director: discover who you are, the one God loves, the one God designed, and become that person with your whole heart. Of course, Erika being Erika, she says it a whole lot better than that and she surrounds that central point with four lovely facets, each one offering a challenge to re-think who you are and how you live as a follower of Jesus.

This is her 4-part “A” list: Avant-Garde, Alchemy, Anthropology, Art — and she delves into each one with her characteristic verve and insight, offering personal stories and asking soul-searching questions from all four compass points. She borrows her title from a character in Carroll’s, ‘Through the Looking Glass:’ “A bandersnatch is . . . a rather untamed and frightening beast with unpredictable habits and unconventional attitudes, he is also good because his fierceness, his troublemaking, his nuisance-bearing disposition is . . . submitted to a better cause — the dominion of the kind and good white queen.” (pg. xii) 

She boldly calls us to become like that bandersnatch — submitted to the dominion of the Kingdom, sold out to Jesus, and in touch with who we are, how we’re wired and how we might best bring that Kingdom into the lives we live, the worlds we inhabit, the people we meet, and the families we create.

I would not call this book an easy read. But it is a good read, a challenging one and potentially, a life-changing one. I highly recommend it. It’s available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble and wherever Christian books are sold. 

Advent One: A Prayer for Hope


O, Lord —

teach us to hope.

Teach us to wait.

Teach us to walk right into the dark, without fear, without missing a step.


Advent happens during the darkest part of the year in our northern hemisphere. That’s how we start the new liturgical year, in the dark.

The dark.

Where roots grow deep, buried beneath the soil.
Where stars appear, one flicker of promise after another.
Where sleep happens, that still space in the middle of all our busy, forcing us to slow down, to stop our striving, to make space for rest and growth, and to prepare for the renewal of the light.

We begin this four-week cycle with hope.

Because where else can we start? 


Only hope can help us focus on wonder and goodness when terror and death assault our feeble frame.

It is hope that buoys our spirits when we are overwhelmed.

It is hope that sparks that candle, the one that lights the way, one footstep at a time.


So. Teach us to hope, Lord. Remind us that you are good, that love is real, that life is larger than our fears — that YOU are larger than our fears.

Help us to remember that all good things start small — seeds, kittens, puppies, babies, ideas, love, laughter, joy . . . and hope.


So, help us to start small, to trust that a flicker can become a flame, a flame can become a torch, and a torch can become a bonfire, piercing the darkness and lighting the way.

We wait for the baby. We wait for the King. We wait.

Teach us to wait with hope.

For Jesus’s sake,


Redefining Terms — SheLoves, November

Each month, it is my privilege and pleasure to write to a theme at SheLovesMagazine. This month — of course! — the theme is ‘feast.’ In this piece, I choose to redefine the term, to broaden and enrich it. You can start here and then follow this link over to read the rest of the piece.


I’m sitting here, leaning firmly against squishy homemade flannel bags filled with field corn, bags I’ve warmed in the microwave, each of them aligned with a sore spot in my back or neck. And I am sighing with gratitude and comfort. I am also breathing in the first truly cool air we’ve enjoyed in central California for a long, long time. And I can hear the first tentative drops of rain hitting the patio just outside my door. Ah, yes. So many of my senses engaged at once, and I’m earnestly trying to pay attention to each one.

As I do that, I begin to feel like I’ve been at a banquet, thoroughly sated with deliciousness. Even though I’ve lived a long time now, I must admit that this kind of satiety is a new experience for me, this feeling full merely because I’m paying attention to the details of my day. For decades, the only ‘full’ sensation I knew well was that caused by overstuffing myself with various foodstuffs. And that kind of feeling full was important, very important.

I don’t know all the reasons why it was so important, though I’ve learned about some of them. Early in my life, I internalized that food was comfort, reward, gift and friend. I come from a long line of strong women, all of whom loved food. They also used food to do all kinds of things it was never designed to do. I never really knew any other way of thinking about food, and when I heard someone say something that ran counter to my internal understanding, I was mystified. I distinctly remember admiring a very slender girl in my high school youth group and hearing her say, “Eating is a nuisance. I only do it because I have to. I don’t like interrupting my life to stop and eat.”

Say what?

Click here to read the rest of this post . . .

When Fear Rules

“IF WE ONLY HAD eyes to see and ears to hear and wits to understand, we would know that the Kingdom of God in the sense of holiness, goodness, beauty is as close as breathing and is crying out to be born both with in ourselves and with in the world; we would know that the Kingdom of God is what we all of us hunger for above all other things even when we don’t know its name or realize that it’s what we’re starving to death for. The Kingdom of God is where our best dreams come from and our truest prayers. We glimpse it at those moments when we find ourselves being better than we are and wiser than we know. We catch sight of it when at some moment of crisis a strength seems to come to us that is greater than our own strength. The Kingdom of God is where we belong. It is home, and whether we realize it or not, I think we are all of us homesick for it.”

– Frederick Buechner, originally published in The Clown in The Belfry


“The kingdom of God is within you,” the master said. 

Within you.

Hidden in plain sight. Familiar, yet new. 

Too often, we feeble folk forget this powerful truth. We turn away from the gentle, subtle, powerful Kingdom of God that is within us and wander instead into the kingdom of fear. We listen to that voice that tells us everything is falling down, that there are enemies on all sides, that there is no room, and there is no time, for goodness, holiness, peace.

We let fear rule, feeling its insidious and invasive ugliness move into every cell of us, body and soul. And fear is a powerful thing, a fearful thing. When it’s working as God designed it to work, fear is a good and dependable early-warning system, alerting us to physical or emotional danger in our immediate environment.

But when we allow our thoughts to be held captive by worst-case scenario thinking, when that thinking leads us to make unhelpful and surly responses to others with whom we disagree (and often, there is room for honest disagreement), and when those unhelpful, even hurtful, responses are then offered in the name of Jesus . . . well, then. It’s time to take a giant step back and re-think.

The newsfeed has been radiating fear-based, reactionary words and threats since the tragic events in Beirut, Paris, Egypt and Syria this month. And far too many of those words have come from the mouths (or typing fingers) of folks who say they are Jesus-people. We need to take a really deep breath, my dear friends. Really deep.

And then, we need to talk. Not shout. And we need to pray, deeply, regularly, openly, secretly. We need to encourage our political leaders to keep the conversation civil, to remember who we are as a nation. And we need to encourage other Jesus people to do the same, to remember who we are as kingdom-people. Most of all, we need to re-touch that Kingdom within and hang with all our might.

We do live in a world that is filled with pain, poverty, prejudice, anger, racial hatred and religious bigotry. Bigotry that has bloomed into a terrifying kind of behavior. Yes, it is scary out there. Very scary. 


BUT . . . we follow that strange and wonderful rabbi, the dusty one, the determined one, the surprising one. The one who rebuked vengeful behavior. The one who called us to counter-cultural thinking and living. The one who offered himself to the terrorists of his own place and time. The one who said, “Peace, I leave with you.”


We stand at an interesting crossroads right now. Can we, as Reverend Buechner says in the quote at the top of this post, discover ourselves to be ‘better than we are and wiser than we know?’ May it be so. Oh, Lord, may it be so.

Because when fear rules, we all lose.

“The Communion of Saints”


That line from the Apostles’ Creed is a favorite of mine. And All Saints’ Sunday is, too — that Sunday when we remember those saints who are ‘absent from the body, but present with the Lord,’ all of whom are forever part of the church triumphant. And there are so many. So many. The writer of Hebrews describes them as a ‘great cloud of witnesses,’ and on this special Sunday, I can almost see them, surrounding us as we worship.

IMG_6236We used an adaptation of a litany from the Book of Common Prayer on Sunday, listing off saints from years/decades/centuries gone by, leaving space to mention more recent saints, ones whom we know and love. Each communal response: “Come, and stand beside us.” And in a powerful way, I could sense them all, standing there with us, as we spoke and sang together.


I helped with worship leadership while our senior pastor was out of town, and as always, I found that solemn procession of our gathered body intensely moving. At least 200 people went forward to pick up a lighted candle in memory of a loved one, placing it on the altar or the communion table.  Two mothers who each lost a son too early held one another’s arms as they walked back to their seats. Several congregants who lost loved parents in the last year walked by me, tears in their eyes. I placed a candle for my dad and my brother and my son-in-law; Dick placed one for each of his parents. They were glistening and guttering throughout the rest of the service, literally surrounding us with light and warmth. As that silent crowd moved through the chancel, we sang through all the verses of “For All the Saints.” We needed every single one to accommodate the crush of people who chose to remember and rejoice. 

Yes, I love this Sunday.


Pastor Jon preached a rich sermon on the Lazarus text in John 11, taking a different tack than most: Lazarus, dead and stinking, as a model for discipleship. Oh, so SPOT ON. Why? Because Jesus is in the habit of resuscitating those who are dead. Ask me how I know.

We spend far too much time trying to prove ourselves worthy when all that is asked of us is to respond to the Word of invitation: “Come out!” And then, we are asked to help one another shed those grave clothes, to uncover our faces and let go of all that entangles and trips us. And that includes our ever-lovin’ need to save ourselves, rather than simply allow the grace of God to flow through us and then out again, into the worlds in which we each live. I needed that reminder, that kind of good truth-telling. Maybe you do, too?


Forty-eight hours later, I had lunch with my mama, whom I love and whom I miss, both at the same time. In many ways, it would have been appropriate to carry a lit candle forward for her on Sunday. Because the mama I have known all my life — at least, most of the mama I have known — is no longer here. What remains is beautiful, that is true. But what remains is also so terribly confused.

Each time we are together, I am less able to decipher what she is talking about. The sentences are complete (most of the time) — they just don’t connect with one another. Nor do the pronouns she liberally sprinkles into each phrase have an easily discernible referent. It is always a guessing game, one that I am less and less able to play very well.

IMG_6307My sweet mama loves to go to the balcony overlook at the Mountain View Cafe in the Life Center building at the retirement community where she lives. She loves to look out at the mountains and the clouds, even though she can see only the barest outline of the landscape due to severe macular degeneration. She has now conflated some of her diminishing memories and it’s increasingly difficult for me to pull apart the tender threads and make any kind of sensible response to the running commentary she offers.

But we always smile at each other. And we laugh, wherever and whenever we can. And we enjoy our food. It was colder than usual at lunch and my mother is always cold. So she wore two jackets — hers and mine — and sipped on hot tea until it was no longer hot. And she ate the first half of her cheeseburger with sighs of delight over every bite. Then, a few minutes later, I asked if she’d like to eat the other half. And she looked at it. And she looked at me. And she asked, with a worried tone, “What is that??”

“What is that?”

Oh, mercy me.

“That’s the other half of your sandwich, Mama. The one that you said was so good.”

She picked it up, thoroughly confused as to which end was which and at the words ‘so good,’ immediately said, “Yes! It was good.”

And she began to eat.

I battled tears on the way home, missing her so much. Not wanting her to leave, but somehow wishing that neither of us would have to lose any more pieces of her before she goes home to Jesus.


It was a glory day today , and that helped. A true central California fall day, just about the first one we’ve enjoyed thus far in these six weeks of autumn. 

I took her back to her room, sat her in her recliner, with her feet up, and covered her with the cozy fleece blanket our daughter gave her for Christmas a couple of years ago. She was happy, calm, content.

And then I went home. Grateful down to my toes for the communion I enjoy with this saint in my life — the one I have today, and the one who is no longer here.


Here is the prayer I shared at the communion table, working from Jon’s description of his sermon earlier in the week. It wove its way nicely through the words that he shared. It never ceases to amaze me how the Spirit does that with our words — weaves them together, even when we are unaware of it.

A Prayer for Communion — “All We Like Lazarus”

Sunday, November 1, 2015; All Saints’ Sunday; Montecito Covenant Church

Here we are again, Lord. Gathering ‘round your table,

this place where we are reminded every month that we are bodily creatures.

Yes, indeed, all of us here have bodies — young, old, healthy, sick, strong, weak. We have these bodies that eat and move — some more easily than others — with minds and mouths that think and pray, and wonder and argue. Sometimes, these bodies even dance and sing.

Right now, they are sitting still, and we’re trying to focus our wondering, wandering minds on the good truths Jon has shared with us from your word this morning.

We’re here, Lord. At the table now. We’re here because you asked us to be here. Long ago, you invited us to take these simple things, this bread and this cup, and to eat and drink them together.


There’s something important about that part, isn’t there? And on this Sunday, we’re reminded more strongly than ever that when we gather these bodies of ours in this place, it’s not just we who are here. On this Communion Day, this All Saints’ Communion Day, we are more aware than we usually are of that ‘great cloud of witnesses’ to which we belong as earthlings. Thank you for the saints who have gone before us, thank you that in some way we cannot begin to fathom, they are still with us.

All of us together – saints on earth and saints in heaven – want to take just a moment to set aside these table gifts this morning. First, we want to thank you for them. To say thank you for the simplicity of them, for the everydayness of torn up bread and lukewarm grape juice. And second, we ask you to bless that ordinariness, and to infuse this simple ritual, with its familiar words, to infuse it with your presence, your holy presence that sees us, exactly as we are, and welcomes us here, nevertheless.

Help us to hear your call to ‘come out,’ dead and stinky though we may be. And help us to help each other loosen those grave clothes — all those things that bind us and hinder us from fully following after you.

Yes, Lord, even as we eat this blessed bread, and drink this set-aside cup, remind us that we do it together.

Lazarus is our model today, will you help us to learn from him? And there are other saints who can teach us, too. Saints whose lives tell the story of your powerful restorative and transforming work. And the truth is, sometimes, those saints are us. You are doing that good work in us.

Help us to tell our Lazarus stories to others, and help us to hear them from others, too. Too often, we forget to do either — to tell or to listen. Forgive us for that, Lord, and for the too many other ways in which we falter and fail, we fumble and flail.

But as this table so beautifully reminds us, your grace is more than a match for all of our faults. For this is a table of life! Even as we remember your death, Jesus, we do it in light of the resurrection. And all that is dead and dying in us can be redeemed, called out to newness of life.