Archives for December 2015

Sing It Out!! — for SheLoves in December

We were asked to write a shorter-than-usual reflection piece for SheLoves this month, reflection on a character in the Christmas narrative. My choice was a bit of a ‘cheat,’ because I picked two of my very favorites. See if maybe you see the same things I do in this lovely piece of our story. You can start here and then finish it over at SheLoves:


There are two of them in the story, two of them in the same boat.

And such a strange and wonderful boat it was.

One young, very young. The other, older, maybe ten or even twenty years older. Cousins the story tells us, they were distant cousins.

Both of them pregnant — unexpectedly, miraculously, stunningly pregnant.

And they came together at a crucial moment, offering each other gifts, gifts that took the shape of words, words that sing out with hope and promise, with surprise and jump-for-joy abandon.

That younger one was full to the brim with Spirit-joy and more than a little bit of wonder, and I’m guessing, more than a few questions. When she knew she was with child, she went running, right on up the dusty road, up to the hills, looking for that familiar face, that familiar cousin-voice, so hungry for a companion on the way.

And the older one? Well, she was smack dab in the middle of her own wonderment. For years she cried out to God, begging for a baby, a baby who never materialized, leaving her aching and isolated. When she was beyond hope, God answered! Now there was a wild-souled boy-child growing inside her.

Their meeting is a picture of the life-giving power that is possible when women who share affection and esteem support one another. Mary, overwhelmed by that heavenly visitation and its remarkable aftermath, headed straight into the arms of someone who knew her well, someone who knew God well, someone who could help her make some sense of all the craziness. She headed for Elizabeth.

Hop on over to SheLoves to see what happens next!

Advent Two: A Prayer for Peace

Each week of Advent, I am offering a simple prayer centered around the ‘theme’ of that particular Advent Sunday. Last week was ‘hope,’ this week, is ‘peace.’ These words will often flow from my own reflection on the texts and the sermon of that week. Yesterday’s preaching text was Luke 3:1-6.


I gotta admit, Lord,
peace is looking a tad impossible these days.

Everywhere, we are killing one another.
Some of us use guns,
and some of us use words.

So, yeah, Lord.
Peace is feeling more than a little bit elusive,
like a shy child, hiding in Mama’s skirts.

Come out, I want to cry.
Come out and settle with us.
Sit in our hearts and in our minds,
bring us together,
help us to put away those guns,
soften those words,
open these tired hearts of ours.

And then I read those words of Isaiah’s as our dear
and slightly crazy friend John the Baptist used them
at the unfolding of his ministry, his odd and marvelous ministry —
of strange words and of water.


And as I read them,
I remember that the whole idea of peace has more to do with what’s

happening inside me, and what’s happening in your church,
than it does with what’s happening in the nations,
or the cities, or the terrorist camps and capitals.

Peace has to do with my, with our, willingness to let go.

To let go of anxieties,
and of our feeble attempts to ‘fix’ others —
other people, other relationships, other situations.

But I struggle so to hold the heck on.
To worry things to death,
to try and manage people and things.

Oh, I am such a slow learner.

When will I remember that there is very, very little
within my actual capacity to control?
All that is given to me is the ability to choose,
to choose my own words, responses and actions.
And even that choosing has its limits, doesn’t it, Lord?


Luke’s gospel uses so few words to tell us about John and his ministry.
Maybe that’s because John himself was a man of few words.

Yet from those words, whole swarms of people got a peek
at what You were up to in their world.
John’s words were these: ‘repent,’ ‘forgiveness of sins,’ ‘be baptized.’

And then your servant Luke dips into his ancient scripture text and finds a few more, these beauties from the prophet Isaiah:

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight. 
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be brought low;
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways shall be made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

       — Isaiah 40, NKJV


More than a description of the changes in our physical landscape
brought by the ‘salvation of God,’
these words describe the changing landscape inside
each and every one of us.

I, for one, have a lot of hills and valleys goin’ on.
Rough places?
Yes, yes. I’ve got more than a few.
And there is a whole lot that is crooked in here,
a whole lot that needs straightening.
The kind of straightening that only You can do, Lord God.

So, as trite as it sometimes sounds to say or sing those
old-chestnut words,
‘let there be peace on earth,
and let it begin with me,’
I will say them, right here, right now.

Yes, yes.
Let it begin with me.


Come right on in here, dear God.
Trim down the hill of my resistance,
fill in the valleys of my anxieties,
straighten out the crookedness of my 
malformed desires and dreams,
and smooth out the roughness,
the edginess,
that too often rises to the surface,
especially during busy seasons like this one.

You have invited me to be your partner in peace,
real peace,
true peace,
the kind that starts inside . . .
and then works its way out.

The kind that brings lasting changes,
in us and in our world.

So, Prince of Peace . . .
do your amazing thing,
and start right here, okay?

Right here,

Inside this messed-up heart of mine.

Amen. May it be so.

“Coming Clean” — A Book Review

Coming Clean

This year, I have said ‘yes’ to too many friends about reading and reviewing their books. I love doing it, I do. But suddenly, at this point in the year, I am feeling overwhelmed, more than a little bit guilty, and very, very late. Seth’s gorgeous book debuted at the end of October.


And I LOVED it.

Sigh, again.

So . . . better late than never, right??  RIGHT??

This book, this amazing book — “Coming Clean, A Story of Faith” — is its own strange and wonderful animal. Part memoir, part journal, part devotional, ALL honest and true. And so very, very good. In fact, this is one of the best books I’ve read. Ever.

And I’ve read a whole lotta books.

Seth has really important things to say and he says them so well. He had me at the preface, which contained this gem of a chunk, to which I wrote a very large, very red YES in the margin:

“Read this less as a book about alcoholism and more as one about the pains and salves common in every life. My alcoholism is not the thing, see. Neither is your eating disorder, your greed disorder, or your sex addiction. Your sin is not the thing. The thing is under the sin. The thing is the pain. Sin management without redemption of life’s pain is a losing proposition.

“There is an antidote for the pain. It was taught to us, commanded of us. It is simple in word and sometimes impossible in deed. It is free, but it isn’t cheap.

“Are you ready to explore with me? Are you ready to find the medicine?

“This is an open invitation to come clean.” (pg. 14)

And the book continues to unfold exactly what he means by these words. Journeying through it is at one and the same time delightful and exquisitely painful. Why? Because I recognized myself on almost every page — and I have never had an entire drink of alcohol in my life. “My alcoholism is not the thing, see.” 

Oh, yeah. I see. I see.

The pain became overwhelming for Seth when his youngest son Titus was critically, unexplainably ill. Going from doctor to doctor, hospital to hospital, finding no answers. None. They watched this beautiful little boy slowly wasting away. And to stop the pain, Seth began to drink, finding in alcohol a friend and a comfort and a salve, albeit quite temporary, for the ache inside.

Seth is a thinking Christian, an intelligent man and a loving one, and as he walked this hard road, he began to wrestle with the things he had always believed. He saw no sign of an active God in his world or anywhere else. He knew that his own personal battle with the bottle would not be a welcome topic of conversation in most church gatherings — sad, but oh-so-true, I am sorry to say. And he began to journal. Early in that process, he found one person who was safe, a person who had walked the road to sobriety before him, and with her gentle help, Seth slowly began to turn in a different direction.

Here’s what I love about this story. First of all, it is masterfully written. Seth has taken his journal entries from the first 90 days of his ‘coming clean’ journey, edited and thought about them and created a small work of art in these 219 pages. Just for the language choice and the thoughtfulness, this is a worthwhile read.

In addition, he has told the truth as he was learning it. He asks the right questions and he wrestles hard with the answers, freely admitting that he cannot always find them. The journal moves into memoir when he writes of his early life, especially of his early faith, of meeting and knowing God in the sound of wind through the mesquite trees of his Texas childhood. He remembers his own early feelings of tranquility and assurance that all is right with the world because there is a benevolent God present in it. 

Thirdly, he frankly admits and swears by the therapy he received in this process. I am a big believer in good therapeutic intervention, having found it to be life-changing, maybe even life-saving. And Seth writes it true, true, true. A good therapist asks the right questions and listens beyond listening, getting to the heart of things in ways most of us either cannot or do not. An encounter with a faith-healer in childhood, and the skillful way in which his therapist wove together technique and prayer to help him understand why that experience was so deeply formative, is a wonder to behold and a critical piece in Seth’s recovery process. I believe that reading some of these scenes in a group setting could be liberating and life-changing for many, and I was delighted to read that this book will be part of a group study in an Indiana prison.

That’s  the kind of book this is, my friends. An instrument of grace, a means of revelation and a call to honesty, openness and hard, personal work. Read it.

And then do it.

You won’t be sorry.