Thursday, December 25, 2014

Last Night: Orphans

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.
John 14:18
In 2002, my oldest brother died, just days before his 50th birthday.

Just before Thanksgiving, 2009, my father became sick. He was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor by Christmas. He was gone by Martin Luther King Jr Day.

On Memorial Day, 2010, my other brother died.

On the night before New Year's Eve in 2011, my mother died.

The entire family in which I grew up is gone. Many times since then, I've felt like an orphan.

Oh, I'm not without family. I have a wife and several young men who call me Dad.  I have two little boys to whom I'm Grandpa, plus several more little kids who call me Papa Tim.

But still, at times, I feel like an orphan.

I cried twice while watching the movie Interstellar this past weekend, I felt empty inside without being able to talk about it with Scott, who taught me to love sci-fi. Every time I've been to the Roots 'n' Blues festival, I wanted to tell Mark about it. Every time one of my articles is published in The Lookout or Christian Standard, I want to take copies of the magazines to share with Dad and Mom.

But they're all gone.


When Jesus was crucified, the disciples felt like orphans, even though he had promised them he wouldn't leave them alone.

They were overjoyed when he rose from the grave, but then, after a few weeks, he left them again.

I have no doubt there were times in the days that followed when Peter and John and the others turned to tell Jesus something, or to ask him a question, and their shoulders drooped as they remembered he was gone.

It was hard for them to understand that he still was not leaving them alone.
They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” Acts 1:10-11

I still carry my family's hopes and dreams, their legacy, within me. I don't know how many times I've wanted to call one of them and let them know when I experience a victory. I want to let them know when I've managed to live up to the dreams they had for me. I'm carrying on the spirit of the Robertson family.

Jesus is always with me, too, only in a more real way. Like those first disciples, it's not just Jesus' spirit that lives on in me, but his actual Spirit that lives in me.

He not only knows when I'm living up to his legacy, living up to the dreams he had for me. He's actually participating with me, going along with me as I carry on the work he began.

He'll never be gone.

Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. John 14:19-20

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Last Night: Lead With Love

Christianity Today cover, December 2014
"Who am I to judge a gay person?"
“A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person. "
"On the contrary, the Lord has created us in His image and likeness, and has given us this commandment in our heart: Do good and do not do evil. The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, what about the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us first class children of God! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all! And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, with everyone doing his own part; if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of meeting: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good! We shall meet there."
Those are the words of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, known now as Pope Francis. He has provoked a lot of talk with what Catholics and Evangelicals and atheists alike see as controversial statements.

Personally, I don't get too worked up about most of what he says. I figure even if he's saying something theologically questionable, what's shocking about yet another non-biblical or extra-biblical brick in the edifice of the Roman Catholic Church? Frankly, his comments about gays or atheists or abortion are less theologically troubling than this tweet:
The concern among many Christians is what they see as his "liberal theology." In their eyes he's going soft on sin and the need for repentance.

I'm no expert on the theology of Pope Francis. I'm not sure anyone is, other than the man himself. He does seem to speak his mind freely, without carefully massaging the message to avoid controversy.

Austin Ivereigh, a Roman Catholic journalist, has followed the new pope's statements as closely as anyone. In an NPR interview about his new biography of the pope, The Great Reformer, he had this to say:
They know he's shaking things up, which he is. But they mistake that for a kind of attempt to change doctrine. I mean, on all the core Catholic teachings, he is a absolutely straight-down-the-line orthodox Catholic. But he is also an evangelizer and a missionary. 
And his observation — the famous observation — that we shouldn't bang on too much about abortion and those other issues, his point is not that abortion isn't wrong. I can cite you many speeches in which he gives searing denunciations of abortion. It's that he says it is not enough for people to look at the Catholic and say, "Yes, that's what the church stands for." 
What's missing from the picture, he says, is the merciful face of Christ. The church that heals the wounds, that raises people up, that nurtures them, that forgives them. And so what he's trying to do is to say, "Actually, that's the face of the church that needs to be presented." 
Now, this isn't a PR exercise. What he's actually saying is people need to experience that before they are ready to accept the rest of it.
The December 2014 issue of Christianity Today has a cover story, Pope Francis: Why Everyone Loves the Pope, in which R.R. Reno has this to say:
In the case of Francis, the media does not realize that his statements are more pastoral than doctrinal in nature. He wants to reframe the classic doctrine and morals of the Catholic Church so that a secular world can be converted and adhere to them.
That sounds a lot like what I've been trying to say in my writing, including this quote from my Christian Standard article, Right and Righteous:
In Matthew 5, Jesus reaffirmed the timeless centrality of obeying the commandments of God. Then he took it a step further by putting the focus not on our actions, but on our hearts. Having barely caught his breath from hammering home the guilt in our hearts, he went on to challenge us to love our enemies. 
At the end of his ministry, Jesus repeated the importance of obedience when he told his disciples, “If you love me, keep my commands” (John 14:15). In that same final conversation he also told them, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). 
My continual prayer for myself and my fellow Christians is that we will have the courage to speak where all the Scriptures speak, and to steadfastly refuse to compromise on the essentials of holiness and love.
Last night, on the season finale of the 29th season of the TV "reality show" Survivor, much was made of a pair of contestants who are a "Christian gay couple." Twitter was filled with instant reactions and opinions, both positive and negative. Regardless of whether a "gay Christian" is a biblical concept at all, my chief opinion is that every person should be approached as an individual, not as a stereotype.

Lead with love, not with opinions. I don't know the two men at the center of that controversy, so I'm not going to pretend I know enough about their relationship or their beliefs to comment on their faith. I pray there are faithful Christians in their life who are mentors.

Lead with love, something there's just too little of.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Last Night: Free Agent Faith

Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton dominated the daily news cycle for better than a year during 2007 and 2008. The two produced volumes of words detailing their differing thoughts on the issues, including their approach to foreign policy.

As happens in American politics, the end result of all this disagreement was twofold: (1) Mr. Obama won the nomination, and eventually the election, and (2) the new president named his former opponent, Mrs. Clinton, to one of the most important jobs in his administration.

As the United States Secretary of State, Clinton was responsible for representing her country in its diplomatic relationships with the rest of the world's nations. In addition, as President Obama's Secretary of State, she was charged with representing her president's approach and priorities, not her own. Whenever there was a conflict between her opinions and those of her boss, she was obligated to represent him. By accepting the job, she was no longer free to pursue her personal foreign policy agenda at the expense of the president's.

She was charged with representing the name of the United States and the name of President Barack Obama in the eyes of the world.

This modern day political reality can help us understand Jesus' promise to the disciples on this last night with them:
And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. (John 14:13-14)
As a child I learned to end my prayers with the words, in Jesus' name I pray, Amen. As long as I said those magic words, my prayers would be answered, or so I was convinced.

I was wrong.

Jesus' name is not a magic password. To ask in the name of Jesus is to to ask as a representative of Jesus, in pursuit of his priorities and mission.

A successful Secretary of State must be confident that any promise she or he makes in line with the priorities and purposes of the president will be backed up with the full power of the oval office, for the good of the United States. Likewise, anything she would request from the president, as long as it was within the scope of his priorities and purposes, would likely be granted.

By the same token, when I align my heart with the heart of Jesus, when I make his priorities my priorities and his mission my mission, then I can confidently expect that when I ask for something within that scope, the full power of both the Father and Son will be available to grant my request.

Prayer isn't about making me feel better. It isn't about getting what I want. It isn't about praying for my own priorities and mission and then expecting a rubber stamp approval from God.

Free agent faith, the kind that assumes Jesus is granting me a blank check for whatever I want, is a faith in myself rather than in Christ.

Prayer is primarily about growing closer to Christ. As that relationship grows, the things I pray about will increasingly be the things he cares about. As intimacy deepens, the power of my prayer life grows.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Last Night: Superheroes

Super Heroes Last Supper, by Michael Kozlov
Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. John 14:10-12
Movies based on comic book super heroes are very popular these days. Actually, they've always been popular, but starting with the Dark Knight movies, film makers have been trying to ground the comic book movies in a gritty realism, including humanizing the heroes.

For characters like Superman, humanizing is a difficult task. The Man of Steel has always been a larger than life character, almost god-like. He's always been a champion for justice and everything good and right, which doesn't always mix well with efforts to humanize him.

The trend now is toward movies that showcase groups of heroes, rather than individuals. The Avengers films are able to set up a comparison between what the god-like Thor can accomplish versus the down-to-earth Black Widow or Hawkeye. The sequel to Man of Steel puts that sort of contrast front and center, setting up Batman v. Superman.

I'm reminded of these super hero contrasts when I read Jesus' surprising statement to the disciples that "whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these." 

It's undeniable that Jesus was, and is, able to do far beyond anything we could imagine doing.

Jesus demonstrated the incredible power of God while here on earth. He's promising, though, that when he leaves, the Holy Spirit will put make power of God available within each Christian.

In Jesus, the divine character was shown in part through his perfect sinless life.  In us, though, the glory of God displays itself in spite of our weaknesses. Like Captain America, who was transformed from a weakling into a mightily strong hero, God's power is made perfect through our weakness. (II Corinthians 12:9).

Jesus was perfect.  He never sinned, he never failed in what he set out to do. We're not like Jesus in that regard. The Holy Spirit has taken up residence in thousands of flawed, sinful believers. In spite of having the Spirit of Jesus within us, we lose our temper, we get impatient, we grumble, we act rashly. And yet, God is able to use our flaws to demonstrate the magnificence of his grace. He's able to use even the most flawed among us, just like the Hulk manages to be a hero despite his failings.

Jesus spent three years traveling around Palestine on foot, teaching and helping the needy. His ministry was limited to an area less than 8,500 square miles and spanned only three short years. His people, the church, have been able to continue His ministry in every corner of the globe, for over two millenia. We're able to "go" much more rapidly than He and his disciples ever traveled, via cars, planes, and the like. We're also able to communicate instantly through the internet. Like the Flash, we're able to do Jesus-empowered ministry much more quickly than He ever was.

You may have a past as tortured as Bruce Wayne's. You may have physical limitations, like Aquaman's. You might even be a bit awkward, like Peter Parker. And yet, with the Holy Spirit inside, you can be on mission for God in ways that others can't, in places that Jesus Himself could not go.

Throw ya banner in the sky
Give it up for my superhero 
Show love for my superhero 
Gon' hold em real high 
You know that’s my superhero 
You know that’s my superhero 
Just throw ya banner in the sky 
Give it up for my superhero 
Show love for my superhero 
Gon' let his light shine 
You know that’s my superhero

Friday, November 28, 2014

Last Night: GPS for the Church

"You know the way to the place where I am going.” 
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”  
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”  I John 14:4-7
As I talked about a few weeks ago, John 13-17 is the record of Jesus' last conversation with his disciples about his plans and purpose for the Church after his departure. It's important that we understand the way and the truth and the life within that context.

As with nearly every scripture verse outside the book of Proverbs, this statement wasn't dropped into the evening's conversation like a tweet on the @12Disciples Twitter feed.

Jesus is answering a question, one posed by the disciples' designated doubter, Thomas.

After Jesus says, "You know the way to the place where I am going," I picture each of the disciples looking sideways at the others, checking to see if everyone else is confused.  They maybe look at Peter to see if he's going to pop off and say something stupid again. But Peter still has a glazed look in his eyes, his head cocked to the side as though he's listening hard to see if there's a rooster crowing somewhere.

Finally someone elbows Thomas and an involuntary yelp escapes his lips. When Jesus and everyone else looks at  him, Thomas can't help but letting the yelp become the question in his head.
“Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”  
I've heard a boat load of sermons and read a truck load of books and articles and blog posts analyzing Jesus' reply, "I am the way and the truth and the life." Most of those, in my opinion, stretch this simple statement far beyond Jesus' intent.

Jesus doesn't say this:
In order to go where I'm going, here's a list of things you need to do:  You need to do everything the way I've done them; you need to know all the truths I've taught; you need to live your life like I lived mine.
Followers of Jesus will most certainly be blessed if they seek to imitate his way, his truth, and his life. But that isn't the way to the Father.

Jesus IS the way. There's no other route or plan to reconcile with the Father than through Jesus. Just as football coaches like to say, "the road to the championship goes through fill in the blank with your team's location, Jesus says the way to the Father goes through him. There's no alternate route, like Google maps likes to give us. Any other way won't get you to God.

Jesus IS the truth. He is the embodiment of the truth about the Father. There's no other way to truly know God without knowing Jesus.

Jesus IS the life. As he told Martha, "I am the resurrection and the life." The only way to live the abundant life and eternal life God intends for us is to receive that life from Jesus. On this last night, Jesus knows he is about to seal that part of the deal once and for all, by defeating death.

Any other interpretation of "I am the way and the truth and the life" inevitably puts the focus on our own effort and away from Jesus. He is the author and the finisher of our faith.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

On Mission in Your Conversations Today

The author of this tweet is a writer for the humor website Cracked.com, so you have to take his comments with a grain of salt, as they say. His purpose, his mission for tweeting is to get attention and express his "cracked" humor. It brings up a good question for people who profess faith in God, though.

What is your purpose today in your conversations with co-workers, neighbors, and in your Twitter/Facebook/online comments?

When you watch the news of last night, is your response driven by your politics? Are you parroting Fox News or MSNBC (depending on which way you lean) in your political take on the events in Ferguson, MO? Is your mission today to make sure you make your political point?

When you join in on conversations today, are your comments driven by your personal experiences, the point of view formed by the place you were born, your socio-economic status, the color of your skin, or your personal experience of justice and law enforcement? Is your mission today to "represent" yourself and people who are like you?

When you react to startling pictures and videos of protests/riots, are you reacting based on your deep seated emotions, your fears and anxieties, your prejudices or hatred? Is your mission today to express your emotions, to "get it out of your system"?

As you watch the news unfold, has the questions entered your mind:
Do they know Jesus?
Looking at my Directory of the Ministry, a listing of "non-denominational" Christian Churches, I see at least two congregations and an affiliated Bible College within 5 miles of the site of Michael Brown's death.

I wonder if any of those Christians were involved in reaching out to young people in Michael Brown's neighborhood? Were any Christians in that area actively reaching out to people in the Ferguson law enforcement community? Was anyone in those congregations working to promote peacemaking and racial reconciliation in that town?

I don't know the answers to those questions. I certainly hope they were.

The better question is this: Are you making an effort to introduced Jesus and his love into the lives of troubled young people in your community? Are you helping local law enforcement people to know the love of Jesus?

And in your conversations today, will you pause to consider the purpose and mission of your comments?

Lord, help us to make sure our conversations today include a grain of salt and a light at the end of this dark tunnel.


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Last Night: Waiting for the Bridegroom

In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.  John 14:2-3
I've lived in 20 different homes/places/rooms/apartments/houses in my 57 years. That averages out to less than 3 years in each place. The longest was 7 years - three times. The shortest: 2 months.

Some of those houses were really great. The house I lived in for a year in Memphis, Missouri, was a great place with huge rooms and a large yard. Perfect for a 12 year old.

Other places were not as great. That two month stay was in a tiny mobile home in Fayette, Missouri, where we waited for our real house to be ready.

The best part of all my houses was that they were homes, filled with people I loved.

The best part of my heavenly home will be living with Jesus.

We get excited about the old gospel song I’ve Got a Mansion, or Audio Adrenaline's Big Housesinging about a heavenly home where all our earthly desires will be fulfilled in heaven. But I'm not sure the heaven of the Bible is a place that fulfills all our earthly desires (there's no promise of 72 virgins).

Heaven is about soaking up the love of God.

The language Jesus uses in John 14:2-3 is a proposal of marriage.

In Israel at the time of Jesus, the father, the head of the household, would build another room onto the house for the married children. If he was rich, he'd build another residence on the family property.

Jesus is echoing a typical marriage proposal: In my father’s house are many dwelling places. I’m going to leave you for awhile, but while I'm gone I’m going to go build on a new portion of the house for you and me. And then I’m coming back to get you, to join me – that where I am, you may also be.

The bride didn't know how long her promised one would be gone. Any number of things could happen to delay his return, especially in an age before rapid transit or long distance communications.

But she knew she was betrothed to him alone, and he would be actively preparing for her to come live with him. When he returned, the neighbors, his friends, her family and friends would gather along the road, and as he came toward her, they would blow their horns and shout out,
THE BRIDE GROOM IS COMING!

What do you suppose she did while she waited?

She kept herself pure. She prepared to live in the new home being built for her.

She got all packed, probably a little too early. Her eyes were constantly turning to look down that road. Her ears were constantly straining for the first sounds of the horns.

I knew of a young woman who married the man of her dreams while they were in college. When school was over, she took a job and he headed off to Iraq with the Army Reserve.

She blew up a full body picture of her husband in his uniform and made it into a life-sized cardboard cutout.  She would put that cutout husband into her car each morning and take him to work, placing him in a seat by her desk. She took him to church with her, even took him with her out to eat a few times. It was a little odd and garnered several wide-eyed looks, but it was also a lot precious and garnered several teary-eyed responses from the people who bothered to ask the details.

Jesus is telling his disciples he's leaving. But he comforts this group of men by telling them You are my bride. I can picture some of those rugged guys giving Jesus a sideways look, wondering what he could mean by such a statement.

From our perspective we can see that he's talking to them as representatives of the Church, his Bride. And even an old guy like me might shed a tear as I ponder what he was promising.

And I might just do my best to turn myself into a cardboard cutout of my husband, so everyone can know how wonderful he is.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Last Night: Trust Me

"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me."  John 14:1
“Trust is like a mirror, you can fix it if it's broken, but you can still see the crack in that ############'s reflection.” Lady Gaga
Trust is built slowly, like a child's Lego castle, brick by brick.

My two oldest boys used to love to spend hours building a town out of Lego bricks and arranging their Matchbox and Hot Wheels cares around them, just so. They would concoct a scenario, a story about the buildings and the vehicles as they worked.

Their younger brother's favorite activity was to show up when the construction project was halfway done and play Godzilla to their Tokyo, knocking over the buildings, stomping the bricks apart, scattering the cars, all in a matter of moments.

Trust is built slowly, but it only takes a moment to tear it down.

When the oldest of those three boys was born, he was remanded to the custody of the state and placed into a foster care home.  Our home. We raised him as our own, building a life as a foster family, with him as an integral part. He loved us as his parents, counted on us to be there for him, learned to trust us.

A few days before his first birthday, a social worker came to our house and loaded him into her car, like she had several times for visits with his biological grandparents. Except this time she didn't bring him back.

It was hard on us, even though we had known from the beginning that foster parenting equals temporary parenting. For a one-year-old, there was no understanding.

In spite of every reasonable expectation, God put the bricks back together and made it possible for us to be able to be a part of his life as he grew up. But one thing became clear.

The young boy found it very hard to believe that anyone would keep promises they made to him. It didn't matter if it was a big promise, like "I'll always be there for you," or a small promise, like "we'll stop at McDonalds later."

It's been a slow process, but he learned to trust again. I think - I hope - he's finally gotten beyond always seeing that crack in the reflection.


On Jesus' last night with his friends, he asks them to trust him.

They probably thought it unnecessary for him to even say such a thing. They'd learned to trust him through three years of travels and controversy and wonders. Of course they trusted him.

This time, though, would be different. Within hours he would willingly surrender himself to the authorities. By the next day he would be dead, and they were left looking at the scattered pieces of the story they had been building together.

And then he returned, the author and finisher of their trust.


It can be hard to trust Jesus when he doesn't give us what we ask for in our prayers. It can be hard to trust him when the church fails us or when our own fears overwhelm us.

Sometimes the greatest trust comes when our hopes have been crushed and then God helps us put everything back together.
"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me."  John 14:1

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Last Night: Plans for the Last Days

In John 13:31-35, Jesus introduces the main themes he will talk about during this last night with his followers, three truths that will define the Church through the coming millenia.

Glorify God
31-32 When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once. 
Glorifying God: It’s why Jesus came, its why the disciples followed, its why the church exists, it’s why the Holy Spirit came, its the prime responsibility of the Church.

We sing lots of songs about glorifying God, but it's important to note that when Jesus talks about glorifying the Father, he talks about sacrifice and servanthood and mission. God is glorified by action. The Church that glorifies God is a community willing to actively give themselves up for Him every day.

From Incarnation to Indwelling
33 “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come." 
When Jesus announces he's leaving, he's closing the book on the era of God-in-the-flesh. No longer will he be around to show the world the heart and character of God.

In his place will come the Holy Spirit, to usher in the era of God-in-the-heart. Jesus' detailed description of the Holy Spirit's purpose is all about mission and very little about the type of things many in the Church think it means to be Spirit-filled. The Spirit is sent to inhabit the Church so we can model the heart and character of God for the world to see.

Lead with Love
34-35 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” 
According to Jesus, the one characteristic that will define the Church is love. He didn't say everyone will know you are my disciples if you separate yourself from them, or if you tell them all the ways they're wrong, or if you build magnificent cathedrals, or it you construct an alternate society just for disciples.

They'll notice the Church and be drawn to Jesus in direct proportion to our love, the sort of love that is active and visible.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Last Night: Tipping at the Last Supper, Part 2

In my previous post (Last Night: Tipping at the Last Supper) I talked about Judas' tipping points that pushed him toward betraying Jesus.

Peter also betrayed Jesus. We call it denying, but the only difference between Peter and Judas is that Judas was an active betrayer (yes, this is the man) while Peter's betrayal was more passive (no, I'm not with him).

Peter is portrayed through the gospel tale as a staunchly loyal, albeit often confused and impetuous, follower of Jesus. The fisherman had found his identity, his meaning in life, thorough his identification with Jesus. Even in his rash moments Peter is simply trying desperately to please Jesus, to be a worthy part of Jesus' inner circle.

But then, in the final months, Jesus refused to play the part of the hero leading his followers into a new era.

Instead, he washes feet. Peter argues with Jesus.

Jesus continually talks about leaving, even about dying. Peter takes him aside to talk some sense into him.

Jesus responds to being arrested with humility, turning the other cheek. Peter aims for the other cheek and lops the ear off one of the soldiers.

And then the Lord says to put the swords down. And he lets the soldiers take him away.

Peter runs, along with the rest of the disciples.

But, like John, his counterpart in the inner circle, Peter returns and hangs around  the edges of what's going on that night.

Everything Peter has built his life around since the day those fish broke his nets, his entire reason for life, is falling apart. The only way he can stay close by Jesus at this point would be to surrender himself to the soldiers.

But Peter decides he's not willing to jump over the cliff with Jesus. That's not what's supposed to happen next.

Lead me into battle, lead me into #OccupyTemple, lead me wandering around the countryside for another three years of teaching and miracles. But I need you to lead me. I'm nothing without being your wing man.

Peter and Judas weren't that different. Each had his own self-centered idea of what it meant to follow Jesus. Each turned his back when Jesus insisted on a different way.

It makes me wonder: Why am I following Jesus? Because of the benefits I can skim off on the side? Because of how great it makes me feel to be part of something?

What happens when you're getting nothing extra out of the deal? What happens when the church or its leaders fail you?

Will you stick with Jesus? Will you continue to follow him no matter what unexpected turns he leads you through?

Or will you leave a tip in the tray as it goes past and then go on about your way?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Last Night: Tipping at the Last Supper

As a lifelong sci-fi fan, I've learned the value of asking, What if?

When I read John 13 I ask, What if Judas had repented and been accepted back into the fold of the disciples, but Peter went out and hanged himself?

That would certainly have changed the early history of the Church.

It's not really a fair question, though, because the post-betrayal choices of Judas and Peter grew out of the individual characteristics that lead them each to betray the Lord, which were quite different.

Judas' tipping points are spelled out pretty clearly in the gospel records.

Judas had apparently been harboring selfish motivations for quite some time. As early as John 6:70, Jesus says, "One of you is a devil." We get a picture of Judas' vices in John 12:1-8, where we learn he was a thief, stealing from the funds Jesus and the disciples used to support them.

Luke 22:1-6 says Satan entered into his heart as the Passover approached, spurring him to cut a deal with the religious leaders. John 13:27 says that as Judas dipped his bread with Jesus, Satan entered into him and he left the feast to go prepare for his betrayal.

There's no contradiction here, because Judas has been voluntarily giving into the devil's suggestions for quite some time, until finally Satan takes over his heart, piece by piece, and moves him step by step toward going through with the deed.

The tipping points for Judas were all those times when he gave into the whisperings of Satan and allowed himself to be more concerned about his own desires than about following Jesus.

We can shake our heads and pass judgment on Judas, but we should realize that following Jesus for self-serving reasons is not all that uncommon.

I've watched people who are addicted to alcohol, drugs, or adrenaline turn to Jesus in prison. Sometimes, though, all they've done is latch on to the excitement and addictive thrill of the "Come to Jesus" experience. If their faith never goes any deeper, all they've done is exchange one addiction for another. As soon as they get back out on the streets, whether their old addiction of choice is once again available, they'll slide right back into that old lifestyle.

You don't have to be in prison to be following Jesus for what you can get out of it. One of the causes behind the modern church-hopping trend is the never-ending search for the worship band or preacher that satisfies that self-centered desire for a Sunday morning buzz.

Others follow Jesus for the power trip that comes with being a mover and shaker in the church. Others see church as an essential part of their business or political agenda.

The "health and wealth" prosperity gospel preached in some churches actually encourages self-aggrandizing faith. That approach is what got Victoria Osteen in trouble when she told her congregation that worship is not for God, "you're doing it for yourself."

Most of those things that people seek from their faith experience aren't inherently bad. It's certainly good to enjoy an emotionally charged worship experience. I'd certainly rather sing along with a good worship band and listen to a good preacher than to suffer through a mediocre Sunday service.

The problem comes when, like Judas, your walk of faith becomes more taking than following.

When a self-centered follower doesn't get what he wants, he'll eventually turn his back on the church and on Jesus. If opportunity knocks, betrayal won't be far behind.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Last Night: Messy People

Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. (John 13:14-15)
When's the last time you washed someone's feet?

I'm sure there are some parents of kids reading this who frequently engaged in the ritual of foot washing. But I don't think that's what Jesus is telling us we need to be doing.

He did more than just washing some dirty feet. He humbled himself to do a dirty job for a group of people who, by nearly anyone's estimation, were "beneath" him. He was their Lord, their Master, and their Footwasher. This was a distasteful and uncomfortable task, one normally done by a servant.

He also washed the feet of everyone there, both his closest friends and the ones who would soon deny and betray him. As is so often true, it turned out the friends and the betrayers were the same people.

I've found this to be true: You'll never know the true depths of fellowship with Christ until you humble yourself to be involved in down and dirty service in ways and in places that make you feel a bit uncomfortable.

The prison did that for me. I often find myself out of my comfort zone at the prison and I'm seldom fully in control of what's going to happen next. This is so true that we've actually adapted our approach over the years to be as unstructured as possible, while still having a plan. When the people you're serving have a built-in tendency to derail the plain, why not go off-road from the get-go?

When we try to recruit for help we get responses like, "That sounds pretty scary." You bet it is. It's scary and unnerving to be trying to provide counsel to people who have experienced things that are way out of my range of experience. Nowhere in my life have I been so uncertain of what out-of-left-field question one of them is going to ask next.

But it's great because these ladies challenge us to be real, to dig deeper than pat answers. They've taught me how to be authentic in my faith.

That sort of education doesn't happen in a classroom and it's not learned from a sermon. It happens when you become messily involved in the messy lives of messy people.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Last Night: A Remarkable Servant


In the third year of Jesus' ministry the disciples saw events approaching a tipping point. Crowds were increasing. The opposition of the religious leaders was becoming more vehement. If this were the 21st century, #KingJesus would have been a trending hashtag.

The disciples responded by jockeying for position in the pecking order of #The12. More than once, Jesus had to deal with the bickering (Luke 9:46-50; Matthew 20:20-28; Luke 22:24-30).

And then, when they arrived in the upper room for what they knew would be a very special Passover feast, they discovered that Judas, of all people, had claimed the seat next to Jesus (see this detailed analysis of the likely seating chart).

Amid the undercurrent of grumbling and whispering that no doubt charged the atmosphere of this intimate gathering, Jesus did something remarkable.


Marketing guru Seth Godin presented a TED talk titled "How to Get Your Ideas to Spread." It has become one of the most popular of the TED videos (watch it below, or click here).

He makes a good point, one that any marketer or writer or artist knows to be true.
You're driving down the road and you see a cow, and you keep driving, because you've seen cows before. Cows are invisible. Cows are boring. Who's going to stop and pull over and say, "Oh, look, a cow"?  Nobody.

But if the cow was purple, you'd notice it, for awhile. I mean, if all cows were people, then you'd get bored with those, too.

The thing that's going to decide what gets talked about, what gets done, what gets changed, what gets purchased, what gets built, is 'Is it remarkable?'.

And 'remarkable' is a really cool word, because we think it just means 'neat'. But it also means 'worth making a remark about'. And that is the essence of where idea diffusion is going.
If you don't immediately understand the importance of remarkable words or actions, go ahead and watch the entire video. I'll wait.

Many Christian leaders watch this video and they read Godin's books and they immediately start thinking about how they can market their church or book or organization through social media and otaku targeting (putting your remarkable message in front of people who are most likely to remark about it).

Jesus, though, wasn't great at marketing himself. Several times in the gospel stories, we see him healing someone and then actually telling that person to not tell everyone about it. When news of Jesus' miracles and teachings began to go viral, he repeatedly hides from the crowds.

Jesus knew that by saying or doing remarkable things for an audience of his Twelve Otakus, the word would be spread in a way that would best accomplish his mission.

He didn't need a Powerpoint presentation or a three-point catchy outline. Instead he did something that turned their whole concept of seating charts and pecking orders upside down. He stripped down to the clothing of a servant and washed their feet.

If we want to make the message of Jesus go viral in our churches and in the world today, we need to focus less on marketing strategies and more on doing things that will turn common perceptions of Christ and his Church upside down and inside out.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Indispensable

One of my co-workers died this past weekend.

It's depressing and humbling to watch how quickly a workplace moves on after the death of a key person. We all like to think we’re pretty important, that our leaving (for whatever cause) will leave a big hole.

But it’s kind of like pulling up a tree planted in sand. The unstoppable progress of the living world sifts into the empty spot until it's forgotten about.
“The cemeteries of the world are full of indispensable men.” (Charles de Gaulle)
When I heard the news, I briefly considered applying for the now-open job, which would be a significant pay increase. In two years in that position I could be free of debt and could also accomplish some things on that job.

But that job would consume me - my time, my energy, my focus; my Monday evenings, my writing time...

And in the end, when I would eventually leave that job, the sand would quickly rush into the hole I would leave behind.

How much better to live in constant pursuit of the example set by the man who called us to be the ones to fill in the gap left by his absence.

The wise man builds his life upon the rock, even if logic and common sense argue otherwise.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Leave Me Behind

Nope. Not a fan.
I won't be going to the theater to see the movie version of Left Behind opening today across the country, for several reasons:

  1. It stars Nicolas Cage, who is not my favorite actor
  2. I don't shell out the bucks to see a movie on the big screen unless it's a major sci-fi flick with giant spaceships and wookies.
  3. In spite of it supposedly being a faith-based film, it's actually based on a flawed understanding of the biblical teaching about the end times.
  4. Nicolas Cage

I actually skip most of the faith-based films that my Facebook friends like to post about. I'm not much interested in them because:

  1. Like Left Behind, they often present a flawed picture of the Bible and theology. Heaven is For Real is supposedly a really feel-good movie, but I maintain a healthy skepticism regarding all life after death tales.
  2. Most of them aren't very well produced movies. I like movies, a lot. But I'm not much interested in a film with the production values of Sharkando 2: The Second One, even if it's about heaven or about being a courageous father. 
  3. If the movie is based on a book I've read, the film almost always fails miserably to deliver the same impact as the book. Blue Like Jazz would be a good example. The experience of making that movie apparently gave Don Miller a whole new way to brand himself and apply the idea of storytelling to spirituality. But the movie itself was disappointing.
The actual Bible movies, like the recent Noah and the upcoming Exodus: Gods and Kings, spark my interest a bit more than the others. I've found that even if, like The Passion of the Christ, they're flawed by the producer's eccentric approach, there's always a few scenes that help me to picture what might have really happened. The interaction between Jesus and Satan in The Passion still sticks in my mind, even if it was a bit strange.

But I'm still not likely to go see them at the cineplex.

You may wonder why I'd dismiss these movies out of hand rather than seeing them as a missional opportunity. 

The answer is that while I dismiss the movies as uninteresting to me, I do make an effort to familiarize myself with these movies. I read the plot synopsis and reviews, so if someone does ask me about it I can carry on a semi-intelligent conversation, looking for those missional opportunities.

But I don't have to actually watch the movies to do that.

Roy Weece taught me the value of not having to see or read everything that's hot and new. I asked him one time if he'd read or heard of a book I was reading, and his response was, "I've heard of it, but I haven't read it. How about you tell me what it says and then I won't have to read it."

At the time I thought it was a bit strange, but then I realized that by having me tell him about it, along with my reaction to it, he triggered a productive conversation about the topics in the book.

The same can be true with these movies. If someone asks me what I think of God's Not Dead, I can have them tell me about it. By asking them questions, informed by my private reading about the movie, we'll have a much better missional conversation than if I just give my opinions. 

The truth is, though, that I hardly ever get asked about those movies by non-Christians. It's only the believers, who bring them up, because it's mostly only the believers who are watching these movies.

Except for me, of course.

Actually, if any of those faith-based becomes available on one of my Dish channels, I'll probably set the DVR to record it so I can take a look. By then, it won't be a big viral topic of discussion anymore, but I can satisfy my curiosity, aided by the fast forward and jump buttons. It beats watching a fake reality show about Christians with beards.

Right and Righteous

From my current article, Right and Righteous, in the October issue of Christian Standard magazine:

Pitched arguments over the moral or political aspects of cultural issues seldom lead to anything productive. It’s far better to engage people in conversations that are relentlessly focused on missional goals. 
A discussion that centers exclusively on a mission to win an argument for truth, without being balanced by a mission to win people to Christ, is likely to accomplish neither. Peter counsels as much when he says, “Do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience” (1 Peter 3:15, 16)...

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The View From the Bus: Riders on the Storm

The problem with being a weather nerd is that you can really convince yourself you are so savvy with all the radars and models that you actually can beat the odds and win a game of cat-and-mouse with the weather.

One of these days I'll learn.

It was a Wednesday, so my wife had the car and the plan was for me to ride the bus home. No problem. There was a storm system moving in from the southwest, but there would be plenty of time. There were tornado warnings in Pettis County and then more in Cooper County, but all of that nastiness was going to slide to the north of Columbia, so no problem.

The problems don't come until I've already stepped onto the bus and then the rain starts to pick up and the winds start to blowing.

I stepped off the Pink Route bus at Womens & Childrens Hospital, ready to sit in the hospital cafeteria for the 20 minute wait for the Blue Route Bus. The moment I stepped down from the bus the severe weather warning sirens started to go off. I heard the bus driver yell, "You'd better get into the hospital!" as he shut the door of the bus and drove off.

I took a few steps toward the building and then thought better of it. I used to work in that hospital and I know what happens when there are sirens going off. If I go in there, they'll make me gather with everybody else in the "safe spots".  I'd already learned from Twitter on my smart phone that the warning was in effect until 5:00 PM, which would be a good 10-15 minutes later than the Blue bus was scheduled to pick me up.

Twitter also was telling me that the actual rotation that triggered the warning was down int he southern part of the county and wouldn't be posing any real threat to me at the northeast corner of CoMo.

So I ducked into the plexiglass bus shelter and stood there to wait.

The Blue bus, of course, was running behind because of rush hour traffic in steadily increasing rain. And the pitter patter of rain on the roof of the shelter was turning into a louder rat-a-tat.

I was still out of the rain, though, so I didn't really care. Until I realized that a slowly rising stream of water was swirling under my feet.

Just as I was about to step up onto the shelter's bench to get out of the rushing water, the Blue bus came over the ridge. I pulled my hoodie over my head and stepped out to the bus stop to get the driver's attention. I did not want her to miss me this time.


No sooner was I safely inside the bus than the heavens opened up and the rain became a deluge.

From behind me I heard a voice cry out, "Y'alls roof is leaking back here!" I turned to look and the emergency exit hatch located in the roof had a rapid dripping of rainwater coming from the edges. (Yes, the emergency hatch is on the roof. I try not to think too long about why they need an emergency hatch on the roof.)

I began to wonder what I was going to do when I got to my final bus stop. It's a good half mile walk to my house from there. I carry an umbrella in my bus pack, but it was starting to look like I'd need an inflatable raft and a paddle to get home. If you look closely at the picture at the left, which I took during this ride, you'll see there was a homeless guy standing in his usual spot in the rain. He probably saw that as an opportunity to get some sympathy donations, but I had no interest in drowning myself at the side of a road just blocks from my home.

I could get off at the stop regardless of the rain's intensity and make a mad dash for the relative shelter of the Sonic drive-in across the street. I could probably ride out the heaviest of the rain there.

I could also just stay on the bus and ride it around the circuit again, hoping the rain let up in the 30-40 minutes it took to get back to my stop.

Before I go there, my wife called me, frantically worrying that I was walking along in a severe storm. She had driven through hail on her drive and was now at home, eager to come pick me up.

I almost missed getting off at the stop, though. A block away from my stop, the overhead severe storm sirens started blaring from a horn situated right above us. At the same time, the bus driver's radio burst forth with a loud severe weather warning.

In all that noise, and with the rain doing its best impression of Niagara Falls outside the windshield, the bus driver didn't hear the ding when I pulled the "Stop Requested" cord, and drove right past the bus stop. I stood up and yelled for her to stop, but it took her a few hundred yards before she found a safe place to do so.  She apologized as I stepped out into the rain.

I made a mad dash across the traffic and back to the Sonic and waited for my wife to pick me up from there.

For the few minutes I waited, I was left wondering about the fate of my fellow passengers.  Most of them likely don't have someone available to give them a lift. Such is the life of the have-to bus rider.

Last Night: Having Loved His Own

It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love. (John 13:1)

It's the last night before he's going to die. Jesus knew the time had come and he's dealing with a level of personal grief we can't really comprehend. He knows He's going to die. He knows He could opt out if he were to so choose. But he knows he won't.

His personal anguish, which we'll see displayed later on in the garden, is complicated by his concern for the people who have been following him over the past three years.

They're about to be left alone. He knows they'll be frightened. He knows they'll abandon him. And yet he knows they're his best hope for continuing his mission after he's gone.

Not only that, but he loves them as his own. In Jesus’ final prayer in John 17 he describes the disciples as "the people you gave me."

His concern in that upper room on this last night turns to helping them to understand how they should continue to be His disciples in the world after He is gone.

He wants them to understand the full extent of His love by understanding the reason for the sacrifice he's about to make. And he wants them to understand the full extent of his love by understanding how much he trusts them to take over the task of being the image of God in the world.

Jesus' last conversations with his disciples are important. He's telling them, and us, what he expects his disciples, and his church, to be like and look like after he is gone.

One of my favorite descriptions of the Church is Paul's in Ephesians 4. In his usual analytic fashion, the apostle lays out the detailed structure of what and how the Church is to operate.

In contrast, here in John 13 through 17, Jesus opens his heart to the disciples and passes his legacy over to them and to the church that will grow out of their mission.

On that last night, Jesus let the first disciples in on the plan. They didn't quite grasp it all there on that last night. They only began to figure it out when that Last Night was followed by the First Morning.

Perhaps the key thing Jesus says is found in chapter 14, verse 12: “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even grater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”

What “greater things”? How is that even possible?

What could anything we do be greater than what he did?

What could be greater than God becoming a man and reconciling people to him through teaching, servanthood, and sacrifice? How about God inhabiting thousands of men and women over thousands of years in order to reconcile man to Himself through the collection of diverse oddballs, obsessive goof-ups and opinionated knuckle-heads known as the Church.

Never underestimate the church. We are not like any other organization or corporation or club or special-interest group. We are tasked with continuing Jesus' work in this world and we've been given the most incredible tools with which to accomplish that work.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Meditation Metaphor: Inspiration

My lungs don't work properly.

Actually, it's the cilia in my lungs that don't work. Cilia are the tiny hair-like structures in the lungs that move rhythmically to slough out mucous and irritants. Except my cilia are immotile - they don't move. It's a genetic thing.

Because of this, if I don't get a lot of aerobic exercise, my lungs become lethargic and don't work as hard as they should took take in the air my body needs.

We all learned in school that the lungs pull in the air and feed it to the bronchioles an don into the blood stream, which distributes it to the cells throughout the body.

When my lungs get bogged down with things besides air, I don't breathe deeply enough to be able to send an adequate supply to all parts of my body. My hands and feet get cold due to oxygen deprivation. My brain functions slow down and become foggy. Eventually I'll get sick.

Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Mark 4:18-19
My faith also needs regular aerobic workouts.

We're all infected with an abnormality in our souls, a tendency to allow other things to crowd out our focus on Christ. Even if we're hearing a sermon every Sunday, sitting in a Bible class, and occasionally reading an inspirational book, our souls suffer from the choking effects of everything else we're taking in.

The more we stretch ourselves to read and meditate on the Word with frequency and urgency, the healthier we become spiritually. Steady, continuous intake of the Word seeps into the heart, the sol, the mind, and the will, and keeps us energized for the work He has in store for us.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Framed

Yes, that's a picture of a picture frame.

The frame was one of several things we brought home from my mother's house after she was gone. She had several framed paintings, most painted by my grandmother, Mamie Borgen. She also had several unframed paintings, rolled up together, along with this empty frame.

Uncertain whether any of the rolled up paintings would fit this frame or be suitable for hanging, my wife hung the empty frame on the wall in my office.  Her intent was that it should remind us to figure out what to put in the frame.

As things tend to go, we put off actually doing anything more with it.

After several weeks, my wife asked me if I wanted her to take the frame off the wall and store it away. I declined her offer and told her I like it just the way it is.

The frame hangs on a wall just across from my writing desk. Every time I'm writing and start to wool-gather or look around the room in the throes of wither writer's block or just plain  old lack of motivation, my eyes always fall on the empty frame.

And it reminds me that it's up me to fill the frame.

I'm not a painter but I am a writer. I'm not trying to put a picture into a wooden frame, but I am trying to fill in the details on whatever manuscript I'm working on.

As a magazine writer, my work mostly begins with queries.  The editor publishes a list of the themes and topics for the upcoming year or quarter, and writers send in queries - ideas for articles. I spend as much time thinking up ideas and writing queries as I do writing the actual articles. I have to spend some time thinking and researching, brainstorming for an idea. Then I have to flesh it out into enough of an outline or synopsis so that I know I can actually turn it into 1,000-2,00 words, and also enough to convince the editor to give me a go-ahead.

Because I'm trying to come up with ideas for between 150 and 200 issues each year, I will confess that some of the ideas I send of as queries are less well-developed than others. Many of these fall into two categories, at opposite ends of the spectrum.  There's the "well this is boring, but it just might be the sort of just-the-facts-ma'am treatment of the topic they want" idea. Then there's the "this is really odd and quirky, but maybe it'll grab their attention" idea.

Invariably, my editors will give the go-ahead to several of those queries. And when I read the e-mail that tells me to go ahead and write the story and send it to them, my response is always, "Oh great. Now I have to figure out how to write that thing."

This is when I look at the frame on my wall and remember that my job is to fill in the picture. The idea is the frame; not I have to fill it in, detail by detail. And so I set to work trying to not only string together enough relevant words to meet the assigned length, but to somehow make the story come alive.

When I've finished an article and read it through the last time before sending it off to the editor, there's always a warm feeling of having brought something to life. I've learned that my joy is greater in sending off the finished work than it is in seeing the article in print, something an aspiring writer never expects.

Faith is also like an empty frame.

Every new believer has some idea of what Christianity is about, but it takes awhile to figure out what goes in the middle.

Some write a story that puts Self at the center. Christianity is all about what God can do for me, how it makes me feel.

Others write a story about their place in a comfortable Christian family or church or job. Christianity becomes about the lifestyle of being a Christian.

The Gospel, though, is Good News about Jesus.  The old, old story is about Jesus and His love, how he lived and died and is still active in the world today through His people.

If I put Jesus in the middle of the picture frame, make sure He stays as the author and finisher of my faith, then filling in the middle becomes easier. It's up to me to step into His story and merge my story into his story.

Joy comes daily as I walk by faith, keeping in step with Jesus, making His story come alive in me daily life.

The View From the Bus: Errands Without Mercy


Running errands can be a pain. You have to drive to the bank, then drive to the store, then drive to get a key made, then drive somewhere else and maybe another place after that. It's easy to chew up an hour or two in the process.

Unless you're not driving. If you're trying to run errands by bus, it can take half your day or more in a small city like Columbia.

My bus rides are usually to get from one place to another. From home to work or maybe the other way around.

Many of my fellow bus riders are making several stops, taking care of business in places scattered around town.

An older woman, accompanied by a younger man who was clearly a son or nephew or possibly a grandson, boarded the bus and sat near me.

I pieced together from their conversation that they had ridden the bus to the bank, where she tried to arrange for a small loan, "just a little advance". The man at the bank told them they couldn't do that.

"I don't qualify for a few hundred dollars?" she asked. "I've been keeping my money at that bank about all my life, and they can't help me out a little?"

"The bank don't care 'bout people like us," he answered. "We don't got enough money to get their attention."

As they continued to talk, it became clear the person at the bank had suggested they go to one of the payday loan or title loan places in town. It was my turn to be disgusted by the bank. That they would ever recommend a loan shark to someone in need is incomprehensible to me.

And yes, I called them a loan shark. The payday and title loan companies have sprouted in our town like dandelions in summer. They'll give just about anyone some money in exchange for a paycheck stub or a car title, and charge unconscionably high interest rates. And Lord help you if you fall behind on the payments, because they'll come after you.

If that's not a legalized form of loan sharking, I don't know what is.

The other alternative for these folks would be a pawn shop, where they could trade in whatever possessions they have for cash. The cost of reclaiming those items is about the same as the interest on the payday loans.

These folks had ridden the bus to the bank. Now they were riding the bus back home to pick up the paperwork they would need before riding the bus to the loan shark. Then they would ride the bus to the landlord to pay the rent, and finally ride it home.

They probably would tack on another bus ride to the market if they had any money left to spend.

All in all, they'd be spending hours riding the chauffeured whale just to get the rent paid.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The View From the Bus: To Market, To Market


I frequently see people on the bus loaded down with bags of groceries.

Just last week a couple of international students, boarded the bus. She was in a wraparound  dress with a geometric gold/turquoise/burgundy design. He wore a dashiki style shirt with a similarly African design.

Between the two of them they were loaded down with about a dozen plastic Walmart bags. They took separate seats across the aisle from each other, so that each of them had an extra seat available for their bags.

The rules of the bus prohibit having anything sitting on the floor or aisles in such a way that could block people moving freely. Families with multiple grocery bags do a continual juggling and rearranging of everything to keep control of their things. It can be difficult enough to maintain your seating in a bus that's constantly starting, stopping, making sharp turns, and otherwise doing its best to throw everyone off balance. Add to that a collection of lumpy, off center bags of groceries and it can be like a Keystone Cops film.

Many years ago my wife and I were without a car while a certain nationally known transmission repair shop (which shall remain nameless) took over 5 weeks to to do what should have been at most a one week job. I rode the bus to work and back every day that December (which is another story I should tell on this blog some day). Karen and our three young boys stayed at home for the most part.

One day, while I was at work,she decided to take the boys (all under the age of three) on the bus and head to the grocery store. It turned out to be such a troublesome and complicated task, keeping track of three boys (one in a stroller) and several bags of groceries while riding the bus. After that misadventure, we waited until Saturdays to do our shopping, so we could make it a team effort.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The View from the Bus: Missed Connections


A grandmotherly African American woman boards the bus with aid of her walking cane and takes a nearby seat. She immediately begins talking to me, demonstrating the ease and eagerness many older folks have in striking up conversations with strangers.

She introduces herself as Lillian and informs me she rode the bus across town to meet relatives, planning to accompany them to the store. They weren’t at home when she arrived, so now she is riding to catch up with them, hoping they’re still at Walmart when she gets there.

Another grandmother, speaking with a heavy Levantine accent, boards the bus with her young granddaughter. She asks me to help her know when they reach their stop and I, like any good citizen of the bus, promise I will.

While we watch for their street, I see a tow-headed boy at a bus stop with his weary mother. Spying the approaching bus, he explodes with excitement. His face is a picture of eager anticipation of the adventure awaiting. When my own sons were that age we would all load onto the bus to take a ride to nowhere. It was like an amusement park ride for them, one that offered me the opportunity to expose them to people from worlds different than they knew.

We pass an urban park, alive with activity on this Saturday afternoon. Lillian’s hands bang on the bus window and she waves at someone in the park. The bus rolls on while she grumbles about how she “can’t believe they’re at the park.”

Two blocks later her cell phone rings. Her side of the lively conversation reveals it was her family members at the park, with whom she has now missed connections twice in one day. She argues with them for a minute, then snaps the phone shut and reaches up to pull the stop cord.

I ask her if she’s going to have to walk all the way back to the park to meet up with them, and she tells me that’s exactly what she’s going to do.

“And they’d better still be there when I get there!” she adds.

The driver continues on another block before finding a safe place to stop. She steps off the bus and the bus rolls onward. My fellow passengers and I crane our necks to watch her head back down the hill toward the park, now at least half a mile behind us.

I lose sight of her as my fellow passengers and I lean into the next turn like choreographed dancers, looking out the front window to what lies ahead.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Tweeter Than Honey: Random Bible Mentions on Twitter

Searched on "bible" this afternoon on twitter. Presented here without comment








Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The View from the Bus: Rain Check

My wife had the car and a tight schedule on Wednesday, so I planned to ride the bus home from work.

It was a day of spotty, off-and-on rain showers. I checked the forecast and radar online throughout the afternoon and concluded I had a window of opportunity perfectly suited for a damp but not miserable bus ride.

I also had the handy DoubleMap app on my iPhone. It shows a map of the city, with GPS identifying my current location. A map of the bus routes overlays the city map, with GPS providing a moving marker for each of the busses' current location.

Armed with such impressive technology pinpointing the rain systems and the approaching bus, as well as my old-tech umbrella, I was prepared to venture forth.

There was no more than a very faint mist when it came time leave work, and I timed my exit from the building to arrive at the bus stop just when the bus came into view a block away, so I boarded with no problems.

During the 10 minute trip from work to my transfer stop I enjoyed the luxury of watching out the windows, studying the rush hour traffic as it moved through the slowly increasing rain. The headlights and taillights, along with their reflection off the wet pavement, danced in contrast to the grey shades of the afternoon.

Arriving at the transfer stop, I noted on the DoubleMap app that the #5 Blue bus was still at least 20 minutes away. Probably more, in this weather.

The best thing about that transfer stop is that it's located directly in from of the Womens and Childrens Hospital, part of the university where I work. So I walked through the mizzle (a cross between mist and drizzle) and made myself at home inside the building for awhile.

When the GPS showed me the bus was about to turn onto far end of the street out front, I gathered my things and headed back outside. By this time, the rain was definitely a drizzle, threatening to actually earn the title of rain. I tugged my ball cap down over my glasses and quickly made my way to the plexiglass-enclosed bus shelter.

A young woman was waiting in the shelter. As I entered, she smiled and said, "You waiting for the bus?" I hesitated, fighting back the urge to say something like, "No, I thought this was the elevator."

"It's going to be here really, really soon!" she told me, enthusiastically. Then she saw me looking at my phone, and she said, "Oh, are you tracking it, too?"

We talked about the handy phone app for a minute, as the rain beat more insistently on the shelter. We both looked up from our phones and exactly the same moment, expecting to see the bus pop over the hill two blocks south.

We waited. We looked back at our phones. We waited.

"It must have stopped at that retirement place up there," I offered.

"Probably," she agreed. "Slow people getting on or off."

While we were talking, the bus appeared on the horizon. She moved to gather her backpack from the bench while I moved to pocket my phone and get out my transfer pass.

We stepped out of the shelter toward the bus stop sign. The bus never slowed, never braked, never stopped. It rolled past us like a blue whale chasing down a school of plankton.

"You have got to be kidding me!" my fellow bus non-rider yelled, and began to walk furiously after the bus. I watched her go, wondering if she thought she would catch it. I suppose she thought perhaps it would stop at the next bus stop a bloc and a half away, for perhaps another slow boarder.

Perhaps she didn't have a logical reason, other than an urgent wish to yell at the bus driver.

I stepped back into the shelter and began calling the bus dispatch center as I watched her stop and turn back. When she got back to the shelter, she looked up the phone number on the bus schedule hanging on the shelter wall, and began tapping it in on her phone.

For a minute or two we stood there, talking to two different people at dispatch, expressing our displeasure at having been left standing in the rain. When we compared notes, we found we had both received the same answer:
I'm so sorry that happened. The bus will be back at that stop in about 45 minutes... No, there's nothing else I can do about it... I 'm sorry for your inconvenience.
I began to call my wife, to see when she would be nearby to come pick me up. While I waited for he to answer, my fellow stranded non-passenger stormed off toward the hospital's entrance.

As it turned out, my wife was just 5 minutes away. I headed into the hospital to see if the young lady wanted a ride to wherever she was headed, but she had disappeared.

Another victim of the bus rider's blues.


***
Post script: I should note that the bus folks sent me a pass with 10 free rides to compensate for my troubles. Kudos to them.


Monday, September 15, 2014

The View From the Bus: The Lovely Bus Stop


This bus stop, listed on the CoMo Connect schedule as Conley Rd. B. Market Pl., is a connecting point for the #2 Gold, #5 Blue, and #6 Pink routes. I've become familiar with this particular bus stop because these are the three routes I take most often. Blue and Pink chauffeur me to and from my home neighborhood. Gold is the main east-west route extending from one end of my city to the other.

The first time I landed at this stop was on a warm Saturday afternoon in August. The temperatures hovered in the low 90s.

At first I sat in the bus stop shelter, mindlessly obeying the cues of the transit engineers who make their living designing bus stops.

The walls of the shelter are plexiglass, which provides visibility of oncoming traffic (including my oncoming bus). Visibility might be a strong term, since the see-through panels are becoming more translucent than transparent since they took up their posts here. Months, or perhaps even years, of assault from the weather, bus riders and insects have scratched and smudged the surface as thoroughly as if a Public Works employee had been given a work order to sandblast the entire structure.

Add to that the cloudiness and yellowing caused by the sun. Actually, one of the back panels is much more yellowed than the others. Perhaps it's the oldest panel. It apparently missed being replaced at some when the other newer panels were put up. Maybe the work crew showed up to replace all the panels and realized they were one short. They perhaps made a note to come back and finish the job at a later time, which has never arrived. Or perhaps the penny pinchers at city hall intentionally limited the upgrade to only a few panels per shelter. The rear panel was the obvious choice to leave untouched, since bus riders can be reasonably expected to not care if their view of the Walmart parking lot is murky.

Despite the light-filtering features of the panels, they do function quite well in the matter of heat amplification. On a warm day, only a couple of minutes are required for me to realize this cubicle would be better suited as a greenhouse for plants than as a comfortable haven for humans.

This particular hot day was made more comfortable by a pleasant breeze. The effect of the plexiglass enclosure, however, was to completely block out any breeze.

I suppose on a rainy day or in the dead of winter the greenhouse effect and the wind blocking walls would be welcome to cold travelers. On a sunny August day, not so much.

Ten feet from the the bus shelter, through, is a tree, offering shade and unobstructed breeze. The tree is obviously not what city planners call "old growth". It's the sort of tree contractors plant near a massive parking lot in an attempt to make it appear like they didn't totally destroy all the trees God had planted on the site.

Nevertheless, whether the tree grew there through the random fall of a seed or through the carefully plans of a landscaper, I thank God for inventing something as functional and beautiful as a tree.

The tree does not obstruct my view of the oncoming traffic, unless I were foolishly enough to sit on the backside, facing toward the parking lot. There will be no need to replace panels. the lack of a detailed bus schedule attached to the tree is not a problem, considering that the schedule hanging on one of the bus shelter's panels is out of date anyway.

The only greenhouse effect caused by this tree is the slightly green hued atmosphere surrounding me as I take a seat under the leaves, upon the grass. The breeze is unhindered while the sun is mostly shaded from above.

Then again, the tree is not going to function well as a bus stop in a rain storm, especially one that may include lightning. Perhaps the creators of both the tree and of the bus stop knew what they were doing. Both are well suited to their purpose.
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth's flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Joyce Kilmer
I'm certain I shall never see a bus shelter lovely as a tree. I'm also certain I'll never see a tree that can safely and comfortably shelter bus riders in all the types of weather the Creator can send our way.