Monday, September 29, 2014


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.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The View from the Bus: On the Road Again

Bus Stop Selfie
This is me, standing at the bus stop near my office.

It's been close to four years since I last rode a city bus here in Columbia. When we moved away from campus we were beyond the reach of the bus routes.

About that same time, though, the school board began to build a new high school two miles to our east, father outside the bus routes than we were. I knew that when the school began operations there would soon be a bus route extending out to it. And that route would go right past my neighborhood.

I've always enjoyed riding the bus occasionally when I've been on their routes. Unfortunately nearly half the homes where we've lived have tended to be on the very edge of the city limits. We've actually lived in four places that were less than a block outside the city limits.

At one of those, our driveway straddled the city limit line. My next door neighbor, the one living on the city side of the driveway, told me the day I moved in that I should just drop my trash bags next to his every Wednesday morning and the city trash collectors would pick them all up. I didn't argue.

Because of our city's edge dwellings, the the nearest bus routes were usually at least a mile's walk away, which isn't conducive to regular use.

I like to ride the bus because it's actually cheaper overall. It can be less convenient, chewing up much more time than it would take to drive yourself to where you need to go. I still drive a car most days to most places I need to be. But having access to the bus again gives me the flexibility I like.

The best part of riding the bus, though, is the experience of the ride.

This probably sounds crazy to a lot of people. In fact, I know some people think I'm nuts to ride the bus when I don't have to.

The bus also affords me the chance to look more closely at God's creation as it rolls by out the window. Driving in CoMo traffic can make rubbernecking dangerous. But with the bus driver as my chauffeur, I'm able to ride in the lap of luxury and enjoy the trip. The day I took the picture above was the first day I've ridden the bus home from work since the new routes began. I posted the photo on my Facebook page with the comment:
Riding the bus home from work today. Trying out the new CoMoConnect setup #busstopselfie
One of my relatives was a bit nonplussed as to why I could possibly choose to ride the bus.
 Her: Who did you set by

Me: There were only 4 other people on the bus, besides the driver. A tired looking lady, obviously on her way home from work. A couple of young men who appeared to be international students from somewhere in the Middle East, and a young black kid who got off at the same stop as I did. We walked together a couple of blocks until I had to turn off.

Her: are you riding again tomorrow if so good luck.
The point she was missing is that the risk opportunity of being around people who are different is one of the chief reasons why I love to ride the bus.

It's really easy to go through life only mixing with people who are like me. If my mission in life is to do whatever makes me comfortable, then hanging with my own peeps would be plenty for me. But I'm not on my own life mission. I'm on mission for God, and He's much more likely to put opportunities in my path if I take the path where a wide variety of people are traveling.

Even when I don't interact with people on the bus (a lot of bus riders value their privacy a great deal), I'm learning to understand more about the world and about people who live a different life than I do. Traveling the same road on the same bus with so many unique people reminds me that we're all headed in the same direction.

We're all on one road, a road laid out by God. We just have a lot of different ways of traveling that road.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Meditation Metaphor: Guitar Hero

When I was a sophomore in high school I picked up a guitar and started playing.

I had never been very interested in playing a musical instrument before then. But my two brothers both could play the piano, and I wanted to be able to play something too. I had given up on piano lessons years ago, and frankly wasn't interested in working that hard to learn to play.

There was a cheap K-Mart guitar that my parents had bought years ago sitting in the den .  I have no idea why they bought it, since no one ever showed any interest in learning to play.

I found a chord chart in the back of a "Christian Choruses" songbook. I quickly learned the basic chords on that basic chart and was soon strumming along with songs on the radio.

I imagined myself being a rock and roll star some day, basking in the adoration of my fans. I pictured myself playing hot licks and making my guitar scream. I waited for my facial hair to develop to the point where I could grow a ZZ Top beard.

I never quite reached the guitar hero status of my dreams. What I did do was learn to play well enough to find personal joy in making music and to lead church groups in worship.

I also found that I had joined a new social circle of Christian guitar players and music leaders.

Most of these guys were into constantly learning new chords, especially the bar chords that move up and down the neck of the guitar.  I tried to play these, but they were too hard. Might as well be playing piano if I'm going to have to work that hard at it.

So I became the master of finding easy work-arounds to play songs that included the tougher chords. Ever since I settled into my make-do attitude about the guitar, I've always been the guy who can play chords well enough to lead worship, but not the guy who gets the crowd excited just to watch him play.

And that's fine with me. I'm fully aware that I just don't want to put in the time and effort to learn to play better.  With practice, I've gotten pretty good at what I am able to do. And that's good enough for most smaller group worship situations.

I'm comfortable with not being a guitar hero and just being accomplished enough to use the guitar for the ministries I do. The ladies in the prison chapel are quite pleased that I show up and play the guitar well enough for them to sing their favorite worship songs each week. My mastery of most of the chords in the first five frets enables us all to praise God.

My experiences teaching prisoners from the Word has taught me a similar lesson about reading, studying, and meditating on the Word.

While I'm a bible college graduate and have decades of experience in the exegesis of scripture, many of these incarcerated women are mostly unfamiliar with the Bible, have little or no education or literacy, and don't have any idea what the word exegesis means. And they don't need to.

After spending most of my life teaching college students and middle class church members to study and dive deep into biblical interpretation, I learned quickly that I needed a different approach in the prison.

As I thought about what these ladies need, it occurred to me that most of the people in the Bible stories had a low level of literacy. Very few of them had access to an actual copy of the Bible. Even if they did, they didn't have all 66 books like we do. David, a man after God's own heart, who wrote eloquently in Psalm 119 of his love for the scriptures, had only the pentateuch and perhaps Joshua, Judges, and Ruth.

In fact, throughout most of the history of the Christian Church, believers have not had easy access to personal copies of the scriptures, nor did many of them have a level of literacy to read and interpret for themselves. They relied largely on the priests and teachers and preachers to read and explain the scriptures to them.

What mattered for them, and for my incarcerated flock, is spending time meditating on what they do have available and allowing it to transform and inform them. That's one reason why I use the term meditation more than study or reading or exegesis. Meditation is about internalizing the Word and letting it transform them into the type of person who is equipped for the works God has in store for them.

Just the other day Marie, one of the ladies in our prison chapel, told me, "I read my Bible all the time, whenever I don't have to be doing something else. I don't understand a lot of what I read, but I read it anyway."

If more people, regardless their education level, would do the same, they would be blessed just like Marie. Soak it up as much as you can, even the parts you don;'t fully understand. Let the Word of God dwell in you richly.

And then do what Marie does. She lets the Word change her and lets it move her out into her world to be the living and breathing Word to the people around her who don't know God or His Word.

Not everyone is called to be a scholar-hero. Everyone is called to be a worker after God''s own heart.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Big Easy

The best dancers do this by developing a close relationship, getting to know each other extremely well. They know each others’ moves, their tendencies. If there’s a misstep, they adjust together. They’re intimately connected, even if they’re not romantically a couple.

They exemplify the relationship David expressed toward his more dominant partner in Psalm 119:10: “I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands.”

The closer his relationship with the Lord, the more intimately he understood God’s heart and shared God’s priorities. When we do the same, it’s easier to keep in step with God and his commands.
The bride of Christ finds it easy to dance in rhythm with him.

Read more of The Big Easy at