Seven Stanzas at Easter

 By John Updike  

Make no mistake: if he rose at all

It was as His body;
If the cell’s dissolution did not reverse, the molecule reknit,
The amino acids rekindle,
The Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
Each soft spring recurrent;
It was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the
Eleven apostles;
It was as His flesh; ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes
The same valved heart
That—pierced—died, withered, paused, and then regathered
Out of enduring Might
New strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
Analogy, sidestepping, transcendence,
Making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded
Credulity of earlier ages:
Let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
Not a stone in a story,
But the vast rock of materiality that in the slow grinding of
Time will eclipse for each of us
The wide light of day.

And if we have an angel at the tomb,
Make it a real angel,
Weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair, opaque in
The dawn light, robed in real linen
Spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
For our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
Lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are embarrassed
By the miracle,
And crushed by remonstrance.

That is what I love when I love my God.

It is not physical beauty nor temporal glory nor the brightness of light dear to earthly eyes, nor the sweet melodies of all kinds of songs, nor the gentle odor of flowers, and ointments and perfumes, nor manna or honey, nor limbs welcoming the embraces of the flesh; it is not these I love when I love my God. Yet there is a light I love, and a food, and a kind of embrace when I love my God — a light, voice, odor, food, embrace of my innerness, where my soul is floodlit by light which space cannot contain, where there is sound that time cannot seize, where there is a perfume which no breeze disperses, where there is a taste for food no amount of eating can lessen, and where there is a bond of union that no satiety can part. That is what I love when I love my God.
— Augustine

...vigorous doxology.

Twice a month I skype with a view other pastors about Walter Brueggemann's The Word Militant. As we were discussing the chapter today a line struck about the world of Job. Brueggemann describes the world in terms close to ours and opens the door for us to see the world as it is before us, and yet still offer up doxology. 

In the poem of Job, the questions of failure, fault, blame, and guilt simply evaporate. We are invited to a larger vista of mystery that contains wild and threatening dimensions of faith. The poem extricates Israel from the barrenness of moral explanation and justification and thinks instead of dangerous trust and affirmation in a context where we cannot see our way through. The world of Job is filled with wondrous crocodiles and hippopotamus along with cunning evil, deep, unanswered questions, and vigorous doxology.
— Walter Brueggemann

the indignities of our world

Today the world was greeted with wonderful news that Sufjan Stevens has a new album arriving in March. It's preordered and ready to arrive. Below is the description of the album from his webpage and I'm excited by the themes he'll be exploring on this record. To live in an age of indignities, without myths or miracles, provides a realm for a kind of art that bring us out of our current haze. An album that seeks to present wisdom but also respond to our loneliness is beautiful concept and I'm really excited to hear it in March.

Carrie & Lowell sounds like memory: it spans decades yet does not trade on pastiche or nostalgia. Stevens’s gauzy double-tracked vocals wash across the dashboard of long-finned, drop-top Americana, yet as we race towards the coast we are reminded that sunshine leads to shadow, for this is a landscape of terminal roads, unsteady bridges, traumatic video stores, and unhappy beds that provide the scenery for tales of jackknifed cars, funerals, and forgiveness for the dead. Each track in this collection of eleven songs begins with a fragile melody that gathers steam until it becomes nothing less than a modern hymn. Sufjan recounts the indignities of our world, of technological distraction and sad sex, of an age without either myths or miracle—and this time around, his voice carries the burden of wisdom. Carrie & Lowell accomplishes the rare thing that any art should achieve, particularly in these noisy and fragmented days: By seeking to understand, Sufjan makes us feel less alone.
— Sufjan Stevens

I'm also kind of hoping it turns out to be a concept album on Oregon. His 50 state project is dead but with songs titled "Eugene" and "Death with dignity" (our infamous law) it seems possible.


An essay that continues to work its way into my life is the title essay from CS Lewis The Weight of Glory. Below is the final paragraph. But read the whole thing.

Meanwhile the cross comes before the crown and tomorrow is a Monday morning. A cleft has opened in the pitiless walls of the world, and we are invited to follow our great Captain inside. The following Him is, of course, the essential point. That being so, it may be asked what practical use there is in the speculations which I have been indulging. I can think of at least one such use. It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.
— CS Lewis, The Weight of Glory


One of the things that has been instrumental theologically for me is long sustained reads of difficult and challenging texts. One of favorite classes in seminary was guided by my favorite professor, Dr. Jo-ann Badley, around reading all of James McClendon's three volume Systematic Theology. Today I was involved in discussion about what the Christian community is called to be, as well as discussions about the future of our denomination, but when I got home another pastor has posted a selection from McClendon's amazing work. This section is an exploration on the theme of authority and it struck me as relevant to the day discussion and informative for my own life. At the end he summarizes his point as this:

The authorities that under God we know are the love of God enjoyed, the grace of Christ written. the fellowship of the Spirit gathered.
— James McClendon, Doctine

And to that, I say, Amen.

What makes me so badly bent

Unapologetic by Francis Spufford is a book worth reading. It's the kind of book that lifts up your faith, challenges you, and sparks great disagreements. I'm sure I'll write about it at some point. But this post is about Jars of Clay.

Jars of Clay, a Christian band that has been around long enough to release a 20 years anniversary album, has been a constant in my life. From Flood's release in High School (now I'm old) to every time I stumble over a different album or tune, they've been writing songs along my journey. They haven't all been great but one song, Worlds Apart belongs in any 10 greatest CCM songs list. But Oh, my God is a song that almost belongs in that category. It's a song that rages and laments. It builds into anger without clear resolution and leaves you in its wake.

What connects this recent book and the song is the lyric "what makes me so badly bent." Francis presents this understanding sin that “the human propensity to f@$! things up" or HPtFtU for short.. He goes into great detail how this is one of the true things we know clearly from looking at the world, from us to everything and everything back to us. Spufford presents clearly is a notion of a humanity as something badly bent. But he doesn't see as beyond repair and his primary image for what Jesus does for us is mending, a fixing, a restoring, In a word that we are bent, and sometimes, badly bent. The Jars of Clay song reaches deep into the HPtFtU as well. It displays all the bents, but not as an empty complaint, but as directed to the one who can mend us, repair us. Thinking through this lament as well as this repair is the kind of thing that brings me to pride.

Below are the lyrics to this amazing song, and I encourage you to check out Unapologetic.

Oh, my God, look around this place
Your fingers reach around the bone
You set the break and set the tone
Flights of grace and future falls
In present pain, all fools say, “Oh, my God”

Oh, my God, why are we so afraid?
We make it worse when we don’t bleed
There is no cure for our disease
Turn a phrase and rise again
Or fake your death and only tell
Your closest friends, oh, my God

Oh, my God, can I complain?
You take away my firm belief
And graft my soul upon your grief
Weddings, boats and alibis
All drift away and a mother cries

Liars and fools, sons and failures
Thieves will always say
Lost and found, ailing wanderers
Healers always say

Whores and angels, men with problems
Leavers always say
Broken hearted, separated
Orphans always say

War creators, racial haters
Preachers always say
Distant fathers, fallen warriors
Givers always say

Pilgrim saints, lonely widows
Users always say
Fearful mothers, watchful doubters
Saviors always say

Sometimes I can not forgive
These days mercy cuts so deep
If the world was how it should be
Maybe I could get some sleep

While I lay, I’d dream we’re better
Scales were gone and faces lighter
When we wake, we hate our brother
We still move to hurt each other

Sometimes I can close my eyes
And all the fear that keeps me silent
Falls below my heavy breathing
What makes me so badly bent?

We all have a chance to murder
We all have the need for wonder
We still want to be reminded
That the pain is worth the plunder

Sometimes when I lose my grip
I wonder what to make of Heaven
All the times I thought to reach up
All the times I had to give up

Babies underneath their beds
Hospitals that cannot treat them
All the wounds that money causes
All the comforts of cathedrals

All the cries of thirsty children
This is our inheritance
All the rage of watching mothers
This is our greatest offense

Oh, my God
Oh, my God
Oh, my God
— Jars of Clay, Oh my God

Chopping wood

At the moment I'm reading a book on writing by Annie Dillard. It came at me from the recommendation of a friend and I thought I'd dive in. While you can read it quickly it is not a 'quick' read. Last night I read a passage on chopping wood that didn't seem like much at the time, but kept me thinking all day. Below is the quote where she talks about how she finally came to understand cutting wood and the chapter moves on. At the end of the chapter she returns to it as metaphor for writing, but as a metaphor it expands past writing to task of living, being, and in some sense to our call to holiness. We don't get there by aiming at holiness, we have to see past that to aim at Jesus, and from there we get into holiness. "Aim for the chopping block" she says, "If you aim for the wood, you will have nothing. Aim past the wood, aim through the wood; aim for the chopping block."

One night, while all this had been going on, I had a dream in which I was given to understand by the powers that be, how to split wood. You aim, said the dream—of course—at the chopping block. It is true, You aim at the chopping block, not at the wood; then you split the wood, instead of chipping it. You cannot do the job clearly unless you treat the wood as the transparent means to an end, by aiming past it.
— Annie Dillard


Given that yesterdays post was on our relationship to time and my process of scheduling my week, today I thought I would share a quote that continually hangs at the front of calendar from Eugene Peterson. I don't remember where exactly the quote came but it reminds me that my call is both more than what I consume, but also the ordinary nature of this joyous calling,

Pastoring is very ordinary way to live. And it is difficult in many ways because your time is not your own, for the most part, and the whole culture is against you. This consumer culture, people grow up determining what they want to do by what they consume. And the Christian gospel is quite the opposite of that.
— Eugene Peterson

always to Him.


Tonight as I was taking some time to fill in my weekly calender I came across a blog post written on the occasion of a fortieth birthday. The post contains a quote from theological muse, Karl Barth, that remarks about questions of life. It starts with Karl talking about the allotted time we have and brought to mind how filling out weekly schedule can be done with eye towards the one who is origin of life or the prison bar lines on the page. This question obivously goes beyond the weekly planning but perhaps it starts here as well.

Here is the quote but I encourage you to check out the post as well.

[We] have no option but to take what we are given—a limited life in an allotted span of time. And this simply brings us back to the starting-point. Does life really have to be like this? And when we raise this question again we again shake what we think are our prison bars and angrily or anxiously contrast our determination with the conditions under which we are forced to live. And the question itself is still unresolved. We still do not see why things have to be as they are, and not otherwise. The whole picture changes, however, if we are not concerned abstractly and generally with the limitation of our life, but with the God who limits it; if we are not concerned abstractly and generally with our allotted time, but with the reality of the God who allots it. In both cases, of course, we are concerned with the same thing. But the same thing now becomes quite different. It becomes so different that—if we really count on the reality of God—we are not merely confronted by the convincing and definitive answer to our question, but the question itself is resolved. . . . Therefore the question of our Whence? and Whither?, of the duration and perfection of our life, cannot lead into the void, like a broken bridge in a sea of mist, but always to Him.
— Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, translation editors G.W. Bromiley and T.F. Torrance, Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1957–1975, III/2, p. 564

Sermon Smith

Lately I've been trying to preach without notes but just the text and a couple of post-its. Here's a recent example from a sermon on Christ the King Sunday:

The process has been interesting and it has freed up to speak more extemporaneously. It does seem that most people enjoy this format better than when I use a script or an outline but sometimes it loses the well crafted sentence and the tightness of a script.

One of the reasons for this foray is the wonderful podcast SermonSmith, a collection of interviews with preachers. The host of the podcast, John Chandler, is an acquaintance from seminary and many of the guests have been people I admire. The most recent one is my friend Meghan Good from Albany Mennonite. It's a great collection of interviews from people who are seeking to make the Bible alive in different contexts through different styles and engagements with text. John does a great job at asking questions so you can the different ways each person approaches the sacred task of preaching and the dynamics it involves. If you're someone who preaches on a regular basis I encourage you to give it a listen and see what creative avenues it leads you down.

'In the neighborhood of chaos.'

Given this is the start of a new year I decided I would at least do more to share ideas that ruminating around in my head. Hopefully this will lead to writing more.

During my time on sabbatical this summer I read Being Christian by Rowan Williams. It's a wonderful short and meditative book that reflects on four themes from the Christian life: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, and Prayer. Given that this week liturgical Christians will mark the Baptism of Jesus Rowan offers great reflections on baptism and Genesis (both lectionary readings). In offering this reflection between the watery chaos of creation and the waters that we join Jesus in baptism he writes:

This suggests that the new humanity that is created around Jesus is not a humanity that is always going to be successful and in control of things, but a humanity that can reach out its hand from the depths of chaos, to be touched by the hand of God. And that means that if ask the question, ‘Where might you expect to find the baptized?’ one answer is, ‘In the neighborhood of chaos.’ It means you might expect to find Christian people near those places where humanity is most at risk, where humanity is most disordered, disfigured and needy. Christians will be found in the neighborhood of Jesus- but Jesus is found in the neighborhood of human confusion and suffering, defenselessly along those in in need. If being baptized is being led to where Jesus is, then being baptized is being led towards the chaos and the neediness of a humanity that has forgotten its own destiny.


A Carcass in the World


Toward the end of last year, I took the long hard dive into reading Donna Tartt’s latest novel, The Goldfinch. As I read through this novel, I was drawn into her language around paintings and art. It gave me a desire to connect to paintings despite the fact that I have no real knowledge of the art world. But on a trip to Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon I pressed myself to find the art section and explore it in hopes of finding at least one book. As I wandered lost among the shelves of books of fine art I remembered an artist that I wrote a crummy paper on in seminary. I wasn’t sure where I had come across his art before but when I had seen some of his simple images, they ripped open a whole new place inside of me. They are, as one friend put it, haunting. Knowing his last name began with a ‘Rou’, I gave up exploring the whole art section and settled on finding his book.

The artist’s name is Georges Rouault. He was born in France in 1871 and passed away in 1958. One of the things that drew me to Rouault as an artist is the intertwining of life with his art. He once wrote, “My life and my art make a single whole”. Rouault was raised in a poor family, but more than that he was someone who saw the horrors of both World Wars as well as the Franco-Prussian war. His family was poor and destitute in many ways and it was the prompting of his grandfather that encouraged him to become an artist. I haven’t researched much of Rouault’s early life, but as he grew up he at times referred to his body as a “carcass”.

Read more at my friend, D.L. Mayfield's blog.

Sorrow inseparable from joy..

“And I'm hoping there's some larger truth about suffering here, or at least my understanding of it - although I've come to realize that the only truths that matter to me are the ones I don't, and can't, understand.
What's mysterious, ambiguous, inexplicable. What doesn't fit into a story, what doesn't have a story. Glint of brightness on a barely-there chain. Patch of sunlight on a yellow wall. The loneliness that separates every living creature from every other living creature. Sorrow inseparable from joy.”
Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch

Was revisiting some of my notes today from this amazing novel I read last year and was struck by this one all over again.

Go on,


I don’t have a bone in my body that understands certain parts of evangelicalism. I deeply appreciate many things that I have learned from evangelicals and the witness they have been in my life, but at times I feel lost. It seems often times when confronted with certain evangelicals I’m being challenged to admit something is a problem so then we can agree with the evangelical answer to the problem. The greatest example of this is, of course, the debate of creationism and evolution. But another example is something I picked up from growing up in a mainline congregation and its understanding of sin.

Often I tell people I was raised in a church that taught me to take sin seriously by not taking it that seriously. That is, if sin is really a striving after nothingness, the lack of anything creative, and something that is completely overcome who in Jesus is, we have the ability to take it seriously by not taking it that seriously. Obviously, this can have problems, but looking at the alternative narrative in churches that take sin to a level of seriousness it begins to be seen dualistically.

What got me thinking about this was a quote posted at After Existentialism, Light.  This quote comes a book of discussions with the great theologian Karl Barth. Here he is being asked if his theology lack any room for victory because he doesn’t take the opponents of God (sin and Satan) seriously enough.  In his response he says this:

But because there must be room for the victory of Christ, you cannot be so anxious and pitiful and sad. Go on, explain the Work and Word of Christ, and you are above! We cannot deny the reality of evil and the Nothingness, but in and with Christ we are above these mysteries. It is not wise to be too serious. We must be serious, of course; life is hard. But we are not to take Satan as a reality in the same sense that Jesus is real.

Past Year

This past year I didn't write here much, or at all. However, during that time I've had the chance to my writing to appear in a couple other places. Having my writing helped, shared, and worked over by others has been a real blessing. Here is a collection of links for some of the essays from the past year and I'll try to keep more active on this page over the next year as well as continuing to share my writing elsewhere.

In January I offered a look at Darwin Barney's 2012 errorless streak with the Cubs along side the book, The Are of Fielding that appeared in the Bleed Cubbie Blue Annual. 

In the spring Jen Wise offered me the chance to write Home and Exile for her website Restoration Living.

In the fall of 2012 I started editing a section at The Other Journal. This was deeply rewarding this past year and it gave me the chance to review Baseball as Road to God by John Sexton. This essay most likely contains my personal philosophy on being a baseball fan.

And finally, the gracious editors at Fare Forward gave me venue for exploring my thoughts on Kanye West's recent tour.


Do you ever find yourself looking for the ‘high,’ the next motivational piece, spiritual experience, athletic technique, gardening tip, automotive gear, nature experience, or cellphone case?

This week the Lebanon School District had their annual group meeting and it’s one of the only chances Superintendent Rob Hess has to talk to all the school district employees at once. Rob had invited me the last two years to come listen to him but I had been unable to make it. This year he invited all the pastors and I happened to be free. Over dinner the night before Kelli told me how it is the big pep talk for the year and leans heavy into motivational territory. In response I remarked that Dr. Hess should really listen to all the interviews football players give about the big, high energy, speech a coach gives before the game. In most of those interviews the players say that the speeches are a lot of fun but that the high normally wears off by the end of the opening kick-off. While I merely said that to make a point, Kelli asked, “So what do they do after that?” It’s a good a question and thinking back to all those NFL Films I realized I knew the answer, “Practice.”

Practice is one of those things that seems so stale and dry. Most of us don’t get that excited about the idea of practice. Sure we’d sign up for the next big thing, the thing that will bring us to a high, to a peak, but the long slow work of practice isn’t really what we want.

This is true in our spiritual lives as well and it’s a temptation I face as a pastor to both provide and seek for myself. But as we all know, the high wears off, and we go back to daily life. But what if we reverse the trend? What if take the time to learn our scales by reading the bible, praying, fasting, and seeking connection with other and Jesus. What if we bring ourselves daily to the things that slowly shape us and make it possible for us to still have the highs, but that see daily life, the going to work, the taking care of the kids, the regular Sunday, and the regular rituals of life, as where things really happen? It’s a challenge to get out of the motivational mindset, and it certainly is needed at times, but if we open ourselves up to the practices and the disciplines that can shape us daily, we give God more opportunity to enter into our days. And it is in our daily life that is the place where God is going to come up to us, to call us to die to ourselves, and follow him.

Give Up

The point of this volume is simple enough: to live is to give up and give away parts of ourselves. This is not just a comment about the social character of our lives. Giving up parts of ourselves fuels our very being as persons: it is how we learn, it is how we think, it is how we grow, it is how we make decisions, it is how we love. In giving up, of course, we are also gaining something new, although that is not entirely obvious, just as it s not always clear what we are losing as we live, at least not until the very end of this or that process. To live is to give up parts of ourselves, and to live fully is to give ourselves away fully. This is the simple Christian corollary of the fundamental character of human living, and it is not a novel claim in the least: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.                                                  Ephraim Radner, A Brutal Unity, p. 1

Patheos was nice enough to give my a copy of A Brutal Unity as long as I wrote a short blog post about it (see previous post). Since I am always game for free books I liked the idea but the real reason is that I find Radner's writing to be a challenge for me in the places I live. For instance, the quote above from the opening paragraph is one I haven't be able to stop think about since I read it. It is a simple quote but its one that cuts to the heart. It gets me asking about what it means to give up, and the knowledge that is how we live, we learn, and most importantly, love. The idea that giving away of ourselves is fundamental to our living is a difficult truth but one that me must live with. It pushes me into prayer.  Prayer being the place where we can learn the ability to what it means to give oneself away, and also to know where we can find ourselves again.