Outside, Inside

The thing I want to do, most of the time, is swoop down from above.  I want to be a jet, thundering in with a sonic boom, and I want to shoot missiles of love and kindness and then I want to swoop up and out of the picture again after I have solved someone else’s problem.

I am learning that the thing I am supposed to do is walk in, because I was never above those people in the first place.  I am supposed to submit and wait patiently.  The love and kindness that I have been given as a gift will effect change, but they are not missiles.  They are slow, constant, steady things.  I will stick around long enough to see that I did not rescue anybody except perhaps myself.

I was not put here on Earth to fix any problems.  With God’s grace once in a great while I will.  But mostly, I am learning, that I can lighten some people’s loads, some times.  And I can cry with people sometimes.  I can offer up hope that there is more than this.

Even when struggles are so close to me… perhaps this is when this thing is the most difficult.  I have been praying for healing for someone who is  so near and dear to me.

It is not a physical sort-of healing that they need.

I was praying for them, as an isolated, seperate entity.  My prayer had nothing (on the surface) to do with me.    I was not praying for us, I was not praying for the space between us.  It is not that I was altruistic, that I was only concerned for them.  It was that I was only willing to locate the struggles and problems within them, I only saw the things that needed to be fixed outside of me.  I placed myself above them, in a fighter jet.

I had this image of a cut-away view of the world.  There are these massive forces, building up, heat gathering.  They erupt into volcanoes; explosions.

Sometimes, I realized, that people are like volcanoes.  We see a person explode.  It would be so foolish to see this explosion as caused just by the mountain, as a local issue.


Pressures build up in the spaces between us.  Heat gathers.  Volcanoes manifest.

Sometimes, our problems all manifest themselves in one place, on one person.  This is not where they are caused.  This is not where they begin.  This is simply where they erupt.

There are people in our lives who appear to be unhealthy.  The issues they suffer are outpourings of something below the surface and something that belongs to all of us.

The mystery of Jesus himself is somehow a part of this too; there was a problem among all of us, and it manifested outward through him.

I am working hard, now, at not praying for healing the person apart from me, but rather, to pray for both of us and all the space that is between.







I am the River

We were set loose to stand in silence, but my head kept filling up with words.  

There I stood, yesterday.  In the middle of this difficult time, grappling with some very hard things.  It ended up working out that I could attend a sort-of spiritual retreat, in the middle of nowhere, at the cabin owned by the pastor of the church I have been attending.

As it began, he set us loose for a little while in the wet and chilly forest.  Oaks and maples stretched their limbs out in the hill next to the tiny cabin.  A meadow filled the space behind it.  The long dirt driveway was in front, next to a tool shed, a fire pit, and some chairs.  And on the other side of that, a bit of a crevice, and a river perhaps twenty feet below.

A little awkward, wordlessly, we all filed out of the cabin.  Set loose to stand in the silence.  My head kept filling up with words.  I traipsed across the corner of the meadow.  The land swept downward gradually, leading me to the river I could have put my toes in, if it wasn’t November in New England.

  I wondered about rivers and why I am always so very drawn to them.  It is partially about that amazing white noise they create, the wonderful ordered dynamic way they roll left and right and back and forth.  Not staight and not crooked, I have this sense there is a pattern that rules over them, but a pattern to intricate for me to wrap my brain around.


I know there is all this stuff about the spirituality of water.  I thought about this and I dismissed it as a suitable explanation for why I love gurgling, burbling streams so.  And after this dismissal, I told myself again about how this was supposed to be a silent time.

I know a half dozen ways to escape what the Buddhist’s call monkey mind.  When I am at my best, I can get past the babbling and eternal monologue of my thoughts.  For at least a few minutes.  I was not at my best, though.  And also, I wondered if maybe there was some important things I was meant to see.  

Perhaps I was just hiding from the silence we had bidden to stand in.  Silence is pretty terrifying.

Or maybe there was something bigger than the pastor at work.  He is a gentle guy, Lucas.  I thought if I asked him, he would have laughed, and shrugged, and said, “Whatever, man.  If you don’t feel like you should be silent, don’t be silent.”  Or maybe he would have found a deeper way to express it, something more Yoda and less surfer dude.

Whatever the reason or rationalization, I quickly gave up on the quest to fill myself with silence.

I let my always churning mind do the thing that it loves to.  Analyze and ponder and synthesize.  

I began to think that the river is not a thing at all. 

The river is not the specific droplets of water that runs through it.  Because that water used to be clouds and rain.  And soon it will sink into the ground or it will join a lake or merge with the ocean itself.  

Nor is the river the rocks and dirt that make up the river bed.  These are all constantly being worn down and moved down stream.  If you could swoop in and take every last grit of dirt away, every last pebble and boulder, you would not have taken the stream.

The stream, at best, is a negative space.  It is a process.  It is a becoming.

This was scary, or sad.  Kind of both.  Because it felt like a statement about me.

We all know how we are not just the collection of the physical elements that comprise us.  The molecules are replaced within the cells.  The cells are replaced within the body.  There is not a single piece of us that was with us more than a few years ago.  This idea about our physicality is not new or unique.

But what if it runs deeper than that?

Minds and souls are not made out of stuff.  But if they were?  This stuff is always growing, dying, being reborn.  I had this sense that there is not a piece of my soul which was with me from the beginning.

It is not as bleak as it seems.  There is something eternal.  God’s breathed into us and made us human.  But breath, moving air, it is not a static thing.  It is not a thing at all.

We are a negative space.  We are a process.  We are becoming.  That is the eternity within us.  That is the little emenation from the creator of the universe that resides within us.  Not a physical thing, not even a piece of soul…  But a pattern, a verb, an unfolding, an interconnection.

The very deepest place of us is a relationship.  A multi-tiered, multi-faceted relationship.  Paradoxically, it is with ourselves.  It is also with our maker, who we have been given this distant, faded echo of.  And it is with each other.

I hope that you will connect today.    Perhaps with someone you love.  Perhaps with someone you will grow to love.  Or maybe you will just smile at the person who rings up your coffee.  Or maybe you will leave a comment below, and build or build on a connection between you and I.

Jesus Next to the Barista

Thank you.  You.  The person who is connected to me by  that first degree of separation.

Perhaps you crafted the coffee I decided to splurge on tonight.  Maybe it was the end of your shift.  And maybe you are afraid that this is as good as it gets, maybe you are afraid that you had one chance and lost it, so this is as good as it gets.  Despite your fears you did it just right, white-hot foam and the perfect balance of peppermint and coffee; it was tempting, I know, to forget those little details, take the easy way out, and offer me a mediocre mocha.  But you didn’t.

Or maybe you passed me on the street and you summoned up a smile.  Or you saw that I was trying to turn left, in front of you, so when the light turned yellow you stopped instead of it gunned it.

Thanks to the person who can read the tax code like a wizard reads forgotten languages, who can summon the right numbers into the right columns.  Thanks to the guy in the auto supply shop who helps me find the right kind of break fluid.  I am sure it tempting to shake your head in wonder that I can even figure out how to put my pants on in the morning.  I am so deficient in your little corner of the world.


And thank you to those of you separated by two degrees of separation.  The people who can bring gifts of wisdom to my kids; teachers, and friends, and frenemies and even enemies of them.  Manager at the star bucks; mom who taught the driver at the light courtesy; tax code teacher of the tax code guru; supportive coworker of the patient auto supply store guy.

In that third degree of seperation, the people who get the stuff I need where it needs to go, the people who equipped my kids’ teachers, the Starbucks manager, the driver’s mom, etc.

They say that there are seven degrees of separation and that we all exist in these seven levels with each other.  Seven concentric rings.  Seven pebbles dropped in the water, rippling outword.  A seven-tiered spider web, each of us living in the middle of our own, interconnected with every other person.  Everywhere.  Ever.  It is the nature of geometry that each ring gets bigger than the previous…

Thank you.

Thank you for what you do.  Because the other day the pastor was preaching about work, the holiness of it.  He said some things that got me to thinking about why I do the things I do.  The answer was so easy for me.

I teach kids who have almost nothing.  They are kids that have been locked up.  Kids that have been forgotten.  Kids that have been abused, broken, and so very much worse.  Of course there are days that my job sucks.  But in that moment, it was so very easy for me.  Why do I do the things I do?

Because that is where Jesus lives.  I get to live with Jesus.  Every single day, right here, in my tiny little circle.

I had this overwhelming sense of how easy it is for me to see him here, among the sick, naked, orphans.  Even a blind man who hadn’t had the scales taken off his eyes could see it.

Out of all the people connected to me, how many people could claim this incredible blessing?  Ten percent?  One percent?

It became worth it; being so underpaid.  Having to put my hands on kids who aren’t safe.  Facing a mirror of my own brokeness, in the incredible brokeness of others, every time I look in my own students eyes, it became so worth it.

Thank you.  I could not make a mocha, or do my taxes, or figure out what kind of break fluid to put in my car.  For some reason I can never explain, I ended up in a place where it is so easy to see Jesus every single day.  It must be hard, some days, to see Jesus in the places where so many other people are.  But we need people in those places, too, and he is there, I know that he is.  So thank you, for working in those places where he is hard to find.

Time Warps

Last night, I went to see a Halloween showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

(If you are not familiar with this… phenemona, you are missing out on one of the world’s strangest things.)

This morning, I will be headed off to church.

(Also, by the way, one of the world’s strangest things.)

There is all kinds of ways that these two things are a disconnect, or at least a stark contrast.  But I was thinking about these two acts are actually flip sides of the same coin.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that we are built with these needs for experiences of God.  Over the last two thousand years, the church has figured out a way to meet these.  Running on a presumably paralell track, Rocky Horror fans have figured out the same things.



  • They begin with a story of a “man” traveling from very far away.  This man possesses an understanding that will liberate us from traditional understandings.  He traffics with the people polite society tells us to avoid.  He encourages us to engage in a strange kind of cannibalism.   He is betrayed, and he dies.
  • All these independent communities pop up around propegating the story.  Thousands of people put countless hours into making this story relevant.  They attend regular (often weekly) gatherings.
  • With a mixture of speech and song, the story and the leadership lead a sort-of liturgy.  Those in the audiences are called toward participation in all manner of ways, including prescribed call-and-response and regular ritual and routine; the breaking of the bread/the throwing of the toast; the splashing of holy water/ the spraying of the squirt guns.

Of course, much of the message is so very different.  But I think the people who claim that Jesus’ was less mind-blowing than the message of Rocky Horrror, they have missed Jesus’ point.  Jesus was as much a threat to the status quo, was as unutterably offensive as the movie.

One of the things that struck, me last night, was the ways that the audience’s responses have changed over time.  There was a case in the song “Sweet Tranvestite” where the audience’s “lines” were a pair of words, both starting with the letter f.  The last time I saw the show, we would sing those lines with our tongues planted firmly in our cheeks.  I suspect those words are less acceptable, now, than they were then.  (This topic deserves a whole blog post unto itself: on the surface, it seems like the whole thing is immoral, or a-moral.  In fact, though, there is a deep and subversive ethic code running through the whole thing.)   Further, there were a few lines that just could not have been around at the time of the filming; South Park and Justin Bieber references.

Perhaps these aren’t “official” audience responses.  But that doesn’t matter.  In fact, it suggests that there is a process of interacting with that basic story and re-defining it for the new generation.  If we had done this as a church, been willing to re-examine our story in a modern context, I wonder how many people would be showing up on Sundays.

Time For the Oars

I have taken down my sail.

I fold the canvas slowly, a bright flag.

It flaps in the wind.

It is such a small thing, now.

It does not pulse in my hands.

I am not bothered by my disapointment; it does not seem alive.

The forces that had propelled me along for so very long.

All they can do now is ruffle my thinning hair.

And conspire with the setting sun to steal the moisture from my speckled chin.

There is this green dufflebag as long as the lower half of me.

I tuck and roll the sail in it.  Maybe I will sell it to a parachute maker.

Or a costumer for an army of midget-clowns.

My day’s work, my today’s work.

Is half-done, only half done.

The lock-blade knife is nearly as old as me.

I have lovingly honed that blade along flat wet granite.

It slices without sawing through a rope

meant, once, to link  the anchor to the aft.

Those waves lap up forever along the woodeness of my old friend.

And there are these oars.

The Silence is All That We Have

She was thirty-ish, and she worked for the same agency I do.  I knew her enough to nod as we passed, perhaps one of us would say something about the weather, or comment about how the week end was coming.

I was told that she went to the emergency room with a head ache.  She died there.  I found out she had a young child.

Left to my own devices, I would not have gone to her wake.

I had thought about it, and I had decided not to.  I told myself these stories about why I shouldn’t.  They were even true, almost.  Sort-of.

When my co-worker nudged me in that direction, I had to embrace the fact that there were stories about why I should go.  And these were more true.  And so I did.

We headed there.  And that was… a journey.    We are not detail guys, my coworker and I.  I think it is fair to say that we have more book learning than street smarts, more intellect than social ability.  The drive there, was an adventure, almost.  It is entirely possibly that we ended up laughing some, and finding ourselves in a highly ludicrous situation.   That is a story for another time.

When we arrived at the funeral home, the place that we were supposed to be, I doubted myself again, doubted the decision.  There were these sad people gathered outside.   Sad (or perhaps just empathic) workers by the double doors.  I thought about The Shining a little bit; the book and movie are built on the belief that places take on an echo of the emotions that are felt there.   Even if there had been nobody there, even if I didn’t know the person, even if you had hid the signs proclaiming the nature of the business done there…  I suspect a person might have sensed it: the sadness.

After skulking around, a bit, we made our way to the slow-moving recieving line.  It wound through the small rooms in the house.  When we entered the actual room, I was confronted with the realization that we would soon be facing what remained of her physical presence.  I could not yet see her, but on the other side: her family.  Siblings, parents, even a grandmother.  When I told the story later, my wife rightly observed: nobody should have to bury their grand-child.

And when it was my turn, I was confronted with the reality that it is so good and also so terrible, the way we come face-to-face with a body in an open casket.  A simple picture, rendered in crayon, was placed above her head, next to a photograph.  This perfect little boy was the subject of the photo, and presumably the artist of the picture.

What do you say?  This is the question that crashed into me as I approached the recieving line.  My natural awkwardness conspired with my desire to find words that help and heal, words that come from a place of wisdom and maturity.  Am I supposed to introduce myself?  Offer general condolences?  Specific thoughts?  I mumbled and murmered some kind of hybrid of all of these, and I felt an imposter, a fake, a hack.

Outside the house were some familiar faces; coworkers stood silently, together.  Some of them new her better than me.  Some of them were crying.  I took my place in the circle.  And I went looking for words.  I stood there in that silence and I realized something:

It was good that I was there.  I did not need to say anything… More than that, I should not say anything.  Not in that holy moment.

We stood in silence together.  Every word in that sentence is important: We stood in silence together.

That was the point: an object lesson, a lived demonstration: sometimes, there are no words.  Sometimes, all we can do is stand together in silence.  And that is enough because it is all that we have; it is enough because it has to be.

In the Moment

The worst moment is when you think everything is going right, and then suddenly it all falls apart.  One of my favorite shows, The Walking Dead is brilliant at this.  (A bit of a year old spoiler ahead…)  For example, there was this sweet kid, Beth.  She disapeared for about a year.  Suddenly she is back.  We get reminded how wonderful she is.  Then?  Then she dies.

Though I am not a sports guy, I can emphasize with football fans.  The team is about to come back, the quarter back throws a beautiful pass, across dozens of yards.  They bar erupts in cheers!  And then, the other team comes in, intercepts, and then it all falls apart.  Touchdown, field goal, or maybe a home run or something.  (You have no idea how proud of myself I am, for that sports metaphor.  Based on the above accuracy, you will probably be amazed to find out that I am not a sports guy.)

121811 Miami Dolphins cornerback Vontae Davis (21) intercepts a pass intended for Buffalo Bills wide receiver Steve Johnson (13) in the third quarter at Ralph Wilson Stadium. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)
121811 Miami Dolphins cornerback Vontae Davis (21) intercepts a pass intended for Buffalo Bills wide receiver Steve Johnson (13) in the third quarter at Ralph Wilson Stadium. (Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post)

I think God must get this feeling a lot.  Perhaps by you.  Most definitely by me.  There are times when I suspect “he” is like, “That’s right Jeff, you are thinking the right way.  Just keep going in that direction, keep thinking that way…. What?!?  No, you just messed it all up!”

Last blog post, a pondered about the ways that God shows up in the flesh, the ways he is here, in the details, in the mess, in the dirt.  God is amazingly specific and detailed.  He is an example, not an abstraction.

And yet?  As I shared this… I was all abstract.  Theoretic.  I heard once about a presentation given on “The Interactive Classroom.”  It was a power point presentation.  This adventure in missing the point is a bit like mine, I think.

I am writing, mostly, to myself, and for myself here.  This is my reminder to myself, my attempt at calling myself out to something bigger and better.    The bigger and better?  It is living where and when I am.

When I am among the hurting, I want to hurt with them.  I want to carry that burden.  I want to feel the pain.  I want to embrace the specifics of the pain, rather than deflecting with abstraction and theoretics.   This will mean, often, closing my mouth and sitting in silence with others…  Because these canned responses that we save for hard times…  They are as much about protecting our own selves as they are about helping out others.

And when I am among the rejoicing, I want to rejoice.  I am terrible at rejoicing.  I think it is an age, culture, and gender thing…  Straight white middle aged men?  We are typically terrible at rejoicing.  To explore why would probably require a bunch of paragraphs.  Or maybe a whole blog post.  Or maybe a whole book.

Whatever the reason, my failure to embrace the actual reality of a moments of joy means that every last one of them will never come back.  They are lost forever.  And I think it’s time I stopped that.

I am new to this…  and maybe not very good at it.  How do I step out of the theoretical and ideal and into the reality of the moment?