ordinary… mostly

"We have nothing to offer each other, except a haven." — K. Nafziger



A wrench in the plans

Our transition to Pennsylvania seemed to be going so smoothly. Packing was well underway. Job and church obligations were being wrapped up in Illinois. I was counting the days until the move, the house closing, and the last day of work.

And then about two weeks ago, the house sale fell apart.

The house appraised for far less than the agreed-on price. The buyer’s financing would no longer work, but there seemed to be possibilities for saving the deal. But those didn’t work out. But there were other options, and the deal was back on. And then in one stunning and brilliant display of confusion, the buyers’ agent said that the buyers wanted the house and were pursuing alternative financing at nearly the same time that their attorney said that the deal was “null and void”.

Ever since, I’ve think I’ve been going through the stages of grief. The anger bothered me the most…

  • Anger at the appraiser for doing a bad job (which we shall not be discussed here);
  • Anger at FHA appraisals for not having an easy way to challenge them;
  • Anger at the people who could challenge them for being unwilling to do so;
  • Anger at the buyers’ agent and attorney for confusing messages and apparent lack of concern;
  • Anger at our agent and attorney for their inability to help save the deal;
  • Anger that my family had planned our move date to accommodate the deal and that we’d now be needlessly apart for two and a half weeks;
  • Anger at myself for being so angry.

That last one was the most significant. Life goes on. My family is healthy. We have food and shelter. We have love. We don’t lack anything.

And yet, it took me days to feel anything except the anger. (And fear. I guess there was fear, as well.)

I really didn’t like that side of me. It felt ugly. And I hated to admit my weakness. During that struggle, I was reminded of the classic spiritual discipline of asking oneself, “Where have I seen God today?” I confessed to one of my friends, “Sometimes we only observe God in God’s absence.”

In the midst of all of that, we traveled to Laurelville for the spring gathering of its association members. It was a trip that we would have made, even if we weren’t moving there. Jane Hoober Peifer was the featured speaker for the weekend. I was too distracted to remember much of what she said, but at some point she spoke about anxiety and gratitude. Sometimes when fear is too great, we have to take small steps. We remind ourselves that God has given us what we need for this minute… or maybe this hour or day. And when we have learned that, we can begin to think about the week or month. Eventually, we can rest fully in God’s care. I’m trying to do that now. So let me conclude by with some gratefulness…

  • At the darkest point in all of this, one friend (the one to whom I confessed God’s apparent absence) didn’t try to rationalize things or to cheer me up. She simply heard me and gave me a hug.
  • This past weekend, my family packed our things (with lots of help from friends) and moved everything to Laurelville. Being there helped me put things into perspective.
  • In the last couple of days, our house has gone back on the market. Already we have a showing for today and another for tomorrow.
  • One of the children from church made me a bracelet as a going-away present. She gave it to me last Saturday as we loaded the moving van. Last night, I returned to Illinois from Laurelville in order to finish my work at Argonne. In a moment of depression as I moved about the house that used to be my home, I encountered the bracelet. Like a hug without words, it reminds me of the love of my community.

Small glimmers of hope that help me to move forward.

Bracelet of love

I’m surrounded by love.


What would you do?

First, a video for your viewing pleasure…

What do you think?

I cringe every time I watch it. You can feel the awkwardness in that room.

But I love how the situation is resolved. Grace from the most unexpected place.

I brought this up with Ordinary Spouse last Friday night while we were walking around downtown Chicago. I was thinking about how I experience cities in much the same way. I’m out-of-place and always on the defensive. My gut reaction is something akin to fear – fear buried deep inside me – but fear, nonetheless.

I suppose that this is a conditioned response – that we are on guard in unfamiliar settings as a means of protection. Yet I wondered, should it be that way? What would Jesus’ gut reaction be, if he encountered 148 bikers in a movie theater?

Later that evening, I actually got tested. A man on the street walked up and asked if I wanted to have my shoes polished. I declined, but he kept on talking. I stopped so as not to be rude, and he bent over and said something like, “Now don’t kick me!” Before I realized it, he had squirted some lemony-scented liquid onto my shoes (which were actually brand new). At that point, I was left speechless. As he was busy pulling a cloth out of his bag, I think I must have given OS some flabbergasted look, and we just sort of wandered off. OS handed me a cloth from her purse that I could use to wipe off whatever it was that he put on my shoes. And for the next half hour, my thoughts vacillated between incredulity, amusement, and a nagging question. How does one respond in that situation?

And then I got a second chance…

OS and I were making a big loop around our hotel. As we were on the return trip – on a different street – we were again approached by a man. “Is this the same man?” I whispered to OS.

“Hello, sir! Would you like your shoes shined!”

I was practically bursting out laughing as I said, “NOOOOOOOOO, THANK YOU!”

But I thought after the fact that I should have offered to take the guy out for coffee.

Now as I sit here typing this, I wonder, “Might that man have been Jesus to me, offering to wash my feet?”

Forgive us, Lord. We don’t know what we do. Transform us by your love, which removes the fear from within us.

A lifetime, packed into one month

The last month and a half has had a lifetime’s mixture of milestones, events, and emotions packed into it:

  • June 29 – My sister and brother-in-law’s son is born
  • July 3 – Our family’s first trip east for the month
  • July 4-9 – MCUSA convention in Pittsburgh
  • July 6 – My dad’s birthday
  • July 6 – My grandma died while my parents and my family were in Pittsburgh
  • July 7 – My sister and brother-in-law’s anniversary
  • July 8 – Remembering my grandpa; it would have been his birthday
  • July 9 – First trip home
  • July 15 – My parents’ anniversary
  • July 21 – Our second trip east
  • July 22 – Burial service for Grandma
  • July 22-24 – Family reunion at Laurelville
  • July 24-27 – Hanging out at my parents’ place; bike trip with my dad and uncles; cleaning and sorting at Grandma’s apartment
  • July 28 – Our second trip home
  • July 29-August 7 – Ten-day work week
  • August 8 – Our third trip east
  • August 9 – Memorial service for Grandma
  • August 9 – My in-laws’ anniversary
  • August 9 – Our third trip home
  • August 10 – Ordinary Spouse and I celebrate 15 years of marriage
  • August 11 – My father-in-law’s birthday
  • August 12 – My brother- and sister-in-law’s anniversary

That’s the last forty-five days. I hope I didn’t miss anything. To be honest, I’m tired. I think it’s time for a rest.

Here we are all in one place…

I got to go to a Carrie Newcomer concert last night! It was awesome.

The trip was really a spur-of-the-moment decision (almost). I was on-call for work, but the concert was free and was as close as Carrie would be performing for a long time. So I decided to go, even though I had to go alone.

Here are a few photos from the evening:

Today, I was thinking about writing a few blog entries reflecting on the intersection of music and theology in my life. Such a series would necessarily include a number of Carrie’s songs. I don’t know if I’ll get around to adding more songs, but I thought I could at least throw out a short reflection on the song that she did as an encore last night. This is at the very core of what I believe.

Betty’s Diner by Carrie Newcomer

This song is about the mish-mash of souls that pass through a joint known as Betty’s Diner. It reminds me of one of the places I might have seen when I lived on Long Island. Miranda is the waitress at the diner, and she knows how to feed the body and soul at the same time. She sees people dreaming of the future, mourning the death of a spouse, fighting addiction, falling in love… basically, the stuff of life.

Here we are all in one place
The wants and wounds of the human race
Despair and hope sit face to face
When you come in from the cold
Let her fill your cup with something kind
Eggs and toast like bread and wine
She’s heard it all so she don’t mind

Every time I hear this song, I think that it might be a picture of what Church should look like. There is so much wrapped up in those words: love, community, and becoming the body of Christ to one another. I think that I like it, because it reminds me of my creed:

I believe in love, lived in the context of community.

Maybe it really is just that simple: could I pour you another cup of coffee?


Thoughts on Faith, May 2011: Part VII (Theology and real life)

It’s the end of May, so I better bring this series of random thoughts on faith to an end.

What is the point of all this musing? I’ve come up with this: Theology is worthless if it doesn’t motivate me to act on what I believe. Brian McLaren discusses this and equates orthodoxy with practice in his book, A Generous Orthodoxy:

This book can rightly be accused of blurring that distinction between orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Absurdly (to some at least) this book seems to approach orthodoxy as a tool or means to achieve orthopraxy…

In sum, this book sees ortopraxy as the point of orthodoxy.

Interestingly, I recently read that early Christians would have done things in an order opposite that of what we usually do. Tony Jones writes:

One thing that’s intriguing to note, and easy to lose sight of two millennia later, is that in the very earliest church, practice begat doctrine.  That is, the early church didn’t convene theological conferences to debate the nature of the godhead and then spin out a practice of prayer.

Instead, it’s clear in the earliest Christian documents that the people prayed, and out of their experience of God’s nearness did they develop doctrinal beliefs regarding who God is and how God acts.

So what do I believe, and how should I act? About a year ago, I blogged about my creed:

I believe in love, lived out in the context of community.

And what does this have to do with all of these thoughts? I’ve been writing about atonement, Rob Bell’s book (Love Wins), and universalism, among other things. Sometimes, I seriously consider (or even embrace) ideas that are unorthodox (at least within some streams of Christianity). But it all comes down to this: I’m finding that the love of God, demonstrated in the life of Jesus, is bigger than I could possibly imagine. I’m tired of subtly being motivated by fear – fear of hell, fear of my own failure, fear that the kingdom of God is irrelevant to today’s world. I’m ready to embrace something bigger. To re-quote Bell…

What you discover in the Bible is so surprising and unexpected and beautiful that whatever we’ve been told or taught, the Good News is actually better than that – better than we can ever imagine.

The Good News is that love wins.

P.S. Greg Boyd provides a summary of all of this: “The Heresy of Failing to Love

Thoughts on Faith:

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI
Part VII

A picture of compassion

During the last week, I’ve spent quite a bit of time confined to my hospital room or my bedroom. My wife has been amazing, taking on the task of mothering four (instead of three). And we’ve been blessed by the love of the Church. This is my picture of compassion:

  • Fourteen people visited me in the hospital
  • Two people visited me at home
  • I had two flower arrangements to brighten my hospital room
  • I received nine different get-well cards at the hospital, at home, and at church
  • Our family has received three different meals
  • I’ve been given four gifts to distract me from my pain
  • One person blessed my wife with childcare one morning so that she could come visit me in the hospital
  • I’ve received countless phone calls, facebook notes, and words of concern
  • And my mother-in-law spent three days with us to get us through the week

I am loved.

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