Thursday, March 26, 2009


Wesley was at the sink washing his hands so he could sprinkle the brown sugar on his oatmeal lunch.  He was commenting on the "different little square bar of soap" I had put in my bag after a recent hotel stay and brought home to use.  (Waste not, want not!)   I reach around his little four year old frame perched on a "stepp-n stool" and grab some Burt's Bees Banana hand salve sitting in the windowsill.  put it on my knuckles and wonder if Wesley knows the smell of bananas well enough to pick up the aroma.  He doesn't really go for them, so I doubt it.  I hold the little jar under his nose,
 "What does that smell like?"  
"It smells like disgusting," he says matter-of-factly.  He  pronounces the g so hard it is almost a c.  
I look at him with a smirk, then just to clarify: "You mean you don't like it?"  
"That's right." 

Then we look out the window.  Our calico, Lao-Tzu, is crouching in the big 12x18 hole that was dug yesterday for a new back porch.  Like a soldier in a trench, she's peering her head over the edge of the hole at two robins.  She springs up into action and darts at the birds, but gets there too late.  Part of the ground had previously been covered by a smaller slab of concrete.  
"You know why those birds want to root around in that dirt?" I ask. 
He nods and looks at me with bright brown eyes.  
"Because there are lots of worms and bugs that used to live under that concrete that used to be there, and now the birds can get to them!" I say.  

Then I realize Lao-Tzu is prowling the area like a lion waiting at a watering hole.  We open the door and call her back in.  The birds come back to the Shangrila pretty quickly and we sit there watching them hop around and  pull worms out of ground.  

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Beware the Ides of March

Over Wesley's past three birthdays, we've found ourselves covered in puke (2nd), getting Wesley stitches in his chin (3rd), and this year with Lara in the ER the night before his party. Beware the ides of March, indeed. Lara was hit in Tulsa by a little old lady: Not physically punched,(that would be interesting) but rammed into by the other lady's car. I told the church that was one more reason they could think of Lara as Wonderwoman, since she evidently has an invisible car like Wonderwoman has an invisible jet. Thankfully, she's okay with some burns from the airbag and soreness. But now we're dealing with purchasing another car just a few months after already buying a car. Hooray.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The best tomato soup ever

My church is full of great cooks.  I was fortunate to score the leftovers of Lori Kellner's tomato soup from our "Souper Bowl Luncheon for Missions" and Lara and I relished it all week afterwards.  I ate it for dessert one night.  It's that good.  Impress your friends with this recipe.  

Sherried Tomato Soup


6 Tbsp melted butter

1 med. Onion

1-46 oz. tomato juice

2-14 oz. cans diced tomatoes ( I use petite diced)\

3 Tbsp. chicken base ( 4 boullion cubes if need to substitute)



1 cup cooking sherry

1 cup whipping crème

chopped fresh parsley and basil


Saute diced onions in butter until transluscent.

Add tomatoes with juice.

Add juice, base salt, pepper and stir.

Bring to a near boil, turn off heat.

Add in sherry and cream and stir.

Add parsley and basil to taste.


  • This is the original recipe.
  • To this I add 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • And 1 tsp Italian seasoning and ¼ tsp crushed red pepper

The Face of Grace

I've always been impressed by iconography.  One of the most important icons in my own life is also the oldest known icon of Jesus Christ Pantocrator at St. Catherine's monastery at Sinai.  I think it was my mentor from college, Jay McDaniel, who first exposed me to this icon.  The seperate halves of this face of Christ each convey such different expressions.  When I look at the right half of the face, I see anger, almost a sneer.  McDaniel said that eye feels like a laser boring right into his soul.  The left half of the face expresses compassion and tenderness.   Do you see the difference?  The left half has a softer eye--it is a gaze of love.  
A truth that I have learned from this icon is that grace is both halves of this icon.  Jesus expresses both tenderness and anger.   I think it is conventional wisdom that grace is only that tender acceptance.  The power of a Wesleyan concept of grace, with the dynamic movement through prevenient, justifying and sanctifying grace is that notion that grace is also perfecting.  "Going on to perfection" sometimes involves deep discomfort and difficulty.  That's one reason I think Lent is such an important season of faith.  We are confronted with Jesus as a rebuker, as a wild man, as an angry man.  Often, we are lulled into the false idea that being a person of faith means we are nice to everybody.  Augustine said "Hope has two beautiful daughters, Anger and Courage.  Anger at the way things are, and the courage to try to change them."  

Thursday, March 12, 2009


Here's the book I'm reading. I heard the author speak on a Tulsa NPR station and thought it sounded good. It is 40 vignettes on the afterlife that are off the wall, but also probing. The book fits in one hand pretty well--Lara and I both read it while we feed Julianna. It earns a thumbs up from me so far-the dust jacket says the afterlife scenarios are "never previously thought of," but I know I've daydreamed about a couple of them. Perhaps they're something in the collective unconscious. Am I dwelling on the afterlife? It first came to mind when I tried to think of a good question for the Transforming Theology Conference (a few days ago). I also wrote this little bit in my journal.

Almost Four.

When she returned at fifteen minutes till midnight, we sat on the couch with her legs resting on mine—me finding it hard to take my eyes off my little girl—she told me that my father had told her that he remembered his mother. His mother had died when he was three and a half years old. His older sister was five, and their two older brothers were already in their 20s and married.
I had never given my grandmother’s death much thought as an actual event. It was more of a circumstance. My grandmother had died when my dad was almost four and my dad’s dad had died when I was almost four.
The circumstance became more of a event in time for me when my wife mentioned that my dad told her that he remembered his mother’s death. He and his five year old sister were at home alone with her when she had the stroke that killed her. He said that they had just finished eating cherry pie, and for the longest time my dad and his sister thought that if you ate cherry pie you would die.
Hearing this was odd to me. I had never heard this before. Furthermore, just that weekend, while Lara and Julianna were away and Wesley and I were home alone together, I had the terrible daydream that I died while Wesley and I were home alone with each other with Lara away. What would my child do? Would he try to wake me? Would he panic? Would he try to find my cellphone and start punching buttons? My son is almost four. He is now as old as my father was when his mother died. He is now as old as I was when my father’s father died.

Perhaps Lent has really soaked into my bones this year.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

My Dad and the Grapette bottle

This appeared this morning in the "Paper Trails" section of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.

Pastor gives a message in a bottle



Until last week, the empty vintage Grapette bottle rested on a shelf in Rev. Michael Mattox ’s office.
The pastor of First United Methodist Church in Little Rock , known for his quirky collectibles, was given the bottle in the early 1990s by a member of his congregation, then in Arkadelphia. When he became district superintendent and moved to Little Rock , he packed up and brought the bottle. Later, when he became pastor of First United Methodist, he again packed and moved it.
Then he learned that Billy Parker, the man whose funeral he was to preside over last Saturday in Rison, had on many days in his youth bought nickel bottles of Grapette and bags of peanuts for his high school crush Estelle, who eventually became his wife of 51 years. That’s when Mattox knew why he had the bottle and what he needed to do with it.
“It kept staring at me,” the pastor tells Paper Trails. “I thought, ‘It was a gift to me, and I need to make it a gift to Estelle.’”
He took the bottle from the shelf and filled it with water and daffodils he’d plucked from his backyard. During his sermon, the pastor shared the couple’s Grapette story and placed the flower-filled bottle amid the grand arrangements flanking the casket.
Call it a revelation. Or a reassuring message from the departed to loved ones left behind. Or a God moment.
Just not a coincidence. The date on the bottle? 1946 — the first of the four years during which Billy and Estelle shared the drink at a local store during recess breaks.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Night Rainbows

I submitted another application to the Collegeville Institute writing workshop with author Eugene Peterson. Last year I submitted a midrash on the Transfiguration, and that got me a spot as an alternate (12 are accepted). I had to fight the urge to unimaginatively submit the same thing again, since it got me so close before. But, I decided to expand on a journal entry I made a few years ago.  

Night Rainbows

 I had just gotten my son dressed for bed, and a wave of dissatisfaction crashed over me.   Questions raised at a church meeting about my salary had provoked defensive thoughts about my worth to the community.  What was it that I did for them exactly?  I didn’t render any service but the occasional visit to the hospital or home.  And what exactly did I speak about with people when making these visits?  How the football team was doing, how the grass was growing.  Not exactly the kinds of conversations I was having in seminary. I didn’t produce any product except for some words on Sunday, hopefully helping people deepen their relationship with God—but that isn’t exactly a measurable quantity.  I needed some inspiration, so I prayed for it.

I took these questions with me outside to smoke my pipe in what had turned out to be a cold night.  I lit my pipe and stood there focused on the shed in my back yard.  As I was standing there, it suddenly grew brighter.  The trees cast shadows on the grass.  I looked up in the sky and saw a full moon.  The low hanging clouds were moving rather quickly across the sky, and as they passed, the moon would peek out from behind them and illuminate my whole yard.  The radiance of the moon lit up the contours of each cloud moving across the dark sky.  I felt like I was on the bottom of the ocean looking up at silver gilded hulls of great ships, moving in from the north.  From time to time, Venus or Jupiter would also peek through a small break in the clouds, framing the planet momentarily.  It looked surreal, like a photo negative.  As the moon drew my yard out of darkness and cast shadows of the fence and trees, the moment also drew my mind out of the darkness of self-doubt and worry.  I went inside to get Lara, and she had just finished putting Wesley down for the night.  I asked her to get a coat and come out with me.  She was thrilled by the sight as well, and pointed out that the moon was so bright that as the clouds grew thinner at the edges, you could see the water vapors in little wispy rainbows.  Rainbows at night: Symbols of God’s promise that aren’t restrained to the light of day.  Even on a cold dark night, the moon reflects the piercing light of the sun to the extent that it can be broken into colors by the prism of water vapor.  What a miracle!  I was overcome with joy, and took it as an answer to my prayer. 

The Psalmist who wrote Psalm 65 was overcome with awe and reverence for the work of God in the natural world.  The poet lifts up the mountains and the oceans and all the things that generate a sense of wonder in the human heart.  That night, Lara looked up in the sky and said, “there is proof of God’s existence!”  She was thankful that I had shared the moment with her, and I was thankful that she had shared her experience with me. 

That moment in my first year of parish ministry has reminded me to look for the rainbows even at night.  I have learned that I can either accept the readily apparent darkness, or I can search for those uncanny and unexpected signs of God’s presence in the abyss.  God is like the wind.  Or perhaps a stronger statement that is no less true is simply that God is the wind.  The wind is more noticeable when it is blowing hard and rustling the trees.  We can see its activity by the things it moves: The leaves it blows across the yard, the tree limbs waving back and forth.  Yet we sometimes forget that we take this wind into our body and it moves us too.  It brings oxygen to our blood and powers the spark of life and consciousness.  Our relationship with our Creator is as basic as breath. 

So, any moment is “crammed with Heaven,” as Elizabeth Barrett Browning observed.  There have been many night rainbows that I have been too bogged down in myself to notice along the way.  I have been a blackberry picker.  God’s presence takes that acute awareness that Zen monks cultivate toward their own breath.  As Solomon prayed for wisdom, I pray for the attentiveness to “take off my shoes” and acknowledge the presence of God.  I pray for the patience to look at the world around me in wonder.  I pray for strength and insight to jettison all the burdensome mental cargo that makes me unwieldy and slow to shift course.  I pray for the humility to know that even when I see something spectacular, a more profound vision can be attained with the help and companionship of another.  

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

My question to the TRansforming Theology conference:

I heard about Transforming Theology on the Emergent Village. Looks like a bold plan, and I look forward to seeing what comes of it. At the invitation of Tony Jones and Tripp I submitted the following question to be posed to the people.