Hutchmoot 2015


I just returned from Hutchmoot.

This was my third time, and yet I struggle to describe this weekend in Nashville to those who have not experienced it yet. There are some elements that are the same each year; good music, excellent writing, inspired art, fantastic food, and incredibly kind people. The schedule does not vary much, the location does not change at all. The participants vary from year to year.

More than once I was asked, “Why are you here?” (not in a “you don’t belong here manner, rather, true curiosity as to what drew me there.) My honest response? Because it fills me.

I arrived in Nashville tired, worn out, frustrated, and down. I needed to “see something cool.”

I did. And then some!

On Thursday night when Allen Levi broke into his song The Land Where the People Walked Backwards my arms were immediately covered in goose bumps, something special was happening, something beautiful, something cool. On Friday I learned that Jonathan Roger’s hometown was #3 on the Soviet Union’s list of annihilation! And Chris Yokel finds poetry in walks in the woods. Helena Sorensen reminded us of our one foot firmly planted in the temporal while our other foot is stepping into the eternal. Sam Smith encouraged us with the ability story has to show us hope. On Friday afternoon my wife, Dani, and I walked Radnor Lake where we came across two does, a fawn, and two young bucks, along with five turkeys. Friday night was only my second Andrew Peterson concert in my life, it was a fun evening filled with grace and hope. Saturday I enjoyed hearing Russ Ramsey talk about Van Gogh and hiking, and David Bruno talk about sehnsucht. Dani and I toured Cheekwood gardens and had a wonderful meal capped off with the stories of Walt Wangerin Jr. Sunday morning, shhh, I skipped church. I know, but it was so good to sleep in and not rush out the door on a Sunday morning. Breakfast at the pancake pantry left me wondering if I had ever had pancakes before my plate of Banana Bread pancakes. And then the Liturgy of the Lost Rhyme was beautiful and sacred. And of course almost all of it was surrounded by wonderful, amazing, talented people.

Those experiences are exactly what keep me coming back to Hutchmoot, what inspired me to say to my wife after my first one, “You’ve gotta see this!” It is the Church expressing the grace and love of God in tangible ways, in ways I could hear, see, touch, smell, and taste (Thank you Lewis Graham and the kitchen crew!). Christ was exalted and the Holy Spirit was present!

I am filled up, encouraged, and blessed. The experiences of Hutchmmot 2015 will resonate with me throughout the year as I listen to music, read books, or write poetry.

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I Am Here


Yesterday as I read about the rescue of the women from Boko Haram these words came to me:

If you see the world’s pain and do not weep or even groan in agony…
then you do not see.
If you hear the world’s suffering and do not feel your heart sink within your chest…
then you do not hear.
If you see only beauty, joy, and peace, you are not a “glass-half-full” optimist…
you have blinders on your eyes.
If all you hear are reports of “success”, “progress”, and “acceptance”…
you have become deaf to reality

As Christ wept with Martha and Mary when He encountered their pain and suffering
So we, followers of Jesus, must be broken by the things that break the heart of Jesus.

We shout, “Death has no victory!” We boast, “Death has no sting!”
Yet suffering causes anguish.
Pain brings forth the fears.
My heart sinks and my soul groans, “Come Lord Jesus.”
And in the thin space that comes with such groaning…
the soft whisper of the Holy Spirit says, “I Am here. I Am here. I Am here.”

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Good Friday

Friday 3rd

Fridays are the beginning of freedom
from meetings and deadlines
from frustrating coworkers
from piles of paperwork
from full email inboxes
from the daily grind of trying…
to scratch out a living

Good Friday is the beginning of freedom
from slavery to sin
from separation from God
from trying to be righteous
from striving to earn grace
from dying…
to living

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His Hands

After the transition from Daylight Savings Time to Standard Time I was blessed to have a couple mornings where I hung out with my son before the sun came up. On one of those mornings his hand was in mine. I knew it was a fleeting moment, in seconds it would be trying to tickle me, climb me, or it would be picking his nose (just being honest). But in that one fleeting moment a thought raced through my mind, “What will his hands do over the course of his life?” I reached for my phone and grabbed this picture before the moment was gone.hands

Right now his hands are learning how to hold a pencil, how to manipulate scissors, how to color in the lines, how to build with Keva Planks, how to climb from one side of the monkey bars to the other without falling, and a whole host of other activities in which five-year-olds participate. But what will they do over the course of his lifetime? They will write papers and throw footballs and hold books. They will catch him when he falls and they will be used to pull him back up. They will fight and protect. One day they will demonstrate his affection for a young woman. They will change the oil on his first car. They will hang drywall and paint furniture. These hands of his have a lifetime of use ahead of them. He will use them for many things I can fathom and for even more that I can’t, or don’t want to (still being honest).

As his father I will hold his hands when he lets me or when I have to. I will put Lightning McQueen Band-Aids on them when he gets a cut. I will give him high fives when our teams are winning. I will feel them wrapped around me in an embrace when he is tired, or afraid, or successful. His two hands are amazing already and I am excited for what I will witness him doing with them over the course of my lifetime.

In the same manner I wonder, if this is how I feel about my son, what were God’s feelings the first moment he laid eyes on the hands of Jesus? Knowing what those hands would do; from cutting and sanding wood, to unrolling the scroll, to healing and serving, to breaking bread and lifting the cup, to being pierced and pinned to a cross beam, God the Father knew what He was calling His Son to do for all people. It was the highest of high callings and it was the calling of Jesus.

Even today we share in that calling, we are Kingdom builders and it is as the hands of Christ that we will build His Kingdom even here, among us, in our time, for all people to witness the God who loves us with a depth that we cannot begin to comprehend, yet we know it to be true.

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It wasn’t until about seven years ago that I first celebrated All Saints Day. It tends to be a forgotten day among the faithful as the festivities around Halloween continue to grow in importance and celebration. However since first celebrating this day those seven years ago I have come to have a growing appreciation of its significance.

For some it is a day to remember those brothers and sisters in the faith who have already passed on to glory. I understand that reason for remembering, but in this day in age when we are so mobile and spread out it is equally important to remember those who are still living who have played an important role in our spiritual development. Both groups of people have had a hand in molding and forming me into the man of God that I am today.

All day today names have gone through my mind as I lifted them up in prayer. They are my parents, grandparents, Sunday school teachers, pastors, youth pastors, friends, parishioners, professors, my wife, my children, students, authors, and musicians. My life is richer for knowing them, and for experiencing God through them. I cannot write properly about them so instead I have drafted this poem entitled Saints:

Showed me the grace of the Father
Allowed me to recognize my need for Christ’s sacrifice
Instructed me in the faith
Nudged me when I strayed
Told me the old, old stories
Showed me the power of the Holy Spirit

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Are we messengers of life?


I took this picture a few weeks ago as I was walking to the church on a Sunday morning. The picture is of a large number of turkey vultures roosting on the water tower behind our middle school/high school. What caught my eye was not just the large number of turkey vultures though.  Beyond that what caught my eye was for how many churches this could be a symbol.

Let me back up. I am a minister in the PC(USA).  As a denomination we are hemorrhaging members each year. I am blessed to serve a congregation that continues to grow and reach out to the community that lives around it. However this is not the case for many congregations within our denomination or some other denominations with which I am familiar. Instead what is happening is congregations get gradually smaller and smaller until eventually there is a small group of individuals to turn off the lights and lock the doors.

And that is why the vultures caught my eye. Secularly, Walt Disney quite often used the vultures in his art to depict impending doom or death. The Bible though, quite often uses water as a source of life and nourishment. Here are these vultures perched on a water tower. Within the water tower is life, yet all around the water tower are these birds that are associated with death and decay, leaving their filth all around the structure.

The birds use the water tower as a place to roost and then in the morning as a place to warm up their wings before they begin their day in search of food. As followers of Christ, we have a calling to take the message of where life is found, out to the world. We cannot be the ones who perch in the pews and go out into the world seeking to be fed by that which is decaying and dead. We have, in Christ, the source of life. Let us embrace our new life in Christ and let us show that life to those who have yet to experience it.

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My kids are usually some of the last people to leave the church on Sunday morning. Because of this they are around when the fellowship hosts are packing up whatever left over goodies remain. It’s always more fun to give tasty goodies to kids than to pack them up and take them home. Sometimes there isn’t much, but sometimes, there is some really good stuff left over. This past Sunday was one of those days. Our gracious hosts had provided numerous treats including those delicious store-bought cream-filled cookies.

I was in conversation with someone when my son proudly came up to me with this giant bag of cookies, thirty cookies wouldn’t be exaggerating. He was beaming with joy and his eyes said, “Guess what I’m having for lunch.” He asked me to hold them and he was off to play with a friend.

I held on to that bag for a few minutes until it was time to head to lunch with a guest who came to speak during worship. As I was getting ready to leave I set the cookies down on my desk and got my things so we could head out for Mexican food. Neither of my kids asked where the cookies were, or if my wife or I even had the cookies. They were long forgotten.

Fast forward to this morning, my first day back in my office since Sunday and there sitting on the edge of my desk was a large Ziploc bag with at least thirty delicious looking cookies inside. This got me to wondering. How often does God bless us with something and we quickly forget about it because something new enters our lives? Our lives are filled with blessings daily and in the midst of our frenetic schedules, social media addictions, and DVR run lives we miss witnessing them, savoring them, we don’t remember them.

Like a bag of freely given cookies to a child, we set them aside because we can’t enjoy them immediately. We entertain the myth that we will take the time later when we have more time. It is a myth. There isn’t more time later. To experience the blessings given today we have to take time today to enjoy them. The world around us is amazing. Breathe it in, see it, hear it, feel it, enjoy it. God is blessing you this very moment.

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Leaf Cycle

Leaf Cycle

Melting snowfalls
Thawed, dampened earth
Buds on branches
A new leaf’s birth

Growing more full
Fearing late frost
Vibrant new green
Spring rainstorm tossed

Soaking in rays
The power plant
Creating shade
From sun’s bright rant

Summer’s long heat
So hot, so mean
Endless summer days
The leaf stays green

The sun moves South
Leaf’s job complete
Green changes hue
New colors meet

Orange, red, yellow
Green lingers on
Autumn is here
Summer is gone

First frost arrives
A cold front stall
The stem detaches
Leaf starts to fall

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Mullberry Tree

Mullberry Tree

Long have you stood
On this plot of land
Split trunk at your base
So majestic and grand

You’ve shed millions of leaves
As each autumn transitions
When temperatures drop
And the sun changes positions

Before there was Freeborn
Welch or Roosevelt
You were a young sapling
Watching winter snows melt

Seasons have changed
And many years have past
You’ve grown impressive
A most beautiful shadow you cast

A home for birds
And insects alike
A haven of shade
From the summer’s hot light

A tower of blessing
You stand ever strong
I’ll continue to admire you
For many years long

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For the past two afternoons I have begun reading a chapter a day of C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe to my kids. So obviously we are not too far into it. Yesterday I had my daughter next to me helping me hold the book and my son on my lap sitting very still, which for him and most any five-year-old boy is a minor miracle. We got to the part where Mr. Tumnus begins describing the terrible things the White Witch will do to him if he fails to deliver Lucy into her hands.

“…she’ll have my tail cut off, and my horns sawn off, and my beard plucked out…”

Next thing I knew my son had jumped off my lap and was hiding around the back of the loveseat. He didn’t want to hear any more and he was not interested in waiting around to see if Lucy made it back safely to War Drobe.

As adults we forget the power of words. Somewhere along the way we’ve written so many, heard so many, read so many, that we are simply immune to the power that they truly do possess. As my son flew off my lap I was reminded of just what it is like to be present in a book for the first time. 

My son loves books about dinosaurs. He loves stories about what they eat and how they fight. So there’s something that happens with fiction, with fantasy. It engages us on a whole other level and draws us in with the author to the world they are writing about. Stories help us understand The Story that is happening around us. 

Jesus told His followers (John 104,5), “When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”

Part of parenting is helping our children recognize the voice of Jesus in their lives as we’ve heard it in our own. My son’s reaction to Mr. Tumnus’ description of impending suffering was not a strange one, it was him actively saying, “I don’t like this! I don’t like people that cause others to experience pain.”  We adults know that life is not without pain and suffering in our fallen world, but I believe we are closer to the voice of Jesus when the desire to be in a world without pain, without suffering fills our hearts and defines our actions.

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