Keys, Astonishment, and a gentle bop on the head.

March 11, 2018

Doors open. Doors close. Both physically and spiritually. Sometimes at the same time.

One of the things I do is go on 24 hour service retreats with college students. At a recent retreat before we leaving to go to our service site, I decided to take my things out to my car. The students were slowly packing up their things. My bags were ready to do. As someone who has camped in tents, I am in the habit of packing up as soon as I get up; otherwise someone is going to walk all over them during the course of the day. So I was packed. And I stepped out to put my things in the car. I looked up from the trunk of my car to see that to see that the students had followed me out, like pack laden ducklings. I saw the last student carefully closed the church door- closing in our only key to the building. I called out,  but I was too late. We were locked out of the building.

We called our contact from the church (whose keys I had, the ones that were locked in the building) and she worked on finding someone on a Saturday morning who had a key and who could let us in. I sent the students on to the service site and I stayed to wait. It was, for Michigan in January, a nice sunny day. Waiting was quite pleasant. I had time to think and I realized- to my astonishment- that I wasn’t upset or angry about what had happened. Honestly a few years ago, I would have been furious. Mad at myself for not carrying the keys with me and upset at the student who shut the door, which I had intentionally propped open. But I wasn’t upset. Hmm I thought. After all these years of being intentional about spiritual formation, perhaps, maybe, I have actually grown some. I was amazed and surprised. I thought about how much nicer life is when I don’t go through it angrily. Someone with a key eventually came and I joined the students at our service site. Our retreat finished without any further problems.

Later on I told this story to my spiritual formation group. I have been meeting with these women for probably 10 years. I wasn’t boasting. I was telling the story of how astonished and surprised I was. My Saturday book group was reading The Book of Joy by Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama. We had been talking about joy and anger, happiness and sorrow. I shared my experience with them also and my astonishment and surprise at my lack of anger. Maybe the Dali Lama and the Archbishop are right, we can live with more joy and less anger!

Then the next Tuesday I was getting some things from a storage room at work. I had to reach over my head to get a cardboard tube and a light aluminum stand. The shelf was, as it always is, cluttered. This time cardboard tubes and stands fell down. One hit me (not seriously, more of a tap than a hit really) on the head. I was furious. Livid. Angry. And all that day I was easily provoked to anger. In traffic especially. I was just angry most of the day. as in pounding on the steering wheel,swearing at other drivers angry.

When I got home, I wondered what was going on. Why was I so angry. I hadn’t had a day like this in a long time. In fact, I thought, I just had that day on retreat where I wasn’t angry. The day I told my friends about…. oh. yeah.  You know, about how I have spiritually progressed so far that I didn’t get angry. oh. yeah.  Very funny God. Very funny.

But, really it is funny -in an eye rolling, sheepish way. I was reminded how very unpleasant it is to live angrily. Particularly when one is angry about trivial and transient things. Being temporarily locked out. A bop on the head. Being cut off in traffic. Really not worth getting angry about.  And my tale of astonishment and surprise? I was honestly astonished and surprised. And I was just the tiniest bit proud of myself. Well maybe just a tiny bit more than tiny.

Ah well, as Eugene Peterson says, “There are no experts in the company of Jesus. We are all beginners.”

I wonder if God looks at us and sometimes just has to chuckle.



February 18, 2018

It is not uncommon these days for people to lament the demise of the family. People have been talking about the death of “traditional families” for as long as I can remember. Sociologist, economists, and pundits of various sorts all worry about this. Even Christians worry about this.

It seems odd to me that Christians worry about this because Jesus didn’t spend a lot of time talking about families. In fact, when he does, Jesus seems to redefine family away from marriage and kinship groups. If you  remember Jesus wasn’t married. Paul wasn’t married. Paul, himself, doesn’t appear to have been a fan of marriage.  I get the sense from Jesus that traditional families may not be that important.

I’ve been reading the Gospel of Mark. You may recall the story where Jesus’ brothers and their mother Mary come to get him. When Jesus is told his family is outside, he says, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And then -looking at the people around him- says, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:31-35, see also Matt 12:46-50)

Of course the other thing that is happening, is that people are claiming new families. Families created out of choice rather than biology. Mostly, it seems, these new families are created out of necessity. You move away from family and home and you find new people to spend the holidays with, new people to share your successes and support you through hard times. Sometimes people’s families abandon them, perhaps when they come out as gay, lesbian or trans. Sometimes people need to leave their family due to abuse or trauma. There are as many reasons families break apart as their are broken families.

Fortunately, we can create new families. We can have relationships that are more than friendships. We can have the sibling or mother, father, aunt, or uncle who we have, for whatever reason, lost. This new family can be healthy and good for all of us.




Jesus seems to say we have a new way to think about how we are related. It’s not nuclear family. It’s not extended family. It’s not church family. It’s just family. All of us. Absolutely all of us. And the head of this family? Jesus. That’s it, just Jesus.

“Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Non linear. Non hierarchical. Not even any second cousins. Just family. Family everywhere we look.

Can I recognize the person on the bus as family? The person at the next desk? Across the street? Honestly, it’s not easy for me. And then I wonder, can they recognize me as family? Does my life, do my actions mark me as a family member?



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