Jesus wept

Jesus wept (John 11:35 KJV).

Known as the shortest one in the Bible, this verse has stuck with me all my life.

Lately I have wept a lot, too. I’m learning how good it is to do so, even if the reasons for this emotion are mostly negative.

We all have troubles, although many face greater troubles than I ever will. Weeping is a release and an expression of a softened heart. It is a God given way to help us heal or at least, to be able to get through deep difficulties. And we are going through very deep difficulties.

Another verse that always comforts me is Revelation 21:4 (NLT): He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.

Numbness and inertia

Two words that come close to describing my state of being lately are numbness and inertia.

It is like I am infected with some sort of drug that makes it hard for me to feel, and hard for me to do. Intellectually I see these things and am aware that there is a problem, but physically and actually, I don’t seem to be able to move beyond it.

There are many reasons for this state, some that long predate the coronavirus lockdown, but I think the lockdown itself has exacerbated it. Many people talk or write about feeling a lack of productivity while at the same time, urging us to be kind to ourselves, to release our concerns and just try to do our best each day and be satisfied with that.

I suspect there are hundreds of thousands of people who are experiencing something similar. There is a collective and sometimes palpable sense of trying to come up for air. This, as wave after wave of difficult news, difficult relationships, difficult health problems, difficult financial burdens, difficult moral and ethical situations repeatedly crash over us and attempt to drag us backward into a deadly, suffocating embrace.

It is a hard time, and it is oh so easy to lose hope. The book of Psalms is written for times and situations like this. Just one example is Psalm 42:11 (NIV):

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

Or how about this passage from Isaiah 40:31 (NIV), which is famously featured in my favorite film, Chariots of Fire:

But those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

I believe these things and hang on to them with every fiber of my being. But some days, honestly, I struggle to see them as more than platitudes.

One of the reasons I started this new blog is to introduce a daily discipline of achieving something small. This accomplishment can in turn perhaps spark something more in my own daily walk. Maybe it can serve as a very small catalyst, too, for someone else.

I hope so.

Songs in the brain

The power of music and song is amazing. There are songs and types of music I heard a lot during my growing up years that instantly recall specific times and places. These are songs in the brain, just like snapshots.


  • Pretty much anything by John Denver
  • Roy Clark singing “The Green, Green Grass of Home”
  • Olivia Newton John
  • Debbie Boone singing “You Light Up My Life,” which I must have heard a 1,000 times on the radio while delivering newspapers in the early morning
  • Songs sung by Connie Francis, such as “Where the Boys Are,” “Who’s Sorry Now?,” and “Stupid Cupid” (a bit odd because these songs were popular before I was born, but my parents had some cassette tapes of hers that I listened to)
  • “Come On-A My House” sung by Rosemary Clooney, such a weird song when you think about it, but also on old cassette tapes my parents had
  • Danny Davis and the Nashville Brass (permanently imprinted in my brain due to listening to them on 8-track tape, repeatedly, during long road trips in a motorhome)
  • Dolly Parton, especially “Coat of Many Colors”
  • Johnny Cash, e.g. “A Boy Named Sue”
  • Merle Haggard, especially “Okie from Muskogee” and “Mama Cried”
  • Simon and Garfunkel, with the “Sound of Silence” in particular stuck in my memory, as well as “Mrs. Robinson”
  • Glenn Campbell singing “Rhinestone Cowboy”
  • There wasn’t a lot of Christian music we listened to, really, except for music by Evie
  • Oh, and the theme from the Pink Panther movies…unforgettable
  • Nat King Cole — of course, “The Christmas Song”
  • “(How Much Is that) Doggie in the Window”
  • Elvis Presley, especially “Can’t Help Falling in Love” (I’ll never forget hearing of his death on the radio, again, in the early morning while delivering newspapers)

It’s an eclectic mix of genres, artists, and styles, which is consonant with a rather eclectic childhood. And it’s remarkable given the strictures placed on us by the Christian tradition in which I grew up, one in which popular culture was seen as inherently bad/evil and TV, movies, and even radio were technically verboten.

America doesn’t get a vote in the matter

As the United States convulses at the murder of yet another black person, my thoughts return to a recent opinion piece in the New York Times (“Ahmaud Arbery and the America That Doesn’t Exist”), written in response to the murder of Ahmaud Arbery earlier this year.

Written by theology professor and minister, Dr. Esau McCaulley, the piece is a searing condemnation of a country built on the foundation of slavery and oppression. I strongly encourage others to read the whole thing, but here are some excerpts I find particularly powerful (emphases mine):

Black folks need more than a trial and a verdict. Our problems are deeper, rooted not in the details of a particular case, but in distrust of the system charged with protecting us and punishing those who do us harm. This cynicism is well earned, arising out of repeated disappointments. To begin to heal this distrust we need this country to take responsibility for its devaluation of blackness and its complicity in violence against black bodies.

There is no bigger rebellion or miracle in the history of these United States than that of the black Christians who saw in the very book used to justify their oppression a testimony to a God who disagreed. There is no greater audacity than their use of that Bible to construct, almost from scratch, a Christian anthropology that demanded a recognition of black worth. That struggle continues.

In the end, the question is not whether this country will finally fully value black lives. America doesn’t get a vote in the matter. It lacks the competence. The question is whether this country will continue to find itself in the dangerous place of having policies, customs and laws that oppose the will of God.

My work, as a minister of the gospel, is not to fix America, but to remind it of what it is not. It is not the kingdom of God, our great hope. Indeed, far too often God has looked upon us and our notions of justice and found America wanting.

I remember, too, the biblical case for lament, although that is not the only thing needed at this time. We need action, too. Lord, help us.

Yeah, I’m worn

I have often thought about the lyrics of the following song, performed by Tenth Avenue North, because they express how I so frequently feel. That is true today as well. Yeah, I’m worn, and my heart is heavy — heavy for so many people. Heavy for ongoing injustices especially against people of color; heavy for those suffering incredible, daily pain in their bodies; heavy for those suffering mental, emotional, financial, and relational anguish; heavy for the millions in my country who are so politically deceived that they can no longer tell right from wrong.

I’m tired, I’m worn
My heart is heavy
From the work it takes
To keep on breathing
I’ve made mistakes
I’ve let my hope fail
My soul feels crushed
By the weight of this world

And I know that you can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left

Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart
That’s frail and torn
I wanna know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
Cause I’m worn

I know I need to lift my eyes up
But I’m too weak
Life just won’t let up
And I know that you can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left

Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart
That’s frail and torn
I wanna know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
Cause I’m worn

My prayers are wearing thin
Yeah, I’m worn
Even before the day begins
Yeah, I’m worn
I’ve lost my will to fight
I’m worn
So, heaven come and flood my eyes

Let me see redemption win
Let me know the struggle ends
That you can mend a heart
That’s frail and torn
I wanna know a song can rise
From the ashes of a broken life
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn
Cause all that’s dead inside will be reborn

Though I’m worn
Yeah I’m worn

Anecdotes about The Princess Bride

Many people will agree with me that the movie, The Princess Bride, is a classic. Although not my all time favorite (that honor goes to Chariots of Fire), it is probably within the top five of my favorite films. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve watched it.

Last night I discovered the following interview of Cary Elwes, who talks through many anecdotes from his time as part of the making of the movie. It is enjoyable to watch.

More snapshots in the brain, part 2

For an 18 month period when I was 3-4 years old, my family went through some difficult times. These were set within a larger, traumatic backdrop that I won’t take time to explain here. Some of my snapshots are mere glimpses of the mundane, while others are more dramatic and memorable. At this point, my family lived down the street from my grandparents, and this was before my father got a new job that required us to move to another state to begin a new life.

  • My father works as a mechanic and one day comes home with a bandage on his eye (I think, the right eye). A piece of metal shaving had gotten into it. Fortunately, the damage isn’t permanent, although he has to wear an eyepatch for a while.
  • My oldest brother is attacked and nearly strangled to death by the son of my grandparents’ next door neighbors (the ones with the pear tree) while delivering newspapers in the neighborhood. I don’t remember much except seeing him lying on the couch in our living room afterwards.
  • We get a new dog, a beagle (?) puppy, from somewhere and on the way home while I’m sitting with it in the far back of the station wagon, it throws up all over the place. The smell is awful. For potty training the puppy, my mother spreads newspaper over the kitchen floor.
  • We stand on our front porch looking toward a portion of the city where race riots are happening. Thick, black smoke billows up into the sky.
  • We are in the station wagon with my mother driving, and gunfire erupts from somewhere. We have inadvertently driven into a shootout between police and a gang. My mother screams, “Hit the floor!” And that is exactly what I do — get down as far as I can to the floor of the car and lay there.
  • I wake up one morning and decide to go over to a neighbor’s house across the street to see if their kid wants to play. I don’t realize (or seem to care) that all I’m wearing is my underwear.
  • We all get chickenpox and I hate having to sit in the bathtub filled with a mixture of water and baking soda to try to reduce the itching. I also don’t like Calamine lotion.
  • Most Sundays, we drive over to a neighboring city to gather for church in someone’s home. The tunnel underneath the river that separates the two cities is exciting and scary. One of those days, on our return, all lanes of traffic on the highway are stopped due to a bad accident. A car has flipped over onto its roof and is on fire. My father decides to jump out and help pull the driver out of the car, and the driver is badly burned. I jump out, too, and run after him, worried that the car will explode and my father will die. I run up the embankment next to the highway trying to get to my father, but one of my older brothers catches up with me and takes me back to our car before I can reach him.
  • We are convinced that there are vampire bats roosting in the attic of a nearby house in the neighborhood, and I look long and hard at that house while holding onto a neighbor’s dog, hoping to see one.
  • There are foldout stairs to the attic in our house and this is where older siblings sometimes play, so I decide to go up there, too, but I am worried about falling through the ceiling below.
  • I love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches but I am fussy about bread crusts and refuse to eat them. My mother tells me the secret to making a good sandwich is to spread the butter all the way to the edge of the bread.
  • We all get sick with flu and I feel terrible, too. I walk into the dining room on the way to the kitchen and suddenly projectile vomit. I’m amazed at how far it goes and with such force.
  • In the basement are bunk beds for my older brothers, and it’s also where we watch Abbott and Costello and Laurel and Hardy movies.
  • The second floor bathroom has a large pine tree within reach of the window, and sometimes we like to climb out the window and down the tree.
  • For a time, we have a pet parakeet, but it dies suddenly one day.
  • My father parks a long, goose-necked trailer on the side street next to our house and we clamber all over it. My sister falls off and has a rock embedded in her forehead. I may have pushed her.
  • I go with my mother to pick up older siblings from school, and another time, I accompany my mother and grandma as they drive to an open air fruit and vegetable market (which I later learn is the famed Eastern Market — My grandma has a scarf tied ‘round her hair in a band.
  • We love to hear the sound of an ice cream truck — the old fashioned kind that looks like it’s from the ‘50s — and enjoy the occasional ice cream push pop and other frozen treats.
  • I get my first piggy bank, which is a talking one. It says something different for each type of coin I put into it. The only one I remember is for a dime: “Oooo, a shiny dime! That’s ten pennies, you know!”
  • My last memory of this time is watching a moving company empty everything out of our house and load it all into a big moving van. We are moving to a new place, where I will start school.

More snapshots in the brain, part 1

When I was three, my family moved from a small farm town in the middle of nowhere to a large city several hundred miles away where my mother was born and raised. For a time, we lived in my maternal grandparents’ basement until my parents bought a house a few blocks down the street. Here are some additional memories of various things that happened during the 18 months we lived there.

We are crowded together in the basement and I think most of us sleep on sleeper sofas or cots for a while. My grandma promises me that if I take a nap, she will have a special treat ready for when I wake up. I insist that I’m not tired, but I fall asleep anyway. When I wake up, she gives me a scrapbook she made while I was asleep, filled with all kinds of interesting pictures clipped out of magazines. I love it, and it remains one of my most treasured possessions to this day.

I sit on the kitchen counter next to the sink, chatting with my grandma and looking at little china figurines and colorful little informational cards about animals, both of which came as freebies in each box of my grandma’s favorite brand of tea.

My grandpa sits at the kitchen table as we talk about what grandma is making for supper: something with chicken. We say we love chicken, and my grandpa jokingly says, “If you love it, why don’t you kiss it?”

Grandma decides to make papier-mâché objects to entertain us. I’m fascinated by the balloons she uses as the form to hold up the wet, glue-y newspaper.

Grandma works in her garden tending to her flowers and vegetables out back and alongside the driveway to the garage, which sits behind the house. There is a gazing ball among the flowers (petunias, I think). Grandpa has all of his tools neatly organized in the large garage, and there is a set of foldout stairs leading to storage above the garage.

Grandpa sometimes takes us for a walk a few blocks away to a nearby store to buy ice cream and candy. I particularly remember candy necklaces, Necco wafers, and candy cigarettes (yikes) he buys us.

I get my first bike, replete with training wheels, and enjoy riding it up and down the sidewalk in front of my grandparents’ house. I also have a lot of fun riding my Big Wheel in the driveway and on the sidewalk.

My grandparents’ house is full of interesting things:

  • the laundry chute in the first floor hallway
  • a hand painted plaque above the toilet quoting Exodus 28:34
  • a cuckoo clock bought during a trip to Switzerland
  • an old cowbell, also from Switzerland (which I still have, mounted on the wall in our living room)
  • their next door neighbor has a pear tree from which we enjoy many stolen pears (I still love pears)

Also during this time, I go to the hospital to have my tonsils out. I stay overnight after the operation. I wake up scared in the middle of the night in my hospital room. I climb out of my crib and wander the hallways looking for my parents. I also eat vanilla pudding and drink soft Coca Cola to help with my sore throat.

A critical view of returning to campus

A decision has been made by my employer to reopen for in-person, on campus instruction in the Fall. There are important details about the plan that need to be fully understood when assessing it critically. However, communication about this decision has focused on how great it will be to be together again (in comparison to how the Spring semester went, when classes had to be rapidly transitioned to online only.)

In a sense, the upbeat tone and positive spin on the decision are completely understandable. There is real concern about money, basically, although that isn’t mentioned anywhere in official communications. The hope is that this approach will appease many different constituents, but especially that it will bolster the all important enrollment figures. Tuition revenue is vitally important for ongoing financial survival. Publicly, though, greater emphasis for the Fall plan is given to how we will all be able to be together again in embodied community.

Except, we won’t be…not really. Or, not in the same way that we previously practiced, and took for granted. Just about every aspect of the new normal for being on campus will be significantly different in order to safeguard health and adhere to state and national guidelines regarding this pandemic. This includes, for example, the plan for having classes switch off between in-person and online instruction each week, so that the teaching modality will be inherently mixed. This is to enforce social distancing (meaning: drastically reduced classroom sizes) within a constrained class schedule and constrained space options.

Essentially, we are all being asked to twist ourselves into a metaphorical pretzel — and this is hard, very hard work — to achieve a goal of “being together again.” Yet that goal seems to miss the fact that what being together again will look and feel like is going to be a limited imitation of what it was before the pandemic. At the most optimistic, it will allow some, limited level of being together. At the most pessimistic, even a limited “being together again” will foster a breeding ground for wider exposure to COVID-19.

Thus, the question: is it worth it? Is this goal worth all of the very difficult work required to achieve something that won’t at all be like it was before? At this point, I am doubtful. I sincerely hope and pray that I will be proven wrong.