Thursday, September 23, 2010


Most theological truths are expressed in paradox. Trying to resolve a paradox tends toward heresy. Our belief in the power of prayer to influence God, for instance, can be viewed as a kind of control over God – magic. On the other hand, a focus on aligning myself with the mind/character of God can lead to fatalism, a sense that prayer doesn’t matter.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Simple Prayer

Foster describes the experience of a
boy, afraid of a dog, who foolishly thinks he
knows how to fix a broken world.

When I was five years old, my dad bought me a Dalmatian puppy and named her “Candy.” For her sweet disposition. But Candy was not a nice dog. She barked. And she bit ankles.

I asked my dad to get rid of Candy. He laughed. So I prayed. I knew that God answered prayer. I asked God to kill Candy and take her to heaven to live with him.

It was a selfish prayer. But two weeks later, Candy got sick. And she died.

I remember that last day of Candy’s life. I was sitting with her in the back yard. It was a beautiful day. Quiet. Candy lay in the grass. I slowly stroked her ears. And I wondered about this thing called prayer. I knew I had asked God for a cruelty. And God answered. The all-powerful creator of the universe had opened up access to power for me, a child.

This last week, reading Richard Foster on “simple prayer,” I recognized in Foster’s description the request for help, the question, the complaint, the cry. Foster describes the experience of a boy, afraid of a dog, who foolishly thinks he knows how to fix a broken world. What Foster doesn’t discuss is power or the idea that we can manipulate God by praying the right words in the right place at the right time in the right way. He doesn’t mention any of the things I tend to attribute to prayer, such as its effects or how to make it more effective.

I might not have killed Candy. God might not have killed Candy. All these years later, I may be unnecessarily carrying guilt for a dog’s death -- guilt that’s not mine to carry. I had an idea that prayer’s purpose was to get things done. But as far as Foster is concerned, prayer is a commitment, a discipline, a practice. And the purposes of prayer are faith, hope, perseverance, relationship, personal and communal transformation that naturally flows from our increasing sensitivity to God’s presence and God’s character.

Simple prayer -- being honest about who I am before God, being present with God -- is a beginning. And 31 years ago, a five-year-old boy who hated a dog made that beginning in the only way he knew how: simply.

At Barclay Press

Thursday, September 16, 2010

it's not just
the young who
have questions.

In much of the Church, there's a cultural divide, a kind of gap between adults and adolescents. Psychologists suggest that adolescents are undergoing a process of identity formation -- figuring out who they are and what they'll stand for -- that causes them to question their parents, their friends, themselves. Sociologists suggest that these questions -- something we often label "doubt" -- make us uncomfortable, that they can create conflict.

Here's the issue; doubt is dangerous. First, because it's disconcerting. The right question in the wrong place can throw everything and everyone off rhythm. Second, it's deviant. People who challenge the status quo identify themselves as not fitting in. They're outsiders. They're weird. They don't belong.

But these questions -- these doubts -- reveal something important about the young among us. Many of them simply want a first-hand experience of Christ. Their faith isn't going to be (can't be) based on someone else's beliefs.

What, then, might happen if church were a different kind of place, a place where questions could be asked openly, a place shaped by freedom not fear, a place with plenty of room for doubt?

My sense is that God has been shaping us into just that kind of community for a long time now. My sense is that it's not just the young who have questions. My sense is that we're in this together.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Being a
Christian isn't
about belief

A friend asks, "What is the heart of Christianity?"

I answer: Hypostatic union and the Trinity.

He responds: Is that what it means to be a Christian?

And I realize the answer is no. Being a Christian isn't about belief. It's about practice. What makes me a Christian is nothing more or less than my desire to reflect Christ's character.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Life Eternal

What if living “eternally” is a quality of life much more than it is a length of time?

Monday, September 06, 2010


It's not enough to say the unexpected. I must also learn to say it in unexpected ways.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

At the Coffee Shop

That man in plaid flannel and moustache,
beside the window,
in front of a book.

That woman with dreadlocks and polka dots,
her bright yellow purse,

A nubby green sweater.
A mermaid in pearls.
A white summer suit and straw boater.

I, in the corner,
take strength from this crowd
of the trendy.

They, with their glances,
take note of my notebook,
my pen,
and smile at their good fortune.