Things my dad taught me

My Dad

On the first Father’s Day after his death, I thought it might be good to reblog this with a couple little updates. I miss him very much.

My dad passed away July 11, 2014. After someone dies, we have a tendency to remember an idealized version them. You see it all the time with celebrities or politicians or saints. I can’t do that with my Dad and he wouldn’t want me to. He made a lot of mistakes in his amazing, imperfect life. But, he had a huge impact on our lives and the lives of the people, often on the edges, who he sought out to love. It is important to remember what he taught me and our family about life by his words, example, successes, failures and faith. Here’s a few of them:

My dad taught me that no matter how hard you try, Birkenstocks and white socks do not go with any outfit.

My dad taught me that there’s no such thing as background music. Any music worth listening to must be played loud.

My dad taught me not to be afraid of people, places, music or food that are outside my experience.

My dad taught me that sweat pants and tie dye never go out of style…for some.

My dad taught me that the in crowd isn’t really in.

My dad taught me to stand up for myself when I need to.

My dad taught me that life is more than money.

My dad taught me that it is all right for a man to feel for people, for art, for beauty.

My dad taught me that it’s OK to question authority, unless it was him.

My dad taught me that pain is part of life, and trying to bury it doesn’t work.

My dad taught me that addiction is a demon but that it can be conquered.

My dad taught me that saying, “I would never do that,” is a dangerous thing to say.

My dad taught me not to judge others.

My dad taught me how to forgive.

My Dad taught me to give my faults to Jesus.

My dad taught me that life is people, and to love them in all their wonderful messiness.

My dad taught me that generosity and hospitality are love in action.

My Dad taught me that God is good, we are not, but we are loved.

My Dad taught me that Jesus demonstrates God’s love in his life death and resurrection.

My dad taught me that no one is past redemption and that “nothing can separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus.”

Most importantly, or at least second-most importantly, my dad taught me to never, ever overcook the pasta.

Inklings, The Book

Inklings in John: Snake-bitten finger waggers

snake bitten finger waggers

Today at lunch I watched an old lady shuffling through a grocery store parking lot take the time to stop and read a bumper sticker on the back of a pickup truck. I couldn’t read it from where I was, but I saw her turn and look thoroughly disgusted. I laughed and shook my head.

“It must be exhausting for you to be outraged with the world all the time,” I scolded her in my head.

Immediately I had the proverbial four fingers pointing back at me (which doesn’t make any sense by the way, but whatever). She was judging bumper sticker guy (who probably deserved it) and I was judging her and now you’re probably judging me (who definitely deserves it) and on and on… When we live this way, every day is like fun-house mirrors of “judgieness,” filled with people we see ourselves as better than.

We can stop already. Here’s why:

Somewhere in the middle of the desert a few thousand years ago, the wandering tribe of Israel was tired of being free from slavery, tired of God’s provision of free food every morning, tired of all the protections meant to help them flourish. They grew bitter about life. God sent a plague of fiery, poisonous snakes. They started dying. God tells Moses to raise a bronze serpent on a pole in the middle of their camp. When a person was bitten, they simply had to look at up at the icon to be healed.

Sounds crazy right? God had Moses present the people with a picture of their sin (the serpent) judged (bronze forged in fire). All that was required was the faith to look up and believe that what God said was true. Just like Israel in the wilderness, we’re all snake bitten. We are all dying, spiritually, physically because we love darkness rather than light.

Look up.

Jesus compared himself to the snake in the old testament story, right before he told Nicodemus this:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” John 3:16-17

Boom. Mind blown. Faith in God’s provision through Jesus is the only way to life, nothing else.

Now, if we have looked to our savior and been saved from our own deaths, what do we do? Walk through the camp and turn up our noses at the purple, bulbous, poison filled limbs of the dying? Shake our heads at bumper stickers or laugh at old ladies? Or, remember our own scars and point people to the cross?

After all, it is exhausting to be outraged all the time.

Inklings, The Book

Inklings in John – Don’t wanna be a ‘self-made man’

Self Made Man
Jesus isn’t an American. So, when he hears someone praised as a “self-made man,” he probably cracks a smile. Maybe it’s a sad, wise one like in the movies. Maybe not. He didn’t die on the cross to help those who help themselves. He died for one purpose, to give us a new life and new eyes and ears and heart along with it. We don’t need to remake, reimagine, refortify, recycle, reincarnate or reanimate ourselves. We need to die and be born again.

“Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” John 3:3

What a cliché’ – “born again.” For many, it’s only heard as a slogan or insult, depending on who’s speaking. But Jesus’ words will never lose their power as long as there are people like Nicodemus, with hearts of faith and heads of doubt, who look at the darkness of the world around and the universe inside. It’s natural. Maybe it’s a tornado, maybe it’s a breeze, but the feeling is there, and we can never hear, see or know the answer until we’ve been born again.

To be born again means we are a new creation, “created for good works in Christ Jesus.” We are born into the “Kingdom of God” that Jesus ushered in with his life, death and resurrection. Just as the Father breathed life into Adam in the garden, the Spirit breathes new life into the one who has been placed in Christ. God works in us to transform our self-centered natures. Like a newborn, we see the world with new eyes, kingdom eyes. We can hear others with new ears, kingdom ears. We can love with new hearts, kingdom hearts. And like a newborn, we slowly learn to speak and walk and we grow strong.

New life brings freedom. We are free to praise without feeling diminished. We are free to forgive, without feeling slighted. We are free to obey without feeling constrained. We are free to look at the faults of others without judging. We still have pain, but it should come from new places. Instead of screaming because we don’t get a juice box, we should scream because others don’t get bread. Instead of crying when someone hurts us, we should cry when we hurt someone else.

We are not self-made, we are God-breathed – from our first breath of life to our first breath of new life as children in the Kingdom of God, now and forever.


Inklings in John: The Lion, The Whip and The….

the king

Pop quiz: There’s a lion with a whip making for you, what do you do?

The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” – John 2:12-16

What a crazy contrast. In the first part of John 2, Jesus creates wine at a country wedding and then John immediately turns, apparently skipping forward chronologically in Jesus’s ministry, to this scene of judgment at the temple in Jerusalem. His vandalism temporarily closed down the most publicly important place in the nation. What to make of this?

Jesus doesn’t fit in a box
Jesus’s actions are hardly ones we would expect from the joy-on-draught guy we saw a few paragraphs ago in Cana. The temple cleansing is a favorite passage of militant Christians bent on disturbance. A quick google search on this passage reveals ridiculous images from the middle ages through today with Jesus carrying everything from a cane to a Colt .45, wreaking havoc on some hapless temple servants.

But, pacifists or militant, we don’t get to put Jesus in a box. We don’t get to leverage his attributes and actions against one another. He is who he is – a burning bush, an avenging God, healer of the blind and lame, lover of the lost, the eternal sacrifice and the eternal judge, a lamb and a lion, a king establishing his new Kingdom. He is a king who will die in your place and demand nothing and everything from you in return.

Compromise is offensive
The Israelites had compromised the temple of God for the sake of commerce, comfort, and convenience. But mainly, they had reduced their covenant relationship with God to a conditional, quid-pro-quo business transaction – the favor and forgiveness of God for an afternoon of animal blood and a few shekels. The system wasn’t wrong, just made obsolete by Jesus. Their hearts were wrong.

When Jesus saw this, “Zeal for God’s house consumed him,” and drove him to civil disobedience, but zeal for my heart drove him to the pitiful, painful cross. I don’t have to look very deep into my heart or my habits to see the same dead religious practices. I must examine my heart for compromise and conditions and lay them before him.

Cleansing isn’t our job…really? Really
The old temple is done away with and if we have believed into Jesus, our hearts, homes and churches are God’s tabernacle. He is “God With Us.” We cannot hide our money changing from him, but we try. In fact, we have much more than money-changing tables in our temples.

We are world-class hoarders. We have created warrens and alleyways amidst the junk we are blind to or choose to ignore. We have piles of petty hurts and grudges. We have mountains on top of molehills of pride. We have our thumbs on scales full of good and bad deeds, (our own and others). We have bitter roots growing up through the cracks. Maybe even a few dead cats buried beneath it all. Our trash is the only thing we bring to the temple cleansing. We must acknowledge it, hate it, and step aside. We must invite him to drive these from our temple. Be open to his zeal. The lion with the whip is terrifying but driven by love. We should not run.

This quote from “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” gets to the heart of the matter without nearly as many words.

“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.”

“Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…

“Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”


Headstones and foundations


My family gathered Easter morning to lay my dad’s headstone, celebrate his faith in Christ and the freedom it brings. Easter is important because the resurrection of Jesus laid the foundation for everything that will last beyond the grave. Here’s my thoughts on that from a while ago.

We live in a world of passing fancy, of quickly-made junk and torn-up contracts – a world of new deals that seem old and worn. Only three things will endure forever: faith, hope and love and the resurrection of Jesus is the foundation for each of those.

The resurrection is the foundation for our faith because as Paul says in 1 Cor. 15: 14, 19 “if Christ has not been raised then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain….If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we of all people are most to be pitied.”  Timothy Keller asks, “If Jesus rose from the dead, then you have to accept all that he said; if he didn’t rise from the dead, then why worry about any of what he said?”  The historical evidences supporting the resurrection (and there are many) mean that our faith is not blind or in vain; and that the scripture, which speaks of and points to Jesus, is not an epic fantasy or delusional wish-fulfillment.

The resurrection is our foundation for hope. Hope in Jesus is not a wing and a prayer. It is an expectation. We may hear someone say they ‘hope’ for world peace, but studying world history and surveying our planet tells us we have no reasonable expectation that it will ever be a reality. Hoping in Jesus is different because he fulfilled his word by his resurrection. Now we have an expectation that what he promised for us awaits (1 Peter 1:3-9). This is our only hope. When we embrace the message of the cross and the resurrection, we are encouraged by the hope that our Creator is a God who redeems the suffering and pain and garbage we endure in this life. Because we have hope, no matter how dark our Fridays and Saturdays, we know that Sunday is coming.

The resurrection is our foundation for love. Dostoyevsky said “If you were to destroy the belief in immortality in mankind, not only love but every living force on which the continuation of all life in the world depended, would dry up at once.” Here’s a cliché, “Love conquers all.” Usually clichés are true. What could possible lead us to believe this one is true? No matter how much I love my wife Christy, when one of us dies, no amount of love is going enable a resurrection. There is no greater longing in humanity than for a love that never dies. Only once did love conquer all – in the death and resurrection of Jesus. According to 1 John 4 God is love, love was made manifest in Jesus, the only love that will never die is the love that he enables by his Spirit in us, and this living love gives us confidence for the time to come.

And another time is coming. One day, this shifting world will pass away just like each of us. The universe as we have known it (with our fractionally-used, often-overheated brains) will cease to be. As Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 13 “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love endure, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”


Inklings in John – More than Jesus Juice

More than Jesus Juice

“Then Jesus told them, ‘Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.’ They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, ‘Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.’  What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” John 2:8-11

Jesus didn’t do anything by mistake during his 33 years. He did everything according to the will of the Father and in the Father’s timing. So what are we to make of the choice of what seems like a “party trick” for his first sign? No one is healed, resurrected, resuscitated, baptized, catechized or sermonized. He gives people who have had too much to drink more wine. Turning water into wine has become a euphemism for the impossible. But it’s no cheap bit of sorcery for Hogwart’s first-years.

This was more than a miracle. It was a statement.  Jesus converted ceremonial washing pots, used to fulfill the requirements of the law, into vessels full of wine – joy, gladness. Just as he would  fulfill all the requirements of the law with his body and then pour out his blood in sacrifice to bring “life and life abundantly” to those who put their faith and trust in him. In this way, the sign also announced the return of joy to Israel. God entered into covenant relationship with Israel long ago, but the joy of the union was gone. They had left their first love, as we all do at some point. But he has not left us. Not only does he show his faithfulness, but he celebrates the reunion and proclaims himself a source of joy and life that never runs out.

This world can offer no such joy.  To be sure, there is wine, good wine, and plenty of other things that bring us pleasure in this life – he knows, he designed us and the grape and dopamine. But if we make these our Gods they will always disappoint.  They run out, or consume us, or end with our last breath. When the good stuff is gone, or we can’t afford it, or it lose its appeal, we start getting drunk on the cheap stuff. Like the master of the banquet, we resort to trickery to keep ourselves satisfied. Not so with Jesus, who is the source of joy in this life and eternally.

It might trip a few people out to know that in one sense, Jesus’s ministry began with drinking in celebration and it will culminate with drinking in celebration. (Matt 26:29) One day, those who have put their faith and trust in him, who have been purchased as his bride, will enjoy a wedding feast like no other. And he will drink joy with us again (Rev. 19:6-9).

Poetry, The Book

Clancy Dalton

Clancy Dalton

Clancy Dalton had a chipped tooth
And was so afraid to smile he shook
Like a dead leaf in bent blowing trees.

He walked the gravel road at sunset
And shouted at the wind from within.
His dog barked mildly and scratched fleas.

Clancy used to scream “I’m the king.”
When he was all alone he felt it. Inside,
He was rocking like a baby on his knees

He climbed the stone face of Paine’s Peak,
Clinging to the razor rocks slicing him,
Reaching the top with no one there to see.

Clancy wept and fell down through thin mist,
Bouncing off outcroppings like dead meat, and
Then was born aloft bloody by a great eagle.

Clutching feathers the size of fan blades
He raced into the stars he knew from birth
Then glided gently to Earth, resting on the peaks.

Clancy descended with gold dust in his hair,
A new heart of stone, mist and starlight.
When he smiled it shone from his teeth.

“Strengthen the weak hands,
    and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who have an anxious heart,
    “Be strong; fear not!
Behold, your God
    will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God.
    He will come and save you.”
 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
 then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
    and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
For waters break forth in the wilderness,
    and streams in the desert;”
Isaiah 35:3-6

Inklings, The Book

Inklings in John – What Do You Seek?

“Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What do you seek?” – John 1:38

John the Baptist had drawn quite a following of earnest seekers who gathered in the desert to wash away their sins in a muddy little river. Along with them, there were skeptics, scoffers, teachers, preachers and politicians – all in a wilderness of nothing looking for something. As important as the ministry of John was, the greatest of all the prophets could offer little to these men and women apart from religious symbolism – pointing to the one who was to come. The seekers were still seeking.

Into this scene steps Jesus. The creator’s feet were in the dirt again. Instead of the garden it was the desert. Instead of “Where are you?” he’s asking “What do you seek?” Unless your answer is, “Who cares?” it’s a more difficult question than you might think. You must answer honestly if, one day, you want to know as you are known.

Today, our wilderness is concrete and digital, yet still full of dirt and despair. Many of us are still seeking – filling up church pews, checking in pill bottles, staring at screens and collectively digesting billions of words each day on self-improvement when there is only one thing that will satisfy our uneasy quest for fulfillment, and it lies behind the eyes and in the veins of the man in the desert who turns and sees us looking at him in individual shades of disbelief and asks, “What do you seek?” and then invites us to “Come and see.”

Inklings, Poetry

Southern Summer Echoes

Southern Summer Echoes

And he sat listening in the twilight to the cicadas screaming
And his ears strained at echoes of something he forgot
And it rattled around in his brain and down his spine
And it was so purple-grey outside and he was so cold inside
And a little girl came and put her hand in his hand
And her laugh was pure and her eyes were clean
And full of afternoon tea and ice cream and day dreams
And they made him want to strain harder to hear
And he watched as she danced away on lilting feet
And frightened the fireflies into light and flight
And the clouds boiled and they rumbled and threatened
And he loved the electricity they promised
And the breeze smelled damp over the expectant grass
And there was an eternity in the instant
And he heard a voice within the echoing light and the cicadas
And the girl and the heavy electricity of the billowing clouds
And the voice was as real as a red, raging sword coming down
And the sword was speaking only to shrunken little him
And it invaded his belly and his boney joints and laid him bare
And it hurt and it healed and he sat shivering in the summer.

I woke up with the first four lines in my head and the rest is nonsense trying to make sense.