Category Archives: Faith

faith breathes

On the stairs she sits.
Weary, bleary.
Eyes reddish and puffy.
It’s been a long night – stretching over a year. And more.
The boy.
A violent, eternal coughing spasm
had finally sputtered out into

She could only place her hand on his chest
and pray
“God, let him stop, let him sleep.”
And he did.

Now in morning light she sits.
Coughing had revived and then sputtered out again.

“I don’t ask ‘why’ anymore. I don’t.
I know God is good.
I know God is love.
I know God has all power.
I know there is purpose even in this…but…”

And I told her she had just won a gold star for a perfect set
of Sunday School answers.

The reality is, faith has its own violent,
seemingly eternal,
coughing spasms.
And often sputters out to barely a
wheezing whisper;
no deep lung reservoir on which to draw;

But you’re still breathing.

And so is he.

And lying next to him on his bed,
bathed in sun’s rays
the boy and I breathe together and,
in a glorious moment that seemed to linger like
dust entranced by sunlight,
faith breathes from a deeper place.


each time I’m with Gid, I’d like to think I’m a little more Phin-ish…

Leave a comment

Posted by on September 14, 2014 in Faith, haverings, Suffering


Tags: , ,

hold the pain

Saved this draft three weeks ago and forgot about it. Nice follow up to stone…from Richard Rohr

Don’t get rid of the pain until you’ve learned its lessons. When you hold the pain consciously and trust fully,
you are in a very special painliminal space. This is a great teaching moment where you have the possibility of breaking through to a deeper level of faith and consciousness. Hold the pain of being human until God transforms you through it. And then you will be an instrument of transformation for others.

As an example of holding the pain, picture Mary standing at the foot of the cross. Standing would not be the normal posture of a Jewish woman who is supposed to wail and lament and show pain externally. She’s holding the pain instead, as also symbolized in Michelangelo’s Pietà. Mary is in complete solidarity with the mystery of life and death. She’s trying to say, “There’s something deeper happening here. How can I absorb it just as Jesus is absorbing it, instead of returning it in kind?” Until you find a way to be a transformer, you will pass the pain onto others.

Jesus on the cross and Mary standing by the cross are images of transformative religion. They are never transmitting the pain to others. All the hostility that had been directed toward them—the hatred, the accusations, the malice—none of it is returned. They hold the suffering until it becomes resurrection! That’s the core mystery. It takes our whole life to comprehend this, and then to become God’s “new creation” (Galatians 6:15). The imperial ego hates such seeming diminishment.

Unfortunately, we have the natural instinct to fix pain, to control it, or even, foolishly, to try to understand it. The ego always insists on understanding. That’s why Jesus praises a certain quality even more than love, and he calls it faith. It is the ability to stand in liminal space, to stand on the threshold, to hold the contraries, until you move to a deeper level where it all eventually makes sense in the great scheme of God and grace.



This is a huge part of this whole perspective of casting a wide net into the world, this filter through which we are always looking for the gift.

Who said gifts are positive?

Some of the greatest gifts are wrapped up in the deepest pain. But we typically try to exorcise pain rather than be exercised by it. It’s a no brainer. Pain and the negative, hurtful and crushing experiences are obviously bad fish to be summarily cast aside, yes?

Ah, but what a gift can be found waiting for us in the gaping mouth of pain…

good grief



Posted by on April 24, 2014 in Faith, Suffering, Uncategorized


Tags: , , ,

zealot…it bothers me

Just finished reading Aslan’s Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.zealot

It made a bit of a splash when it came out, as I recall. The bottom line from the evangelical scholarly corner seemed to be that Aslan doesn’t add much new to the conversation. But I was intrigued to read what a professor who hails from Persia, who became a believer after coming to America and then, after entering the realm of higher education, ceased being a follower of Christ and pursued knowing and following Jesus of Nazareth.

I loved his dance through the milieu of first century history leading up to Jesus through the Jewish War and its aftermath. It was like reading a novelized version of Josephus.

I didn’t feel hostility towards Christianity as traditionally received and understood in the West, just honesty as to how he sees things. If you can’t handle listening to another perspective on Jesus and early Christian history (I know I couldn’t in my college years! I did more talking back than listening then; perhaps a common affliction of youth – and of those who never grow up) then this is one to skip.

Otherwise the walk through history is worth it, and the alternative take on early Christian history stretching – hopefully in a good way.

one of the better portraits of Jesus I've seen...

one of the better portraits of Jesus I’ve seen…

For me it underlined just what a venture of faith this whole God business is.

And how essential it is to hold that faith with deep humility.

We like to think that Christ and Christianity is all black and white, the verdict in, it’s all just looking at the facts; that Christianity is not so much a matter of trust as of proof and instead of a venturesome, outlandish, upside down faith, there is only a clear-cut factual equation leading to a response that is more “well, duh” than “WTH?”

If it’s God, we must be left shaking our heads, wondering “What just happened?” or even “Did that just happen?” The religious and irreligious both traffic in assembled factual certitudes vigourously defended; this business of God and life is much more slippery stuff. The clearest revelations of God are always delivered in envelopes of doubt sealed with uncertainties and second guessing launching us into the struggle that is faith, the struggle that is God.

And that is one of the gifts that Aslan gave me in this book.

He bothered me.

And that is a good thing.


Posted by on December 16, 2013 in Books, Faith, haverings, Religion


Tags: , , , ,

reality check

Thinking much on reality.reality

Fantasy is so much more appealing, I know. Especially religious fantasy.

You can only walk with death so long before you either have to dive headlong into a swirling religious fantasy of denial dressed up as “faith” with a full complement of “faith verses” or see that we are dealing with a much more complicated, textured, layered reality.

I think we all start off very much in sync with Deuteronomy. Life is so wonderfully straightforward. Do this and you get that; do that and you get this. It’s called fair. Keep these commands, follow these instructions, say these prayers (correct verbal formulations only, please!), complete these rituals by traveling to this holy place to see this holy person, etc. etc. Covenants become contracts with promised rewards and protection for good behavior, or your money back. Actually, no. The money is kept regardless.

reality (1)Yes, this is where we start – depending on how rough your start is. Some of us are disabused – or rather abused by life – right out of such notions early on. And we move from the sureties and simplicities of Deuteronomy to the twisted complexities of Ecclesiastes and the howling grief of Lamentations.

But oh how we fight it.

When our three oldest children were diagnosed with familial polyposis in 2001 and were awaiting imminent surgery to remove their large intestines (which between the three of them ended up entailing 10 major surgeries over 9 months– our own personal 9/11 as 9/11 unfolded right in the middle of it), we were the recipients of much prayer and ministry. Much of it quite helpful, fortifying and sustaining. Some of it less so. And yes, some of it quite entertaining.


i like this one…

One dear brother, God bless him, insisted God had told him our whole family needed to line up, single file, and then bunch together while he placed his hands level with our aligned bowels and prayed because this would break the family curse. We were up for anything, so we did. And we smiled. We thanked him. And the ten surgeries rolled right on unabated.

Another well-meaning sister inquired into any sexual deviations in our family history and even into our sexual positions in the marriage bed. Less helpful. Less entertaining.

Words of command were spoken for mountains of tumors to move in Jesus’ name (because that’s what they have to do when we ask them to in Jesus’ name). The surgeries still came. All of this repeated itself when one of these same kids was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor five years later.

And then there were those who just ached and wept with us, and having no idea what to pray, prayed little – at least verbally. And among these was one who in the midst of all the “mountain talk” simply prayed in effect, “This is a mountain that you are going to have to go through.”

And when she said it we knew it.

what we imagine faith will do for our troubles...

what we imagine faith will do for our troubles…

No matter what verses and scripture facts we can marshal to break curses passed by progenitors or off objects we unwittingly bought in a gift shop on vacation in Tahiti that had curses put on them, or that prove once and for all that by the stripes of Jesus we are healed of everything, especially tumors, and we just need faith to claim the blessing; no matter what formulations of faith with which we would bolster ourselves or others against adversities unfolding in an unstoppable torrent or in a fiendish, torturous trickle, this reality remains – at least it is what I have seen:

Sometimes the mountain moves.

what faith moving mountains usually looks like...

what faith moving mountains usually looks like…

Sometimes you have to tunnel through the mountain.

Sometimes you have to climb over the mountain.

And sometimes the mountain falls on you
and flattens you into the dust.

You can decide which of these demands the greater mustard seed of faith…and, in reality (and biblically), which leads to a greater depth of character and beauty in humanity.


Posted by on November 25, 2013 in Faith, haverings, Prayer, Suffering, Uncategorized


Tags: , , , , ,

to doubt or not to doubt

I doubt I’ll ever be done with doubt.doubt still

This business of doubt takes me to Abraham and the question of the οὐ.

“Without being weakened in faith, Abraham faced the fact that his body was as good as dead, and that Sarah’s womb was also dead – and yet, looking to the promise of God he did not waver through unbelief but grew strong in his faith, giving glory to God, becoming fully persuaded that God had the power to do what he had promised (Romans 4:19 or there abouts).”

Here’s the question.

doubtDid Abraham face the fact of his own sterility and of Sarah’s barrenness or did he choose to ignore them? Did he fully traffic in his own reality?

It all depends on the οὐ. A good number of ancient manuscripts have Paul in Romans say οὐ κατενόησεν (ka-teh-noh-ay-sen = to fully consider, think about in depth, ponder at length) but a good number of them omit the οὐ (no, not).

Did he fully consider his condition, did he ponder in depth the obstacles, did he wrestle with doubt?

sometimes, for some, this is the problem...

sometimes, for some, this is the problem…

We can’t decide the issue based on manuscripts. The older English translations say he didn’t think about it, the more recent that he did, and that, having done so, he worked out his doubts into full assurance. Doubt was the grist in his mill of faith.

[Geeks, let me geek/greek out a bit more here, the rest of you can skip to the punch line if you wish; variant readings in New Testament manuscripts are rated on an A|B|C|D scale by Bruce Metzger (super Greek geek) in his Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament with A meaning the reading is virtually certain; B there is some doubt; C there is considerable doubt (a major shoulder shrugging moment); and D is maximized doubt – we really have no idea what the original reading was so we’ll just go with the least unsatisfactory reading – which is pretty much how we all vote in every election anyway. Metzger goes with no οὐ here, concluding that no οὐ fits better here because “Paul does not wish to imply that faith means closing one’s eyes to reality, but that Abraham was so strong in faith as to be undaunted by every consideration.” But still, Metzger puts the no οὐ reading in the “C” shoulder shrugging category. A doubtful reading about Abraham’s doubt. Too good. Geek session over.]

how not to pull your Bible out

how not to pull your Bible out

The thing is, we don’t need manuscripts to decide this. Abraham was a human being, therefore he had doubts. Plus the Genesis story leaves little doubt that Abraham struggled with doubts through his journey (anyone who asks the question, “How am I to know?” is struggling with doubt). Faith (whether of the religious or irreligious variety) is processing doubts by dealing with all of reality, rather than select portions of it. Anything less is more folly than faith.

The fact is, when Abraham was still Abram, he doubted before he faithed. He saw that crack in the wall of his polytheistic, cosmopolitan, commercialized reality. No matter what room, what town square, what marketplace, what temple, it was there. And then, one day, when he stopped avoiding it, stopped covering it, stopped ignoring it (and evidently this only took seventy-five years), the crack in the wall spoke. “Lech lecha.” Get going. Destination: Unknown. But I will show you. And it will turn into a party for the whole world.

Toxic doubt paralyzes us, immobilizes us, and turns us into hardened, bitter cynics who no longer see wonder nor listen for voices in the cracks showing up in the walls of our world. Doubt that serves as the flip-side of faith always gets us going and keeps us moving.

It’s so what we do with it – what we let it do with us.

What wonderful freedom not to fear the cracks through which light is beaming, but to let them speak instead.

What things unseen are just waiting to be seen if we aren’t afraid to listen and look?

What realities might be realized if we will fully plumb the depths of our own barrenness, of our own deadness, inertness, or that of our current belief system and settings, rather than numbing our brains and applying another layer of cosmetics one more time?

What indeed…

crack in the wall

Leave a comment

Posted by on September 12, 2013 in Faith, haverings


Tags: , , , , ,

doubt your doubt

Doubt can serve you well, doubts
if you train it.
It must become a way of knowing,
a good critic.
Every time doubt wants to spoil something for you,

ask why

it finds something ugly and demand proofs.
Thus tested by you,
doubt may become

bewildered and
embarrassed, even

But don’t give in,

demand reasons and
be persistent and
attentive every single time, and
the day will come when,
instead of a destroyer,
he will become one of your best


—perhaps one of the most intelligent of those who help you build your life. ~ Rilke


Rilke continues to confirm my suspicion that poets are ultimately the best theologians.

I doubt I’d label doubt as a virtue. But I doubt doubt’s a vice either

Like everything else, it’s what we do with it, isn’t it?

Taken as an emotional response, perhaps it would be best to treat it as we should every other emotional response: pay attention to it like a flashing red light on our dashboard and ask why it’s there.

We often say we shouldn’t feed our fears, and would perhaps add to that we shouldn’t feed our doubts. But perhaps it is fearing to face our doubts that actually feeds them and the fears behind them, all the more, shoving them down, caulking over them, whitewashing them with enthusiastic prayer and Scripture recitations or with enthusiastic postulations and Scientific recitations (depending on whether we’re talking about religious or irreligious faith). But in the end, they keep breaking through the walls we put up, the crack increasingly, consistently appearing in every scene, every room of our lives.

What if behind every crack of doubt there is the light of revelation waiting to get through, the light of an explosive epiphany waiting to be faced and embraced so that in the light of it we can sort out the good and the bad, the keepers and the throwaways.

What if instead of exorcising our doubts we need to allow ourselves to be exercised by them?

To stop fearing our doubts and keeping them in the shadows, to stop trying to escape to the next scene to avoid them, to embrace them as intelligent servants rather than pushing them away as feared destroyers – this is perhaps the greatest challenge of a life of faith.

Perhaps it’s the greatest challenge of being human.

crack in the wall


Posted by on September 11, 2013 in Faith, Poetry


Tags: , ,

chasing Francis

In the middle of the journey of our lifechasing-francis-cover
I came to my senses in a dark forest,
for I had lost the straight path.
Oh, how hard it is to tell
what a dense, wild, and tangled wood this was,
the thought of which renews my fear.
~ DANTE, Inferno, Canto I, lines 1-6

Chasing Francis is a title I believe I first encountered on Peter Enns’ blog. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy following Enns’ blog: intriguing suggested reads. Chasing Francis is one that sneaked up on me. From the first quote from Dante’s Inferno that prefaces chapter one, I was hooked.

Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale by Ian Morgan Cron is a fictional tale of fictional megachurch pastor (Chase Falson) who has a crisis of faith and ends up taking a two month sabbatical to Italy to visit an uncle and hopefully find his heart – and his faith. But that’s just a ploy to explore the real story of the book: a chance to see through a disillusioned evangelical’s eyes the face, the faith, the life of Saint Francis of Assisi.

It works.

Chasing-Francis-quote2I started reading Chasing Francis while I waited to take my latest MRI checking for any recurrence of cancer (the scan ended up being clear; another reprieve). It captured my heart instantly and resonated through my soul. I connected with the pathos Morgan infused into the fictional pastor – and I totally wanted to meet the crew of friars that interact with the character in the story. To have two months to do what the character in this story does…

To join the chase for Francis.

At least I have the habit. Clearly, that’s the easy part.

I will no doubt have some other posts processing content from the book, let me give you some snippets of Francis, some soul morsels from the book:

Francis didn’t criticize the institutional church, nor did he settle for doing church the Chasing-Francis-quote1way it had always been done. He rose above the two alternatives and decided that the best way to overhaul something was to keep your mouth shut and simply do it better.

Sitting in the church, I was struck by the simple elegance of Francis’ strategy of ministry – simply read the gospel texts and live the life you find in its pages. What a concept!

While you are proclaiming peace with your lips, be careful to have it even more fully in your heart. Nobody should ever be roused to wrath or insult on your account. Everyone should rather be moved to peace, goodwill, and mercy because of your restraint. For we have been called to the purpose of healing the wounded, binding up those who are bruised, and reclaiming the erring.

I'll take a pint of what he's having...

I’ll take a pint of what he’s having…

Francis, your genius was that you read stuff in the Bible (like the Sermon on the Mount), and you didn’t spiritualize or theologize it. You heard Jesus say, “Happy are the peacemakers,” so you got up every day and embarked on a new peace mission. My usual approach is to read the Bible, try to understand what it’s saying, and then apply it. Your formula was the reverse. You applied the Bible, then came to a fresh understanding of what it actually meant.

It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching. Preach as you go.

And, finally, even though it’s familiar and may seem trite to some, it’s still the prayer I am going to make a point of memorizing and meditating until it transforms the very fiber of my being:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

So say we all.

Take and read.

And be…then do…

book sniffer_2

1 Comment

Posted by on September 10, 2013 in Books, Faith, Religion


Tags: , , , , ,

a far radiance

Once more on the eyes.


And they enter Bethsaida (“Fishtown” – home to Jesus’ inner circle).
And the villagers bring a blind man to him, they are pleading with him just to touch him. Just once.
Jesus seized his hand and led him outside the village, away from the crowd, and he did more than touch.
He spat in his clouded eyes – and then he touched them, too, his fingers working like squeegees.
He stands back as if admiring his work.
“Do you see anything?”
The man looked up.
“Do I ever! I see! I see people!  And, whoa! they look like trees walking around!”
So Jesus again touched his cloudy eyes – and this time the cloud cover completely lifted – he saw right through it, no more obstruction, his sight fully restored, and he gazed upon  e. v. e. r. y. t. h. i. n. g.  now illuminated with a far radiance.
Then Jesus sent him home, but quickly added, “Stay away from the village.”


This is the story found in Mark 8:22-26, re-imagined a bit, MAV (Mike’s Authorized Version) style.

I was asked about this healing last week.

“Why two touches?”

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again?
Example of delayed healing?
Jesus just trying to encourage us when we try the whole healing thing and it doesn’t “take” the first time?
A warning to make sure we use enough spit or just rub harder?
Or what?

I don’t think so.

I think we need to look harder.
Spiritual eyesight seldom floods our soul all at once – as was abundantly clear judging from Jesus’ dim-witted disciples who, like us, seem so slow to really see.
We require repeated touches.
Would that it were only two required.
It will be quite the hands on experience for us.
Divine saliva spat onto the cloudy eyes of our perception.
Divine fingers rubbing dull orbs like dirty marbles, squeegee like (I can hear the “squeaking”).
Just how long will it take?
Ah, but then we see! We see!
In our excitement, we think we see so much, so clearly, such towering perceptions and insights!

But it will take another touch – and perhaps a divine breath or two.
And for some of us
and another
and another…
(While for others it never comes because their eyes are never offered, their souls quite content with the reported sights and observations of others. Sigh. Sight. So overrated.)

And then it comes.

The Greek word is τηλαυγῶς (tay-lau-goes; tele=far + auge=radiance; Latin “lumina”; the word only occurs here in all of Mark – or in all of the Greek New Testament, for that matter. Couldn’t resist translating it literally).

A far radiance.

The man with the formerly cloudy eyes (that’s what the Greek word we translate “blind” literally means – wrapped in smoke [fitting for August in Boise], clouded) now looks upon everything (emphasis here in the word order) as it is now illuminated with a far radiance.

I gaze out the window at this moment and take for granted the vision that greets me of green grass and trees, of flitting sparrows and leaping squirrels. Oh to see it illuminated with that far radiance! Oh to see all so illuminated, the whole spectrum springing to life and light – faces and other eyes, sunsets and realities beyond imagination.

Ah, but first we must step out of the village, yes?


Leave a comment

Posted by on August 26, 2013 in Faith, Gospel of Mark, haverings


Tags: , , ,


Wee follow-up on doing the twist.

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes,
but in having new eyes. ~ Marcel Proust

It does precious little good to

turn the head
twist the neck
torque the torso

if our eyes are closed.

Especially if they’re closed

not because of sweet rest or exhaustion

but because

we feel there are

no new horizons to explore
no questions to search out
no sacred places yet to uncover or rediscover
no scaly old answers to discard because the blanket doesn’t nearly cover our feet
and we’re too afraid to admit it

or because there’s 

nothing new to see
nothing old we’re prepared to see disarmingly transformed before our

open eyes…

“What do you want me to do for you”

“Lord, I want to see.”


now we’re talking eyes…


Leave a comment

Posted by on August 25, 2013 in Faith, haverings


Tags: , ,

torquing faith: do the twist

Someone turned me on to new author (new to me, anyway). Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg. How could someone with that name not have something to say worth hearing. The book is Particulars of Rapture: Reflections on Exodus. Cross pollination is a good thing…


Moses, single-minded “man of God,” is chosen for his role because he “turned aside to see” the Burning Bush. the-particulars-of-raptureAccording to one radical midrash, “Moses craned his neck to see”: this “turning” is a torsion of the the neck, a deliberate motion out of the straight, the stiff:

Moses said, Let me turn aside to see…Rabbi Jonathan said, “He took three steps;” Rabbi Simeon ben Levi said, “He took no steps, but he twisted his neck. God said to him, “You went to trouble to see – as you live, you are worthy that I should reveal Myself to you.” Immediately, “God called to him from the midst of the burning bush…”

God chose to reveal Himself to Moses, because he has “gone to trouble to see.” As against Rabbi Jonathan’s spatial reading (three steps constitute the movement into a different space), Rabbi Simeon condenses Moses’ movement to a “twist of the neck.” Subtle, minimalistic, Moses’ gesture realigns his whole being, puts it into intimate relation with that which has approached him. Such a gesture involves “trouble,” a deviation from the obvious. For Rabbi Simeon, it is his capacity to “twist his neck,” to turn his face in wonder and questioning, that brings him to the voice of God.

The neck in torsion – an image for desire, a counter-image to the stiff-necked intransigence of those who set themselves against the new. Within Moses himself, within his people, within the Egyptians, even within the representations of God in the narratives of redemption, the tensions of Exodus will seek resolution, the momentary equilibrium that again and again is to be lost and reclaimed.


Ah, faith, the torquing of the neck.

So then religion at its worst, politics too often at its best, and all our mad pursuits would be the snapping of it. Or at least a sleeper hold inviting submission. Or a brace that keeps our neck stiff, our eyes deadeningly fixed on the ground before us.

No, not exactly this...

No, not exactly this…

But faith twists. It has radical torsion.



But realigning the whole being.

Turning the face in wonder.

And questioning

...or this

…or this

And finding not only the Voice, but no doubt also


We need more radical midrashes from ancient rabbis. We do. Love the connective tissue between a radical midrash and the ancient Gospel. We are all more on the same page than we realize or would ever care to admit.

“Who ever looks to the Son and believes in him has eternal life.”

...and definitely not this

…and definitely not this

It’s more than a glance, it’s an intentional gaze, and it involves the torsion of the neck. Faith requires us to twist.

One more time.

“We shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye.”

I know what Twinkies were, but I have no idea what twinkling is. Okay, I just looked it up and I guess it means blinking. In the blink of an eye. But the Greek is quite literally the throwing of the eyes, aka the casting of a glance. Life, resurrection is the result of one intentional turning of the head. Saved by grace through neck torsion.

Just one look. If we dare. If we can stop ourselves long enough to.

And do the twist.




Posted by on August 24, 2013 in Faith, haverings


Tags: , , , , ,