GIT! On the fine art of being snubbed…

I’ve been told this.
At many times and in various ways.

“I don’t care if I ever talk to you again!”
“Get out of here, you jerk!”
(That one was accompanied by a literal kick to the rear. I deserved it. Richly.)

Those are the most notable “gits” in my memory.
Uttered by people I had known and for reasons I fully grasped.
I really did deserve them!

Yesterday it was “Git!” with an angry thumb emphatically pointed behind. This time from a total stranger. In a sanctuary. For reasons unbeknownst to me. I thought they were words in jest at first, so I laughed.

Clearly, this didn’t help.

The repeated, “No, not ‘haha’, GIT!” left little doubt of that – even for me.

Since this was that brief “turn and greet someone” moment in church, I knew that wasn’t the time or place to plumb the whys, so I bowed and said, “Happily, sir” and then proceeded to embrace everyone around him.

First lesson in the fine art of being snubbed:

Take the hugs, leave the snubs.

Or, to put it another way, don’t get sucked into the black hole of “the Student from Hell.” Parker Palmer relates the tale of “the Student from Hell” in what has been for me a highly shaping read – The Courage to Teach:

I had just finished a two-day faculty workshop on a Midwestern university campus. Amid high praise for the 97059work we had done together—which, I was told, had given people deeper insight into the pedagogical arts—I was ushered into a political science class where I had agreed to be “teacher for an hour.”

I should have left while the leaving was good.

There were thirty students in that classroom. It is possible that twenty-nine of them were ready to learn, but I will never know. For in the back row, in the far corner, slouched the specter called the Student from Hell.

The Student from Hell is a universal archetype that can take male or female form; mine happened to be male. His cap was pulled down over his eyes so that I could not tell whether they were open or shut. His notebooks and writing instruments were nowhere to be seen. It was a fine spring day, but his jacket was buttoned tight, signifying readiness to bolt at any moment.

What I remember most vividly is his posture. Though he sat in one of those sadistic classroom chairs with a rigidly attached desk, he had achieved a position that I know to be anatomically impossible: despite the interposed desk, his body was parallel to the floor. Seeking desperately to find even one redeeming feature in the specter before me, I seized on the idea that he must practice the discipline of hatha yoga to be able to distort his body so completely.

At that point in my life, I had been teaching for twenty-five years. Yet faced with the Student from Hell, I committed the most basic mistake of the greenest neophyte: I became totally obsessed with him, and everyone else in the room disappeared from my screen.

For a long and anguished hour I aimed everything I had at this young man, trying desperately to awaken him from his dogmatic slumbers, but the harder I tried, the more he seemed to recede. Meanwhile, the other students became ciphers as my obsession with the Student from Hell made me oblivious to their needs. I learned that day what a black hole is: a place where the gravity is so intense that all traces of light disappear.

I first encountered this story nearly two decades ago, and it has been affixed to my soul ever since. Snubs can so easily – and quickly – work their way into our skin, turning us sour and sullen like King Ahab obsessed with the one piece of ground he can’t have. What an essential skill of life not to get sucked into the black hole of the snub, the rejection, the averted glance, the Facebook unfriending, or the mere lack of likes on our latest brilliant, witty, observant post.

We can be surrounded by multiple encounters with life and light, but we can’t see past the black hole of that snub.

Leave it.

You have better things to do…



Posted by on October 19, 2015 in haverings


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the OY! at the heart of all things….

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 11.00.03 AM

I love stumbling upon word treasures…

After eleven chapters of Paul’s most systematic presentation of his God-thinking (aka theology) in what we know as the book of Romans, Paul now is perched to make his appeal to action – for with Paul, all true, healthy God-thinking must lead to true, healthy God-doing.

And he begins with “please.”

He could order, he could hammer, he could harangue.
But he begins with “please.”
The “please” is actually obscured beneath the traditional rendering, “I beseech” – although I would actually love to see a rejuvenation of “I beseech,” as in, “I beseech thee, kind sir, to make me a caramel vanilla latte.” Yes, do try that with the barista next time around.
Paul says, “please” – and then he says, “my brothers.” Family, connection, embrace, kiss. If we perceived Paul in a pulpit glaring down at us, we must now re-envision him next to us, his arm embracing, his tone close and endearing.

To be living sacrifices is his appeal, but it’s the motive behind it that arrests me now.
It’s our word. οἰκτιρμός / oiktirmós / oyk-tir-mos’.

I could have been satisfied with the gloss of “mercies,” but dictionaries are dens of discovery for me rather than tedious depositories to be avoided. I love authors who make me look up words. It slows down the read, and we’re all in so much need of that. So I looked. I wanted to catch the flavor, see from whence it came, examine its verbal swaddling clothes.

οἰκτός. It goes back to οἰκτός. And οἰκτός goes back to οἰ.

Oy! The interjection of extreme pity and compassion that can’t help but move us to get up and do something about it. That’s the kind of compassion we see in οἰκτιρμός. And it’s plural. And it’s what’s at the heart of God that drives the appeal for us to offer our bodies as living sacrifices.

At heart of God, at the heart of all reality is “Oy!” More than that, a chorus of multiplied “Oys!” “Oy” is the engine that drives all things. Much more so than “woe!” The Greek interjection for “woe!” is οὐαί! (oo-WHY!) which is one of those onomatopoeic words imitating the cries of vultures circling their prey. οὐαί is filled with a grieving denunciation, it’s filled with death. There is a time and place for it, to be sure, in this broken world. But the exclamation at the heart of the Story, at the heart of Reality, at the heart of all true religion and healthy God-thinking isn’t οὐαί! but οἰ! It’s not shame, death and denunciation, but a relentless pity that shapes restoration and healing.

Pivotal, this.

For herein lies the practical difference between the offering of our bodies as sacrifices that build the world,
or the offering of them as sacrifices that burn it.


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Posted by on October 17, 2015 in haverings


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palate touching moments

Go for a slow and mindful walk.the-parents-tao-te-ching-ancient-advice-for-modern-parents-a-new-interpretation_2816976
Show them every little thing that catches your
Notice every little thing that catches theirs.
Don’t look for lessons or seek to teach great
Just notice.
The lesson will teach itself.

Love this piece of parenting advice from The Parent’s Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents by William Martin.

I was far too fast as a parent.
Far too fast.
Lessons, I think, were too much like frontal assaults. They tended to suffer from the same sledgehammer effect that afflicts most attempts at movie-making by Christians.
We’re far too explicit, far too direct.
It’s the art of the oblique, the indirect. Ehud parenting. Left-handed, minus the dagger.

“Train up a child in the way he should go,
and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

More proverbial, ancient eastern wisdom – though our English translation conceals the beauty and simplicity.

“Train” conjures up the instruction regarding facts and procedures; external principles being transferred through classroom impartations, when the metaphor employed by the proverb is much more primal and intimate. It is the mother touching the palate of the child she would wean by sharing whatever she happens to be chewing. There was no “Weaning 101” class where the child was taught the value and necessity of leaving the breast for the brisket. There was only the seeking out and utilizing of natural palate touching moments, of sharing what was being chewed and in so doing shaping tastes that would not only draw the child from teat to table, but would shape appetites that would last a lifetime.

This extends far beyond the weaning of a child. It reaches all meaningful relationships. It informs (or should inform) all mentoring walks, for they should be just that, mentoring walks. Slow and mindful. No desire to teach great things is here. The best mentor is the one who isn’t trying to be one. The best mentoring sessions are the ones that are anything but that.

Palate touching.

This is at the heart of parenting, of mentoring, of friendship.
The sharing of what I happen to be chewing upon at the moment, of the little things that are catching my eye.

This, of course, implies that we are, in fact, chewing on something – and that it’s something worth sharing.
It implies that we are walking slowly enough to notice the little things.

And that we are moving slowly enough, and closely enough, to do the sharing…

courtesy of Henry Moore

courtesy of Henry Moore

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Posted by on October 15, 2015 in Books, haverings


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I’m not ready for the friends of my youth to die.

I just told, again, the story,
the story of you,
to another youth,
to another generation,
the day before you died.
I can’t tell my story without telling of you.
A lost, hidden youth I was,
trying to be a rebel
but failing to even look the part
with my scraggly hair
and untucked shirt.
But you saw me.
You loved me in.
You opened the Book.
You taught me to sing.
You made me believe in me –
pathetic, rebel, hiding me.
We’ve lived apart for the past three decades
and more,
so why does it pierce me so
to know that we no longer enjoy
the same sun
rising and setting
that we no longer feel the same breeze
or wonder at the heavens above?
But it does, to the core of me, it does.
Where is your sting, O death?
Why, here. Again. And again.

I’m not ready for the friends of my youth to die.

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Posted by on October 10, 2015 in Poetry


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in praise of slow

A friend shared this from Rabbi David Wolpe (and I do believe I have a crush on the rabbi) on the Jewish holiday Sukkot:

All of us acknowledge how we rush the moments. If the computer lags for seconds, it feels endless as an insomniac waiting vainly for sleep. If our flight, traversing thousands and thousands of miles, is an hour late, we complain as if the sun refused to rise. We are not even minute men, but nanosecond men and women, splitting the day into innumerable microdrops of time. We do not merely fail to look at things under the aspect of eternity, we can rarely stretch our vision past the next moment.

Thankfully, there is Sukkot. During this holiday we read the book of Kohelet, Ecclesiastes. Kohelet reminds us that there is a “time for everything under heaven.” In the famous third chapter we are told that there is a time for living, for dying, for laughing, for weeping. We think ourselves masters of time but the true artistry of life is to live fully in time’s passing.

You would do well to read the whole article.
I was struck by two things.
First, that a Jewish rabbi gets it.
Okay, it shouldn’t be an epiphany that a Jewish rabbi gets it, especially when it comes to getting his own holiday. It’s just that the contrast with so much of the hysteria in Christian circles with the convergence of Sukkot, blood moons, and papal visits has been astounding. A holiday that leads too many to frenzied fears of what might happen at any moment as they look away to the uncertain future leads another to an embracing of the simple rhythms of life in which we find the “true artistry of living fully in time’s passing.”

It makes me want to convert to Judaism. Oy!

Second. The dovetailing of this article with the book I’m   s l o w l y   reading: In Praise of Slowness by Carl Honoré. The book was written ten years ago, but is more relevant than ever. Honoré observes:US-cover-200x300

As we go on accelerating, our relationship with time grows ever more fraught and dysfunctional. Any medical textbook will tell you that a microscopic obsession with detail is a classic symptom of neurosis. The relentless drive to shave time into ever smaller pieces – it takes five hundred nanoseconds to snap your fingers, by the way – makes us more aware of its passage, more eager to make the most of it, more neurotic.

The very nature of time seems to have changed, too. In the old days, the Bible taught that “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven” – a time to be born, to die, to heal, to weep, to laugh, to love and so on. In Don Quixote, Cervantes noted that “Que no son todos los tiempos unos” – not all times are the same. In a 24/7 world, however, all time is the same; we pay bills on Saturday, shop on Sunday, take the laptop to bed, work through the night, tuck into all-day breakfasts. We mock the seasons by eating imported strawberries in the middle of winter and hot cross buns, once an Easter treat, all year round. With cellphones, Blackberrys, pagers, and the Internet, everyone and everything is now permanently available.

Honoré’s evaluation of Christianity’s effect on us, our time, and our acceleration?

“Christianity piles on pressure to put every moment to good use.”

How sad.

Followers of Jesus should be at the forefront of a counterculture “in praise of slowness,” but all we seem to manage to do is to spin the not-so-merry-go-round that everyone else is riding, pushing faster and faster. Time is short, after all. Behold the blood moons…

But maybe, just maybe, this is not what “redeem the time” means.

“Make it your ambition to be quiet,” says Paul.
Quiet = sedate, tranquil, restful – used of those not running hither and thither.

Methinks we have some rethinking to do…

Courtesy fatboyke (Luc)

Courtesy fatboyke (Luc)

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Posted by on September 30, 2015 in Books, haverings


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artist heart

It was a simple discovery.

jessie's heart

a work in progress by one of my wise of heart friends

My friend Matthew handed me a rather long list of English words for which he sought the Hebrew equivalents. Reading, rather than conversing, in Hebrew, my main recourse is to search through the Hebrew Scriptures, looking for that English word, or something close to it, and finding an appropriate Hebrew counterpart.

Simple, for the most part. Earth. Sky. Water. Gold. Silver. Red. Sword.
Some are more challenging. Adventure. Destiny. Game. Anti-Hero.

I put off ploughing through the list for a long time, just because of its forbidding length. But then I dove in.

And then I came to the word “artist.”

Did an “artist” word search in the KJV.
Not once. Not even a form of it.
Did the same with the ESV.
Two hits for “artistic” in Exodus 31 and 35. Bezalel and Oholiab. Of course. Yes. The craftsmen/artists who did all that artistic work on the tabernacle. I search for “craftsman” looking for something that could work for “artist.”

And it was a total “whoa” moment.
Literally. Audibly.
Two words in the Hebrew text.
“Cha-kham leiv” (with the “ch” and “kh” being “ch” as in Bach rather than “ch” in choose; make it nice and guttural at the back of the throat, folks. You should be coughing up some phlegm if you’re doing it right, people; and come to think of it, the same is true of art).

Meaning: wise of heart.

That’s how the King James translates it; modern translations go for “craftsman.” But I dub it “artist.”
An artist is one who is wise of heart.
And what is wisdom?
Taking in the big picture of reality and knowing how to interact with it, the ability to see it and then the ability to step into it, to realize it, embrace it, live it.


So there you are…


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Posted by on September 30, 2015 in haverings


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faith in two tenses


So just how do you pronounce the Greek word for “faith”?

It ends up being an example each time I teach the Greek alphabet to a new bunch of eager young minds. The Erasmian Pronunciation of Koine Greek technically provides two options for voicing the letter iota. The “i” sound as in “pick” or “wick” (technically the short sound of iota) or the “i” sound as in “peek” or “week” (which would be the long iota sound).

Choose the latter pronunciation and we have “peace-tiss” (or perhaps “peace-tease” –for some reason, I find myself really liking that option).

Choose the former pronunciation and we have “piss-tiss.”

It always gets a laugh.

It strikes me that these aren’t just two alternative ways of pronouncing πίστις.
They are two different tenses of faith.

Sometimes life is good.
Sometimes the pieces come together.
Sometimes we see promises fulfilled, prayers answered, dreams realized, visions fulfilled, purposes accomplished, desires blossom, and goals achieved.
πίστις. Peace-tiss.
Though perhaps it is more peace-tease for the simple reason that life turns, and often the turns are hair pins. And suddenly…
Life sucks.
There are more pieces missing than fitting.
Promises tease us like a vanishing rainbow; prayers return like Noah’s first dove – with nothing in hand and no place to rest their feet; dreams turn to nightmares, visions are blurry at best, purposes wither, desires shrivel, and goals become cruel jokes.
And all we’re left with is πίστις – of the piss-tiss variety.

Sometimes see our reflection in Teresa of Avila, traveling through the Spanish countryside with her mule, reforming Carmelite monasteries, doing God’s work. Upon finding herself thrown on the side of the road, covered in mud, she stood, pointing her accusing finger at heaven. “God, if this is how you treat your friends,
it’s no wonder that you have so few of them!”

There it is. Piss-tiss.

Piss-tiss or peace-tease.

πίστις is still spelled the same way, but it sounds and feels so very different. But it’s still faith. What a shame we’re generally only taught the more pleasing, happy pronunciation peace-tease, with short, vulgar sounding piss-tiss rejected, hidden away like an illegitimate child, sub-par and sub-spiritual. What a shame when both tenses of faith, both pronunciations of πίστις aren’t embraced, as James does in his wisdom:

“Is anyone among you cheerful? Let him sing songs (peace-tease).
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray (piss-tiss).”

Both are legitimate tenses, tones, modes. lenses of faith.
Both are crucial to spiritual life.
Both involve finding traction in life – in the good and in the not-so-good, on the uphill and on the downhill slopes of life, when you’re king of the hill and when you’re down in the dungheap.

Remarkable, how much can hinge on the sounding of a mere iota…


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Posted by on September 22, 2015 in haverings


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O, Pain

What do I do with thee?
I can
and generally,
scorn thee, O Pain.

But then what would I be?

Little more than a limpid,
pissed off puddle.

Such waste of space,

So how about
I welcome you,
I, your reluctant,
often resentful,
and kiss your brow
as the brow of
my Christ come to
teach me

courtesy of Anna Shukeylo

“First Embrace” courtesy of Anna Shukeylo

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Posted by on September 9, 2015 in Poetry


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What a remarkable thing.Screen Shot 2015-08-30 at 9.54.05 AM
Thankful for a shard.
Feeling them all week in these
neuropathic chemo
Invisible shards

sleep stealing
walk stopping

So how surprisingly marvelous

to step
to feel one
but to actually see
O exquisite pleasure!
Finally here be one

Neuropathic chemo
grappling with a shard
that can finally be
to the sounds of reverberating

Never thought I’d be so
for a shard.



Posted by on August 30, 2015 in Poetry


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Lincoln on friendship

I’ve felt the call to spend more time with a long-term mentor for me: 2

I found a used book of his letters and speeches between 1832 and 1858. Unfiltered delight. I’m downright giddy.

I was struck by a letter he wrote to a certain Robert Allen on June 21, 1836. Lincoln would have been 27 at the time. Allen was evidently a friend in times past, and an officer.

Here’s the note – it’s worth a few moments to read and ingest
(I find it helpful to hear Daniel Day-Lewis’ voice when reading Lincoln; or Walter Brennan)

Dear Col.

I am told that during my absence last week, you passed through this place, and stated publicly, that you were in possession of a fact or facts, which, if known to the public, would entirely destroy the prospects of N.W. Edwards and myself at the ensuing election; but that, through favour to us, you should forbear to divulge them.


We have too many such “friends.” Without wishing to press to severely, such is truly a diabolical friendship that insinuates that there is or are fact or facts – that there is a “real story” of what has happened here or there – but that, well, out of respect just can’t be fully divulged or put on the table. Just know that it is there under the table, somewhere, this thing that I really can’t talk about. Diabolical. Devil’s work. A diabolos in the Greek language is one who insinuates, who throws a thought, a doubt, an accusation out there, but not explicitly or openly. It’s left in the shadows for the imagination to work out. Notice that in this case, the devil work is done in public in the absence of his “friend.” Who says we need Facebook to do this! God save us from such devil friends – and save us from being one.

Now watch Lincoln’s response:

No one has needed favors more than I, and generally, few have been less unwilling to accept them; but in this case, favour to me would be injustice to the public, and therefore I must beg your pardon for declining it. That I once had the confidence of the people of Sangamon, is sufficiently evident, and if I have since done anything, either by design or misadventure, which if known, would subject me to forfeiture of that confidence, he that knows of that thing, and conceals it, is a traitor to his country’s interests.

150308-true-friendshipSecond pause.

Allen insinuated without coming right out and saying what was on his mind, and he did so in public in the absence of his friend. Lincoln responds to such public insinuation by private letter (I don’t think Lincoln would have blogged this – and I imagine he’d be somewhat miffed that I’m blogging it 179 years later). Though I discern tactful grace here, Lincoln holds no punches. “Traitor.” Them be fightin’ words! But Lincoln says it. Let us resume and conclude:

I find myself wholly unable to form any conjecture of what fact or facts, real or supposed, you spoke; but my opinion of your veracity, will not permit me, for a moment, to doubt, that you at least believed what you said.

I am flattered with the personal regard you manifested for me, but I do hope that, on more mature reflection, you will view the public interest as a paramount consideration, and, therefore, determine to let the worst come.

I here assure you, that the candid statement of facts, on your part, however low it may sink me, shall never break the tie of personal friendship between us.

I wish and answer to this, and you are at liberty to publish both if you choose.

Verry (sic) Respectfully,

Lincoln on friendship:

  • Don’t make insinuations about one you claim as friend in their absence.
    Especially in a public forum.
  • If a friend blows it in public, respond directly to that friend, rather than fanning the flames of public controversy. Message. Don’t post. It is also pertinent to note here that Lincoln wrote such letters and held on to them overnight. He had a whole archive of letters marked “never sent.” That’s not just wisdom. Those are the rhythms of a friend.
  • Call forth the best while not hesitating to directly say the worst. Nearly within the same breath Lincoln utters the word “traitor” (though not to him personally but to the country – there’s a lesson embedded there too) and “veracity.” Selah, people. Selah.
  • Friends call forth and give “mature reflection” for one another and offer “candid statements” to one another.
  • Friends know how to write short, well-thought-out notes on weighty matters.
  • Personal ties of friendship should be mighty cables, not fragile spinnings and they should be able to bear the weight of even the most public misunderstandings.

Such was the wisdom of a twenty-seven year old young man named Lincoln.
I suspect we can all learn a thing or two here…


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Posted by on August 29, 2015 in haverings


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