On Tuesday evening this week, we set a record cold here at this old house: 44 degrees! Today, we are back in the 90s. At over a mile high in elevation, August is a transitional month, blending elements of summer and fall, often in the same day. We will continue to have days of intense heat but that heat is losing its dominance. Up on the Mesa, a few leaves have begun to change colors. The quality of the blue in the sky is different: deeper and clearer. The vegetation looks like August–tall and dry–and the days are definitely getting shorter. Public schools have started and, like the swallows of San Juan Capistrano, 27,000 University of Colorado students have returned to the city. I won’t go near Target for about three weeks as at least 20,000 of those students and their parents are in there buying things to furnish dorm rooms or first apartments.

It is also the time when many churches are beginning to ramp up the fall schedule: Sunday school resumes, Youth groups and Confirmation classes start their routines, and the musical groups that have been on hiatus during the vacation months re-gather to lead worship. I found an interesting article on Facebook about how we have “Sunday schooled” our children out of church. The youth programs that have run concurrently with corporate worship for adults for years have now borne their spiritual fruit; a generation who knows about God but feels no need to attend corporate worship and especially a corporate worship service that isn’t fast-paced and entertaining with pizza served somewhere in the mix. (See http://www.patheos.com/blogs/searchingfortomsawyer/2014/08/sunday-schooling-our-kids-out-of-church/)

It is hard to wring our hands over kids not going to church when we are the generation that kept them out of corporate worship. We Baby Boomers saw it as a time of “free baby-sitting” for the parents with a religious component to it. I have always wondered when the promoters of the”junior church” model thought those young people would transition into corporate worship. In college? There are many dedicated college groups in the churches and in para-church organizations. When they got their first job? There are so dedicated groups for singles for them to attend. When they had kids of their own? They would possibly send their children to Sunday school but would they be drawn to corporate worship, which seemed unwelcoming to them as children? And we have to admit, this touches on the belief of many that one can be a Christian without ever going to church, a popular idea but not a Biblical one.

Perhaps a solution might be a “graduation from Sunday school into corporate worship” ceremony at some point. Of course, the kids would have to have some advanced training that corporate worship wasn’t centered on them and their need to be fed and entertained. They would need to learn that corporate worship is about God first of all.  We are not there as spectators but “players on the field,” to use a sport’s analogy. The kids would have to transition from a mentality that has them as “fans in the stands” waiting to be entertained into the ones who actually do the work of worship. Would that transition happen for most middle or high schoolers, even college age people raised on the junior church model? I fear the repercussions of this well-intended but mis-guided policy will haunt us for a long time.

Being in corporate worship from infancy on makes worship a truly inter-generational event, a true reflection of the Body of Christ. Older people learn to absorb the noises of young children and children learn how to behave. They see what the adults do to make worship happen: stand, sit, kneel, pray, listen, sing. This only works well in the model where long sermons are not the norm. The historic liturgical format of Gathering-Word-Meal-Sending, regardless of what kind of music you are or are not using, is much more participatory and interesting for children, as well as adults. A faith community might have to do some serious soul-searching and revamping of its worship practices and that would not be easy. Cherished traditions might need to give way to more ancient forms. The celebrity pastor might not be the star of the morning any more. It would take great humility and maybe more than the faith community could bear.

However, which is harder: re-looking at an order of service or losing a generation of kids to the Church? Religious education is important. Sunday school for all ages still needs to happen but is it wise to have it happen at the same time as the Body of Christ is gathered for worship? It seems like that question is being answered for us.

It is definitely August here at this old house: Hot and dry! Our upstairs air-conditioning unit has been running for hours at a time. Remember the scientific principle that heat rises? Our loft bedroom is a classic example of that reality.  Fortunately, a machine can create an opposite reaction to that principle. We have also taken to shutting windows and curtains against the sun and hot air outside. It feels like we are living in a mortuary at times but when the dog days of August arrive, it is time to batten down the hatches and huddle in front of the blasting air-conditioning unit. After all, open window days are not too far off here at 5430 feet of elevation!

It was exciting this past week to discover my poem is installed at 10th and Pearl, here in Boulder. This is the poem I wrote on a whim last fall, winning one of the spots in the arts commission’s competition that required I use 130 spaces and characters to reflect on the streets of Boulder. When notified mine was one of the ones chosen, I discovered I didn’t a copy of it for myself! I had written it in a blinding light of inspiration directly into the entry form. Fortunately, they had a copy and so all ended well. The installations are 8-foot stone towers with the poems engraved on metal between them. At least something in my life is now truly “carved in stone.” I have to say, I am still in a bit of shock that I won. The last time I had a poem chosen was in 5th-grade for the school assembly.

In contrast to the excitement of seeing my poem in a public art installation, I have become more aware of barbarous aspects of our prison system. It turns out women inmates have to provide their own feminine hygiene products. Those who are indigent, with no family or other resources to help them, have to punt with toilet paper each month. This has deeply upset me and I am currently waiting for the right time to organize a drive to help with this issue. I will keep anyone who is interested posted on when that drive will begin.

This week, I was also very aware of the many refugees throughout the world fleeing traumatic situations, trying to survive in foreign situations inadequate to their needs. Basics like housing, clean water, adequate food, medical care, and host of other things we in the West just assume in daily living are missing from these people’s lives. Host countries, aid organizations, and individuals are scrambling to deal with the human tsunami arriving on foreign soils but the needs are far greater than the resources. The situation back home must be unimaginably awful if vulnerable people are willing to pack like sardines in a less-than-seaworthy boat to make an expensive, long, and dangerous journey across open water with no idea of what awaits for them on the other shore. Of course, that is assuming they live to see that foreign shore.

Compassion is a learned attitude especially for someone like me who is surrounded by so much wealth. It is easy to become cynical about migrants, illegal immigrants, refugees–choose your word. The numbers are too staggering to comprehend, the needs too vast and unsolvable, the politics they are fleeing too complicated. It is easy to switch off the news, skip that article in the paper, blame the victims. What would Jesus do? We know that he himself walked away from people’s needs to go pray. He left one town with unresolved illnesses to go to another town. Yet, Jesus always focused on individuals. Think of the woman with the 12-year menstrual period that had lost everything including her dignity. On his way to heal a respectable family’s child, Jesus stopped and healed this woman in body, mind and spirit. Is it even possible for us to do something like that? Isn’t that an unfair expectation? Perhaps but it seems to me that too often I seek to play God where I shouldn’t in someone else’s life and feel helpless or even cold when there is a small thing I can do for another.

For example, from all the myriads of issues in the world, local, regional, national, international, all of us can choose one thing to focus on. The feminine hygiene situation in the local women’s correctional facility has ignited a passion in me I dare not ignore. I will focus on that. I can’t deal with people landing on Kos in the Greek isles but I can hopefully make a small dent in an injustice in Denver. I can’t solve world hunger but each week at the grocery store, I can buy a can of something, adding it to a bag that will periodically go to the local food bank. At times, I may write a check to Doctors Without Borders or the Red Cross, supporting others who feel called into larger arenas of suffering.

Jesus pointed out that we would always have the poor with us. Do we believe that means that we are off the hook then as it is a reality of life, like hot air rising, about which we can do little to nothing about? Or do we see that as a call to be transformed into Christ’s hands and feet here on earth, doing what he would have done had he been living the life we were given to live? That is the question the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25 asks us and it is one we all must answer. According to that parable, that is the question we will be asked at the gates of heaven and not whether we “believed” or not. Hmmmm…….

Oh, my! What a week it has been in this old house, one of those times where it is good to remember that we are invited to give thanks IN all things, not necessarily FOR all things. It began with an epic case of stomach flu. For the first time in nearly 19 years, I had to call a sub early Sunday morning. Midweek saw a bat infestation at church. Three bats were safely removed. A fourth may have left the building (I will find out early tomorrow morning!). As their entry point is still a mystery, the problem may not be fully solved. And today, while preparing pie crust for company, the food processor broke. Woven throughout was a couple of very hot days and neighborhood relationships straining over an important issue facing us as a community. These kinds of political situations often bring out the best and the worst of people, as do weddings and funerals, and that has certainly been true here.  There have also been moments of goodness and grace but this week has certainly been a challenge at times.

Why is it that major events trigger the deepest truths about ourselves? The excuse”I was stressed” doesn’t really address it. We often see this in the aging process as well. When we are no longer able to manage our filters because of illness or emotional upset, who we really are underneath comes shining through, for good or for ill. When talking about the spiritual discipline of fasting, conventional wisdom teaches that many of us use food to cover up unresolved emotional issues. When the food is taken away, those issues become dominant in our personalities. We aren’t crabby because we are hungry; we are crabby because that is who we are and the food crutch we use to bury that truth is gone. Food is not the only thing we can use to avoid our real selves. Acquisition of material goods, texting, e-mail, movies and other entertainment like shopping, reading about God, service projects, sleep, alcohol, drugs: the list is endless. Whenever we reach for “something to soothe our ruffled nerves,” we are shoving something into that dark closet, something that will eventually come tumbling down on our heads.

It isn’t pleasant to discover who we really are deep down so most of us spend our whole lives trying to hide that reality from ourselves and others. When something bigger than us comes along, we are no longer able to hold the lid down. The Pandora’s box of our life comes spilling out in ways we can’t control. This “wave” can be something good, like a wedding or a birth, as well as something bad like death or divorce.

The good news is that we can learn to let the truth of ourselves out gradually, in safe ways. In the presence of a spiritual director, counselor or friend, we can examine it and find ways to heal it. Instead of letting the emotional broadside completely uncork us, we can daily seek to see what really is in that basement closet we work so hard to keep locked up. We can slowly, safely, over time, open the door and examine the dark contents. We look at how the darkness got started in areas of our lives, where the wounds and scars are that are still oozing, and find ways to gently let God’s healing light and love touch those places. We can be transformed allowing us to live more transparently, more honestly.

This afternoon, I did a bit of confession with a precious friend over some of my reactions from the week. It felt good to acknowledge that I didn’t always behave in a way that I desired to do in hindsight. I will be spending time in prayer and journaling this week looking at why my best self didn’t always rise to the surface this past week. As Lamentations 3 reminds me, Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Here is to that fresh start!


It has been a rich, full week here at this old house. We made a four-day loop down to Prescott, Arizona to say good-bye to a dear elderly friend who is dying of cancer. While we did a bit of sight-seeing on the way down and back, Prescott itself was quite sobering. Not only did we spend some time with dear Bill but we visited the two memorials to the Granite Mountain Hot Shot crew who died tragically in the Yarnell fire on June 30, 2013. Being acquainted with a number of dear people who work wild-land fire in Alaska, it was sobering to look at the graves of those 20 to 40 year old men who lost their lives fighting a major wild fire due to, what appears to be, human error. We ached for the families they left behind and the lives these men didn’t get to live out. Lord, teach us to number our days.

We came home to several fun social occasions and today, received the gift of a box of Western Slope (Colorado) peaches. That meant that the first thing on my day’s agenda became making a peach pie and freezing extra peach pie filling. The trick of blanching the peaches in boiling water for a minute and then plunging them into ice cold water makes peeling them a cinch. Both of us also ate one; there is nothing like a perfectly ripe peach from the Western Slope. What a gift from God!

Fresh peaches and cancer, gorgeous scenery and Indian reservations, fun times with friends in various settings and those grieving the death of fathers, sons, and brothers. All of it is part of this circle of life. At times, it can be hard to hold all the various events and emotions in proper tension. Can one enjoy a fresh peach while grieving? Can one take in the rocks and plateaus while recognizing the hardship and tragedy of an Indian reservation? How do we reconcile the good with the evil that often happen nearly simultaneously in our lives?

For me, this is where the Discipline of Celebration comes in. It took me a long time to understand how celebration could be a discipline. Richard Foster first identified it for modern times in his ground-breaking book, “Celebration of Discipline.” The discipline is based on Philippians 4: 8:  Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

That means when things are false, dishonorable, unjust, sullied, difficult, wretched, tawdry and worthy of condemnation, we are to think about their opposites, that is, the things of God. This in no way condones denial! Just the opposite. When there is death, we are to acknowledge it and grieve it but we are also invited to remember the Resurrection we are promised in Christ. When life is hard, not going the way we had hoped or desired, we are to remember that God bats last, that God is never at a loss among the wreckage of human sin, that God’s Plan B has already begun in whatever circumstance we find ourselves.

Easy to do? Not at all. That is why celebration is a discipline. Joy, which is not based on circumstances but rather rooted deep in our souls like an anchor holding firm while the ship above is riding out a raging storm, takes practice and intentional training to become the automatic response to life. We train in joy, not in a Pollyannish kind of “whistling in the dark/happy-clappy” but rather in a hope that stands at the stone-sealed tomb at one minute to dawn. We may be living in Good Friday at the moment but we trust that Easter morning is coming.

As I ate my peach, leaning over the sink so that the juice wouldn’t drip on the floor, I thought about our friend in Prescott and the Granite Mountain Hot Shot crew and remembered that all I have is today, right now, this next bite. Thanks be to God.




It has gotten quite hot here at this old house.  A friend and I went out Plein air painting this morning. We were out in the east part of the county around some mini-lakes with a lovely view of the mountains. We found a spot under a covered picnic pavilion where there was a nice breeze so we were fairly cool and bug free. Since West Nile has returned to Boulder County, I needed to pay as much attention to the presence of any mosquitoes  as I did to my art work. My friend is a semi-professional oil painter; I am a visual artist wannabe.  I have a lot to learn and my friend is very generous in her advice.

There is something special about being outside while doing an activity. Working in nature always makes a mundane task feel more special. Think of a picnic vs. eating at your kitchen table. The fare at the picnic may be less elaborate but somehow it tastes better. Nancy Roth in “Awake My Soul!” quotes the environmentalist David Orr who said that “we are bound to living things…by ‘biophilia’ [which means our desire to be connected with the rest of life in the natural world], which begins in early childhood and ‘cascades’ into cultural and social patterns.”  With the alarming decrease in the amount of time both children and adults spend in nature, a crucial connection with the rest of life is being weakened or even lost.

Richard Louv in his 2005 book “Last Child in the Woods” coined the term Nature Deficit Disorder to describe symptoms found increasingly in children who rarely if ever “play outside” and, in some cases, are showing signs of behavioral problems. These problems include a lack of respect for nature. See, for example, the increasing evidence of graffiti in National Parks, an area a few years ago people would not dream of defacing. Or a lack of compassion for wild animals and their habitat requirements. It is thought by some, as well, that depression and attention disorders can be due to a lack of regular interaction with nature.

This is all rather controversial and not everyone agrees with the diagnosis or the symptoms. However, Nancy Roth pointed out that many people “find God” in nature. My question is if nature is less a part of people’s lives, due to fear of strangers, a general inertia in life or an overzealous desire to protect wilderness that makes it hard to interact with unspoiled places, might that impact one’s ability to even ask God questions? The Desert Fathers and Mothers saw Creation as a “Scripture” equal to that of the Bible. They spent time meditating on creation as much as on Scriptural texts because they believed that God’s handiwork taught them a lot about God, themselves and others. If one is disconnected from nature, doesn’t that leave out a huge portion of the text about God’s work in the world?

Suddenly, being in nature is more than “fresh air and exercise”! It becomes a way of learning about God, ourselves and the world. If we don’t spend much time with God’s creation, are we losing something important to our faith formation? Is it stunting our children’s growth in faith? Meanwhile, Psalm 19 continues to remind us that:

The heavens are telling the glory of God;
    and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
    and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
    their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
    and their words to the end of the world.

In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,
    and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
    and its circuit to the end of them;
    and nothing is hid from its heat.

The question for us today is, will we come to know that voice of Nature praising God for ourselves?

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