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Preview: The Lord, The Blues, and the Art of Being Smooth

Harar Quixotic

I write about the ways God is stretching me, the thoughts of the day, and bits of randomness.

Updated: 2014-10-14T16:09:16.075-04:00


¡Oh dichosa ventura!


This imagery floors me. From St. John of the Cross "En una noche escura."El aire del almena,cuando yo sus cabellos esparcía,con su mano serenaen mi cuello heríay todos mis sentidos suspendía.Quedéme y olvidéme,el rostro recliné sobre el Amado;cesó todo y dejéme,dejando mi cuidadoentre las azucenas olvidado.Campbell translates these stanzas:My neck wounded by serene caresses expresses that same longing I resonate with in Donne's "Batter my heart three person'd God."[...]

Media fast day 2


I just realized this may be the first time I have done a media fast. I have cut out tv, but social media and games weren't a thing before, and in the past I just let Elaine do it.  I noticed today improved cognitive ability. I am making connections and remembering thought experiments I had put aside. Perhaps media saturation really does make us dumber.

Some things I have observed in Elaine:
• She touches me more. She speculates that this may be because her security blanket - her phone is not in her hands. 
• She talks to me more deeply. Last night she described to me the plot of a book she read with interest and excitement. 
• We're both up and about earlier, getting more done around the house and on our projects. It's also nice to hear her share what she is learning and get her input on what I study. 

Quiet evening


Without tv to occupy us this evening I read a chapter of The Hobbit to the family. We left off in the middle some months ago, falling away from the practice of family reading time. Having nothing else to do does wonders for your schedule.(image)

Settling in.


I noticed a greater ability to focus while reading. I read three chapters in my children's spirituality book in a sitting. The combination of mental excitement and sometimes dry intellectual material has made this a difficult book to sit with. I feel I could have read even more but for another pleasant   surprise, my guitar called me to play it. I have heard its call on previous nights, but late while watching our routine rgimin of tv. 

Elaine is napping. She was reading a dry textbook, undoubtably sleep won out. She is cute when she sleeps. 




The boredom of not using our digital devices in our accustomed manner has driven us to other pursuits: reading, cleaning, working on various projects. So far I have experienced this in starts and fits. As yet I have not settled into a comfortable concentration. (image)

New Media Fast


Elaine and I have begun a media fast for this week and I have decided to keep a journal exploring the experience. 

Elaine said this morning, "So, what do I have to do to be less lazy?" 

"Take a media fast?" I suggested.

"No way!" was her immediate response. 

Elaine has been exploring the power of media fasting for some time and is planning to write her capstone project on it to complete her masters. 

This media fast will last today (Monday) through Friday.  It will include social media, games and tv.  We will exclude phone calls, text, email and projects related to school and work. 

We turned our phones to do-not-disturb mode, and made sure to allow phone calls, but found this still allowed notifications from our games and so forth to get through so we had to shut some of those off manually.  The badge icons drive me nuts (the little numbers on the apps that shows notifications are waiting.) I had to turn those off for a few things too so I wouldn't be tempted to check them. 

Perhaps the fast would be easier to accomplish and more effective if we just put our phones away, but that experiment will have to wait for another time.

Spiritual Direction Resources



Spiritual Direction on my blog:

Spiritual Directors International:
*Note this includes Spiritual Directors from all faiths, and has a tool for finding a Spiritual Director near you.





Spring Arbor Master in Spiritual Formation and Leadership:
Manresa Internship in Ignatian Spirituality:
Shalem Spiritual Guidance Program:


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Flying Jesus Day


I believe …
Jesus Christ…
was crucified, died and was buried;
he descended into hell;
on the third day he rose again from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty;
from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I think Ascension Day brings completion to our meditation on the Paschal Mystery.  This is the work of spiritual formation. It is the stuff of discipline that brings us to transformation. With Christ we were crucified, died and were buried.  We have died to ourselves and have new meaning brought to our every little death.  We also enter into the Paschal Mystery when with Christ we can safely descend into the hell of our past pain and traumas.  I remember reading Parker Palmer talk about the mystery of depression.  He quoted Annie Dillard saying we are invited to ride the monsters all the way down off the rim of the world to find God.   Then the Paschal Mystery invites us to look up.

I love to gaze at the sky.  I love a clear blue day with a few high cumulus clouds.  They give me a sense of how high is the sky. I realize that I am looking through literally miles of air. There is a height to the sky. I was telling a group of kids in chapel this yesterday and a girl interrupted me laughing and said, “You’re wearing green slippers.”

“No,” I said, “They’re shoes.” Imagine thinking my immensely cool Toms were slippers!

I went on to tell them about how I love to look up at night at the stars. I mean, if you think you get a sense of distance from the clouds, imagine how far you are seeing when you look at the galaxies! And to think that is where Jesus went. I mean where do we always think of heaven as being?

Again the girl laughs at my slippers.  “But we’re supposed to be looking up not down at my slippers (I mean shoes),” I quipped. Then I remembered what Dallas Willard said about the Jewish conception of the heavens.  “So why did Jesus go into the heavens?” I asked.  “So that he could send us the Spirit and show us that he would always be near us, because the heavens start way up at the stars and galaxies and come right down under my green slippers.”

Ascension takes the Paschal Mystery and leaves us looking up. We learn to let go and yet live in a spirit of expectation. “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11b NIV).  In about 10 days we get a glimpse of that Paschal reality as our guarantee, the Holy Spirit, is shed abroad in our hearts.(image)

A Blessing For My Neighborhood


It is a cool day, yet the air is thick with dew. The clouds drift to the east in patches of light and dark. They are surprisingly fast. Only a slight breeze stirs the tops of the trees that line the street. A jumble of cars park under the trees in front of close fitting houses. The rain threatens, but children continue to play in protest, bouncing basketballs down the sidewalk or threading bicycles between cars. The porch on a day such as this is an attempt at comfort in the midst of confusion. The confusion of jumbled parked cars mirrors the jumble of clouds drifting off in the eastern sky. Even the direction is wrong; the clouds seem to be running away from their home in the sunset. The birds seem angry at one another as they chatter in the branches, trying to assert their territory.

A car with the horn of a train blasts at a couple of preschool children playing at the end of a drive way. The woman driving echoes the blast,

“Where the f*** is your mama?!”

“I don’t know,” the by replies take a step toward the road.

“Get the f*** out of the road!” The woman blasts back. “What’s wrong with you! These two are playing in the f***ing road!” she blasts in the direction of an unseen neighbor. And she is gone, apologizing to the other drivers, and cursing the children.

Is there something in the close fitting houses, in the oppressive clouds, in the unrefreshing breeze that is affecting us today? Is something external making birds and neighbors alike flare with anger? Or is it something within? Do we overflow with pain and contempt, heavy with it like the humid air?

Father, I offer this blessing for my neighborhood. May the streets here lined with trees and close houses be filled with joy. May the chatter of birds and squirrels mix with the giggles of children. May neighbor smile at neighbor and feel the knots of brotherhood constrain their hearts. May the transforming power of Christ lift the oppression that hangs over my street like the dense cloudbank that threatens rain. Tear open the sky! Bless Bay City.(image)

My Holy Week


"I may never pass this way again."

I kept telling myself this as I went from church to church. When I am attached again to a congregation, how would I be as free to hang out with other churches?

 Maundy Thursday, I missed my chance to go to St. Alban's healing service.  The kids swimming lessons kept us too late.  So we had communion at our community dinner. That was great, but we should have had a foot washing.

Good Friday, I felt the sorrow and needed a service. (I have been accused of being a church addict this week.)  We missed the noon time services, but I ran into Pastor Isaac Chung from Westminster Presbyterian at Populace Coffee, and they were having a 7:00 Tenebre service that Ella and I went to.  Ella was very impressed with the progressive darkening of the sanctuary and our leaving by our lighted candles.

Saturday I spent with the folks at Trinity Episcopal church. This was the first Easter Vigil service I have been to.  It is similar to praying vigils at the monastery.  Communion and the word made this service awesome and got me dreaming of doing a vigil service that actually lasted all night.

Sunday morning was busy. I went to the sunrise service at Carroll Park.  This is put on every year by the youth at First Presbyterian. The service started at 6:45.  I loved watching the clouds light up with reds as the sun rose in the East, while the moon hung large and orange in the West. Another great feature of this service was the family friendly nature, with an egg hunt, donuts, and hot chocolate and coffee to drive away the chill.

Since it was still early I headed back to Westminster for their 8:00 service. Then home for breakfast where I discovered that the daughter of our church planting partners was in the hospital in Midland receiving an appendectomy.  Elaine grabbed some flowers from the flower bed and we took off for the hospital on our way to church.  The kids went with Grandma, and met us at church.

Sharing Holy Week with so many congregations as a stranger made me really appreciate the body of Christ in its vastness and diversity.  All these disparate people were celebrating the same reality of the resurrection.  I am grateful to be a part of such a body and rich tradition.(image)



This Palm Sunday I was struck by the power behind this word.  Hosanna is a cry meaning "save now, I beg you!"  That this cry of desperation is also the cry of exultation the crowds shout, appropriating Psalm 118, as Jesus enters the city hit me.

Sunday night I went to the College and Career Connection at CCC with much stress. I am underemployed and finances are getting to a place of hopelessness. Yet, here I am to worship with a bunch of fiery brands for whom worship is a thing of righteous abandon.  Hosanna became for me the cry of abandon it was for the crowd that day Jesus rode into town. Save me I beg! For you are the King!  You are the one who owns the cattle on a thousand hills! You have all provision and can supply my family's every need! You are worthy to be king of my life! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!  Blessed is the Kingdom come!  All of that is wrapped up in the cry Hosanna! 

What a way to start Holy Week!(image)

The dessert and the Paschal Mystery


See what other thoughts on Lent are on the MSFL blog. Sister Ginny, my spiritual director, suggested that I spend some time in the dessert with Jesus.  She sensed in our conversation that it would be a good picture of where I am emotionally.  I have been mourning some deaths lately. I lost a dream job at the local coffee shop, where I was roasting and making sure the coffees were of highest quality. It wasn't for a bad reason, either, the owner just grew to appreciate how much he wanted to continue to do the things he hired me to do.  Still, I loved that job and mourn its death.  I also mourn my sense of direction, or at least clarity of what I am doing.  I am waiting.  Elaine and I are part of a church planting team here in Bay City now, but what do I do while we wait to get started?  And where do I find meaningful work to support my family? I am in the desert.I am reminded that Lent is an invitation to the desert. We are invited to spend 40 days with Jesus in the wilderness, just as he spent 40 years with the Israelites as they wandered. We are invited to do this in preparation for our baptism into his death and resurrection, our entry into the Promised Land.This is not an easy place to dwell, the desert. It is a wild place, where shadows of crosses spread across the sand and snakes ply their schemes. The scenery in this wilderness is uncomfortable to look upon, and yet that is precisely why we are here to gaze on the things in the desert places. We are entering into the Paschal Mystery. This is the mysterious way God takes death, the death of God’s son, Jesus, and makes life, eternal life for all people. We are invited to enter into this mystery with the deaths in our lives. Not only the big deaths of loved ones, but we enter also into the mystery with the death of our dreams, our youth, or a job. We are invited to gaze into the mystery and let God transform our deaths into life.We are reminded of the story of the Israelites who complained on their way through the wilderness. They grumbled saying they wouldn’t eat the food that God gave them – that they wouldn’t take another bite, they would just lie down and die. God in his justice answered their prayer. The last bite they would have to take would not be manna but a bite from a snake. Then they would indeed lie down and would die.Moses prayed, asking God to save his people. The Lord told Moses a strange thing. He told Moses to make a copper copperhead, a serpenty-serpent as fiery red as the burning of their bites and fever. Anyone who looked on this image of suffering, this thing that had become death in the eyes of the people, would be saved. They had to stare death in the eyes to receive their healing.“And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness,” Jesus says, “so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15 NRSV). This is good news for our spiritual formation. Lent invites us to put away our triumph for a time and recall the suffering. It invites us to participate, to fellowship in the suffering of Christ.Centering prayer is a good practice for this reason. We can begin by closing our eyes, and breathing deeply the dessert air around us. Borrowing form the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius, we can enter into the story for a moment, turn our eyes to the cross, feel the desolate wilderness, lock eyes with death. Then as we kneel at the foot of the cross comes the most important part of centering prayer. We must let go of our agenda. We must let die all of our desires for what we want from God. We are in the wilderness, away from all that distracts and calls our attention. Even our good desires and good thoughts o[...]

The erotic foundations of Love


This month we are talking about love over on the Spirtual Formation and Leadership blog.Love is a many splendored thing, so the crooners tell us. We are familiar with the Greek thoughts on the subject, three classifications: Eros, Phileo and Agape. Agape is the unconditional perfect Love of God. Phileo we know as the brotherly love, the best Peter could muster when Jesus asked if Peter loved him. Eros has a dirty, unacceptable quality in our minds equal in essence to lust. I submit that this descending valuation of love isn’t true to the God who is love, nor perfectly helpful to our spiritual formation.Let’s take a stab at reframing these distinctions. Instead of descending into a well of depravity, lets ascend to the heights of love from a base that is imparted into our very hearts by the Creator. Rather than maligning erotic love as dirty and shameful, let us instead recognize it as the foundation of love, a needfulness placed within our souls. Erotic love is that longing from within that recognizes its need and reaches out for fulfillment. It is what Ronald Rolheiser calls The Holy Longing, the divine madness. It is a definite grace that sends us searching for something to fill that longing, that soul-ache until it find its succor in God.Phileo builds on that longing, but also recognizes the longing of the heart of the other. It places value on the other for who that person is, and originates from that value. It is a conditional love, conditional on the value of the other person to the loving heart. Peter is perhaps not so poor a lover when he tells Jesus that he phileos him. He values Jesus for the remarkable loving being he is as the exact representation of God’s being.Agape then builds on eros and phileo. It loves with all the longing and tenderness that values the other, but does not stem from either. It is unconditional and unending. It loves as a reflection of the character of God that is unending and undiminishing regardless of what we do. This is not, then, some ethereal love, devoid of emotion or affection. It subsumes and overwhelms the layers of love that we, as human lovers, are most familiar, transforming it into something divine and transcendent.Viewed in this way, we can, along with mystics like Hudson Taylor, see in the Song of Solomon a beautiful love story between God and God’s bride. We can celebrate with mystics who flirt with the divine madness, the caresses of God in ecstatic union without falling into a sensualist trap that seeks to debase and deride our experiences with God. Such a trap makes God into something small and familiar devoid of mystery and majesty that God’s nature demands.[...]

Poor Folk


Poor Folk by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is a collection of letters between a poor civil servant and a ruined ill young woman with an unfortunate past. The charm of the story lies in what is not said. What happens when the two are together? How do the emotions, just hinted at in the letters, drive the story? The final letter is left unfinished. How does the story end? The possibilities excite the imagination and carry the reader away into Dostoyevsky's world. Even without his characteristic lush descriptions of place and people, even without any dialog, Dostoyevsky's genius shines.

View all my reviews(image)

New schools


This morning we brought Foster and Ella to their new school.  It brought back memories and anxieties from the first days of new schools in my childhood.  I remember the first time I visited my classroom in Northfield, being pegged as a nerd.  O the days clinging white knuckled to the doorframe of the girls bathroom, straining against being pushed in!

On our way up the stairs to Ella’s class, she exclaimed, “This is better than my old school! We didn’t have an upstairs.” I remember the embarrassment of being in a bigger elementary school for half of fourth grade and after three or four weeks still afraid of going to the library by myself, afraid I’d loose my way.  I remember the teacher’s exasperation when I asked if my friend Dean could accompany me.  What a blessing it was to have some ready made friends from church at that new school!

I hope Foster and Ella find friends quickly and no bullies.  Foster had a substitute teacher today.  Unfortunately nothing was prepared for him.  He had no locker or desk. The substitute did her best to find to find a temporary place for him in a class of thirty.  I can only imagine how his regimented methodical mind adapted to a world with no place for him or his things.

The Church and all its Blemishes


We've been talking about this over on the Spring Arbor Spiritual Formation blog. Renovation of the Church: What Happens When a Seeker Church Discovers Spiritual Formation by Kent CarlsonMy rating: 4 of 5 starsI read Renovation Of The Church against the backdrop of resigning as pastor of my church. Kent Carlson and Mike Lueken brought me to much introspection and healing, in the face of that transition, with their theology of church. I identified with their struggles and could feel the pain of their transition. A few times their words stopped me in my tracks and brought tears to my eyes as they spoke straight to the wounds in my heart. After eight years at our church it was becoming clear that our vision of a church that embraces life in the kingdom wasn’t being embraced. We faced the heartbreak of a congregation that would rather cease to be than come to new life. I struggled with my fruitfulness at this church. If Jesus said that Father is glorified in my bearing much fruit (John 15:8), I want to bear fruit! Renovation challenged me again in my struggle, was my expectation of what fruit looked like too tied to measures and metrics? Was it pride that made me want to leave when I felt rejected? In the midst of the pain inflicted by the backlash to what turned out to be our final push to vibrancy, I held dark thoughts about the dear saints in our pews. It was a healing corrective to hear that the church was to be a messy place, that we aren’t called to make a sect of the in-crowd. They reminded me of my opportunity to bless those who curse you. As I mentioned earlier to Rob, this reminded me of Ronald Rolheiser’s comments on Sarx in The Holy Longing. The flesh (sarx) that Jesus tells us we must eat to be his is the messy troublesome flesh of his body, the church. We must participate in the imperfect masterpiece, or as Switchfoot pens it, “the beautiful letdown” that is the church. Mike writes, “Our hearts grow bigger for God by worshiping next to they guy who hates to sing, doesn’t know the words and things the tune is lame. We are spiritually better off being in a community with both the committed and marginal” (107). Over the years I have found it difficult to worship where I don’t trust that guy next to me to be longing for intimacy with Jesus. Last night I went to the Christmas Vigil service at an Episcopal church a few blocks from our new home. I sat behind a couple of young ladies who were clearly there because one of them belonged to the family filling that pew. Their sidelong glances betrayed their mild disdain for what was happening in the service. I remembered Mike’s words and I silently blessed them from behind. In the midst of those who might have been there only to satisfy relatives or admire music and the memorial poinsettias, we did together hear and respond to the Gospel! I write this on the first Sunday that I haven’t been the pastor of a small church in eight years. I am still mourning the loss as well as enjoying the freedom. I greatly appreciated Kent and Mike in their honesty and transparency. In their story I know I am not alone in my pain or my joys. I rejoice to see Oak Hills as an example that what we’ve been wanting and talking about for so many years is possible. It is a great joy for those of us dreaming of spiritual formation in the church. I also can’t help but appreciate a couple of guys who have so fully imbibed Dallas Willard’s thoughts, they can’t help but spill out on the page. That makes them feel like old friends to me. View all my reviews [...]

Peter Asher Coffees


Recently, I had the opportunity to sample a couple of coffees by upstart indie roaster, Peter Asher Coffees.  I pulled some shots of their Northern Italian Espresso blend. My first impression was the lightness of the roast.  Compared with the darkness of the roast currently in the hopper,Northern Italian on rightPeter Asher shows off an indication of its roasting philosophy.  Clearly there is an attempt here to find the peak roast for the bean, rather than going for a dark smoky flavor.  The second thing to strike my attention was the crema. Holy crap there was a lot!  High holy crema made up nearly all of the double shot by the end of the extraction.  The flavor of the shot was pretty true to its name.  It has a bright quality, perhaps a bit sweeter and less dry than its Italian counterpart.  Care has to be taken not to under-extract this shot; its sharpness is a bit offensive if the shot is sour. Northern Italian flavor profile.Compare the shape of the flavor profile to this one I sketched of Illy Espresso in EuropeI also pulled a shot of their Black Velvet Blend.  This was a very dark roast with a lot of oil to give luster to the bean.  It was strong in the mid and low tones with a bit of tart.Black Velvet as espresso extractionIt makes a decent espresso, but how is it as a drip coffee?In drip form the Black Velvet blend really shines. The sharp peak mellows to a caramel drizzle. The mouth-feel and body are satisfying, supporting the deep richness of the smoky dark roast. The dark roast does not, however, eliminate all the distinctiveness of these beans. The tart experienced in the espresso extraction becomes a playful dance on the tongue in the brewed form, and the mid-tones still possess a woody quality.  This cup tastes like fun: rich, satisfying and yet playful.  There is a definite nostalgia that is evoked in me by this flavor.  It tastes like an emotion—happiness.  I have tasted this quality before. In fact I am reminded of a good peaberry Harar. [...]

Dossier of a coffee spy: Chicago


While on sabbatical, I made it a point to sample all the espresso at as many shops as I could.  My many trips to Metropolis Coffee earned me the moniker Coffee Spy by the staff there. Here are my findingsIn the many shops I tried in Chicago, I only found three different espresso blends: Metropolis “Red Line,” Intelligencia “Black Cat” and a blend by Coffee and Tea Exchange, a Chicago company. A pour-over at MetropolisMetropolisMetropolis Coffee was perhaps the most impressive shop I visited.  Metropolis’ roasting operation extends to many shops and retail locations.  Yet Metropolis has but one location, fiercely committed to the Edgewater neighborhood, without the common aspirations to franchise. Their commitment to detail makes me as happy as a giddy Quixote gazing on his peerless Dulcinea.  I so enjoyed my experiences here, I returned many times in spite of there being so many coffee shops and so little time. Whether it’s starting an iced coffee with a bit of velvety steamed milk, or putting five minutes of attention into a pour over drip coffee, it is the preparation excellence that makes this shop shine. Their Red Line espresso, named after the train line that takes Edgewater downtown, is intensely mid-toned, chocolaty and resinous with bright tart sparkles in the end. I think modern day vampires might also find this exquisite espresso a nice substitute, as it reminds me a little of the sanguineous flavor for which they so pine.New Wave CoffeeNew Wave Coffee While at the Milwaukee Ave arts festival, I went to this shop a couple times.  They served Metropolis espresso in a festive and artsy atmosphere so appropriate to the neighborhood.  The hipster vibe was pleasant and their treatment of Metropolis’ offerings was nicely done.  On afternoon a walk down Clark Street brought me to a couple more coffee shops, Koppi and Coffee Studio. Koppi a Traveler’s CaféWalking in this shop transported me some mid-oriental market place. In the front windows were low tables with cushions to recline by. They focused on their world food offerings and their espresso from Coffee and Tea exchange was on the upper end of adequate. The atmosphere was so killer there, however, that I can see why it is an area favorite. Coffee StudioBack up Clark toward Edgewater I found Coffee Studio. They were serving Intelli’s Black Cat espresso.  I had a friendly conversation with the barista about my espresso experiences so far in Chicago.  We both agreed that the Black Cat was strangely mellow that day.  Black Cat has a deep low end and usually has a tobacco smokiness. Today that earthy quality was muted.  We could only speculate that it was because of the extraordinary humidity that Chicago was subjected to during that heat wave. The atmosphere was more refined here than most of the other shops I visited.  Clean lines and modern finishes gave it an upwardly mobile feel.Caffe StreetsMy doppio and cortado at Caffe StreetsOn our way home from Minnesota, I was able to hit one of the many shops I missed during our stay.  I chose to go to Caffe Streets, which is the progeny of Barista Champion Mike Philips. This is the most refined coffee shop I have ever visited. Rich woods are layered on every surface from the counters to the ceiling. They serve Black Cat along with one or two single origin coffees as espresso every day. I sampled the El Salvadoran Santa Anna from Handsome Roasters as a single origin espresso.  While lacking the roundness of a blend, it held up quite well to the extraction. It produced a tar[...]

Sleepless nights


During the three weeks we spent in Chicago, our sabbatical was restful. We focused on enjoying community life and learning how it works. Now that we are staying with my parents, it seems that the weight of our responsibility for the church is upon me again. I feel like now is the time for us to work on dreaming and planning.

Last night I was agitated and stressed. Elaine didn’t seem ready to do this work and I was feeling the stress of it. I mused and fumed, dared to dream and abandoned all hope in turn. I remembered, before we left, how I recognized that it would take faith to leave the church in God’s hands. Last night I was worrying again that there might not be a church to come back to. I remembered prayer times at The Nidge. There was a sandy pot where one could leave a candle burning. I wished I had that available to me – to leave my need and prayer before God in a tangible way and put my care back in God’s hands. It was about two in the morning when I found a solution. I turned the light on in the bathroom and left that light burning as a prayer before God. Understand I know my prayer is always before God, but tonight I needed a way to walk away, leaving it there before God.

Even after the stress left me, I still couldn’t sleep. Other projects came to mind. I began redesigning a spinner ring, planning the custom pieces I would need machined. I pondered how to create an automatic bell to chime for times of prayer that would also be kinetic art. Wherever I turned, my brain wouldn’t let me sleep.

Living in Community


I am starting to get a sense of the joys of living in community as well as the work involved. My favorite feature of community so far is evening prayer, especially when followed by a community meal. This is where living together for the sake growing in Christ really shines.

Today I made porcupine meatballs. I made one batch in our normal way and tried another batch as a vegetarian dish using black beans. Apparently the rice I used was not of the par-boiled variety so they wound up kind of crunchy.  But the real joy was sitting together at a picnic table by the street curb enjoying the meal together even as the rest of the neighborhood passed by, seeing the clouds reflect the setting sun and the fireflies joining us to entertain the kids. It is an idyllic life.

It is also a lot of work. I can see already how difficult it can be to keep channels of communication open. It has been especially difficult with the intense heat this week, we spent the last couple evenings in our air conditioned room rather than chatting. Last night we had a wonderful reading of the first half of Othello, but I was strangely withdrawn not even daring to read.  It will be interesting to see how the next weeks play out and if what binds me loosens its grip.  I think three weeks may be just about right.  One is over too fast, like a vacation.  Two is comfortable. By three we ought to have gotten to the real work of living in community under a spiritual rule.


Union and Communion


(image) The Union and Communion by J. Hudson Taylor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a surprisingly mystical work from the founder of the China Inland Mission. I found it passionately written. Taylor takes a look at the Song of Solomon through the eyes of a Christian Mystic. He identifies with the bride enraptured in her bridegroom, sick with love. In her he finds the dramatic experience of the believer, at one time caught up in union with Christ, at another feeling the pain of separation because of her own heart "prone to wander."

Taylor also betrays a glimpse of his own soul. This hero of modern missions has the heart of a mystic - not one caught up in the navel-gazing which causes many to impugn the mystics, but one whose ardent love for his Beloved stirs him to action.

When she is separated from him for the second time, the bride tells the daughters of Jerusalem how lovely he is, her heart inflamed and faint with love, growing more so as she tells it. (SS 5:9-16)
The LION of the tribe of Judah is to His own bride the KING of love; and, with full heart and beaming face, she so recounts His beauties that the daughters of Jerusalem are seized with strong desire to seek Him with her that they also may behold His beauty.

This is why Hudson Taylor went to China! His heart was so full of his savior's beauty that he had to share it. In comparing the church to the bride of Solomon, he also declares that this is the experience of every Christian, to be so wholly in love with Christ that mission flows from the heart like honey from the comb.

View all my reviews

A mistake I often make.


I often inadvertently confuse these two words. For the record, this is a man wearing a cassock:
And this is a man wearing a Cossack:


A Screamo Easter


There are three Sundays in particular that cause me consternation: Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. These celebrations are so meaningful to me and the christian faith, that I struggle to communicate them with creativity and pathos appropriate to their inherent specialness.

Easter is coming in a couple days and my soul wants to scream He Lives. The music for the season communicates powerfully with their words but the tunes are reminiscent of marshmallow peeps.
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The best rendition of Christ the Lord Is Risen Today that I could find is this one. It is up beat and modern, but in a smooth jazz/r&b sort of way. To communicate the joy and rapture that ought to be bursting from our hearts, the jazz should be rough and the blues sexy. I feel like if I gave voice to my soul I should scream it out half choking on the emotion - I want to hear P.O.D. or Blindside's rendition!

We cannot celebrate Easter hard enough!  Death, the grave and hell conquered by the unfathomed awful rising of the triumphant King!

The Aesthetic Thread


I have come to see an aesthetic thread running through my life. It is there in my tastes in music, art, literature, food, and drink. The spectacular thing is that this thread resonates with my passion for God like the string on a violin. Holy Longing marks my relationship with God. I have a passionate desire for intimacy with my Divine Lover that has its root in Eros and stretches for Agape. There is a bittersweet quality to our intercourse, my God and I. When I feel surrounded by God’s presence I feel joy and comfort, satisfaction and wholeness, but I also feel tears well up and a lump come to my throat. I rest in God’s presence and at the same time I mourn that I am not consummated and consumed in divine rapture. I have chosen words that may shock the reader with erotic connotations. This is appropriate because the holy longing I am describing is wholly a function of Eros. It is the divine spark and divine madness spoken of by philosophers and mystics alike. Because of this foundational longing in my heart for the divine, my soul is stirred by aesthetic experiences that remind me of that relationship. Like the sent of a lover these qualities evoke in my soul the emotions and connection I have in God. They can serve as avenues into God’s presence and touchstones returning me to awareness of my love and position in God. Image by Getty Images via @daylifeThe experience that has given me the most insight into this aesthetic thread is that of my search for great espresso. As I have gotten more into espresso I have found that there is a particular flavor profile for which I am searching. It has rumbling bass tone that dominates and wrestles with my tongue. It is a tough sensibility. I have come to see in this rumbling my desire to be mastered by the Divine. It cries with my soul, “Batter my heart three person’d God!” This flavor profile also has a clean fresh treble to balance and finish the experience in sweetness. It was a great epiphany to recognize that I taste God in that shot. How apt that baristas call the best shot they have ever pulled a god shot. In music this quality has its expression in passionate, emotional digging in. I love to play the Bari Sax because it so effortlessly digs in with a growl. This is also why I love my jazz not smooth but rough. I love blues and the vocal turns of Ella Fitzgerald. Sing to me of the soul’s deepest longings! Lay down the boogie and play that funky music, please!I love the bittersweet tang of Russian literature. Take this ending to a short story by Anton Chekhov. Aptly titled "A Dreary Story," it chronicles the thoughts of a dying man and focuses on his fatherly love for his ward, Katya.A silence follows. Katya straightens her hair, puts on her hat, then crumples up the letters and stuffs them in her bag -- and all this deliberately, in silence. Her face, her bosom, and her gloves are wet with tears, but her expression now is cold and forbidding. . . . I look at her, and feel ashamed that I am happier than she. The absence of what my philosophic colleagues call a general idea I have detected in myself only just before death, in the decline of my days, while the soul of this poor girl has known and will know no refuge all her life, all her life!"Let us have lunch, Katya," I say."No, thank you," she answers coldly. Another minute passes in silence. "I don't like Harkov," I say; "it's so grey here -- such a grey town.""Yes, perha[...]



What accounts for this hopeful feeling that fills me today?  Crazy consolation.  I feel as though dreams might really come true. What a wonderful God-feeling.(image)