23 January 2015


How often I (and we) fill the world with noise.  I do it with my unwanted and unnecessary proclamations.  I too often do it with words spoken, with blog posts, and Facebook comments(!)

But more fundamentally, I do violence to silence by attacking and disrespecting it within.  From out of the heart comes a riot of vanity and futility.  As Thomas Merton says in his book, No Man is an Island:

“Those who love their own noise are impatient of everything else.  They constantly defile the silence of the forests and the mountains and the sea.  They bore through silent nature in every direction with their machines, for fear that the calm world might accuse them of their own emptiness…

“If our life is poured out in useless words we will never hear anything in the depths of our hearts, where Christ lives and speaks in silence.  We will never be anything, and in the end, when the time comes for us to declare who and what we are, we shall be found speechless at the moment of the crucial decision:  for we shall have said everything and exhausted ourselves in speech before we had anything to say.”

My noise seduces me to worship a god made with my own hands and thoughts.  The deep well of silence brings me to recollection of the God who lives beyond words.

13 January 2015

enemies, miscreants, and other nasty people

Holding a grudge becomes a heavy burden.

“When we are free from the need to judge or condemn, we can become safe places for people to meet in vulnerability and take down the walls that separate them.  Being deeply rooted in the love of God, we cannot help but invite people to love one another.  When people realize that we have no hidden agendas or unspoken intentions, that we are not trying to gain any profit for ourselves, and that our only desire is for peace and reconciliation, they may find the inner freedom and courage to leave their guns at the door and enter into conversation with their enemies.” (Henri Nouwen)

Don’t kid yourself; we are surrounded by enemies—enemies within and enemies without.  Jesus is onto something when he says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

It can be a tall order to pray for one’s enemies, to wish them good and not harm.  It very often takes more than we have.  But when we’re able to actually pray for our enemies, it has a way of taking away the fun of hating them.  Loving your enemies helps take away the knee-jerk sting, the tightening in the chest, when we see them.  And crazily enough, we might actually find ourselves doing good for them!

We can leave our guns at the door.

31 December 2014

new year, new journey

2014 was an eventful year for us personally.  We celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary.  I “celebrated” my 50th birthday.  In our ministry, we made progress in the congregation we’re serving as interim co-pastors, albeit with some bumps along the road!

2015 will be the first year in which the future seems truly open.  In a month, we will be moving to Tennessee to live with my mom, mainly for health reasons.  We don’t know yet what church or ministry in which we will be involved.  We don’t know what we’ll be doing for money!

Of course, every year begins with an open future.  None of us knows what the year has in store.  We make our plans, but in a heartbeat, everything can change.  Still, it does feel like a bigger step of faith than we’ve ever taken (or maybe are comfortable with).

As C. S. Lewis says in Perelandra, “The thing was going to be done.  There was going to arrive, in the course of time, a moment at which he would have done it.  The future act stood there, fixed and unalterable as if he had already performed it.  It was a mere irrelevant detail that it happened to occupy the position we call future instead of that which we call past.” 

Here’s to the journey!

13 December 2014


Today is my final day of being in my 40s.  Tomorrow, I turn 50.  I will join Molly Shannon in saying, “I’m fifty years old!”  Although, I must confess that, unlike her character Sally O’Malley, I haven’t yet developed a love of kicking, stretching, and again, kicking.

Truth be told, I don’t feel like I’m fifty years old, whatever that means.  Aside from the occasional back ache, I almost feel like I did when I was in my 20s.  (Okay, my early 30s!)

10 December 2014

Mertonian rights

On this date in 1968, the world lost one of the great spiritual figures of the 20th century, Thomas Merton.  From his monastery in Kentucky, he was a prolific writer.  He commented, of course, on so-called “spiritual” topics, but he also had great insights into art, culture, social issues, and politics.  In his final years, he made major strides into interfaith dialogue, especially with Buddhism and Zen.  In fact, he was at a conference in Thailand pursuing those aims when, going back to his room, he was electrocuted by a faulty fan.

Merton had a keen understanding of something we seem to have regressed on:  torture.  The report on CIA torture that was finally released is testimony to that.  How sadly appropriate this comes as we observe Human Rights Day.

In his book, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, he speaks of torture as a struggle of the individual against a bankrupt process.  (Forgive the gender-exclusive language!)

“He who is tortured is reduced to a condition in which nature speaks instead of freedom, instead of conscience. Pain speaks, not the person. Torture is the instrument of those who fear personality, fear responsibility, and wish to convince themselves again and again that personality does not really exist. That freedom is weaker than natural necessity. That the person can be silenced by the demands of nature.

“In the calculated use of torture there is also a special evil. The person is pitted against the process in such a way that the process infallibly wins. From the inmost sanctuary of the individual person there is extracted, by means of torture, not the voice of the person, but the voice of the process. The tortured one does not merely echo the process, but he finally utters, from his own inmost self, the ‘confession of faith’ which bears witness to the reality of the process, and to the abdication of his own spiritual freedom.”

We often think of torture as violating one’s rights, one’s human dignity—and it certainly is that.  But even more, it is an assault on the human spirit.  We Americans can begin to address that evil, in part, by bringing the responsible parties to justice—not by simply releasing a report.