The Starbus

Every Sunday morning we have about 45 minutes between early service and our Sunday school class. This is a perfect opportunity for couples and families to hang out, get to know each other in a deeper way, and welcome newcomers to the church. Then again, it's an even better opportunity for 8 guys to hop in a 7-passenger van and head for the nearest Starbucks.

This is a perfect opportunity to discuss the nuances of this week's sermon and how it applies to the week ahead. Then again, this is a once-a-week chance to learn how not to wire a 6500 watt theatrical light, review the best of last week's late night comedy, and solve three or four pressing national issues before an overworked barista can prepare a dozen lattes to go.

The short ride back is filled with the intoxicating aroma of arabica beans and the first effects of the triple-shot brew. This is a perfect opportunity to wax philosophical and bemoan the lack of Christian influence in art, film and literature. Then again, more practical matters usually surface, such as which car model offers the optimum cup holder design and provides the best anti-blurp suspension.

Coffee in hand and handed out, we take our seats in a comfortable setting designed for relaxed discussion and dialogue. This is a perfect opportunity to systematically talk through the thoughtfully prepared conversation starter materials in the church bulletin. Then again, when else does an eclectic group of 25 adults get a chance to argue, cajole, debate, contradict and pontificate with few repercussions and still be friends when we're done?

I've missed plenty of opportunities along the way, but we've all been given the opportunity of a lifetime. And a lifetime is a perfect opportunity to explore new territory, make great friends, and discover what God had planned all along.

Posted October 7, 2009
Add a Marginal Comment (2)

Terms of Endearment

Since Katy and I often brainstorm together on story development for her writing projects, I thought it be fun to come to this year's ACFW conference and learn more about the process. I was amazed by the quantity and quality of the information delivered by some great presenters. I'm sure I only absorbed a small fraction of what was taught, and I may have even dozed off once or twice due to the non-stop schedule. Nevertheless, I will attempt here to illustrate some of the elements that the experts agree make fiction more compelling:

Noble Goal: The intention to spend all day Saturday helping with housework.

Conflict: The fact that two very important college football games are on TV this Saturday.

Tension: A sense of foreboding due to not remembering if I actually promised Katy I would help with housework.

Micro-tension: Katy and I standing in front of a pile of dirty dishes. Our eyes meet.

Dark moment: Those eyes are irresistible. I blurt out that I am available all day and in fact, Katy deserves much more help than I have offered in the past.

Denouement: I was wrong. The football games are next Saturday. While working together, we find time to discuss Katy's writing project and apply some of our newly gained insight and inspiration to her story.

Epilogue: Now, instead of only being able to remark "Good scene!" or "I don't get this.", I'll be able to offer the much more helpful, "The character arc of your protagonist lacks sufficient motivation to raise the stakes and advance the story."

Katy will be so glad I was paying attention.

Posted September 25, 2009
Add a Marginal Comment (6)

Life Verse

While enjoying dinner with new friends during the ACFW Conference, the subject of having a "life verse" came up. As each friend shared the scripture verse that most profoundly spoke to their life, a little bit of their heart and journey was revealed. Even the one who had never heard of the concept could immediately point to a passage that had uniquely shaped her faith.

I suppose every verse in the Bible is a life verse ("The words I have spoken to you...are life." John 6:63), but certainly some seem to carry special personal significance for a certain time or even for a lifetime.

Years ago I was praying about a career change and was unsure how to discern between what I wanted and what God wanted. In one of those unexpected moments, God reminded me of the verse, "Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart." (Psalm 37:4) God gently let me know that if I delight in Him—enjoy His presence, His word, His people, His creation—God will align my desires with His. That's a truth that would take a lifetime to get right.

The only danger in leaning on a life verse is that life changes, and while what God said is eternal, God's word is alive and relevant right now. I don't want to forget or ignore what God has promised in the past, but I never want to miss what God is saying today. You never know at what unexpected moment God may bring to mind a verse or passage that sets a new course or shines light on God's plan in a new way.

Recently I asked my lovely wife "What's for dinner?" and Katy suggested I change my life verse to the words God spoke to Peter in Acts 10:13.

"Rise, kill and eat."

Posted September 21, 2009
Add a Marginal Comment (2)

Just Say Yes

"God wants to give us something, but cannot, because our hands are full—there's nowhere for Him to put it.”

St. Augustine

Before the end of the sixth grade, I had stopped practicing my clarinet. From a twelve-year-old point of view, other opportunities looked more appealing. As promised, lack of practice was a deal breaker, and Mom returned the rented instrument and told the band teacher I was no longer interested.

This led to a tragedy of pubescent proportions. When the next school year began, I was placed in the seventh grade General Music class.

I was horrified. Scales, time signatures, fermatas—I knew this stuff cold, but by some great injustice I was being forced to sit in la-la-la-la-la land with the uninitiated.

The final straw came as we spectators marched into the first band concert of the year. Forty kids sat on stage adjusting their glimmering instruments and, I was sure, looking down on us mere mortals of the “audience” species.

I know this is weird, but I cried. The next day, I joined the band.

Each time we make a choice, it seems as though a few neural connections get created, which make that same choice easier in the future. Over time, it takes an increasing degree of resolve to change course. Sometimes being told No is just the thing needed to get nudged back onto the right track.

Fast forward five years to a lively gathering in upstate New York, where my sister and I are listening as an itinerant evangelist invites us to give our lives to Jesus Christ.

Our attendance was the result of a grade school teacher inviting a Catholic family (us) to hear a gospel choir in a Baptist church. Catholics were plentiful in Rome, New York, but rare in Baptist pews. Rare enough that the pastor and church members took a special interest in our presence, making house calls, inviting us to Christian movies, and letting us know when Billy Graham was on TV.

When a new Billy Graham movie came to town, we happily went along, unaware that the church had actually rented the theater, and that the movie would be followed by a real, live preacher inviting movie goers to pray at the foot of the screen. Afterwards, my mom told us she literally had to sit on her hands to keep from responding. For some reason, while I was happy for the people that did respond, I didn’t have the slightest clue that the message applied to me as well.

How God actually gets through to a teenage boy is still a mystery to me, but the words began to take root, and I slowly realized that the Inviter had not been the person holding the microphone. The Inviter was the God of Universe. The invitation was convincing because of the need for forgiveness, but compelling because of Who was doing the inviting.

Which brings us back to the gathering, where I absolutely knew that the message applied to me, and that I was ready to say yes. Or so I thought. As the invitation was given, my mind told my body to move, but nothing happened. Stuck in my chair, seemingly against my will, I watched as others surrendered their lives to a loving Savior.

Later that night, when I told my sister what had happened, she said she had experienced much the same thing. So we made a pact to return the next night and make public our new found faith, no matter what. The next night, before the preacher was half a sentence into his invitation, my sister and I jumped up and stood at the makeshift altar.

No moment has had a more profound effect on my life. Except possibly the moment on the previous night, when we made a decision to respond to God’s calling regardless of the obstacles.

You’d think I would have learned by now, but still the smallest of barriers often keeps me from doing the most important things. How many times have I stubbornly resisted or ignored God’s gifts that were just a decision away?

So if you see me sitting on my hands when the right choice is clearly right in front of me, feel free to kick the chair out from under me. (Just to clarify, I was talking to God in that last sentence.)

Posted April 4, 2005
Add a Marginal Comment (5)

Home Repair

"The home is not the one tame place in a world of adventure; it is the one wild place in a world of rules and set tasks."

G. K. Chesterton

Years ago, I spoke with a co-worker who had just returned from a week-long honeymoon with her new husband.

“So, how’s married life?” I asked.

I felt dumb for not coming up with a more eloquent or meaningful question. At the time, Katy and I were still newlyweds ourselves. We worked opposite shifts, and felt completely tortured by the fact that we could not spend every minute together. (I know, cue the violins.)

But this is why the woman’s response was such a surprise.

“Same old crap.”

I can still hear the resignation and matter-of-fact tone in her voice. I remembered that she had been living with the guy for several years, and that the marriage was more of a convenience than an expression of their devotion.

This was hard to relate to as a young, happily married guy, and twenty-eight years later, seems just as strange. One thing Katy has never been is “same old.” Katy is a surprise, and almost always a pleasant one.

I’m not sure she can say the same about me, since I tend to settle into comfortable patterns and predictable responses. But this morning’s Easter sermon brought a challenge to let God bring things to life that have been dormant, or maybe didn’t exist at all. I can’t think of anything better I could give Katy this year.

Not that this undermines the importance of reinforcing, repeating, and remembering the things that God has done in our lives. I’m just thinking that reprise and surprise can work together very nicely.

The awakenings of Spring are familiar, habitual, and similar to the year before—and this is part of what we love about the season. But the feeling that everything is brand new is undeniable. And, in fact, things are brand new—each emerging leaf, flower, bud, and seedling had never existed until this moment in time.

After God created the world, the Bible says He rested; it doesn’t say He stopped. That’s encouraging for a guy who still has more than a few missing parts.

"If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new."
2 Corinthians 5:17

Posted March 27, 2005
Add a Marginal Comment (3)


"What is worst of all is to advocate Christianity, not because it is true, but because it might prove useful."

T. S. Eliot, The Idea of a Christian Society

For some strange reason known only to God and my mother, at the age of ten, I was given the job of being the chief mashed-potato maker in our home. I might have interpreted this honor as recognition of my knack for the culinary arts if it wasn't for the fact that we are talking about instant mashed-potatoes here. Flakes, water, butter, and salt. Not a likely start to a hit series on the Food channel.

While other kids were getting, "Johnny can throw harder than anybody on the team," or, "Allison was born to play piano," I got, "Nobody makes mashed-potatoes quite like Dougie."

It was years before I understood the method in mom's flattery, and I don't blame her for using whatever strategy worked to get some needed help from a very unmotivated kid. But being valued for one's usefulness definitely had more benefit for the value-er than for the value-ee.

If assigning usefulness to another person seems selfish, what happens when we do the same thing with God? How do I use thee, God? Let me count the ways...

Getting my way. Impressing my friends. Enhancing my reputation. Getting out of a jam.

It's human nature to want my way, so recruiting God for that purpose has an certain logic, and a sneaky way of seeming right. It's that fact that makes what Jesus did on Good Friday all the more amazing.

"Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death–even death on a cross!" Philipians 2:5–8

God help this flake get out of his box and be a real servant for You.

Posted March 24, 2005
Add a Marginal Comment (2)

Class Dismissed

Kevin is attending two colleges this year—Johnson County Community College (which, according to Kevin, is cool) and Longview Community College (which, according to Kevin, sucks). This perspective is due to the fact that we live just inches over the state line in Missouri (which, according to Kevin, sucks), and most of Kevin's friends live on the Kansas side (which, according to Kevin, is cool).

When Kevin brought up his interest in photography again, I suggested that he should consider taking a photography class next semester.

"I don't think so," Kevin said. "I'd have to do it at Longview to get the in-state tuition, and Longview sucks."

"You're saying you would abandon something you really enjoy, jeopardize your future career opportunities, and give up a lifetime goal just because you don't like the campus?"

"Oh Dad, that's so lame."

If only I hadn't avoided that debate class because the other kids weren't cool, I'm sure I would have had a snappy comeback.

Posted March 12, 2005
Add a Marginal Comment (1)

Questionable Answers

Cindy Swanson, writer, interviewer and radio personality extraordinaire, is conducting Random Blogospheric Pseudo-Interviews with Random Blogospheric Pseudo-Bloggers...

1) When you were a little boy, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A pro golfer. Each year, a new plastic-ball, 18-hole course was mapped out covering several adjacent lawns, and the same foursome conducted a summer-long tournament. I think the ultimate winner had a score of about 327 over par.

2) You've been given an entire day to do whatever you want, and money is no object. What would you do?
First of all, thank you Cindy for such a kind offer! I think I'd hire a room full of hot dog studio musicians, rent out the top local recording studio, and record some worship tunes. But this is why I bought the Mac I am typing on, so I need to get going on this project anyway, minus the cool studio and the hot dogs.

3) Do you have a favorite sport or sports team? Why or why not?
Definitely the 1964 Rome, New York, Little Leaque, Lake Delta Cubs. I was such a pathetic player, my poor dad had little to cheer about--but in '64, our team somehow made it to the finals. Late in the game I plunked my very first base hit over the second baseman's short reach, and started a rally which gave us the championship. Recently Katy pulled the trophy out of a dusty box in my mom's basement, and I'm completely embarrassed to say it now sits on a bookshelf in my office.

4) What do you like most about having a son?
We have two great sons. Just like the gasp of joy that came out of my mouth when the first was born, I continue to be surprised and amazed by the insights, integrity and compassion that God has put in their hearts. This is equally true for our lovely daughter, with the addition of bizarre dance routines thrown into the mix.

5) Why is my blog not linked on your sidebar? Yours has been on mine for quite some time. (Nothing like putting you on the spot, huh? )
I don't know what you mean. It's right there in the sidebar. ;)

Posted February 25, 2005
Add a Marginal Comment (5)

'Marginal' Rides on Coat Tails
of Famous Wife Blogger

This may be the best technique yet for promoting a new blog—marry up. The April edition of Writer's Digest Personal Writing magazine includes a blurb about (and a mention of

This follows a trend that started when we got engaged—I didn't own a car of my own, so we shared Katy's. Katy will soon receive her British citizenship, and I will be grafted in with no questions asked. And if Katy ever runs for President, I could turn out to be the first First Husband.

Some guys have all the luck.

Personal Writing Blog Spot

Posted February 21, 2005
Add a Marginal Comment (1)

Our Father

"Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father. To my God and your God.’"

John 20:17

I stared straight up, wondering if I should take the risk. I had no idea how to begin, or if it was worth the effort at all. I had tried this before, but under very different circumstances. In the past, there were rules, guidelines, tab-A-in-slot-B instructions. Now it was solo, no hymnal, no one waving a baton or saying “repeat after me.”

I opened my mouth and began.


I didn’t know what to say next—I figured something would come. Instead, Someone came. I can’t explain it, but it felt for a moment like all of heaven had postponed whatever was on the day’s agenda to listen to one incoming voice. God interrupted. The Father had heard my whispered call, and bent down to listen.

I knew nothing about the concept of a “prayer request,” so I was coming empty handed. Only a few hours had passed since I first believed, and had followed along in a prayer to commit my life to Jesus. Now it seemed like enough just to know that God Himself was my Father, and that He was listening. What more could I ask? I rolled over and fell asleep—maybe the most peaceful sleep of my sixteen-year-old life.

That day I asked for nothing more. It was enough to see a tiny glimpse of what is real around us every day. The reality of God’s determination to bring us into an intimate Father-child relationship with Himself was forever exposed when Jesus sacrificed His life on the cross for our sins and then rose from the dead to return to heaven.

But between those two events, He met Mary in the garden to make sure His disciples did not miss the eternal significance of what was taking place.

“Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father. To my God and your God.’”

Before this time the scripture spoke of the God of creation and the Father of a nation, but this was the moment that we were invited to address God as my Father and my God. The last time that God had walked in a garden it was to banish Adam and Eve from His presence and from His blessings. This time the curse was undone, the door reopened, and a new invitation announced.

Jesus sent Mary to the disciples with the essential message of the Gospel. The events they had just witnessed, and the resurrection He was making known, were for this purpose. “Tell them that my Father is now your Father, and my God is your God.”

This should have come as no surprise to the disciples if they had been paying attention at all. Three years earlier, when Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, His first two words revealed more about why He came, more about what He would finish on the cross, and more about the way God desired to relate to us than a mountain of books could have communicated.

“Our Father...”

Posted February 18, 2005
Add a Marginal Comment (4)

Irish Valentine

"Love never fails."

I Corinthians 13:8

In January, Katy and I decided that for each of this year’s gift-giving occasions, instead of buying things we didn’t need, we would put a sum of money into our Ireland travel fund. As an alternative to floral arrangements, golf balls, nightgowns, sweaters, and wall hangings, a gift that gives us more time together is probably not a bad idea.

When today arrived I wasn’t so sure. We went out for dinner, of course, and exchanged valentines, but somehow the plan felt inadequate. But what could possibly be an adequate gift for a woman who has given her life and soul to me? What’s the SKU number for the item that equals the devotion, friendship, and passion that Katy has never tired of giving?

Early in our marriage when even going out to dinner was not an option, we would bring home fake crab meat from the discount supermarket, put the kids to bed early, and sit down at our cheap dinette table for a romantic, candlelight meal. No amount of spending has ever equaled the sweetness of those moments, the effortlessness of our conversations, or the look in Katy’s eyes.

Today’s dinner out was much fancier, the steak was real, and there were no babies crying in the next room — but the sweetness didn’t come from the surroundings — it came from the woman I have loved for twenty-eight years.

Some days seem impossible and arguments irreconcilable — but ultimately our words move toward healing, and our conversations reconnect us.

Valentine’s day still has its share of leaky roofs, mothers-in-law, health issues, exhaustion, and frustration — but the sparkle in Katy’s eyes as we ceremoniously dropped money in our travel pot was all I needed today.

Together is a very good idea.

Posted February 14, 2005
Add a Marginal Comment (4)

Feel Free

"I'm not afraid of dying. I just don't want to be there when it happens."

Woody Allen

I'm surprised how often I see people cringe when the subject of dying comes up in conversation. As if somehow the discussion will hurry the day of our demise.

Of course, there are a lot of things I'd rather not talk about. Right at the top of that list would be "feelings". It's not that I am afraid of my feelings. I just don't want to be there when they happen.

To be clear, I'm not talking about the emotional moments when a performance by one of the kids takes my breath away, or when I'm stunned all over again by how much Katy loves me, or even when I can't finish the hymn we are singing on Sunday morning because I'm overcome by God's kindness.

I'm talking about the soul searching and self-assessment required when some well-meaning person asks, "So, how do you feel about this?" Like I have a clue. And do I have to feel something about everything? Somehow that idea steals something away from the importance of feelings in the first place. If feelings were that easy to sum up in words, would they be as meaningful as we know they are?

It's like printing and framing every snapshot you click off with your high-res digital camera. Admit it. Some are destined for the delete button. Others might represent a nice enough subject, but not the moment that matters or the candid that captures the essence. Even the best are only a dim reflection of reality.

So you see, I don't mind being there when death happens. But when it does, I sure don't want to feel it.

(Thanks to Michael O'Connnor for suggesting this quote. Feel free to send your favorites our way.)

Posted January 22, 2005
Add a Marginal Comment (6)

My Other Blog's a Rolls Royce

Self-deprecation is an established trend in the blogosphere. Apparently, thousands of online writers have taken Romans 12:3 very seriously:

"Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought."

Exhibit A: URLs found in the blogging universe:


    Exhibit B: Tagline from a Typepad blog:

  • "Pointless and absurd ramblings on nothing in particular."

    Exhibit C: This blog:


    But wait—I can explain! And it's all Katy's fault!

    I have never seen Katy read a book, fiction or nonfiction, without a pen in her left hand. By the time she's done, more pages than not are filled with notes, corrections, ideas, and comments. And when I am reading a book that she has already read, some of the best stuff is in the margins. (Along with some juicy gossip if she happened to get a phone call while the book was in her hand.)

    The margin is a place to react, ask questions, and make things personal. That's the real trend in the blogosphere, no matter what the title or tagline. Blogs give us a place to take notes on life as it's going by. (And, as we all know, there are no stupid questions, just stupid blogs.)

    But since I am partly responsible for the scarcity of quality domain names, I have done some research and I'm happy to report that these choice names are still available:


    Before you run out and register, it might be helpful to consider the rest of the verse mentioned above:

    "…but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you."

    I wonder if is available?

    Posted January 12, 2005
    Add a Marginal Comment (8)

    Around the Block

    As a free public service to bloggers and writers, I am extending an invitation to begin the year by confessing your darkest reasons for succumbing to writer’s block.

    Here is a list of who I blame, I mean... a list of my own pathetic excuses:

    1. Mom took drugs. Okay, only during labor and delivery, but at least one of the cc’s went straight to the part of my brain where coherent sentences are pieced together. Smthng’s mssng.

    2. The Feds censored me. Too many government forms contain the words “Do not write in this space.” This has always bugged me. What do they do with that space anyway, and why can't I write in it? I’ve considered organizing my own IRS-gate break-in, complete with flashlights and miniature cameras to solve this mystery. The subliminal and insidious message is that white space is sacred, off-limits, and inviolable.

    3. I respect white space. Once written on, a blank page is no longer a blank page. A blank page has all the promise and possibility of Wildeian wit, Lewisian logic, and Tolkienian trilogies. But once writing begins, the sad truth emerges.

    I could go on. Or maybe not.

    So I hereby make these rebuttals to my own whining...

    1. If something is missing, who’s to say it isn't just the boring parts?

    2. If white space is sacred, it is sacred only because it provides an opportunity for new ideas, imagination, and creation.

    3. If it is sad truth that emerges, there is still something to be said for any truth at all emerging.

    What are your excuses, and better yet, what is your plan for a more prolific 2005?

    Posted January 4, 2005
    Add a Marginal Comment (7)

    Alone Again

    The January '05 issue of Christianity Today offers this story as insight into the state of the church in America:

    A man is rescued after twenty years alone on a desert island. His rescuer is astonished to find that the castaway has built several imposing structures.

    "Wow!" the rescuer says. "What's that beautiful stone building overlooking the bay?"

    "That is my home," the castaway says.

    "And what about that building over there, with the spires?"

    "That," the castaway says, "is my church."

    "But wait!" the rescuer says. "That building over there, with the bell tower. What is that?"

    "That is the church I used to belong to."

    May your roots go deep in 2005!

    Posted January 1, 2005
    Add a Marginal Comment (5)

    Charity Began at Home

    "Dear children, let us stop just saying we love each other; let us really show it by our actions."

    John 3:18 NLT

    My mom dropped a dollar in the collection plate at church each week. But this was not the total of her giving. Before the offering began, she rifled through the spare change at the bottom of her purse in order to let the three kids in on the act. A quarter for the oldest, a dime for me, and a nickel for the youngest.

    Even at a young age, I could understand the wisdom of this investment. So much for so little—the three-story cathedral, ornate altar, numerous employees, an unlimited supply of doughnuts in the fellowship hall after service. All this for a buck-forty a week.

    It was magical, mysterious, and mystical—just like church was supposed to be. When the lesson came around about Jesus pulling the coin from the fish's mouth, it made me feel downright biblical. (Mom's purse was even shaped a little like a fish.) We never held out much hope for seeing a bona fide miracle happen in our midst, but this multiplication of the coins and dollars was good enough.

    Not that our family could not have afforded to be more charitable. We lived in the suburbs and Dad had a professional career. He wasn't a church-goer, so maybe Mom thought that she shouldn't rob Dad to pay St. Paul's. Or maybe it just didn't seem necessary. Somehow the church continued its mission, the community food pantry remained well-stocked, and the doughnut supply never dwindled.

    It was that childhood perspective that made me appreciate the radical change in my parents after they committed their lives to Jesus. But it went well beyond the money that they now generously gave in response to needs.

    Mom developed the habit of becoming friends with some very down-and-out women, paying their bills, taking them to church, even inviting them to live in her home for months at a time. In many cases there was little payback for her investment—one committed suicide, another returned to witchcraft. But to this day, at age 84, she still recieves letters from a lady who claims that her life was eternally changed by my mom's kindness.

    Dad became a frequent sight at several area youth ministry houses, rewiring electrical circuits, repairing washing machines, and even teaching other young guys tricks of the trade. When he became bed-ridden with cancer, he would frequently ask about the health of his former work associates, so we could pray at his bedside for people he felt were more needy.

    It's the picture of their later years that has given me the best glimpse into what Mathew 8:10 should look like in the church. "Freely you have received, freely give."

    I know the American church has seriously dropped the ball in this area in recent years. But I find it difficult to point my finger or complain. I have received too freely from God to accuse or to accumulate. Now is the time to give.

    Posted December 31, 2004
    Add a Marginal Comment (0)

    Lights of My Life

    Merry Christmas from the Raymond'sI thought I would have fewer lights this year.

    For the past several years I would take advantage of the after-Christmas near give-away deals to add to our indoor and outdoor lighting inventory. Only when the next season rolled around did I feel a tinge of regret as the time required to wire and decorate expanded to more than I bargained for.

    This year I pulled the plug. Well, some of the plugs.

    When Katy and I finished our pared-down displays, youngest son Kevin walked in and nodded with approval.

    "I love it just like this."

    The lights from the single string over the mantel reflected in his baby-blue eyes in a way that made his face glow brighter than the tree across the room.

    Daughter Carrie arrived home from college and along with the usual multiple bags of laundry and God-knows how many pairs of shoes, the joy in her smile made her look like the Christmas star itself had parked over her head.

    Oldest son Scott called to say he and his new bride would come early on Christmas Eve so we could have a little more time to hang out before the extended family arrived. I have never seen a kid so lit up as the day he married our new daughter-in-law Brooke. She has that mix of outward beauty and inward warmth that eliminates the need for a fireplace on a cold winters day.

    I looked at Katy and realized that she has never once pared-down her love and devotion toward me and our family. She has lit a fire in my heart that still grows brighter every day that we're together.

    I thought I would have fewer lights this year. I was wrong.

    I love it just like this.

    Posted December 23, 2004
    Add a Marginal Comment (6)


    "Tug on anything at all and you'll find it connected to everything else in the universe."

    John Muir

    Except for my computer.

    Living outside the city limits creates the need to look for alternatives to connectivity, since cable modems or DSL are not among the options. (Actually, it creates the need to look for alternatives to the fire trucks and ambulances, but I'll get back to that.) We tried an ISDN line for a while, but on more than one occasion the connection box at the street was mowed down by an over-zealous county employee.

    In an attempt to upgrade, we had an MCI technician come out to test our location for their cool, wireless broadband service, but it required a 30 mile line-of-site to a tower in downtown Kansas City, and, well, there was a tree or two in the way.

    The final option was the satellite dish we currently use—or at least try to use when the sky is not too cloudy, or sunspots are not too active, or snow hasn't piled up on the dish, or other customers aren't actually trying to connect at the same time. If our marriage was anything like our internet connection, we would need to re-introduce ourselves every time we spoke.

    Unfortunately, emergency services in our neighborhood are alot like our internet connection. When our neighbors Ron and Becky were building their house, Becky fell nearly two stories from an extension ladder and landed on her back in the front yard. Without a phone line or another house within shouting distance, Ron ran quite a ways to use a neighbor's phone and request an ambulance ASAP. Becky was on the ground for forty-five minutes with broken bones and a punctured lung before the paramedics arrived.

    This could have been related to the fact that while, technically, our street has a name, there are no street signs to reveal it, and that recently the county decided to renumber the addresses, and actually assigned the numbers out of sequence. Becky was fine, but the lower property taxes have lost some of their appeal.

    The concept of "connected" did not originate with the digital age of course, and technology creates disconnects at least as often as it brings together. If God built connectivity into the universe, then man has done more to pull the plug than to expand the network.

    Years ago, one of the fist successful online communities, known as The Well, collectively decided that they should try to meet in real life to expand their relationships. The gathering occurred, but a number of computers were in the room, and gradually the event devolved into small groups of people crowded around each computer monitor, describing the event to other members of the community.

    Digital connections are never uncomfortable, and rarely deep. Real connections are sometimes uncomfortable, but give God a place to be present. Networks will never replace God's work in bringing us together.

    Case in point: our daughter called yesterday on her cell phone to let us know when she was coming home for the holidays. She was saying something about how great it will be for the whole family to be together, but we lost the connection.

    Posted December 16, 2004
    Add a Marginal Comment (2)

    Story Time

    "Most people want to wake up in the morning with a general at the foot of their bed saying 'Go do this.' The problem is there's somebody at the foot of their bed saying, 'Once upon a time.'"
    N.T. Wright

    A long time ago, in a theater far, far away, Katy and I stood in line waiting to see the original Star Wars movie. A young boy was acting out a space-chase scene a little too energetically, when his parents demanded that he cool his jets. He fired back, "This is Star Wars, man! Get your imagination going!"

    For some reason, the phrase stuck, and made its way into many of our family conversations, substituting whatever the event of the moment is for "Star Wars."

    "This is a snow day, man! Get your imagination going!"

    Imagination, at least for grown-ups, takes prodding, nurturing, permission to enter our to-do list lives. But it takes even more than that to enter our spiritual lives. Even the phrase "Once upon a time" sounds doctrinally scandalous. We're comfortable when it's applied to fiction or myth, but not to history, and certainly not to Scripture. But what if it is applied to the today?

    Maybe I've gotten my days and nights mixed up. Last thing at night is when I finally stop to think, to read, to listen, to write, without the demands of the day interrupting. Sometimes I even take time to imagine. I wouldn't trade this time for anything, but the trouble is that the day is over.

    When tomorrow starts, it masquerades as already full. Plans, obligations, deadlines—or even fun, family, and friends. But still full. No space for the unknown, untried, or unsung. No permission to explore, experiment, or examine more closely what seemed like God's still, small voice the night before.

    Maybe it's the past and the future I've gotten mixed up. The past is written, published, and archived, and that's good. I can build on it. I can learn from it. But the future is empty. Empty in the good sense, like when the house you want to buy is vacant, or your favorite chair at Starbucks is unoccupied.

    The future is available, spacious, inviting, alluring. Yours. There is nothing more irrevocable than the past, and nothing more evocative than the future.

    This is life, man. Get your imagination going.

    Posted December 6, 2004
    Add a Marginal Comment (2)

    The Art of Creation

    "It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore."

    G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

    I read a lot of science books, including writers from agnostic as well as Christian perspectives. Making that distinction seems odd because you would think that science is science from any perspective. But philosophy is often not far under the surface.

    For instance, many writers imply that each scientific discovery, natural explanation, and uncovered cause erodes the need for a Creator. That somehow the things that we understand shorten the list of things for which we must give God credit. I think just the opposite is true. Knowledge does not cancel wonder, and wonder does not require ignorance.

    Henry Drummond coined the concept of the "God of the Gaps," or, the lack of scientific explanation used as evidence for God. Lack of understanding is evidence only of my own weakness. I am much more interested in the "God of the Facts." The heavens (and everything under them) declare the glory of God, and every insight we gain into the inner workings of creation tells God's story in a way that's hard to find elsewhere.

    As Drummond said, "Nature is God's handwriting. It can only tell the truth."

    Why did God create stars that no human will ever see, and reaches of space that no human will ever perceive? This is so impractical and unnecessary. I have no idea why, but the facts reveal much about God's over-the-top love and abundant grace.

    Sometimes you just have to gasp in wonder or even laugh out loud at God's awesome creation. I don't want to ask, "Should I be amazed, or is there a good scientific reason for this?" I am amazed and there is good scientific reason for this. Scientists my be among the world's best evangelists. Every fact that science uncovers makes man more humble and God more glorified.

    Don't forget to stop and smell the daisies.

    Posted December 1, 2004
    Add a Marginal Comment (3)

    [Back to Top]