Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Reflections on the life and passing of Eugene Peterson

The passing of Eugene Peterson has hit me hard. Our connections were minimal in the scope of life and mostly long ago, but his influence, his soul and spirit touch, lasts.

I read A Long Obedience in the early 80's. The book stirred something deep within as I was awakening to life beyond the fundamentalism of my youth. I reached out via his publisher and he answered. A handwritten letter came my way and I was further smitten. More letters and phone calls led to arranging for him to be a summer speaker at the Christian conference center where I worked and lived.

He and Jan, his wife, arrived on a Sunday afternoon in August of 1983. He was driving a motorhome and wearing some sort of jumpsuit (something between garage mechanic and Air Force pilot). The look was quite a change from the only image I had of him in a black and white headshot wearing a clerical collar.

I spent the week in something of a fan fog. Conversations, his teaching, running, laughing at meals, and being with him.

Early in the week, Eugene confessed that he had made the mistake of making the conference commitment while forgetting the timing of he and Jan’s 25th Anniversary. It was happening that week. I think Wednesday was the day. He referenced it in a talk in a way that was more self-deprecating than sympathy seeking.

On the day of the Anniversary we had a cake from a local bakery at the conference dinner and recognized them as best we could. Being a twenty-something Conference staffer I thought (now I think foolishly) they needed something more to mark and celebrate their day.

So, after the evening session, I arranged for a kidnapping. With the help of some summer staff members, we pulled Eugene and Jan away from the crowd and were off in two camp cars. I was in the first car, maybe a Ford Pinto (?), with the Peterson’s and a second car followed. We wandered town for a time as darkness set in. Eventually, we arrived at a restaurant that overlooked the city and the bay. We had made some arrangements with the management and all seemed to come together well.

I told Jan and Eugene that we were leaving them. I gave them directions back to the conference center, car keys and a credit card. I was soon out the door.

The next day Eugene was gracious and we transitioned the keys and the credit card. The only specifics I remember from the conversation was Eugene saying he hoped that the credit card owner didn’t mind paying for alcohol. An indication he understood our setting too well.

I have wondered if our antics were a fun addition to their truncated celebration or an annoying nuisance. I guess I’ll have to let it rest as a part of the mystique of Eugene Peterson.

We had occasional connections over the following years. The intensity of knowing him diminished as others helped me along my way. But Eugene Peterson was the just right connection at a time of life need and his influence has permeated in ways I may never realize. For me he was a living example of grace and wisdom. Something we all need and long for. Something to treasure and something to miss, deeply miss.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

a deep dark well

I long for Van Gogh’s eyes.
To see dusky shadows and
ever-changing light;
drifting, bleeding, bouncing,
bursting, breathing, dancing.

Until I remember his despair,
his unending pain. How it burdened
and, eventually, buried him.
How he wrote these words
to Theo, his brother,

“I am so angry with myself because I cannot do
what I should like to do…, (it feels) as if
one were lying bound hand and foot
at the bottom of a deep dark well,
utterly helpless."

Sunday, April 22, 2018

long enough

I’ve lived long enough
to remember long ago
finding myself left with
flashes and fragments,
whispers and scraps
that spar for dominance
while being shaped and shared
to become the story, my story
in the way I choose
at the time I choose
with those I choose
until I can choose, 
no more

Monday, April 2, 2018

How I plan to spend Spring Break

Read a couple of books that will alter my life arc
Write the great American novel
Make connections to restore long fractured relationships
Lose weight

Spend soul feeding time with family and friends
Take long walks
Wash and wax my car
Maintain my weight

Binge watch mindless TV
Get my hair cut
Not give up on the Mariners
Not gain any weight

Alternate ending:
Remember to take my daily meds
Sleep without an alarm
Finish the damn taxes
Not gain too much weight

Monday, February 26, 2018

Lenten Reflections for 2018

Following is my contribution to From Ashes to Glory, St. Paul's 2018 Lenten Devotional:

February 20, 2018
AM Psalm 45; PM Psalm 47, 48
Genesis 37:12-24; 1 Corinthians 1:20-31; Mark 1:14-28

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the Scribe?
Where is the debater of this age?
Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God 
through wisdom. God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, 
to save those who believe.
- 1 Corinthians 1:20-21

Information is available, it’s easy, and can be overloading and stressful. The Technology Revolution has brought us to the Information Age; played out in Smart Phones. In a nanosecond we can Google the answer most questions or curiosities. We no longer wait for the evening news or morning paper.

No matter how much information we have we still need something more. That more is wisdom. Wisdom goes deeper. We can “learn” information but we must “earn” wisdom. Wisdom grows through struggles, listening, time, perseverance and well, life. Information can make us feel smart, but wisdom is more.

Living within a church community provides numerous opportunities to grow in wisdom. Some of those are:
  • ·Realizing that we are not God. Proper perspective and humility are a great place to start.
  • ·Space and opportunities for listening and learning where even questions and doubt are valued and encouraged.
  • ·Serving others. When we serve we clarify and live out our values.
  • ·Being with others. Relating, listening and laughing all encourage growth.
  • ·Traditions and rhythms. Helping find the balance of life that goes beyond urgencies and reaches to depths of soul and substance.
  • ·A breadth of ages. Mixing across generations provides opportunities to understand life from broader perspectives.
When crisis arise we want, and need wisdom. May this Lenten season be one where each of us and all of us are learning and growing in wisdom. 

The complete devotional can be found at:

Friday, November 3, 2017

The extended family

When my oldest niece was about five years old, she cried to her mom, “How come I couldn’t be adopted like the other kids?” At that time, there were six cousins on that side of our family; four of them had joined the family through adoption. We laughed at the story, but also found a sense of gratification in seeing our families grow in unusual ways.
It’s been nearly twenty-five years since my niece cried to her mom. Our two adopted sons are grown with families of their own. We now have a grandson who has come into our family through adoption. My wife and a sister-in-law both work for Bethany Christian Services Northwest, an adoption agency. Adoption and foster care has shaped our extended family history in a variety of ways.
The need is always before us. Every child deserves, needs and longs for a stable home and family. It is also critical for the health of the greater community that we care for those who cannot care for themselves. Open adoptions and cultural shifts have changed the face of adoption and foster care greatly in the past twenty-five years, but the reality is that every child is an important child and many are in need of a home.
Adoption is not always easy, nor is the result always perfect. As with any family situation, it involves a messy mixture of people and lives. But there are many stories of life directions changed and families made new through this process.
Have you considered extending your family through adoption or foster care? There are numerous ways to get involved. If you have considered extending your family through one of these methods, here are some of the steps that can help prepare you for the commitment.
1. First, educate yourself. Learn about adoption and foster care processes in your state. In doing so, you will discover the reality of life for the children who spend their youth in systems that are caring, but overloaded. The Child Welfare Information Gateway of the Administration for Children and Families provides up to date statics related to the current needs related to adoption and foster care.
2.  Consider helping a specific child or children. Evaluate your situation and see how to best respond. Can you build a family in a way you had not previously considered? Are you able to help kids in transition through foster care? There are many agencies available to help you learn about foster care and, when ready, begin the process. Bethany Christian Services is one of the largest organizations providing services for both foster care and adoption with branch offices in numerous locations throughout the United States. You can also refer to Child Welfare Information Gateway and the Administration for Children and Families to learn more about national resources.
3.  Consider an alternative. If you are not in a position to bring children into your home, consider sponsoring a child through a reputable relief agency. Compassion International and World Vision are two international organizations with years of experience in caring for needy children around the world.
4.  Act locally. Join with a child service agency in your city as a volunteer or supporter.  Big Brothers Big Sisters has been providing positive role models for youth since 1904. Volunteering as a “Big” or donating to support programs can help make a difference in the lives of numerous children in need. Many communities have locally-based programs that provide friendship/mentoring opportunities for volunteers to work one-on-one with kids as well.
5.  Get involved. Become informed about what’s going on at the government level and communicate with officials on behalf of children. This might involve contacting your state representatives, your community government, or your area school board to see what is being done with local resources and funds to protect at-risk and needy children.  
It is not important how each of us responds. The crucial thing is that we work together to help needy kids and families in the best way we can. The need is great, the opportunity is before us, and the future depends on it. Each November is designated as National Adoption Month, but there is no need to wait. You can make connections now to get involved and make a difference. Kids will thank you for generations to come.

Originally written in 2011 with Teresa Tanner (Carpine) and published in Catapult Magazine:

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Impossible and unending (revised)

I arrived
during the homily,
gladly found 
a place in the back.

Thought of you
and prayed for you.
For all this week
has brought your way.

But more,
for daily life, fear, pain
that must seem
impossible and unending.

Afterward I hopscotched
my way forward through
congregants making
their way home.

And lit a candle,
thinking of you.
And hoping for something better,
anything, better.

I lit a second,
and quickly a third.
Soon realizing I would run out of candles
before I ran out of people and prayers

So I quit.
Quit lighting candles,
that is, not prayers,

and left.