Neighboring. It’s not something that is done much these days. Chances are, we don’t even know who our neighbors are, let alone do a little neighboring.

When I was a kid neighboring was a part of our life together. When someone new moved into the neighborhood they would often be welcomed with fresh cookies or a loaf of homemade bread. Neighbors often sat on porches or in backyards sipping lemonade or a “highball” on hot muggy summer evenings watching the neighborhood kids play tag or ghosts in the graveyard or catch lighting bugs and talking about nothing in particular or everything in general. Now there is better than a good chance that we know little about our neighbors as we nod or wave from a distance before ducking into our homes.

Years ago Robert Putnam wrote about how the demise of the once ubiquitous bowling leagues reflected the decline of civic engagement and the social threads that held our communities together. In other words, the demise of neighboring. Covid just exasperated this.

Our disconnectedness is not healthy. We were created in the Divine image to be a part of a community as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling, as the Apostle Paul wrote.

I think that I need to put a batch of toll house cookies in the oven to share with my neighbor a few doors down the street. I haven’t met them, yet. Maybe that be a glimpse of grace.


Dying from Inside Out

Forest Park Nature Preserve

As I walk through a set of woods near my home I pay special attention to the various trees that have fallen or been blown over. Some had roots that were too shallow or the ground was too soft to support their weight, while others made their home on the eroding bank of a stream. To me the most curious are the trees that appear perfectly healthy but upon closer inspection show signs of disease , decay, and “rot” from the center…from within.

Jesus one referred to his critics as being like “whitewashed tombs”—looking all clean and proper on the outside while decaying on the inside. It has been my experience that most institutions and organizations do not “die” quickly but slowly over the span of several years. A careful study points to a bleeding wound from an earlier time that went largely unnoticed or ignored as their lifeblood trickled away. Sometimes this wound resulted from no fault of their own. A rural church, for instance, becomes unsustainable as fields became larger and larger and families move away to make room for the increased tillage. More often, though, a seemingly insignificant decision or action occurred. A promise was broken, feelings were hurt, or just plain bad judgment. I guess that are no small decisions.

While recently examining one of the fallen trees I discovered something completely unexpected (or rather, my wife discovered): an edible mushroom. Therein lay my glimpse of grace—new “life” … and deliciously editable!



Roots of a silver maple tree

Several years ago, my wife and I planted a small silver maple tree next to a swing set in our back yard. It would provide shade over the swing set on hot summer days to allow grandchildren to play outside in relative comfort.

With the passage of time the tree grew and it’s root system expanded. Eventually it dislodged one of the swing sets anchors. It also began to creep across the yard looking like the blue veins on the back of a laborer’s hand. Mowing became increasingly difficult as I bumped over the roots and occasionally got hung up on them. As I pondered this new reality I found a glimpse of grace.

The roots may be a nuisance to me, but they provide vital nutrients to the tree. If it wasn’t for the root system—as inconvenient as they may be—the tree would die.

Jesus once compared his relationship to the disciples as fruit attached to a vine. “I am the vine, you are the branches” he said. “Cut off from me, you can do nothing.” Cut from the source of life, we wither and die, too.


Easter Reflection

My earliest memories of Easter are of the smell of vinegar as we dyed pastel hard boiled eggs, chocolate bunnies, and Easter egg hunts in the backyard. Over the years, though, Easter has become more. Each time I read one of the gospels’ Easter stories I see something different, something new.

This year’s gospel lesson in the common lectionary is Matthew 28. The scene is familiar; women going to the tomb with spices, an earthquake as an angel descends to roll the stone away, fainting guards, and an empty grave. This year, though, I noticed something that never registered before. The women are given instructions, first by the angel and then by the Risen Lord himself to tell the disciples to go to Galilee where they will see Christ.

Eight verses later the Risen Lord gave those first disciples and us a “commission” to go and make disciples… And remember, “I will be with you to the end of the ages.” (v 28)

It strikes me that Easter is not an event but a way of life. It is about not being afraid, taking a risk, getting involved, and making a positive difference in the lives of others and the world.

In other words, be a glimpse of grace.


Glimpse of Grace—“You Do Not Belong To Yourself”

Acrylic “ice bead” distributed on Baptism of the Lord Sunday

While checking out at a grocery store recently to reached into my pocket and took out my coin purse to get some change. As I open the coin purse my “acrylic” “bobble” fell onto the counter. The clerk asked me what it was, and I told her that it was a little glass bead to remind me of the promises of my baptism.

“That’s neat,” she said. “I was on a beach in Florida and a man was handing out little crosses as he walked along the shore. I put it in my purse. What can it hurt? I figure you need all the help you can get!”

It struck me that her “little cross” was more of a talisman … a lucky rabbit’s foot…though it must be noted that it was not too lucky for the rabbit!

My little glass bead reminds me that I do not “belong” to myself (I Corinthians 6:19, NLT) Contrary to what the culture around me says, I am not the boss of me. Nor are you. Rather, we are interconnected. This is what Jesus was getting at when he told what has become known as the parable of The Good Samaritan” in response to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” John Donne spoke to our connectedness in his Meditation XVII. “No man (sic) is an island, entire unto himself (sic)…each is a part of the main.”

My glass bead, my baptism, reminds me that I am adopted and loved by God and a part of something bigger than myself. So are you. And that is a glimpse of grace.


Glimpse of Grace—New Every Morning

“The steadfast, love of the LORD, never ceases. The Lord’s mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning. (Lamentations 3:22-23a)

Watching the sunrise over Austin, Texas I was reminded of those words from the Old Testament book of Lamentations. This book of poetry was written to “lament” the destruction of Jerusalem around 586 BCE. It’s words, though, are timeless.

I first read those words not in seminary, nor in Sunday school, but on a small wooden plaque that hung in the bathroom of our first manse. I do not know how we got the plaque, but every morning I would see those words as I got ready for the day. They were a constant reminder that no matter what happened yesterday, today was a new day. It may be that from years of those few words unconsciously simmering in my brain that I developed a mantra that has carried me through many difficult and challenging moments. “Remember: Tomorrow, Today will be a memory.” The corollary is “Make it a good one!”

I’ve often broken that little mantra down to an hour of difficulty or even a minute that cannot otherwise pass soon enough. I guess that it is my variation of taking life “one day at a time, one moment at a time.” We can both get through and just about do anything if we break it down into smaller bits.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases…the Lord’s mercies never come to an end…they are new each and every morning.


Fathers & Sons

While being a guest at a dinner I sat next to someone who had a unique lapel pin. It gave rise to the following conversation.

“That’s an interesting lapel pin. I don’t believe that I have ever seen anything quite like it, yet it is vaguely familiar. Is there a story behind it?”

“It was my dad’s”, he replied. “He was career military. When he died I took some of his ribbons and placed them on various pieces of clothing. It helps me remember that he is still with me in some way.” I understood what he meant.

In the aftermath of my own father’s death I have reflected upon the special bond between a fathers and sons. This is true whether a father was a “good”dad or not, present or absent, engaged or distant, biological or adopted … our fathers are a kind of yardstick by which we measure ourselves. Against them we compare ourselves at one level or another; do we measure up, are we doing a better or worse job at traveling the road of manhood?

In his book, Dreams of My Father, a work that I consider to be a sort of spiritual autobiography Barack Obama reflected upon his own relationship with a largely absent father: “Where once I’d felt the need to live up to his expectations, I now felt as if I had to make up for all his mistakes.”

Our fathers are an enigma, a puzzle never fully known or understood yet a forever part of our lives.

I remember going to grief counseling a couple years after my father died. Breakthrough came in the fourth session. I don’t remember exactly how my therapist and I got there or what exactly I said, but he exposed what I had unknowingly been seeking all along, what every man seeks from his father, a blessing. “You know, that was when your father gave you a blessing.”

My circuitous journey in grief had come to an end with that blessing, and with it a sense of peace…of understanding…of acceptance. And that was a glimpse of grace.



Glimpse of Grace for February 9–Peaceful Sleep

Lucy asleep

Years ago I read a biography of the late legendary baseball announcer “Red” Barber written by NPR Morning Edition host Bob Edwards. Inspired and based on his weekly Friday morning interviews with “Red” they covered a wide range of topics, including faith.

I learned that Barber was a lay preacher in the Episcopal communion and a spiritual guide to many sports figures of the day. His faith was a quiet faith, not showy or in your face or worn in his sleeve. Always a courtly “Southern gentleman” he referred to ball players as “Mister” or “big fella” or “old” no matter their age , but it was his serene thoughtful presence and knack for creating an unforgettable turn of a phrase (a wining streak was described as “tearin’ up the pea patch”) that was his calling card.

He said evening prayers, and it was these evening prayers that came to mind as I watched my cat, Lucy, lie peacefully at me feet. Red Barber ended each day with the words, “I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, Lord, majesty me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8, KJV)

Sleeping peacefully, serenely in the knowledge of the Lord’s eternal care is a glimpse of grace.


White as Snow

“Come now, let us reason together, though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow” the prophet in Isaiah declared.

With the winter months upon us and plummeting temperatures the landscape becomes a wonderland as gently falling snow covers the ground. Leaves and toys, garden tools that were not put away and other miscellaneous things lie hidden below a blanket of white.

Yesterdays tire tracks and footprints disappear with each new fresh layer of snow. The snow acts as a cold blanket insulating bulbs and seeds that lie in wait for a Spring melt and a new birth.

In speaking to a people broken by sun Isaiah proclaimed a word of hope. God covers the brokenness of our past for those who have a penitent heart with a blanket of forgiveness.

We may not be able to change the past but we can learn from it and by the grace of God begin to write a new future.


Change Is In the Air

For everything there is a season,” the Hebrew Scriptures remind us. “A time for every matter under the sun.”

Autumn is upon us. Trees that once had branches covered with green leaves that rustled in summer breeze turned into a palate of orange, red, and yellow. Monet would have been envious. Soon the leaves will fall and branches will reach toward a gray winter sky like fingers only to be covered once again with the buds of Spring—of Hope and new beginnings. The cycle of change will then repeat with each cycle a little different than the last.

Life is full of changes; some welcomed, others not. But God is with us in all of life’s chances. As the psalmist wrote: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea … the Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. (Psalm 46, selected)

Whether we be on the mountaintop or in one of life’s darkest Valleys, we are not alone. The One who created us is within us.

Lo, I am with you always…until the end of the ages, Jesus, the Incarnation of God, promised in his great commission. And that, my friends, is a glimpse of grace.