Every Easter in the Prison Visitation Room

Carol Kent’s “Hope and Healing for Families of Prisoners”

While we were weaving flowers into the wire mesh of our Easter cross, singing inspirational hymns, and listening to Jack preach the power of the resurrection, my friends Carol and Gene Kent were standing in line, like they do every Easter, to join their imprisoned son at the “church of the razor wire,” as they call it.

I still remember the day sitting in a Barnes and Noble café, when Carol opened her heart to me: “Late one night we received a call that our son was in county jail,” she said, “charged with first-degree murder. He shot and killed his wife’s ex-husband in a Sweet Tomatoes parking lot in broad daylight.”

What we cannot even imagine about Jesus’ supernatural suffering in Gethsemane

The first time I saw Robert Doares painting of Jesus praying in Gethsemane I was shocked. It was so unlike the image stamped into my imagination–the image at left of Christ kneeling, earnestly entreating his Father to “let this cup pass from me,” one of the most copied images in the world.

Artist Heinrich Hoffman pictures Jesus late Thursday night after the “Last Supper” looking up, somewhat distressed, his hands in a fretful knot. In the dark quiet before the rapidly approaching storm he has tried to get his disciples to stay awake and pray with him for one hour, but exhausted by the sorrowful news at dinner (One of you will betray me…I’m about to be crucified), they fall asleep. So he leaves the disciples about a stone’s throw behind and prays.

His disciples could not imagine what is coming. Neither, it seems, could Hoffman. Can we? Jesus could. A careful reading of the text paints this far more extreme picture:

What Mike & Karen Pence guard against that we should too

Dangers and signs of social media and emotional affairs & a marriage-saving resource

If every reporter who has savaged (or even snorted at) Vice-President Mike Pence for not dining or working late alone with women other than his wife would simply google “where do affairs happen the most,” they might change their tune.

They would find that anywhere from 38–53 million men in the U.S. have cheated on their wives, touching one in every three couples. And that 65-85% of adulterous affairs begin at work.

They would also find that few consciously decide to start an affair.

I’ll Take Narnia’s Aslan over The Shack’s Papa Any Day: What William P. Young is Missing

This week The Shack is (still) #1 on the New York Times Best-Seller list and, after three weeks, still in the top five at the movie box office. With unforgettable images Young draws a picture of God’s compassion for a bruised reed of a man who has lost his little girl in a crime of unspeakable violence and murder.

The God of all comfort prepares Mack’s favorite food in the kitchen. Skips rocks across the lake with him. Wears old flannel shirts. Young’s story takes us inside Mack’s grief and shows how God’s tender, creative soul-care heals and restores.

Throughout almost thirty years of rheumatoid arthritis, the wanderings of a prodigal, and the inevitable conflicts and rejections of the pastorate, Jesus has lavished me with his tenderness and mercy. Yet in times of deepest sorrow I find the portrait of God that CS Lewis has drawn in Aslan, the lion-King in his fictional world of The Chronicles of Narnia, even more comforting than Papa in The Shack.

When the Weird Christian Becomes the Awesome Hero

2017 Best Picture Nominees Retrospective-Hacksaw Ridge

Do they still make movies with that story line? Yes they do. Even though the stereotype of Christians as weird has become so ingrained in today’s culture that Tracey Ullman can give it a cheeky send-up in this 2-minute sketch, “A Christian’s Job Interview.”

For every Christian who is a bit weary of this not-so-subtle bias, Hacksaw Ridge offers two hours of stand-tall validation of a real believer’s faith and a real God’s faithfulness. And thanks to the superb film-making skills of Director Mel Gibson, it was even nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor. Contrast Ullman’s clip with the movie trailer…

4 Ways Lent Can Give You Far More than You Give Up

Growing up, my church didn’t celebrate Lent. But years ago I caught the vision from a friend and I’ve come to value it. Here are four ways Lent can deepen our life with Christ and enrich our celebration of Easter.

Except for my Catholic neighbor getting her forehead smudged on Ash Wednesdays, Lent wasn’t even on my radar. We didn’t celebrate Palm Sunday. Or Good Friday. Much less 40 days of fasting, sacrifice and repentance. But I’ve learned we have so much to gain from observing Lent.

If your church doesn’t observe it, you can embrace it in your own way, just as the church developed its own way over the years, stretching its observance from two to three days to three weeks to 40 days. It doesn’t matter how long we engage with it, the important thing is that, in honor of his inestimable sacrifice for us, we embrace a season of sacrifice of our own for the Lord Jesus. 

3 ways to hang on to Truth in a hostile culture: Lessons from Lewis-The Silver Chair

Plato’s News Cave (courtesy Imgur)

Recently The New York Times launched a new subscription campaign featuring hooks like, “We’re passionate about the truth. Are you?” and “Truth is what we do better” and “Read news that values the truth.”

I know what some of you are thinking: “Ba-ha-ha-ha.”

It is indeed rich that a publication that has long questioned the existence of truth now lays claim to it in their advertising. Long ago the mainstream media relinquished its claim to reporting truth. Instead, at their best, they report “truth” from several different perspectives, weighting the progressive/oppressed perspective the most heavily.

The result has been the loss of truth. Now we see the media caught in its own trap. As Donald Trump exaggerates and equivocates, they desperately try to refute him. But if you don’t believe in a solid ground of truth, how do you have a place to stand from which you can throw rocks at untruth? Isn’t it just another perspective with ”alternate facts”?

How do we hold on to Truth in a hostile culture? CS Lewis shows us in his fourth Chronicle of Narnia: The Silver Chair

Narnia’s crown prince has been missing for ten years. His aged and failing father, King Caspian, while desperate to find him, has banned his knights and citizens from seeking him because too many search parties have disappeared, just like prince Rilian.

What to Give Your Introverted/Extroverted Valentine

My husband of (almost) forty years and I share a love for hospitality, reading and movies, of watching football, and serving God in his church. We are both thinkers more than feelers, strong personalities who enjoy Getting Things Done and closure. In other ways we are not so similar.

Jack loves details and data. I’m the big picture girl. Nowhere he’d rather relax than in the mountains—hunting fishing, hiking. Me, I love museums, conferences, the ballet. But the difference that makes the most difference: He is more the introvert while I am a tiny bit more extroverted. Here are some ways we’ve learned to give to each other across the great personality divide.

Do you support Trump’s travel ban on refugees?

FAQ’s to help clarify where Christians disagree

Recently I was asked to sign a Lutheran Ministry’s petition protesting President Trump’s executive order on refugees. Frankly I felt very conflicted, unsure of how to respond.

Rarely has a national conversation about social justice been so loaded with appeals to the Bible and a Christian worldview. And yet rarely have Christian leaders been so divided in their response. Even Christian ministries to refugees and foreigners. Franklin Graham, head of Samaritan’s Purse, is defending the order and our need for national security, World Vision and World Relief are protesting it.

So I’ve been digging into the issue, both biblically and with Christian thought leaders, and here are answers I’ve found to my own questions that might be helpful to you:

An Inaugural Prayer for President Trump

Biblical Kings and Psalms show us the way

Many of us have felt called to pray for Donald Trump and America. I love to pray the words of Scripture. So as he takes the oath of office and as I search through prayers by and for kings, I’ve been surprised by the rich inspiration and example. In their words…

 

Heavenly Father, with Jewish King Hezekiah we declare, “You are enthroned above the mighty cherubim. You alone are the God of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth.”

May our new president declare this daily in his heart before you. May he enter the oval office with a deep sense that you rule. And he rules under your supreme power, your watchful eye and loving care.

With Babylonian King Nebuchadrezzar we agree, “Your dominion is an everlasting dominion, and your kingdom endures from generation to generation…you do according to your will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay your hand or say to you, ‘What have you done?'”

Lord, you have clearly raised up Donald Trump. You may have done it for blessing. Or judgment. Or both. But we look to you in trust and not doubt asking, “What have you done?”

What Meryl Streep (and we) can learn from Alabama v Clemson Football and the “Fixer Upper” Gaines

On Sunday night Meryl Streep disappointed millions when she used her professional platform at the Golden Globes awards show to hammer Donald Trump and drive a bigger wedge between deeply divided Americans.

Full disclosure: I have been a solid Meryl Streep fan for years. Any actor who can play “the devil” wearing Prada and a no-talent, deluded socialite in Florence Foster Jenkins displays a tremendous range. (I reviewed her “formidable talent” in Florence here.)

The thing is, I get her critical remarks about President-elect Donald Trump. Although I think she chose the wrong example. Trump’s attack on a disabled reporter is in deep dispute. However there are plenty of other examples that aren’t. I’ve posted about how his philosophy of hitting back twice as hard comes off as alienating. Even bullying. It opens him up to people believing Streep’s version of what happened.

Streep said, “And this instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone [Donald Trump] in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, because it kinda gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect, violence incites violence. And when the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose…”

Just when she could have had me, she lost me. In a great ironic turn, Streep did the very thing for which she criticized Trump. She used the power of her position to dump a big dose of disrespect on millions of Americans.

My Top Ten Faith and Culture Blogs of 2016

Happy New Year!

Part of the fun of ringing in 2017 is that I can look back at my stats and discover what you were most interested in last year. Here are your favorite blog posts from 2016:

#10 When You’re Feeling Stressed about This Election How to describe the presidential election of 2016? Bizarre? Shock and awe? The caucuses and primaries began on February 1st and by March 1st (Super Tuesday, when this blog was published), unless you were an early fan of Donald Trump, you were starting to feel the stress.

The Tragic Irony of Star Wars Rogue One: The Princess of Hope dies, drug abuse a likely factor

When we walked in the door from watching the new Rogue One Star Wars movie last night we heard the sad news: Distraught over her daughter, Carrie Fisher’s  death yesterday, Debbie Reynolds had just died of a stroke.

(Slight spoiler alert) We had just watched a digitally young Carrie Fisher/Princess Leia in the final scene of Rogue One. One of the rebels hands her electronic intelligence delivered at the cost of many lives. When he asked what she’s been given, she lights up a smile and answers, “Hope.” But in a tragic irony, yesterday sixty-year old Fisher died of cardiac arrest in the wake of years of the kind of drug abuse that damages your heart. Now, her elderly mama appears to have died from a broken heart.

In a 1990 interview with Larry King Carrie Fisher/Princess Leia said, ““One of the side effects of Percodan (a narcotic painkiller) is euphoria, and I thought that was a side effect that I could easily live with. Doesn’t matter that the rest of them that follow that are palpitations, heart attack and death. I couldn’t get over euphoria.”

Christmas at the Cove Disrupted: When a Christmas-hug concert becomes fall-on-your-knees worship

When we first signed up for the Christmas concerts at Billy Graham’s Asheville, North Carolina retreat center, we expected a weekend of beauty and gorgeous music by some of the Kingdom’s finest artists. What we didn’t expect was how God used major disruption to turn one evening into a rare, deep worship event.

Annie Moses Band

A Christmas Letter to Those Agonizing over the Future of Our Planet

Until this election, I didn’t fully appreciate your fears about climate change. About damaging our beautiful world beyond repair.

Earth Visualization

Now I’ve talked to enough friends and family to feel your frustration. Your deep concern. Even fear? And I am sorry.

For years I’ve heard many of you losing confidence in any larger story that explains how the world works and how we find hope for the future. I thought that meant that you had given up on any larger story. But I’m realizing you do have a larger story, at least many of you do.

I’m hearing so many voices united in real fear that our Earth is on its way to overheating and the end of civilization as we know it. It seems like you do believe in a larger story of saving the Earth, or at least our species. Working to reverse what you believe to be man-made climate change. Or finding a way to insure the survival of our species on Mars or another planet.

George Washington’s Original Thanksgiving Proclamation

After the election, a time to celebrate God's faithful answers and renew the requests

This Thanksgiving I am grateful that despite the most surreal and destructive election I ever remember, our founders gave us such strong institutions and laws that we can expect to see the peaceful transfer of power.  I’m also grateful that both Houses of Congress and George Washington called us this day to give thanks to God and pray for America. With his blessing may we heal and flourish.

By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation

george-washington-praying

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God,

to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor–

and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer

to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God

especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States

to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be–

Waiting for the Cliffhanger Ending: Justice or Mercy?

002-1032x1280It was very quiet at our suburban precinct here in Columbia, South Carolina. Thousands had voted on the way to work, but at mid-morning there were eighteen people in line—a peaceful interlude in this shock-and-awe campaign story. The quiet before tonight’s high-drama conclusion to Election 2016.

(If you are still struggling over your decision today you may want to read these two previous posts.)

As we’ve heard one stunning development after another, I’ve heard journalists and pundits exclaim, “Nobody could write this story.” But clearly, Someone is writing it.

Only God could write such incredible plot twists, expose such secrets, and reveal hearts at such a deep level. He famously writes stories with a “fearful symmetry,” a term coined by William Blake to describe a tiger–beauty and balance and artfulness that also exposes a moral dimension that terrifies us. Who could create such a beautiful killing machine?

God. Especially when he brings judgment to call us to repentance.

Voting Our Politically Incorrect Outrage

digital composition of woman in spa

So many women are outraged, and rightly so, at Donald Trump’s boasting on the bus–his chauvinistic objectification of women to be kissed and groped because, by golly, he’s got star power and he can.

It’s exhibit A in the rape culture narrative that’s become very politically correct. Because it’s too often true. In today’s culture almost every woman has experienced unwanted verbal and physical sexual advances.

What better way to expose and embarrass the jerks that perpetrate them on women than to vote for Hillary? Put a woman in the ultimate place of power!

I get it. I empathize with the outrage. I’m voting out of outrage too. But it’s a very politically incorrect outrage that, sadly, isn’t much mentioned in this election.

Time for the Unexcited and Undecided to Finally Decide

My Voting Priorities

Time To Decide Message Means Decision And Choice

There are one hundred and fifty homes in my South Carolina suburban subdivision…and not one yard sign for Hillary or Trump. Not one bumper sticker on the cars parked in the driveways.

Last week in Gatlinburg, TN, the gateway to the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, we stood on the main drag in high leaf-peeping season and in fifteen minutes counted license plates from twenty-five different states. Again, not one bumper sticker.

People might hold their noses and vote for the Supreme Court or against the seething midnight tweeter, but not too many seem willing to publicly identify with either candidate in this don’t ask, don’t tell election.

Too many of us agree with the lyrics of Paul Simon’s “Mrs. Robinson”:
“…Going to the candidates’ debate.
Laugh about it, shout about it
When you’ve got to choose
Every way you look at this you lose.”

Missing Our Roots

In today’s culture it is rare to live our lives in a community where our great grand-parents on both sides lived, served and loved.  A recent visit to our roots in Paris, Texas challenged me to consider what we’re missing…and what we’ve gained.

october-2016-036-1280x960

When my Mom’s cousin was diagnosed with an aggressive form of dementia in January, Mom intended to go visit her. But Sarah died in July, before Mom, at 84, could arrange the trip.  Last week, when I took her to visit her cousin’s grave, they told us that 500 people had showed up for the visitation for Sarah, a 5th grade teacher and tour guide. It had stretched out the door and around the block of the Victorian funeral home in Paris, Texas.

Not many of us live our lives like Sarah, dying in the community where we’ve loved and served and our family goes back for generations.  Instead of deep roots and strong branches, our families are more like dandelions–spreading seeds across a windblown landscape. My Dad’s family is from Quebec and up-state New York. I was born in Houston, Texas. Moved to Austin to attend college, then to Dallas to begin my teaching career.