The post I used to hate seeing

I used to blog here.

Every once in a while, I see my bookmark for this place, and I think “I ought to post something.”

But I don’t remember what I used to think was important enough for me to write about — as if I know anything about anything.

I think I used to write because I was a spiritual person. Then one day, that person got up out of my chair and moved to a different planet and never looked back.

So I’m posting this instead, which is not important at all. I used to see posts like this, and I hated seeing them:

“Nothing to post, but I just thought I’d let you know I’m still alive.”

So now you have something to hate reading, too.


I am sad most of the time.

Occasionally depressed; not too often. Mostly just sad.

Call it blue.

There are all kinds of reasons contributing to that, most of which don’t bear going into.

Oh, I can put on a smile and muddle through. I can keep it together in most social situations. I can sometimes even call on a show of sharp wit and an illusion of charm.

But I spend most of the time sad, and it’s a pain in the soul because sadness makes it harder to think, to focus, to perform, to excel, to multitask … even to uni-task. Sadness makes it harder to prioritize, socialize, look into others’ eyes. Sadness makes you alone and keeps you alone and alone makes sadness both less and more difficult to bear.

Less because you’re not burdening others with it.

More because your bearing it yourself.

Sharing it can make it worse because you may find yourself sharing someone else’s sadness too, at a time when you don’t feel you can bear your own.

Sharing sadness can make it better because you sometimes find someone who can help bear it with you.

When I am profoundly sad and alone, there is something that makes it bearable even when nothing can make it better.

He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. ~ Isaiah 53:3

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

Jesus wept. ~ John 11:33-35

Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” ~ Matthew 26:38-39

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. ~ Romans 8:26

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. ~ Hebrews 4:15

Don’t get me wrong. None of this magically takes away the sadness. None of this miraculously eliminates the reasons contributing to it. None of it is rainbow unicorn photos on Facebook with cheery Bible verses chasing away clouds on brilliant sunbeamy backgrounds. None of it is a guarantee. None of it is a promise of better soon or think positive or pray confidently or best life now.

It’s simply an account of a Man who is God, who understands and shares. So much so that He shares His own Spirit within us to groan with us when words simply will not suffice.

I taught Romans 8:26 last Sunday. I confessed that until I studied the verse last week, I had always misread into it a misconception: that somehow the Holy Spirit provides the words God will understand when we don’t have the words to say. That’s not what the verse says at all. It says that the Spirit intercedes for us through wordless groans.

He groans with us.

So that we do not have to groan alone.

I wish that I had gained that insight earlier in life, sooner than a week ago.

It would have made the aloneness less alone. It would have made the blue less midnight and more aqua. It would have made the sadness lighter to bear.

Lighter by half.

Dear Angi,

The problem, of course, is that I still miss you every day like I just lost you the day before.

And I know I should move on, but I don’t know where or how or why.

Whenever I moved before, since I met you, it was to follow you wherever you wanted and needed to go, and to cheer you on from the sidelines, and to be there for you and our wonderful kids.

But now you’re gone and they are grown and I have to start over somehow.

“Re-invent yourself.” That’s what you used to say. “You’ll just re-invent yourself.” And as long as I had you by my side, I always could and did.

There’s no “just” to doing that now, though.

When we moved to Missouri or Texas or Arkansas or North Carolina, I’d always consider how fun it would be to try to persuade you about us retiring to Eureka Springs and visiting Ireland again, with some extended side trips to England and Wales, and riding on trains all over this continent.

You know, to celebrate the day we became engaged. Like we did on our twentieth anniversary on the wine train. Like we did any time we rode any train, with or without the kids.

Now it would not be the same, not without you.

I can’t even talk to you about any of the things we used to talk about, or any of the things I would tell you now. I don’t know if you can see this, read this, know this … if you just don’t exist for a while, and then will again later … if you’re still part of time, or outside of time, or totally transcendent of time.

I have no clue how the eternity thing works.

All I know for sure about it is that you’re not gone. But you’re also not here.

And that nothing, no time, no place, no one can take your place ever.

I don’t know how to feel about any of this.

For the most part, I just don’t.

I don’t feel.

And for now, that has to be all right.


Call me Theodicyus.

I’m on an Odyssean journey, like many others, to comprehend why God permits evil, suffering and pain.

cosmic-christMost of the time, I’m on board with the direction God wants that journey to take. I may not like that direction, but I’m willing to pursue it at least for a while, to see if it comes to a logical conclusion … or at least a depot or a way station that makes some kind of sense to my pathetic wounded heart.

But this morning I literally awakened, as I often do from a restless sleep, with a “What if?” that knocked the horsepower right out from beneath me. I didn’t know if I could go and teach my church family this morning. I didn’t know if I could even crawl out of bed.

This was the “What if?” in my soul when I woke up:

“What if God has been trying all along to communicate to us that the obliteration of evil is good, whether it is in one’s own soul or annihilating those who have sold their souls out to evil?”

Oh, it didn’t come all in a rush and it didn’t come in those exact words. I’d been dreaming about trees and limbs falling — probably because I’d had two huge limbs fall off one of my front yard trees to the sidewalk below a month before, and falling trees had been in the national news last night. No, probably my first thoughts as I surfaced from the ocean of dreams were probably more along the lines of “It cost a lot to have my whole tree removed and thank God no one was hit or injured and I didn’t get sued and I hate to have a living tree cut down just because it’s so overbalanced the rest of it will eventually fall across the street and why do tree limbs have to fall on people and hurt or kill them anyway?”

Followed soon after by the very mature pondering of “Why can’t trees just fall on evil people like ISIS terrorists who kidnap and capture and torture and rape and behead people?”

(I’m sure it didn’t help that I awakened with a colossal headache besides.)

Then came those sleepy musings about why God did or didn’t act in certain ways, expected ways, my ways in the Old Testament and even other places. Why a flood? Why utterly destroy two cities? Why strike people dead for worshiping another? Why the order to “dedicate/give over to God/often by utter destruction”? Why a cross, a dishonorable instrument of pain and death?

Okay, I can understand that is the way that Father and Son agreed that is how sin deserved to die, and that the Son was willing to bear sin to that ignominious death for us.

No, not really, not in my heart “understand” it; but in my mind at least I can comprehend the words and they make a kind of sense in the way that any concept of divine justice-and-mercy can make sense to a human being of fallible judgment using three pounds of sweetbreads for a logic processor.

But what if — in the flood-genocide and the Sodom-and-Gomorrah genocide and the worshiping-golden-calf-genocide and the order to Israel to give-over-whole-cities-of-baby-sacrificing-pagans-to-God-by-completely-destroying-them — what if those and all the other seemingly violent/callous/inconsistent acts of the Creator aren’t intended to cause terror/doubt/criticism of Him?

What if they are His way to communicate what His sovereignty defends: an ultimate good, a perfect comprehension of good that is so far beyond ours that He must use the most crude ways imaginable to get them across to us so that we can understand in our limited way?

What if His justice and mercy are one in the same thing (not in conflict with each other, as we so often perceive them to be)?

What if the total eradication of evil is the only way that good can triumph (and it MUST triumph)?

What if evil must be permitted to show how heinous and selfish and rebellious is truly is, in order for good to be illuminated for how glorious, selfless, and loyal to God that it is?

What if God expects us to grow to a point where we stop judging Him by our own ethic, our human standards, our selfish arrogant Eden-based value system (“I think I know better about this fruit than God does …”) and judge His goodness, rightness, and holiness by His own standard?

We’d have to understand it first.

So what if He’s given us the clues all along in scripture, and we created theodicy because we don’t want to see them for what they are?

I don’t like this possibility.

I want my old god back.

I want my pacifist god who, like me, hates to cut down a living tree; who couldn’t possibly cut down a human being, or allow a good human being to be cut down in mid-life, especially a wonderful human being like my beloved Angi. I want a god for whom those character traits are just unthinkable anomalies, “ways that are above my ways,” ways that I will never understand or be expected to understand.

I want back my old god; the one I can easily find strolling in the corporate hallway in the cool of the day in his cool business suit and take him by the lapels and shake him and shout “WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?” like Job did and feel justified about doing so.

I don’t want to understand God this deeply if it goes this deep.

It hurts too much.

It doesn’t fit my paradigm.

The journey doesn’t take a turn in my direction.

I don’t get to have my way.

Don’t Save Me a Seat on Your Bandwagon

I’ve had a week to think about it.

Bandwagon,_Circus_MuseumAnd I’m not going to pile onto anyone’s bandwagon regarding the Supreme Court’s decision to validate gay marriages in the United States.

I will admit that as an American, I am glad that the Supreme Court upheld a basic human right: to be joined in marriage before family, friends, the world and God. They did not set a precedent which might be twisted by some later generation to deny this right to people of a certain reproductive capability, age, ethnic background, or religious persuasion.

I will also admit that as a follower of Christ, I do not see anywhere in biblical scripture that marriage is upheld as an institution between people of the same sex or gender; only between people of the opposite sex from each other. But it is not the business of government to enforce as law the doctrine of any religion’s scripture, not even the one I espouse.

That could set a precedent that could be contorted by some later generation to apply to the writings of some other religion — any other religion — or some set of documented beliefs that made no pretense to be any kind of religion at all.

I have to admit that I can’t follow the hermeneutical/interpretational gymnastics it takes to ignore or downplay God’s displeasure with “man-on-man sex,” which is what I understand the literal phrasing of scripture to say. (The English word “homosexual” was devised centuries later.) There is nothing there that leads me to believe that such a relationship was ever His desire or intention for the children He created and loves.

So I can’t jump on the bandwagon that celebrates a notion that any sexual expression between consenting adults done in love is endorsed by God and should be recognized as such by all believers. Nope. It’s not what God wants for us. If it were, He’d have spoken it as plainly and clearly as “Be fruitful and multiply” or “Do not commit adultery” or “Do not judge.”

To the very best of my understanding, engaging in homoerotic sex is sin. It is what self wants for self against God’s wisest wishes, even when love for another is involved. Just like heterosexual breach of promise in marriage that has led to so many divorces and broken so many hearts and homes in this nation for decade upon decade now. Sin is always sin. Even when there is no seeming harm, no reason given for prohibition, nothing other than God’s explicit love for us and desire for what is best for us.

Sin is always sin.

Including lying, stealing, greed, envy, faultfinding or any other one you wish to mention.

Which leads me to the reason why I can’t jump on the bandwagon that focuses on one sin, then accuses, belittles, condemns, defames … do I need to go through all the synonyms beginning with the rest of the letters of the alphabet?

Because judging others is what self wants for self against God’s holiest desires for us, even when we would like to pretend that some kind of love for His righteous law is our only motivation.

If I conveniently focus on one sin — someone else’s sin — and loudly castigate it, that may take other peoples’ focus off all of mine. But I am called to speak against all sin, which includes my predilection toward judgmentalism and arrogance and self-righteousness. I can say “But I don’t sin THAT sin!” all I want to, but God makes it clear that any kind of sin separates me from Him. If I denounce one, I must denounce them all. And having participated in any of them in a less-than confessional and penitent way reduces my credibility to disavow them all.

There are really no other bandwagons left to climb onto.

We have divided into these two intransigent camps and sung our battle hymns and flown our righteous flags while riding our bandwagons to the front lines, just as people have done (to their own destruction) for centuries.

And what we are called to do is walk together. To love. To show fellowship. Embrace. Encourage. Confess. Support. Seek to understand. Repent. Forgive.

Over and over and over again. Not until we get it right, because the odds are that none of us ever will.

But until we are called home.

We are all simply fellow sinners, called to extend the grace and compassion that was shown to us by the One who was able to live without sin.

And what His life says is, “It’s possible. It can be done. I did it.

“You can try.”

To be like Him — to accurately reflect His compassion, love, grace, forgiveness, and humility — we have to try the very best we can to be like Him in every way that we can.

That may mean celibacy. It may mean keeping judgment to one’s self. And let’s not kid ourselves — there are doubtless hundreds of thousands and more likely millions who lead lives that glorify God without having sex with anyone and/or having to inflate their own egoes by deflecting attention from the sins that so easily beset them and castigating others for their vulnerabilities.

They have learned self-control. They are trying to be like Jesus.

If they can try, we can try … walking the walk.

Talking less talk.

And leaving the bandwagons behind.

Jesus Wouldn’t

If you asked me why I do not support measures such as the recent state versions of the RFRA attempted by the states of Indiana and Arkansas (and wisely rejected by their governors as written), I would answer with those two words:

Jesus wouldn’t.

Yes, I am convinced that Jesus would not support laws which would encourage those called by His name to insist on their own way and seek legal remedy against those (especially unbelievers) who insist on their own way against the conscience of the believer.

First of all, because conscience is not the ultimate authority. That would be God.

Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar, and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, “She is my sister.” Then Abimelek king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her.

But God came to Abimelek in a dream one night and said to him, “You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman.”

Now Abimelek had not gone near her, so he said, “Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation? Did he not say to me, ‘She is my sister,’ and didn’t she also say, ‘He is my brother’? I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands.”

Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her. Now return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all who belong to you will die.” ~ Genesis 20:1-7

People can lie to us. Our consciences can be badly programmed. They can even become seared, so they no longer sense the difference between what is right and wrong. We need to go straight to what God says, without assumption or presumption of our own correctness.

Secondly, because the rights and desires of a believer — however “right” they might seem to be — are not to be considered by that believer as more important than those of others.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” ~ Matthew 5:38-42

Jesus did not put conditions upon these instructions. He did not say, “If you agree with them on all doctrines,” “If they are morally upright in your judgment,” or “If it doesn’t infringe on your personal rights as an American.”

Third, because legal remedy and going to court in front of unbelievers is not what God wants us to seek.

I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? But instead, one brother takes another to court—and this in front of unbelievers!

The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? ~ 1 Corinthians 6:5-7

We admit defeat for the cause of Christ when we insist on our own way; when we are not willing to rather use the opportunity to show love as well as righteousness.

Have we let political parties in American politics dictate what is Christian and what is not? Have we let them convince us that protecting our own rights as believers is more important that engaging lovingly and firmly in dialogue with people who oppose our beliefs — but lovingly first?

Are the verses above — and many, many more — no longer taught in our churches?

Has someone crept into our homes and sanctuaries and clipped them out of our Bibles?

Have we really come to believe that the children’s “JOY” mnemonic “Jesus, Others and Yourself” has a scripturally-approved exception clause that says “But ME FIRST when it comes to rights!”a

As I understand it, the first amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America wisely and sufficiently protects what these proposed state acts foolishly sought to exceed, and does so with these words:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

Seeking our own rights, our own way, even the right or Biblical or Christian way in a court of law defeats the very heart of Christianity: the selflessness of Jesus.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father. ~ Philippians 2:5-11

I’m turning off comments for this post. I don’t care whether you agree with me or not, or what your reasons are. I don’t even care if you are inarguably “right” and I am indefensibly “wrong.” I’m simply expressing what I believe and why.

I won’t permit this blog to become the court of public opinion on this question. There are plenty of other places, and you can go to any of them with your arguments. I could debate them with you until we were both blue and red and purple in the face, and nothing would be gained by it, so I won’t. Mainly because, I believe …

Jesus wouldn’t.

God’s Own Comfort

I’ve had to wish many friends and acquaintances the blessing of God’s own comfort in the past few weeks, due to all kinds of losses: of love, of job, of health, of loved ones. I believe He extends it, and if I didn’t believe, I wouldn’t bother to pray for it. Sometimes, however, the need for that blessing comes so thick and fast and frequently that you wonder why … why do I have to ask; why isn’t it just there; why is there all this pain and loss and emptiness, and why is God not intervening to help?

Job-by-BonnatBecause of a friend losing her father this week, I’ve returned once again to the puzzling biblical book of Job and the man who dares to ask why.

When a parent or spouse or child or other loved one dies, you want to shout questions at the One who could have prevented it, and if you are bold enough you do.

That part of the book is no puzzle; Job speaks his questions and accusations at God. The puzzle is why God answers.

He doesn’t, usually, you know.

But He believed in Job, and He must have believed that Job deserved some kind of answers.

What He gave Job weren’t answers, but more questions.

And I think I have always read His answers from chapter 38 on as if He were shouting them (maybe even angrily at being accused); after all, the scripture says, “Then the Lord answered Job out of the storm.” He would have had to shout over a storm to be heard, right?

Well, come to think of it, not if He’s God.

He could be whispering these responses and still be heard … maybe just because He is that close to Job and his friends.

Re-reading the responses, it occurs to me that anyone but God shouting them angrily would sound ultimately arrogant. In fact, maybe even God would. Was that His response to Job’s questions? Anger? Shouting? An attempt to beat down Job even further into the ground? Wasn’t this the Job He believed in when the Accuser wagered that he would recant all faith? Aren’t these legitimate questions?

I’ve had to re-think what I imagined. I now have to wonder if God spoke this responses tenderly, quietly, with reassurance and comfort to the man who had just lost almost everything … the one man He could bring up as a test case before the Accuser and be certain of winning a wager.

Think of all the questions God posed to Job; more questions for which Job had no answer; more questions than Job had even thought to ask. Out of all the questions he had thrown at his Creator, Job essentially chose the one: “WHY?”

And God’s response, first of all, was (in essence): “Job, you can ask all the questions you want, but that doesn’t mean you can understand the answers.”

Secondly: “But I can.”

I have to wonder if God lovingly, broken-heartedly came close to Job to reassure him that the universe was still in good hands. That bankruptcy and destruction and death happen, but that God is still in control. That he is not forgotten or unimportant or unloved in this world where sin can make life miserable.

So I believe the third thing God is telling Job through these questions is: “Trust me. I’ve got this.”

He doesn’t say it right out. He lets Job draw those conclusions himself, because He knows Job can and He knows Job will.

Just as He knows that Job will pray for the friends who have made his life even more miserable with their own accusations against him.

Job, like David, is a man after God’s own heart.

Maybe because, deep down, when everything and everyone else is stripped away, God is a god after Job’s own heart … and Job knows that.

I had to tell my friend this week that I wish I had answers to questions of why, but that I was afraid the answers would be no comfort.

Because if they were, God would have given them to Job.


For the current edition of Wineskins, I wrote this little ditty to explore some of the reasons why we have difficulty “Navigating Change” (the theme of this edition).

Comfy ShoesI like to go to church now and then
To hear I’m doing right is good news
I dress up so I do not offend
and wear my old, soft, comft’rble shoes.

I want my old soft comft’rble shoes
to tap my feet to gospel-and-blues
Church is a holy place
You’re there by walking, not grace
So wear your old, soft comft’rble shoes.

The Bible’s so convenient for me
It authorizes all the right “do’s”
And if you do a “don’t,” don’t you see,
You won’t have golden slippers for shoes.

I need my old, soft, comft’rble shoes
To walk the old paths that I choose
If I like ‘em, they’re hot
If I don’t like ‘em, they’re not
Authorized by comft’rble truths (I meant “shoes”!).

Repentance is a wonderful thing
For folks who need to leave behind sin
with faith, confessing and baptizing …
I’m glad I’ll never need it again.

I love my old soft comft’rble shoes
to tap my feet to gospel-and-blues
I changed that once for Him
So I don’t have to again
Won’t change my old, soft, comft’rble shoes.

Now worship is a serious time
A little joy but not too much happiness
If you do it right, it is sublime
If you do more or less, you’re in a mess.

I’ve got my old soft comft’rble shoes
to tap my feet to gospel-and-blues
Don’t need no podium plants
Don’t need no spiritual dance
Don’t want to see raised hands
Don’t want to hear praise bands
Don’t need no grace-filled rants
Don’t need no women in pants
Just a cappella songs
And hearing “We’re right; they’re wrong”s
And wearing old, soft, comft’rble shoes.

I hope you’ll honor my last request
When you put me down for the big snooze
Just dress me up like all of the rest
And put me in my old comft’rble shoes.

I want my old soft comft’rble shoes
to rest my feet to gospel-and-blues
So when it’s time to fly
into that sweet by-and-by






A Heritage of Disdain

I probably shouldn’t pour this out here or now. After an all-day headache that’s devolving into a sore throat, I’m tired and miserable. I delivered the lesson at my church today anyway — like so many preachers at small churches, I have no backup plan for waking up sick.

It wasn’t an easy lesson, and with out-of-town guests, it wasn’t a completely easy audience.

Tonight I thought I’d relax and read a while in a 1918 book edited by my great-great grandfather Alfred Ellmore, “Sermons and Sayings,” including some of each by himself and many of his Restoration Movement contemporaries. Among the authors are names I have long heard regarded as spiritual giants.

And now I’m a little sick to my stomach andAlfred Ellmore, my Great-Great Grandfather depressed, too.

Since I’m not the student of the Restoration that many others are, I didn’t realize that its sectarianism went back this far, and obviously farther from the advanced stage of it evident among the authors. I thought that was a development of the 1950s or so; a mere 60 years ago rather than 100 or more.

The sermons and essays are eloquent beyond measure, from a time when erudition was actually valued and respected. Within them are often magnificent truths. And just as frequently, they contain lapses of logic and prejudices that go beyond the pale.

Even in written form, the arrogance of snide remarks about people of other faiths is too evident. In this style of expression, there is no giving an inch; no recognition of common faith in a common Lord or even just a sense of morality. The mode is always attack, belittle, condemn — the ABCs of confrontative evangelism.

How it can possibly endure today after a century of failing to persuade vast multitudes of people and turning away millions more escapes my imagination.


Except for the fact that I understand that judgment can be very enjoyable. it vaunts self by making light and less of others. It is so far removed from the winsome nature of Christ that it is no wonder that so many within the Restoration Movement (and, let’s be frank, other church fellowships too) have virtually negated the power of the humble gospel by proclaiming it with their words and denying it with their arrogance.

Those prejudices are among the causes of the flawed reasoning. Assumptions are made and conclusions drawn that now have the weight of more than a century of unquestioned acceptance — unquestioned, because to question them would draw the criticism and banishment of those who cling to them for dear life. The assumptions and conclusions (of men!) have been accorded the very same weight as scripture, and have been repeated so long and so forcefully and with such threat of reprisal — expressed or not — that the words of scripture are read to have taken on their meaning. Literally, it seems to have become impossible for some to see any difference between what scripture literally says and what they (and/or others before them) have concluded that it means.

How can such a perception be overcome? How can illogic-accepted-as-valid be defeated by logic? How can one explain the difference between what scripture says and what someone has said it means after it has been drilled in by repetition and religious culture and the Damoclean sword of threatened banishment from community? How can the satisfaction of “knowing” one is right lose ground to an humble, open uncertainty and reliance upon God’s grace?

After five generations of sectarianism’s enduring popularity?

I swing between the pendant alternatives of severing all connection with those who will not see or listen, and continuing to hold out an olive branch and a few disturbing questions — expressed in love — to those who still might.

And on nights like tonight, I just feel that the effort is largely lost.

Joining in the Dance

ScroogeThere is no telling how many times and ways that Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” has been adapted for stage and screen. My favorite since seeing it — not long after its release in 1970 — is the film musical “Scrooge” starring Albert Finney.

I suppose I’ve watched it a couple dozen times over the many years, sometimes horribly edited down and reduced to the old 4×3 screen proportion for television.

Each time I see it, something about it becomes a little more treasured. The first time, it was the realization that Finney was a young actor playing Ebenezer throughout — in his twenties, in his thirties, and in his sixties/seventies — with a hunchback and wrinkled whomperjawed visage. Another viewing was the restrained performance of the Spirit of Christmas Present, an obviously mirthful Father Christmas-y fellow reduced to the task of reproving Scrooge by imitating his grumpiness. Still another viewing was the heartbreaking Leslie Bricusse song “You … you …” as old Ebenezer, split screen with his younger self, loses the love of his life.

This year, it was a single line. A moment when the glee of Fezziwig’s annual Christmas party for employees and friends is declined — his future fiancee Belle (in this version, Isabel, Fezziwig’s daughter) beckons him to join in the holiday gavotte, and he gravely holds up a hand and shakes his head. The Spirit of Christmas Past (Dame Edith Evans), watching the festivities from the barn loft with the old Scrooge, asks him point-blank: “Why didn’t you join in the dance?”

His very lame answer: “Because I couldn’t do it.” Lame, because …

Obviously right in front of them, Fezziwig himself was having difficulty keeping up with the younger folk, doing the best he could — and still having the red-faced, howling-laughing time of his life even as he fell down from his missteps.

But this year her question is haunting me as well.

I don’t dance.

Never mind the childhood prohibitions on dancing from my dedicated Church of Christ parents; the notes that kept me from having to take the mandatory lessons at school; the hesitant attendance at a high school prom as a favor to a good friend without a date.

I don’t dance because I’m not very coordinated, and I don’t feel confident at it, and … oh, any number of other excuses.

I tried once. I really did. Angi and I were at an event, and after sitting patiently through a few numbers, she stood up and held out her hand for me. I took it, apologizing all the way to the dance floor, and after embarrassing both of us thoroughly, she forgave me and let us retire back to the dinner table.

In the years after, I even thought about getting dancing lessons for myself as a gift for her. Yet I never did.

As you might have guessed, this post isn’t really about dancing. Except for the obvious metaphor that life itself is a dance, whether you can do it or not, and it beckons you to join in the movement and the laughter and the joy of it.

And I have not been dancing these last couple of years.

So this dear old among-the-favorites movie has provided me with yet another moment to ponder and treasure. It’s given me a resolution for next year, for the rest of my life, for movement and laughter and joy.

It’s time to join in the dance.

By Keith Brenton Posted in family