the green fields beyond


Location: Charles City, Virginia, United States

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

An eyebrow ring, Proverbs 19:14, and that smile...

October 30th...Happy birthday to Mel!

"Sometimes hidden from me
in daily custom and in trust,
so that I live by you unaware
as by the beating of my heart,

suddenly you flare in my sight,
a wild rose blooming at the edge
of thicket, grace and light
where yesterday was only shade,

and once more I am blessed, choosing
again what I chose before."
--Wendell Berry, 1994.

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Friday, October 26, 2007


It's been a while, so a few notes about recent events around here:

For those of you who haven’t heard, I spent last week in St. Petersburg, Florida with my family, helping my dad as he recovers from major heart surgery. The doctors repaired his enlarged aorta and replaced a faulty heart-valve with a titanium one. I came down the day he was released from the hospital, and got to spend a week with him at home, helping with his exercise & medication regimen, and just keeping him company. In some ways it was like old times: we watched college football (South Florida lost to Rutgers, sigh) and laughed at old episodes of our beloved “Andy Griffith Show.” But in other ways it was all a very new situation—he isn’t yet able to be his old active self, though I hope he will be soon.

Then Delta Airlines messed up my return flight, and I spent the night in Atlanta. The less said about that unfortunate evening and its stunning display of abysmal customer service, the better.

This past Tuesday was one of the best birthdays I’ve ever had. Mel made an amazing carrot cake (I like it even better than chocolate, which she finds insane, but she indulged me). Then we visited our friend Elizabeth who works on a small, sustainable farm near West Point, Virginia. It’s an amazing little operation, a “Community Supported Agriculture” farm which grows a vast variety of crops on a surprisingly small patch of land. The couple who run the place, both Divinity-school grads, were hospitable in a gracious, low-key way and welcomed us to their lunch table without a second’s hesitation. We want to be that kind of couple.

Now Mel is in Chicago for a reunion with friends. Next she’ll be in Pennsylvania for a few days, doing on-site work with her part-time employer, a social work agency in Philadelphia. I miss her. It’s been raining nonstop since she left, and that just about sums up my mood. But it’s not all gloom; I made a dish I’ve never cooked before, using some vegetables from our own garden, and it turned out pretty well. Rosemary and pepper make anything taste good.

Next week I’ll be meeting Mel in Philly when I go up to CCEF’s annual counseling conference with a group from our church.

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

Medicine for the Sick, Life for the Dead

John Calvin sometimes gets a bad rap. People accuse this 16th-century refugee theologian of creating a cold, heartless God who enjoys frying people.

But that's not the Calvin I see when I read his commentaries on the Bible, or his Institutes of the Christian Religion. I see a pastor-scholar-theologian who's awestruck at God's love and beauty, excited about the Holy Spirit at work in our world, passionately concerned about helping the ordinary uneducated folks who just want to know how to love God and love their neighbors, and wickedly sarcastic when confronting the wolves who've been preying on those everyday folks.
I've been especially helped by reading Calvin's observations about the Lord's Supper...serving the Supper to people is one of the most amazing parts of my pastoral work, but it's also one of the most mysterious. Calvin certainly leaves lots of room for mystery, but he's good at explaining what can be explained. This passage, on deciding whether we feel "worthy" to receive the Lord's Supper, was beautifully encouraging:
[after discussing and rejecting the false idea that we must root out all our sin before coming to the Table]: "Surely the devil could find no speedier means of destroying men than by so maddening them that they could not taste and savor this food, with which their most gracious Father had willed to feed them! In order, therefore, not to rush headlong into such ruin, let us remember that this sacred feast is medicine for the sick, solace for sinners, alms to the poor; but would bring no benefit to the 'healthy,' 'righteous,' and 'rich'--if any such could be found! For since in it Christ is given to us as food, we understand that without him we would pine away, starve, and faint--as famine destroys the vigor of the body....Therefore, this is the worthiness, the best and only kind we can bring to God: to offer our vileness and our unworthiness to him so that his mercy may make us worthy of him; to despair in ourselves so that we may be comforted in him; to accuse ourselves so that we may be justified by him...moreover, to aspire to that unity which he commends to us in his Supper; and, as he makes all of us one in himself, to desire one soul, one heart, one tongue for us all...we shall think that we, as being poor, come to a kindly Giver; as sick, to a Physician; as sinners, to the Author of righteousness; finally, as dead, to Him who gives us life."

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