Pete and Peter

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Impulsive, spunky, fiery, colorful Pete. RIP.

My youngest brother, Pete, was taken from us too early. Cancer ravaged his body, but could never damage his indomitable, spunky spirit. Pete was spirited, colorful and full of life, fiery in one moment, gentle in the next. He was funny. He was fiercely loyal. And he loved lavishly.

I could easily compare Pete to his namesake, the disciple Peter. You know the one, the disciple who kept putting his foot in his mouth, who tried to walk on a lake and began to sink because of a faith too small. He was the disciple who betrayed Jesus three times and in the end, in the very last verse of the 22nd Chapter of the Gospel of Luke, verse 62 ends the pain-filled story with these words: β€œAnd he went out and wept bitterly.”

You see, in spite of his mistakes, his denials, his impulsive behavior, Disciple Peter loved Jesus deeply. And my baby brother was a bit like this flawed disciple. Pete was often impulsive, volatile, frequently unreasonable, quick-tempered. Yet, he was full of love that opens its arms to protect with extravagant caring.

So for the 29th of June, St. Peter’s Day, I remember the impulsive disciple who, for all his mistakes, learned how to hold on to his better self, to recover from wrong turns in his life, and to make peace with his wavering self. Jesus called this seemingly undisciplined man β€œthe rock.” I suspect Jesus chose that name because he saw that Peter knew how to live again, standing strong against his own demons and ultimately learning that any betrayal, every betrayal, can miraculously be restored by love.

My brother Pete’s life, also filled of rough roads and wrong turns, taught him the same lesson: that love restored him to himself, to his estranged family, to the sister that had been lost to him for years. Love did that. And love is what keeps Pete close, even in death.

Poet Malcolm Guite has written a beautiful piece entitled β€œA Sonnet for Petertide.”

Impulsive master of misunderstanding
You comfort me with all your big mistakes;

Jumping the ship before you make the landing,

Placing the bet before you know the stakes.

I love the way you step out without knowing,

The way you sometimes speak before you think,

The way your broken faith is always growing,

The way he holds you even when you sink.

Born to a world that always tried to shame you,

Your shaky ego vulnerable to shame,

I love the way that Jesus chose to name you,
Before you knew how to deserve that name.

And in the end your Saviour let you prove
That each denial is undone by love.

Thank you for your life, Disciple Peter. You give us hope that we can overcome our imperfect actions, make it through dusty roads covered with the boulders of our mistakes, and find love at the end.

And as for my baby brother, Pete, I will always remember your ornery ways, your explosive temper, your intense loyalty and your lavish love.

Happy Name Day, sweet little brother. I miss you.

The Balm for Our Heartbreak

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We do not anticipate much to happen on Holy Monday. It is a Monday, after all, not a great time for hope and expectation. It’s more a time for heartbreak. For on this Holy Monday, we need a reminder that God’s love is ever-present with us.

Mary has prepared Jesus’ body for burial, for death, and we know all too well where the road to Jerusalem leads. We know thatΒ the hosannas have fallen silent. We know that the high ranking officials are meeting secretly to plan for the death of Jesus. We know that Judas will betray Jesus and Peter will deny him.

We know that what comes next will break our hearts. But broken hearts are not so bad. At least that’s what Glennon Doyle Melton says.

I have learned that when I run from heartbreak, from pain, I bypass transformation — like a caterpillar constantly jumping out of its cocoon right before it was about to become a butterfly.

Pain knocks on everyone’s door. It we are wise we will greet it and say, “Come in, sit down, and don’t leave until you’ve taught me what I need to know.”

She tells us to ask ourselves what breaks our hearts. And then she explains that the heart, like every other muscle, has to be worked, even ripped apart. That’s how it grows stronger. So instead of shrinking back from our heartbreak and finding ways to disconnect from our suffering, perhaps we should run right into the painful middle of it.

Heartbreak in our lives, like heartbreak on Holy Monday, is very real. That’s why the words of the Psalmist sing so loudly inΒ our hearts, bringing us hope and love and light.

Your mercy, O Lord, is in the heavens;
Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.

Your righteousness is like the great mountains;
Your judgments are a great deep;

How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God!
Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings.

They are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of Your house,
And You give them drink from the river of Your pleasures.

For with You is the fountain of life;
In Your light we see light.

— Psalm 36: 5-9

God’s love is the balm for our heartbreak — today, tomorrow and forever.

Love Rising

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Bishop Steven Charleston uses the wonderful phrase “love rising” and writes that “love is rising all around us” It’s a comforting thought that love can rise around us and in us to push out fear and grief and anger and malice. I have a notion that for that to happen in us, we must allow it. We must be open to letting go of all the negative stuff within us and allow the love to rise.

It’s possible, to be sure. We have heard the profound, but simple, Scripture “perfect love casts out fear.” And it always gives us hope for better days and for a kinder, more loving heart.

I leave you today with the words of Bishop Charleston.

Love is rising all around us, if we open the eyes of the spirit to see, rising all around, from so many who have not given up, from so many who hope and who believe, the witness of quiet hearts, the faithful family from every creed and culture, every tradition and community, rising up, pushing back fear, overcoming suspicion, finding new answers, trying new ideas, turning love into action, letting it rise up from broken cities and troubled towns, letting it rise up for all of us, not for the few, but for all of us, love, rising up all around, rising up in you and in me and in all of us.

May love rise up in you and around you this day.

Love in Action

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A high school teacher battling cancer looked out of his bedroom window and saw 400 students and faculty worshiping outside his window. They surprised their terminally ill teacher by showing up on his street and serenading him with hymns.

Ben Ellis, who taught at the Christ Presbyterian Academy in Nashville before his illness, was diagnosed with esophageal cancer last December. After a devastating medical report last week, he and his family decided to cease treatment.

Mr Ellis said that what the students did was “beautiful and unforgettable. It overwhelmed me that God would fill that many students with that much love. In that moment I felt that I was not alone.”

The lesson for us is about giving ourselves, selflessly and lavishly, to those who need an act of love. May God enliven us to put our love in action.

My Weight in Their Hands

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I worshipped at my home church yesterday. What a blessing it was to be with the people that prayed and nursed me through the most serious days of my illness! In many ways, they played a role in my eventual return to health. And it is such a blessing to know that they will also pray me through my eventual kidney transplant.

They are what Christ’s Community is all about. New Millennium Church became a true faith community for me during my darkest days. They prayed. They brought meals. They stayed in close touch. They believed in my healing. They were as Toni Morrison describes in this passage:

“They encouraged you to put some of your weight in their hands and soon as you felt how light and lovely it was, they studied your scars and tribulations…”
― Toni Morrison, Beloved

And so, with my weight in their hands, I began to get myself back, physically, emotionally and spiritually. They were, for me, the reality of miracle. Today, I am healthy enough to be considered a candidate for a kidney transplant. Through that process, I know that New Millennium will pray.

“I give thanks to God upon every remembrance of you.” – Philippians 1:1

Immeasurably More

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My life is immeasurably more than I ever imagined. Yes, I have a serious illness. Yes, retirement income is dismal. Yes, making ends meet is difficult. Yes, waiting on a kidney transplant is challenging. Yet the blessings that I receive from God every day that I live is immeasurably more than I deserve.

I often think of the scripture that talks about Christ dwelling in our hearts through faith. It is part of a beautiful passage in the third chapter of Ephesians. I am constantly amazed that Christ dwells in my heart through faith. It is a miracle of God that enables Christ to dwell in my heart, to be literally inside me, to make all the difference in my life. That profound thought leaves me without words of my own. Instead, I leave you with the rest of the passage in Ephesians:

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledgeβ€”that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. – Ephesians 3:17-21

Home of My Heart

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I’m on the road today! And I’m celebrating going back home to Little Rock to see friends, church family, and my child and grandchildren. I haven’t seen them in over a year. I have not seen my youngest grandson at all. He turns one today, so if all goes well on the journey, I’ll see him on his birthday.

Home is now far away for me, ten hours by car. My new home is nice enough, and we have made a “sort-of” home here. But Little Rock is the home of my heart, a place that was difficult to leave behind.

I can not help but think of Naomi’s story of leaving home in the first chapter of the book of Ruth.

In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.

It must have been traumatic to leave home for her, and when her husband and sons died, she must have languished terribly. The story goes on to tell us that Naomi survived and built a new home.

That’s what we do. We build home wherever we go. We put our heart into every new place, and eventually the heart makes it home. I will do that in Macon. I have already made some progress. I have a dear and loving family here, and we so enjoy one another. But for today, I am celebrating going back home! To the place of my heart! To the people of my heart!

Love Has the Last Word

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My last blog post spoke of being unable to escape adversity. And it is true that we will not get through this life without adversity, no matter how hard we try. The path we walk is steep and winding, leading us forward through all sorts of dangers, toils and snares. The road can be frightening. It can be challenging.

We navigate in a world that is sometimes filled with terror and hate. But the best news for us comes from Bishop Steven Charleston.

The final word to our lives will not be terror or hate. Even if they seem overwhelming now, they will not define us or control us. Other forces are at work, deep forces that move silently among us, drawing us closer against the storm. Whenever human beings face disaster together, whatever that peril may be, our ancient instinct for compassion rises up to unite us in common cause. We do not shatter beneath the blows. We only grow stronger. No, fear and hate will never have the last word. Love will.

There is no better news than that!

I love the hymn Amazing Love. How Can it Be. The words of the fourth stanza give me new and fresh hope.

Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

Amazing love, how can it be that Thou, my God, should die for me?

Love has the last word.

Healed of Sad Memory

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The anniversary of my brother’s death was in late March. I did not allow myself to emotionally mark the actual date, and that was probably a mistake. The loss has hovered over me since the day I chose to largely ignore it. And there is a cloud of sadness over my head. Pete was our baby brother, and he certainly did not leave us in the right order. He was the youngest, so he should have outlived his two older siblings. But that was the thing about Pete. He didn’t follow rules and expected practices.

I survived his death emotionally. My brother and my cousin also survived it. His young wife and his two beautiful daughters did too. But there was a special kind of love that made it possible to survive. Pete loved lavishly and graciously. It is that kind of love that still watches over us and heals us of the sad memory. It is God’s love that carries us beyond the sadness and brings us into the light of hope. The words of Steven Charleston describe it perfectly.

What gracious love is this, that watches over us without ceasing, that allows for our frailty, that lifts us up when we have stumbled, never wavering in hope for us, never despairing at our shortcomings, but believing in us, defending us, calling forth our better nature, until we are healed of sad memory, restored to live in the fullness of our life, set free from the snares of what can harm us, to be who we were made to be, long ago, by this same gracious heart, the one that formed us before the first dawn, and that will carry us safely beyond the golden light.

This blog post is for Pete, and is dedicated to Shelli, Kristen and Kaitlyn.

Love Like that Makes the Planet Breathe

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An old Beatles song reminds us of something very important in life:

All you need is love.
All you need is love.
All you need is love, love.
Love is all you need.

Indeed, it is a great message, and one that is so appropriate in a world that often seems to be filled with hate. I wish I had never heard the voices of the presidential candidates speaking of hatred toward Muslims, Mexicans, persons who are immigrants, and basically, anyone who does not fit into their social boxes.

Why so much hate when all we need is love? The wise words of Bishop Steven Charleston move me to a better place. I hope they will uplift you as well.

Love all that you can today, as far as you can, as widely and wildly as you can, without boundaries or borders, giving out your love for all that you see in beauty and nature around you,

loving unrestrained the simple life that lives forever around you,

the flowers in a field,

the sparrows darting by,

the sky and the wind as surely as if they were your own,

loving every passing person, not stopping to count the reasons, but loving as if your loving made the whole planet breathe.

Love all that you can today, for in such love is the secret beginning of what will never end.