Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

Good Friday Is Like Hot Yoga…

Hot yoga may be too cool for me. (Photo credit:

Hot yoga may be too cool for me. (Photo credit:

Good Friday is like last night’s mindful hot yoga class.

It was my first, so I had gone with some trepidation.

I hadn’t known what to wear, for one thing, so I put on my only pair of light Spandex, which happen to be a shiny, bright, royal blue. A Christmas gift from hubby several years back that I now rarely wear.


And the hygiene of stretching and sweating profusely in 100-plus-degree temperatures on borrowed mats circulated and re-circulated among strangers had convinced me I needed my own mat, thankfully only $7.99 at Ross.

Then I had endured the looks of tattooed hipsters and bar goers at $5 margarita happy hour as I walked—now briskly—down the main drag of East Atlanta, until I came to the window of “Sacred Sweat Yoga.”

A small sign on the door told me to go around back and knock, which I did to no avail.

When I returned to the front door, I peeked inside to see two neat, long rows of stretching bodies calmly ensconced in their work-out, the first of those bodies maybe two feet from the front window where I stood.


I was ten minutes late.

So I knocked and rang the door bell and tried to open the front door. To no avail.

The outside happy hour crowd next door saw my plight and tried to help. One went and banged louder on the front door. No luck. She returned to her margarita with sympathetic expressions, and we all enjoyed a good laugh as the rain began to fall and the heavens broke loose in peals of thunder. A margarita was starting to look more enjoyable than a hot yoga work-out, anyway.

The truth is, those ladies in hot yoga weren’t being intentionally rude. They just really hadn’t noticed me knocking on the door and peeking in under the hanging blinds. They were so mindful of their hot yoga moves that they hadn’t eyes to see anything else.


Good Friday is a bit like that: it slips imperceptibly by for many of us, despite the big hint that something remarkable has happened. Maybe the most poignant thing about Good Friday is that when God dies, not many really notice. Do they care? Maybe they would if they noticed.

In this sense, I am guessing most of us are not unlike those in Jesus’ time. Sure, for the disciples and maybe for a few who stand watching at the foot of the cross, like the centurion, Jesus’ death means something profound and life-changing has just taken place. Their world will never be the same again, precisely because Jesus’ death means a coming undone of hope itself. But a large proportion of people in Jesus’ time probably would not have noticed. They would have gone on living without noticing that in Jesus and in his death God had been knocking on their door and peeking under the blinds.

Today is Good Friday, which means God went to a cross and died. I try to wrap my mind around that and fail. But today it is enough of a distraction to make me want to live like I’m worth dying for.

You are, too.





A Glorious Dark: A Review

Author of Messy A.J. Swoboda's newly released book The Glorious Dark is well-worth a read. You can find A.J. blogging at

Author of “Messy” A.J. Swoboda’s newly released book, “A Glorious Dark,” is well worth the read. You can find A.J. blogging at

Three years ago, when pastor, seminary professor and author A.J. Swoboda’s first book Messy made its debut, I said I hoped the book would not be his last; so when a review copy of Swoboda’s second book, A Glorious Dark, arrived in the mail last week, I was like a kid on Christmas morning unwrapping a gift.


I was not disappointed.

The same knack for funny and conversational theological gab that made Messy an enjoyable and engaging read is once again on display in these reflections on Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter—and just in time for the events of this Holy Week. The premise of the book is both simple and profound: that Christians need the whole Gospel, as in “pain and death on Friday, doubt on Saturday, and resurrection on Sunday.” Swoboda critiques an all-too-prevalent, pick-and-choose buffet approach within contemporary American Christianity: whereas some Christians choose a Good Friday spirituality of “defeat, death and loss,” for example, other Christians spend their time in the dessert line, skipping the meat and potatoes of pain and death entirely and preferring instead variations on the health and wealth gospel.


Then there are those of us who have decided we are somewhere in the middle, on Holy Saturday, choosing “in-betweeness, a liminality, an uncertainty, a doubt.” (Here— maybe because I am sympathetic to Holy Saturday-ers and find myself among them often—I’m not sure I completely agree with Swoboda that we are “cynics and deconstructionists” who think “that everyone should sit in our graves with us.”) But the overall tenor Swoboda strikes, one of calling the church to embrace a whole Gospel rather than piecemeal parts of it, is well-taken, and I applaud him for what he has done in another great book—namely, giving his readers a winning and provocative presentation of the Christian faith.

Here, as in Messy, the witty, one-liners wake me up and draw me in:


Faith will either be like a Polaroid picture or an Etch-a-Sketch.

The Trinity is the world’s Chewbacca.

Everyone’s addicted to something. Even God.

The last of these I want to quibble with: the notion that God is an addict addicted to dispensing grace clashes with my Barthian and Reformed sensibilities; a perfectly free and sovereign God cannot be an addict, even for the sake of a pithy illustration. Doesn’t God precede grace afterall? A small quibble.

This instance is one of a few in the book where I want to press Swoboda to explain a bit more what he means. He is on the move at a breakneck speed throughout this book, a bit like a very gifted and engaging theological tour guide with a small (and endearing) hint of ADHD. There is methodological brilliance in this approach: theology eludes systematizing; and there is so much terrain to cover between Good Friday and Easter, why not catch the most important highlights? But there are a few times when I think I’m being driven towards the theological equivalent of one of the Seven Wonders (like the problem of human evil and depravity, for example) and am then distracted by roadkill.


By way of illustration, some illuminating reflections on human evil veer into a somewhat terse and dismissive critique of evolution: “In fact, my biggest beef with evolution isn’t what evolution says about the past. My problem with evolution is what it says of the future. It ultimately suggests, ‘Hey, give humanity a few more years and we’ll get everything cleaned up. We’ll be better.”

The digression into a critique of evolution in turn causes this reader to lose sight of the more compelling point Swoboda is making here about the problem of human evil. Instead, I become a bit distracted wondering whether contemporary models of evolution really do make the teleological assumption that with evolution human beings will become better and less evil. (I am pretty sure they don’t; besides, I had thought the primary beef that many evangelicals have with evolution is precisely what they deem as evolution’s inherent randomness and lack of a teleology.)


But these points are minor in a book that will enrich and challenge your Christian faith or lack thereof. Swoboda’s pastoral concerns are evident. He reserves some of his best one-liners and metaphors for talking about the church and why we still need the church. But I don’t want to spoil these for prospective readers, who will have to pick up the book and discover its depth and charm for themselves.

They won’t be disappointed.



Being There: A Eulogy to Our Dog Carter

(Photo credit: Amateur photographer and family friend Mark Singletary)

(Photo credit: Amateur photographer and family friend Mark Singletary)

Today our canine companion of 15 years—about the length of our marriage—died. He passed away peacefully at the age of 17 with his closest family around him, stroking him wistfully between sobs and thanking him for the life and love he  shared with us.


Velvet-eared, sweet and gentle Carter was a rescue dog, just a garden-variety lab mix with a personality that made you want to love him for the rest of his life. He was dropped off on our porch during our first year of marriage, a time when we were still acclimating to newlywed life. Carter had been found as a puppy roaming a construction site in rural Tennessee, and—as we soon discovered was typical of Carter—charmed his way into the hearts of the men who worked there. They soon were feeding him scraps and one day, one of the men, an acquaintance from church, dropped Carter off on our porch in hopes a new dog might lift our spirits after the loss of our last dog Truman.

15 Years of Being There…

There are so many things by which to remember our dog. His boundless energy on long hikes or accompanying us on jogs. The way he seemed to intuit when we were having a bad day, and would tenderly put his muzzle in our lap, letting us stroke his head and tell him about it. And, before children came along, Carter’s warm body cuddled up next to us in bed at the end of a day. He just wanted to be with us no matter what. Even when my husband and I couldn’t be around one another, and there have been those moments, Carter was always there— and we could always be around Carter.


Carter’s unfailingly sweet disposition to all belied his capacity as a hunter in the wild. (Carter had come to us after spending at least a year, maybe two, surviving on his own in the woods, after all.) There was the time when a neighbor kid issued a 10-year-old boy’s taunt one day as we were standing in front of our apartment in Princeton, New Jersey: “Wouldn’t it be cool if Carter could catch that squirrel?!,” he exclaimed, as we watched Carter zero in on a squirrel 10 feet away, his body gearing up for a chase.

Carter caught that squirrel, and pretty soon had it in his jaws, flinging that squirrel by the neck in a death grip—all to the neighbor kid’s enthusiastic shouts of “Yeah, Carter!,” and to the kid’s parents’ horror at an unfolding scene that, because of its grisliness, probably would not be shown on your average PBS nature program.


Then there was the time that 40-pound Carter took down a fully grown adult deer on the Princeton golf course. Early in the mornings we would let Carter run free on that open field of meticulously clipped, rolling green carpet. One morning, however, during a snow storm in early spring, my husband came back from a walk to report that Carter had caught and killed a deer, one of the many in the woods around the seminary apartment complex we inhabited. After the unstoppable carnage, the deer’s carcass had been too big to lug or haul anywhere, so we had been obliged to leave the unlucky deer there, and to imagine what it would be like for some pharmaceutical executive in his perfectly white golfing knickers to discover venison near the tenth hole. We still feel a bit sorry about that incident.


When our first child came along, there was an adjustment period, and we wondered, especially I in my jittery, anxious first days of motherhood, whether Carter would treat my newborn child like just another squirrel or deer. But Carter was smart, and he soon caught on that he had taken a new position in the family food chain. After that, he became a loyal protector of our kids, always enduring even the rough shoves and pulls of toddlers with nothing but an abiding patience—even in his twilight years. He accepted his lot with grace, contenting himself just to be there, even if it meant being an afterthought next to dirty diapers, skinned knees and swim lessons and soccer practices.

In recent years, Carter had been there, too. A stable, faithful presence. When in old age he no longer could go on hikes with us, he still would greet us with his tail wildly wagging, as if we were the best thing that had happened to him; and when any of us would leave the house, he would whimper. He was our canine cheerleader of sorts, and he was always there, even when we took him for granted.


During the last months of his life, Carter could no longer climb our home’s steep stairs to join us in the TV room on family movie nights or to lie at my feet as I worked. That was hard for him.  Some days he would cry and whimper at the foot of the stairs, because all he really wanted was to be there next to us. But his hips had started to give way and cause him pain.

And When Being There Was Hurting Him Too Much…

There were other issues, too, that in recent days came to a head and led to the awareness that Carter did not deserve to be kept around for our sake anymore. His quality of life had so greatly diminished.

Carter rallied again for us this afternoon, just before the vet came to inject him with sodium pentobarbital. He wanted to join us for one last romp around the yard on a bright day in early spring—and, somewhat begrudgingly, for some family photos.


Then, surrounded by teary-eyed family telling him how much they loved him and how much he had been a gift to us, Carter climbed onto his comfy bed for one last time; and, with his tired, now white-haired muzzle enclosed by a cup of Dairy Queen soft serve ice cream, Carter drifted off into a long and peaceful sleep.

The vet said we were sending Carter to heaven. I hope so. Because if he’s not there, I’m not sure what hope there is for the rest of us.

God speed, boy. I’ll miss you.








Author Marilynne Robinson Live: On Soul Vs. Mind and Why It Matters

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Marilynne Robinson's latest book is Lila.

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Marilynne Robinson’s latest book is Lila.

My favorite contemporary author Marilynne Robinson was in town this week speaking at an event hosted by Emory’s University’s Carlos Museum. She was speaking with an astrophysicist who was also brilliant—but I was mostly there to hear Marilynne, whose gentle, colorfully evocative conjurations of grace in the lives and words of her novels’ characters keep wooing me back to her work.


At one point in the conversation she was asked to comment on what she views as the difference between the soul and the mind.

The soul, she said, is independent of one’s biography, (whereas the mind, implicitly, is); and the soul is more like God’s “investment” in every person.

The soul is more like God’s investment in each of us.

And if the soul is God investment, then what more particularly is this divine investment? If the assumption is that we are all “divinely invested,” what is that investment? Is it the image of God? Love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness and self-control—all of those things that I so often lack? Is it the gift or gifts with which God has entrusted us, be they a capacity to write like Marilynne…or dance like Justin Bieber? Or is it simply God’s breath—the creative Word of God which cannot return to God empty?

What is God’s investment in you and in me?

That, it seems, is a question by which to live.



Dying Stanford Neurosurgeon—On Heidegger, Graham Greene and Time

Stanford neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi savors a moment with his daughter Cady. (Credit: Mark Hanlon, Washington Post)

Stanford neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi savors a moment with his daughter Cady. (Credit: Mark Hanlon, Washington Post)

I’m finally emerging from hibernation on my latest book project, this one now definitively titled The Recovery-Friendly Church: Loving and Ministering to People with Addictions (InterVarsity Press) and slated for release this fall. (Last week the book’s publication with IVP finally became official with the signing of a contract and after a long vetting process that involved consideration of, rather overwhelmingly, six offers of publication from prospective publishers.) This week I put the finishing touches on our now completed manuscript—or at least a first draft of a manuscript, which has been my big excuse for not coming by this intersection during the last few months. So I am glad to be back.


This morning I am grateful for the life and wisdom of the late Stanford neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi, who died Monday at the age of 37, having only recently witnessed the birth of his daughter Cady. Kalanithi’s meditations on dying and making the most of time were published yesterday in The Washington Post. Here is Kalanithi with some parting thoughts for his daughter and for the rest of us.




Writing Sabbatical—and “The Departure of the Prodigal Son”

I’m sorry: my absenteeism at this intersection can be attributed to a number of things lately, the most pressing of which is my forthcoming book with author and Christian addiction specialist Jonathan Benz. The book (Prodigal Church or a version of it) is now officially under deadline and by April 1 I’m to have a manuscript to the publisher (which we will announce shortly, with a hard decision pending). So I’m having to take a writing “sabbatical”—although that term makes the next few months sound misleadingly restful and enjoyably languorous, like sipping cappucinos in a Paris coffee shop while penning poetry. The reality is that I’m a bit under the gun.

So regrettably we won’t catch each other here hardly at all during the next couple of months….but I’ll be back.


For the time being, here’s a poem, “The Departure of the Prodigal Son,” by the poet Rainer Maria Wilke, an excerpt of which will appear within the pages of Prodigal Church—and which asks the question “What drives you to go forth?”:

To go forth now
from all the entanglement
that is ours and yet not ours,
that, like the water in an old well,
reflects us in fragments, distorts what we are.

From all that clings
like burrs and brambles–
to go forth
and see for once, close up, afresh,
what we had ceased to see–
so familiar it had become.
To glimpse how vast and how impersonal
is the suffering that filled your childhood.


Yes, to go forth,
hand pulling away from hand.
Go forth to what? To uncertainty,
to a country with no connections to us
and indifferent to the dramas of our life.

What drives you to go forth? 
Impatience, instinct, a dark need,
the incapacity to understand.

To bow to all this.
To let go–
even if you have to die alone.

Is this the start of a new life?





Restless Soul Hall of Fame: Sister Corita Kent

Credit: Corita Art Center, by way of NPR)

Sister Corita Kent, in front of her artwork, at Immaculate Heart College in 1964 (Credit: Corita Art Center, by way of NPR)

Since NPR’s recent segment, Sister Corita Kent has come to mind a few times this week as someone who deserves to be added to our Restless Souls’ Hall of Fame—yes, it’s a bit of a new concept here at this intersection, but I like it, and on occasion will be adding lesser-known figures like Sister Kent to its ranks. By “restless souls,” I mean the spiritual exiles of our time—people who are seeking after God and finding God in the world around them, often outside of mainstream, traditional church which has failed them.


Sister Kent, whose artwork is now on exhibit at the Andy Warhol Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, once headed the art department of Immaculate Heart College, in Los Angeles, California. Like Warhol, Kent used images from the advertising world and pop culture to fashion her creations, but in the case of Kent, a Catholic nun, these works were expressions of her Christian faith.

In this way, something as mundane as the slogan on a General Mills cereal box— “the Big G stands for Goodness”—which served as General Mills’ logo, could be transformed into a meditation on God Himself as “God,” “goodness,” and “spiritual goodness.” Or, similarly, Kent could juxtapose other advertising logos with verses from Scripture and quotes from Gertrude Stein and the poet e.e. cummings. Just a Wonder Bread wrapper could elicit reflections on hunger and poverty.


Kent eventually left the college and convent over differences with her bishop, who, in reaction to Vatican II reforms, made known his discontent over Kent’s preference to choose secular clothes over the habit. But as NPR recalls, Kent never left the church and continued producing art with overtly spiritual themes.

In her later years, Kent fought cancer several times, and the darkness of this struggle comes through in her later artwork. But, in 1985, she created her “Love” stamp for the U.S. Postal Service (which I still remember from my own childhood), 700 million copies of which were sold.

I am grateful to NPR for the introduction to Kent. In many ways what Kent did with art, I have sought to do in the writing of my first book Grace Sticks, as a bumper sticker-inspired meditation on The Way, The Truth and The Life. Kent’s relentless search for traces of God from among the often banal, mundane artifacts of American consumerism is a reminder that just about anyone can search for God and find God in the very ordinary circumstances of their life.





“I Am Charlie Hebdo”

The cover of the latest edition of Charlie Hebdo. (Credit: Charlie Hebdo, AFP)

The cover of the latest edition of Charlie Hebdo. (Credit: Charlie Hebdo, AFP)

I struggle to know how to greet you after such a long hiatus from posting here—and in light of how much has happened in the world since Christmas, the most obvious development being last week’s horrifying events in Paris and a growing public incantation against religious violence and threats to freedom of speech in the form of a the chant “I am Charlie Hebdo.”


Honestly, last week left me feeling down in the dumps. What drives such senseless acts of murder? The notion that somehow the prophet Muhammad needs to be protected from slander? Really? It would be one thing if Muslims believed Muhammad to be God. That motivation, while it still does not justify killing other human beings, would at least be a bit more understandable. But mass killing and suicidal craziness to defend the name of a human being, however revered, are nothing less than absurd!

I have no answers here, only wonderment, but maybe you have some thoughts. Feel free to leave them below.

In the meantime, my latest book project is coming along. Prodigal Church, a tool book for church leaders on addiction and recovery, is making unglamorously steady progress. Last week’s deadline signified the official halfway mark. And I’m glad to be back again a bit more at this intersection between God and life, and to wish you a Happy New Year. Come on back every so often. It’s always nice to see you here.



A Christmas Homily

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. —Luke 2:6,7

The sheer physicality of this picture strikes me this Christmas. The baby Jesus, wrapped not in swaddling, baptismal-like garments of the kind you might see in a Renaissance painter’s sumptuous rendering—but in whatever is on hand at the end of a sweaty, arduous journey by two poor pilgrims.

A woman in labor, a first-time father standing by trying to help and only partially succeeding, the animals restlessly crowded around, startled by the new interlopers in their midst. Blood. Sweat. Dirt. Hay. Steaming piles of fresh manure.


And a Jesus who will end his life much as he began it, in blood, sweat, poverty and rejection, wrapped in cloth.

Did Mary expect to deliver her firstborn son in a manger, next to a few cows and sheep? Did she manage at least a laugh at the strange hilarity of her plight, in between the first contractions and the stomping, snorting and lowing of farm animals? Or, did she feel only quiet resignation that bearing a Savior of the world would require this poverty and rejection? But I digress…

This first Christmas was a material one, too, just not in the way we’ve come to celebrate it. Not in harried online shopping and last-minute trips to the mall. Not in worries that the gift we gave was not expensive or impressive enough.


The “material” Jesus comes to redeem are the blood, sweat, tears, poverty and limitation that go along with being human. We need the physicality of this scene, just as we need the physicality of the crucifixion. It is here that our redemption begins. This human God is at the core of what Christians have proclaimed across the centuries. By being with us, by being in our shoes, God begins the work of redemption that continues to this day. “God with us”—the same “Immanuel” the prophet Isaiah proclaimed would come to His people—is a God who cares about our frail human flesh and its corruption. Blood, sweat, tears, poverty and rejection—all of the hardest parts of being human—need to be part of the Christmas story for the very reason that they are the things we most need to know God will redeem.

May your Christmas be richly blessed with the renewed assurance that God is redeeming the hardest parts of being human—of being uniquely you—through the work of One who is with you in the mess.

Merry Christmas!


Mental Health Break—Sprawl II

My favorite band these days is Arcade Fire, and I’ve featured the Canadian indie rock group before at this intersection between God and life. The lead singer studied Kirkegaard in college and their songs, like this one, are often subtle but brilliant critiques of the least aesthetically pleasing things about Western (post)modernity: in this case, suburban sprawl and its tendency to strip human beings of their need for beauty and the aesthetics of truth, reducing them into often faceless, dehumanized puppets of sort (as the video below seems to suggest). But, in addition to penning meaningful lyrics, the band knows how to write some really snappy, get-under-your-skin tunes and (I’m told) are amazing in concert.

Here is Sprawl II:

YouTube Preview Image



Previous Posts

Good Friday Is Like Hot Yoga...
Good Friday is like last night's mindful hot yoga class. It was my first, so I had gone with ...

posted 11:09:17am Apr. 03, 2015 | read full post »

A Glorious Dark: A Review
Three years ago, when ...

posted 2:39:05pm Apr. 02, 2015 | read full post »

Being There: A Eulogy to Our Dog Carter
Today our canine companion of 15 years—about the length of our marriage—died. He passed away ...

posted 10:42:39pm Mar. 27, 2015 | read full post »

Author Marilynne Robinson Live: On Soul Vs. Mind and Why It Matters
My favorite contemporary author Marilynne Robinson was in town this week speaking at an event ...

posted 10:26:54pm Mar. 19, 2015 | read full post »

Dying Stanford Neurosurgeon—On Heidegger, Graham Greene and Time
I'm finally emerging from hibernation on my latest book ...

posted 1:27:02pm Mar. 13, 2015 | read full post »


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