Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

Bobblehead Jesus

The Bobblehead Jesus I got as a stocking stuffer this past Christmas, and which now accompanies me every time I drive somewhere, inspired this morning’s poem:

Plastic imitation

cheap meditation




to your every thought

as you weave through traffic

mini miracle maker

whirling dervish

dashboard Jesus

in your car, on your heart

can do a jig for

every broken string of hopes

a little god can make for you

at least a laugh at every turn

as toga-wearing, made-in-China


flop jock Jesus

bears the burdens of

comings and goings with

the frenzied calm of an

enlightened guru

who loves to twist and shake

expressionless until

your heart

feels strangely

warmed and

you’re home.









Mental Health Break— “Hurt” and “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”

Johnny Cash has been dubbed "the philosopher-prince of American country music."

Before his death, Johnny Cash had been dubbed “the philosopher-prince of American country music.” (Photo credit: www.factmag.com)

Today’s break for restless souls looking for the More we’ve yet to find comes from Johnny Cash’s album American V. A Hundred Highways.  “God’s Gonna Cut You Down,” first recorded by Cash in 2003, the year of his death, was released in 2006 posthumously; and is an old American gospel folk song, now put to Cash’s deep, brooding drawl in a particularly winsome rendition.

I’d like to think Cash would be comfortable at our intersection: he was both a saint and a sinner, having lived much of his life addicted to prescription drugs; he was a womanizer, even cheating on his beloved wife June Carter; yet he also had a great big heart for other sinners, spending much of his time singing in prisons, and at the end of his life, his very last album Hurt seems to be the work of an artist who has wrestled with God and made peace.

The accompanying music video for “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” was made after Cash’s death:

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In finding that, I also stumbled upon the video for Cash’s song “Hurt”—the crown jewel of his last album by that same name.  In the song you’ll see a man at the end of his life reflecting upon his “empire of dirt” and contemplating both the transience of his life and his capacity for eternity, as well as his need for a God on a cross:

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Quotes of the Week

Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson are investigating a grisly murder that involves sex, drugs, and...a particularly misled form of organized religion.

Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson are investigating a grisly murder that involves sex, drugs, and…a particularly misled form of organized religion. (Photo credit: www.vulture.com)

Fellow saints and sinners, I’m starting a (like most things here) irregular series called “Quotes of the Week.”  These are just various snippets of wit and charm I run across during the week, and that I’ve not had time to write a deeper reflection on but which struck me and which I want to remember for future use.  Who knows, you may find them memorable or eye-opening, too:

After the first 3 episodes of “True Detective” this week (with Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson)…

To realize that all your life – all your love, all your hate, all your memory, all your pain, it was all the same thing. It was all the same dream, a dream that you had inside a locked room. A dream about bein’ a person…. And like a lot of dreams, there’s a monster at the end of it.—Detective Rust Cohle investigating a grisly murder


Cohle: People out here, it’s like they don’t even know the outside world exists. Might as well be living on the f**g Moon.

Martin Hart (Cohle’s partner): There’s all kinds of ghettos in the world.

Cohle: It’s all one ghetto man, giant gutter in outer space.


Cohle: Transference of fear and self-loathing to an authoritarian vessel. It’s catharsis. He absorbs their dread with his narrative. Because of this, he’s effective at proportion to the amount of certainty he can project. Certain linguistic anthropologists think that religion is a language virus that rewrites pathways in the brain. Dulls critical thinking. (Cohle bantering with his partner Hart at a tent revival meeting)

Hart: Well, I don’t use ten dollar words as much as you, but for a guy who sees no point in existence, you sure fret about it an awful lot; and you still sound panicked.

Cohle: At least I’m not racing to a red light. 


Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God. —Karl Barth

But are you saved?…When were you saved? – An elderly hospice patient

Absence is the first form of knowing. -Psychotherapist James Hillman via author of The Presence of Absence Doris Grumbach, quoted by Tom Montgomery Fate in the June 25 issue of The Christian Century


Faith Equals…


Anne Lamott’s latest book is “Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope, and Repair.” We need it. (Photo credit: Anne Lamott)

This Sunday the preacher said faith is the gap between the kingdom of God we only catch faint glimpses of and that which is coming.

I like that.

In days like these, when just about everywhere I turn the shit seems to have hit the fan, in Ukraine, the Holy Land, and close to home, at our borders and in the form of political stalemates, maybe it’s the faith of Christ that makes it possible for us to look around and recognize that what we see cannot be the kingdom of God for which we long (if only unknowingly).  Maybe, too, the bare fact that we long for this wholeness is also the faith of Christ, eager to work itself out in us.

The gap between these two realities, of a kingdom of God that we’ve caught glimmers of and that we believe is real, and the hard, grim facts on the ground—unrest, gridlock, poverty and want, just to name a few ills that make me want to go put my head in a toilet—is where Christ’s faith can work itself out in us when we let it.

Anne Lamott’s reflections this week are therefore especially touching.  Lest I commit blogosphere plagiarism, you can find them on her Facebook page. But here is a taste…

Many mornings I check out the news as soon as I wake up, because if it turns out that the world is coming to an end that day, I am going to eat the frosting off an entire carrot cake; just for a start. Then I will move onto vats of clam dip, pots of crime brûlée, nachos, M & M’s etc. Then I will max out both my credit cards…Read more here.

The Rise of the “Spiritual But Not Religious”

Here at this intersection between God and life, I’m always interested in news pertaining to those who call themselves “spiritual but not religious”—hence this article from The New York Times featuring the work of three other authors who, like me, are responding to the epithet that now describes one in five Americans (according to a 2012 Pew survey). Lilian Daniel, Linda Mercadante, and Courtney Bender each have their own unique take on the growth of the spiritual but not religious in this country, from one of exasperation (in Daniel’s case), to empathy (via Mercadante) to scholarly fascination (Bender).  The fact that these books belong to an increasing trove of recent literature written for this population (included in which is my own book Grace Sticks) is evidence of the growing influence played by the spiritual but not religious.  Like it or not, and whether or not they find their new interlocutors exasperating, churches in America will have to find ways to engage those for whom the trappings of organized religion have become cumbersome.  As I see it, it’s a welcome challenge.


Are You Opposed to People Owning Guns? Via John Piper

Jim Eliot and 4 other missionaries were killed in Ecuador by Auca Indians. The missionaries had guns but chose to fire them in the air rather than at their attackers who had spears. The Aucas have since embraced Christ in great number.

Jim Eliot and 4 other missionaries were killed in Ecuador by Auca Indians. The missionaries had guns but chose to fire them in the air rather than at their attackers who had spears. The Aucas have since embraced Christ in great number.

Those of you incensed, intrigued or yelling “Amens” to my recent post on new gun legislation in my state of Georgia, may be interested to read this wonderful post from John Piper.  (I’m glad to know John and I probably agree on more than we disagree on.)  In the absence of many biblically and theologically grounded reflections on the issue of guns, gun ownership and gun regulations—fellow saint and sinner Dan will be penning some soon—how’s this for starters, a la Piper? “Those who live by the gun will die by the gun.”  Jesus’ own words in Matthew 26 regarding swords could just as well pertain to this age’s favorite weapon of choice.

Incidentally, an interesting side note: I was intrigued to learn that Jim Eliot and the missionaries Piper speaks of in this post were actually affiliated with the church Dan pastors (Huntingdon Valley Presbyterian in the greater Philadelphia area).

Mental Health Break— “Sea Song” and Lisa Hannigan

This week the theme of the sea put to music especially touched me as our family grieves the loss of my granddad.  My granddad was a lifelong sailor and lover of the sea, and we will scatter some of his ashes on the sea where he used to command our family’s annual regatta from Shelter Island, New York.  Granddad John’s passing belongs to the ebb and flow of the sea of life that carries all of us.  Here is Lisa Hannigan singing her catchy tune, including a hauntingly beautiful violin solo, “Sea Song”—a reminder that the people we love are “like the sea” and that living is about constantly “letting go” of those we love:

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“Admiral John”: A Granddaughter’s Remembrances

It feels a bit like Groundhog Day: wasn’t it just a couple months ago that I was sharing a granddaughter’s reflections upon the death of a grandparent?  This past Saturday, my granddad John slipped away suddenly to join his late wife Peggy of 68 years who had been his companion until two months ago.

Just a few days earlier, I’m told my granddad was praying with one of the pastors from his church, perhaps seeking solace in his grief, when, in the middle of their prayer, Granddad John blurted out, “Peggy, I’ll be with you soon.”  His words were prophetic: on Saturday, a massive stroke took Granddad Home quickly–mercifully, maybe—and surprisingly.  (Many of us thought Granddad at the age of 90 had at least a few more years in him: he had gone back to work the week following Grandmom Peggy’s funeral, doing what God had called him to do across decades and the thing he loved most—being an advocate for the poor.)

Doing justice by the poor was how Granddad worshiped God

“Retirement” was a foreign concept for Granddad John.  Before defending the disenfranchised, he had become a partner in a respected corporate law firm in Albuquerque—and he was highly successful at what he did.  But (as I recount more extensively in my book) at some time during the peak of Granddad’s corporate law career he experienced what he would call a “conversion.”  One night he spent hours driving across rural New Mexico roads feeling suddenly overwhelmed by God’s love for him in the person of Jesus Christ and feeling called, “convicted” really as he told it, to do “more” with a life so loved and with the profession in which he had been trained.

Then, or sometime after that, began Granddad John’s love affair with the poor.  I was a small kid when for a number of Christmases Granddad would take our family around to doors in blighted communities with a bag of groceries, Christmas carols and the time, if invited, to sit down and chat for a while with our hosts.  In many cases, our hosts would be eager to talk with Granddad—like one in particular whom I happen to recall, a woman in a trailer home who invited us into to her cramped, decrepit quarters.  I don’t remember too much of the conversation—I must have been 8 or 9 at the time—but I do remember how she spoke with Granddad; it was with so much affection and trust; and I remember how my granddad addressed her with so much respect and genuine interest in her life.  The poor loved Granddad John; and he loved them.

My granddad’s midlife conversion experience left him with the zeal of a convert.  For a while there, during summers spent with grandparents, I’d spend more than one uncomfortable moment in the backseat of Granddad’s Buick station wagon watching as he handed out Campus Crusades “Four Spiritual Laws” tracts to any stranger in his path.  That sometimes discomfiting zeal would remain, maybe softening just a bit, so that in church worship services much later in life I’d sometimes look over to see him looking heavenward, with both hands enthusiastically lifted in praise, belting out “Amazing Grace.”

Favorite reminiscences of Granddad growing up

Family, tradition and fun were important to Granddad.  In fact he was the life of every party, it seemed—so much so that when friends met him for the first time at my wedding, they would remember him with exclamations like, “Your granddad is a riot!,” and “What a great granddad you have!”  (This I knew of course—and know even more now.)

Granddad John loved to sail.  As a young adult, I was privileged to spend many a summer with Granddad John in his role as “Admiral” of the annual “Robb Regatta.”  Every summer at Granddad’s childhood vacation home in Shelter Island, Long Island, New York, a herd of Robbs would gather to enact with great fanfare a sailboat race.  Every year we were enlisted to participate with a letter from Admiral Granddad himself, regaling us with the highlights and winners from the previous year’s regatta and summoning us to attend, always signing his name with the closing, “Affectionately, Dad.” A couple years I (not really a sailor myself) considered it an honor to be the dead weight in Granddad John’s Sunfish.  Granddad’s heart sang on the open waters.

Granddad held the affection and respect of so many people.  During my young adult years when I was working in D.C., Granddad would come to town to meet with various people and organizations working on the issue of legal aid to the poor.  On one of his visits, he invited me to attend a dinner put on by the organizations of Christian Legal Society and Christian Legal Aid.  I remember feeling like I was in the company of a celebrity to see and hear how this man’s colleagues and friends looked up to and cherished him.

There are truly so many things by which to remember and cherish Granddad John that I won’t do justice to them, but I’ll try.  I never saw my granddad angry or lose his temper. I never saw him complain of his ailments, so that even at the age of 90, when old age had rendered his once imposing, dignified 6’3″ stature pitiably frail, and when life was full of aches, pains and hospitals, Granddad was always remarkably thanking God for the gifts of life and loved ones; never once did I hear him complain. Granddad was always incredibly generous with everyone.  He always sought to believe the best in people, and loved his children and grandchildren unconditionally.  He was loyal to family and friends.  He was always praising God and loving others by seeking to take an interest in their lives.  Every time we were together, he would be deliberate about taking me aside to inquire about what I was up to and to express his love and affection for me; and he genuinely wanted to know, too.

Like all of us, my granddad had his faults—but maybe because my granddad’s life (for as long as I knew him at least) seemed to overflow with faith, hope and love, those “sins” or omissions or failings, (if they could really be called that), seemed not to matter, or, in the end, to be so tenderly forgivable—like the slightest blemishes that make a great work of art even more real, eccentric, beautiful and one-of-a-kind.  Granddad John left some big shoes to fill; I certainly can’t fill them. But what I am so deeply grateful for is the opportunity to have known John Donald Robb II as “Granddad” and to have been given a bit of his story to tell.

A farewell benediction

This time Granddad John’s boat has set sail on halcyon waters and he, maybe uncharacteristically, has set sail without notice.  The Robb Regatta, if it continues, will be sadder, muted by the palpable absence of our commanding admiral.  But this I know: that Granddad has sailed to far better shores than we can even begin to imagine, where there is much celebration; and there, saints, sinners, the poor, the lame and the “least of these” are giving thanks to God for the homecoming of one who sailed nobly to the finish line in the race that was given him.  I love you, Granddad.  May the wind of the Holy Spirit always fill your sails and ever buoy your boat on the waters of faith, hope and hope.  Affectionately, Kris

Hostility Re: My Post on Guns in Georgia—A Lesson

Fellow saints and sinners, it’s with some sadness and more fascination that I write after seeing the onslaught of fierce and even violently ad hominem attacks in response to my post from two days ago about Georgia’s new gun rights legislation.  From here on out, these sorts of responses won’t be tolerated at this intersection between life and God, but today, as a means of investigating the sharp political and cultural divide that afflicts our country, I’ll let them stand for themselves.  “Highlights” were my being called a “bedwetter,” a “liberal, lying witch,” and, a “cretin.”  I had to look the last term up: the definition of a “cretin” in the words of the Oxford Dictionary is a “stupid person (used as a general term of abuse).”

Now that I’ve been called all these names, I’m going to sign up for an NRA membership and put an AK-47 bumper sticker on my car.  (Sarcasm is still allowed here.)

But one reader who called me a witch had a good point: he reminded me that it’s a federal law that you can’t carry guns on planes, so I may be wrong that Georgia residents will be able to take guns on to planes. I stand corrected.  Gun owners may only be able to take their guns through TSA lines, I guess—that is, so long as a tired, over-worked TSA agent catches the gun in their carry-on bags…

From now on, the name calling stops; today, it serves as a helpful educational exercise for me and all my “liberal” friends advocating sensible gun regulation about the deep cultural divides in this country and the vociferousness and violent rhetoric (in many cases) of a small, angry minority.

[For the record: I am politically independent and become uncomfortable when Christians from either side insist that to be a good Christian one must vote Republican or Democrat.  And, once again, for the record, I am advocating sensible gun regulation as part of a holistic approach to preventing future massacres like Newtown.]

Here are some of the comments which, incidentally, with the exception of one “like” on Facebook from another of the silent majority, were the only comments to this post; (you can catch the others at the bottom of this post):

James in North Carolina writes: “Typical liberal hogwash. Trying to point to an event that caused them angst and a law they don’t like and present a fictional cause and effect between the two.”

“Teebonicus” writes: “Personally, I liked it better when you WEREN’T speaking out.  It’s the law. Get used to it, you bed-wetter.”

Mark Harper writes: “Hmmm…Kristina’s embarrassed that she received the Young Republican Women’s scholarship but this cretin has not refunded the money. She thinks people can walk onto planes with loaded weapons. She also thinks if someone abuses their rights, then OUR rights should be removed/restricted. She puts the words rights and liberty inside quotation marks. Kristina, if you are so concerned about government employees rummaging through your stuff, complain about the TSA looking for bottles of liquid that are more than three ounces.”

One reader (Frank) offered some reasonable-sounding advice: “If there is a threat of criminal gang members bringing guns, then searches are the only way to catch them, regardless of the restrictions on permit holders. If there is NOT a threat of criminal gang members bringing guns, then the Atlanta natatorium is choosing to prohibit concealed handguns and searching your bags for no good reason, and it is to them that you should express your resentment.”

Thanks for reading, Frank. And thank you to all of you who are willing to offer constructive work towards bipartisan solutions around the use and regulation of guns by private American citizens.  Since my original post, I’ve: a) met a man with an amputated arm who lost his arm in a gun accident as a child and b) heard a non-gun-owning friend regale her fear to discover that as she was relaxing at her local spa, another private citizen strolled into the spa with a handgun strapped to his belt.  Apparently we proud Georgians can also take guns to the spa now!



Free Grace Sticks Excerpt

"Grace Sticks is dedicated to anyone anywhere who heard a version of The Way, The Truth and the Life that made them feel more lost, swindled or less alive—and who made for the open road."

“Grace Sticks is dedicated to anyone anywhere who heard a version of The Way, The Truth and the Life that made them feel more lost, swindled or less alive—and who made for the open road.”

Thanks for bearing with yesterday’s rant against gun rights legislation in Georgia.

On another note, I was delighted to learn that Beliefnet has done a special promotion piece for my book Grace Sticks, featuring an extended excerpt from the first chapter.  Here it is for prospective readers.

Previous Posts

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 thi

posted 12:58:15pm Dec. 18, 2014 | read full post »

I Can't Breathe and the Widow's Cry—A Guest Post
Fellow saint and sinner Saskia de Vries is a neuroscientist in Seattle, Washington and has posted before at this intersection between God and life. She, like so many of us, is grappling with the tragedies of Eric Garner and Michael Brown and the larger systemic problem they seem to reveal—namely,

posted 2:10:09pm Dec. 11, 2014 | read full post »

Advent and Emptiness, Via Louis CK and the Prophet Isaiah
I've been making my way through the book of Isaiah. This morning's reading was from chapter 6, where the prophet Isaiah receives his call to go to the people of Israel and proclaim God's judgment of a people who have wandered away from God's purposes for them. Isaiah asks how long God's people will

posted 11:45:39am Dec. 09, 2014 | read full post »

Advent Resurrection
It may seem strange to pair Advent with resurrection. Usually resurrection comes more naturally at Easter. But at heart the labor pangs of all creation giving birth to the Christ child are a longing for a new start. Advent is a longing to be born again. Neuroscience now teaches that every minu

posted 2:47:38pm Dec. 04, 2014 | read full post »

Birthday Cred—Ecclesiastes Via David Foster Wallace
Today I'm still (barely) on the left side of 40, and bea

posted 11:01:03am Dec. 01, 2014 | read full post »

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