Finding union in love

James Finley on Thomas Merton:

The Samaritan going from Jerusalem to Jericho found a man half dead who had been beaten by robbers. As the Samartian bound up his wounds, Christ met Christ. Weakness met strength and both found hope in life beyond division and fear. Love is the epiphany of God in our poverty.

I want this in my life. This is what matters.



The last of the leaves are falling all over the 10-acre wood these days. The trees are nearly barren. I can see all four borders of our property now, and the spaciousness helps me breathe deeply.
I wonder, as the sleep of winter approaches, does dying help us see beyond what’s right in front of us?
Does it give us a wider, longer view of existence, of our lives, of all that God is doing?


One of my favorite blogs is Culture Making, kept by Andy Crouch and a few of his colleagues. It is a great storehouse of thoughts on Christian faith and beauty, artistry, ingenuity, imagination, invention, etc., etc. Andy is a great thinker. I actually, not that long ago, shared a car ride with him and one of my professors from Biblical Seminary. We had some wonderful conversations about power and influence as it relates to being a Jesus-follower.

Anyway, I am baffled by this video that I found on the Culture Making blog. Why are these folks, and it seems an overwhelming female-led refrain, so concerned about the safety of this church?? Is Jesus’ call a call to security and safety? Is safety a Christian value? Am I the only one who thinks these folks are getting something very, very wrong?

observations of community

In the span of six days, I have had the opportunity to visit two different food establishments… and I had two very different experiences. My mind has been turning these things over and over ever since.

Last week, while my children were at school for the morning, I went to a fairly new local coffee shop to sip a warm drink and read a good book. I also happened to take notice of the space and the people around me. Scattered about the room at small tables, were people who had obviously come in together and were visiting over food and drink. There was a TV on the wall, with the volume turned low– some people were catching up on the news that was broadcast there. Others were alone, engrossed in a book like myself, or concentrating fiercely on their computer screens. The atmosphere was intimate, private, small, quiet… even the colors were earth-toned and added to the muted feeling in the room. I actually went there specifically because I wanted to “mute” my life a little bit, even just for an hour or two. I wanted to crawl into my own private space and have some reprieve from the chatter and activity of my daily life as mom. It was perfect for that.

This morning could not have been more different! Ben and I had spent an hour running some errands and I decided on a whim to treat him to a mother-son brunch date at a local restaurant. The place I happened to pick has a long history in our area. It has changed management a few times over the years, but remains one of the “places of choice” among the older generation… and it’s known for good food. When we walked up the ramp to the restaurant entrance, Ben remarked, “Wow, mom, this place is fancy. Look at the flowers on the carpet. Look at the lights, mom! Wow!” I smiled– this place is NOT fancy, but why not let him think so? It made him happy. We were seated and I began looking around myself. There was a lot of light, Ben was right. And the colors were bright– pale blues and off-whites and even some sprinkles of pink here and there. As I mentioned earlier, the clientele tended to be older although there were some young moms and dads with little ones in tow. Quite a few customers wanted to chat with myself and Ben, asked him his age and what special occasion had him out with his mom on a Tuesday morning. The folks who were leaving and arriving had lively and friendly conversations with many of the staff, especially one worker who was carefully sorting creamers and jellies for each of the tables. He had a 40th birthday coming up and was handing out flyers to that effect. He was getting more hugs, handshakes and smiles than I could count. His downs syndrome was all but invisible. As I observed the love in the room and felt it brushing up against even me, I let the busy errand-running morning float away and took a deep breath. This was family; maybe not biologically but certainly at heart.

When we left for the car, the contrast popped into my mind. These two places– both serve coffee and food, both employ servers and cooks, both have tables and chairs where people gather for conversation, both had lights and doors and bathrooms and paint on their walls, cash registers, kitchens, you name it. There was even a sense of community at both places, certainly so (and I do not mean to sound critical of the first establishment- I love it there!). But it was different at the second restaurant… so obviously different. It’s almost beyond my ability to describe in words, but I’ll say this: if I was lonely or feeling unsafe or needing some grounding in the middle of a chaotic life, I’d go to the second restaurant. It sounds silly, doesn’t it? But it was like a reunion in there, almost like the church pot-lucks I grew up attending. Is it just that there were some older folks in there, is that why I feel this way? Or is it that the folks who go to this place, regardless of their age, hold some secret to grounded and family-like community that the folks at the newer hip coffee shops know nothing about yet? Is technology the difference– there was no TV and I didn’t see anyone with laptops at the second place? I’m not sure. But I know that when I need a mute-button for my life, I’ll visit the first. When I need family, I’ll go to the second. Just my observation of community.

She’s back with some holiday reading

I don’t remember making a conscious decision to do this, but I spent the Advent season reading some books that have been on my post-seminary-reading-wish-list. It was a wonderful way to savor the season of waiting and watching.

In an interesting and mysterious way, each of these books spoke to a different part of me. I highly recommend all three of them. They are intelligent, meaningful, deeply spiritual books by women I would name theologians… great theologians… earthy, real, grappling with the complexities of shaping their lives around the Gospel, searching for God at work in their journeys.

Real Sex by Lauren F. Winner—Part of me will always be a youth minister. It’s not something I can leave behind… teenagers have snuck into my heart and they refuse to leave. This book spoke to that part of me, the part that longs to help teenagers make sense of what it means to follow Jesus’ call in the midst of raging hormones, passionate emotions, confusing messages from the media and the urge to just want to have fun and experience adventure. Winner has a way of weaving scripture, psychology and church tradition together in order to present a holistic and helpful approach to sexuality. Even as a married woman, I found her book to be full of wisdom and healing, in a very real way. If I was still in youth ministry, I would have parents and teens read this book together. I hope to read it with my children when they come of age.

Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor—This book spoke to the pastor in me. I resonated with her story as she shared about having a strong intuitive sense of God’s Presence from early in her childhood. Yes. Me, too. Taylor is honest about the spiritual poverty that plagues many church leaders and volunteers, those who give so much of themselves to church that they don’t realize they are unable to listen to their souls, to hear clearly from God. Emptiness, anger and exhaustion are common, but not commonly named within us. Like Taylor, we create external places for prayer and meditation, but inside we remain restless and fearful of stopping. What will happen if we become still long enough to examine what is really going on in our souls? What ugliness will we find? I am still tossing ideas around in my mind—how could we shape church ministry differently, so that it is not soul-destroying for leaders and volunteers, so that church life does encourage healthy rhythms? Is leaving church the only option when we’ve run dry? If we are called, is that a viable option at all? An important thing to ponder…

Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott—Anne speaks to the rebel in me, the raw and wounded bull-dog that will survive at all costs and that questions all assumptions about goodness and holiness. She never strays far from grace and is continually grappling with the messiness of relationships and journey. She encourages us to take risks, to risk honest and authentic relationships in church… to be The Body and also to live fully within our own bodies. I hope I am someday able to grasp that I live LOVED—she communicates that truth so well, but often I am so far from truly knowing it. It is easy to sanitize theology, to boil it down to letters on a page—“Believe this, friends, and then you’ll have it! You’ll have the truth, the answer to life and faith! Just do it!”—but life is full of gray areas and unexpected turns. You can think you’re doing what is wise and true, only to find that everything has unraveled at your feet, an ugly mess. A beautiful mess made of your own darkness, and that of others. Then, what does it mean to love, to have faith, to be holy?

I have noticed a gender difference in theology (and I truly hope that my male friends, family and colleagues are not offended by this). I don’t know why this is, exactly… is it because our bodies are so connected to the cycle of life? But here it is: I find female theologians much more holistic than male theologians. It seems sometimes that males are more detached from earth and body. They are certainly able to connect scripture to God and the world, to outline practical and specific ways we can live a faithful life; but often I put down their books and feel like there is an important aspect of LIFE missing from their scope. My mind, my body and my soul are all linked together—truth and theology flow from all three of them and weave together. They speak to each other. Does that make sense? Female writers seem to intuitively get this, and I am fed more deeply by them at times. May I offer a piece of advice? Read more Christian theology written by women, especially by these three women. They are gems.

a small attempt at missional

I dropped off eleven of these letters today. It was nothing profound or amazing. It may have made very little difference in our community… but I wanted to do it, to make contact and acknowledge that what our family does also affects the other families nearby.

the beginning

the beginning

Dear neighbors,
We wanted to take a few moments to thank you for bearing with us over these months, as we have worked on our backyard. You have been so patient through all the dirt, machinery, noise and activity… and mess. Many of you have stopped by to offer encouragement and check out the progress. We feel blessed to live int his neighborhood, among such gracious people. We hope, as we finish up all the work and the decks are finally built, to invite all of you to stop by some evening for food and fun in the new backyard. That might not be until spring, but it will happen (this can’t last forever, right??)! Thanks again for your patience during this huge undertaking. Blessings, the Swartleys.

the middle

the middle


Emily, at Think.Laugh.Weep.Worship put up another great post today.

Check it out.

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