Where Loyalty Leads

Loyalty gets you places. Good places. It doesn’t always feel that way or look that way.

In fact, it often seems the opposite is true, that being loyal is out of touch. The politically saavy move and the shrewd choice is about agreeing to what you need to for the moment.

That’s loyal to the moment but not to the deeper, more meaningful thing that is you. It’s disloyal to you.

Being loyal to you–which emerges from that first loyalty of being loyal to God–leads to shimmering beauty. No matter how circuitous the path, loyalty ends in the neighborhood of strength.

My Blog: Who’s With You

Most of us work around people. Or we live near people. Or we serve them or parent them or date them.

When you think about the community around you as you live, work, and play, notice the people. Notice who’s with you. Isn’t it more important to know this, to notice this, than any other thing?

In some ways, it’s a foregone conclusion that you’ll get where you’re headed. Either you will or you won’t. The unknown is who’ll be with you.

I wonder if all the people you’re spending yourself over will be the ones with exhibited faithfulness after the course is finished and once the long run is done. Maybe the more important matter is not where you’re headed but who your company is on the way.

Differences in Worldview


Photo Thanks to Ryan McGuire

Working across cultures can provoke strong negative responses and reduce trust. The outsider or stranger may appear even more strange and untrustworthy. Those of us with training and expertise in communication skills, such as pastoral care providers, may find it hard to bridge certain cultural gaps and resist becoming siblings in a common struggle when differences in worldview appear to threaten cherished beliefs and values. The differences in worldview may appear insurmountable when there is a single, limited, or exclusive focus on one’s own cultural group. Where this is the case, it will be impossible to build trust and face the complex issues of interethnic group oppression.

(From Siblings by Choice, 28-29)

“…we make vows…”

Photo Thanks to Ase Bjontegard Oftedal

Photo Thanks to Ase Bjontegard Oftedal

David pointed to this on Facebook. The story, friendship, loss, and tone of Laura’s words are very much worth keeping in front of us.

We make vows to our partners, but we make vows to our friends, too. We think, forever. We think, best friend. Life turns out differently, because people disappoint each other or because we aren’t honest with ourselves or because we just don’t know how to go forward, even with the best intentions. We go in with our eyes wide open and don’t realize they might open wider in five years. So I mourned the end of my friendship…

Read the full post from Laura here.

“Singing Love Songs to Them”

I’m particularly interested in the ways to hear/see this presentation from a pastoral-theological point of view. Not being a medical person, I’m drawing on my basic bottom beliefs about human personhood and community and health.

I think Johann is on to something wonderful. Again, not being as conversant with the particular cognitive psychological elements or neuroscience underneath this talk, I’m vulnerable to that gap. But I think of readings by James Ashbrook and Gerald May and of my professor in seminary, David Hogue.

I’d love to know what you think.

A Recent Journey With A Friend

The initial question.

The reasons we participated.

The preparation for an interruption which wasn’t really.

The long ride, trading sentences and looking out and catching up.

The nervousness of being surrounded by people so different and so similar.

The mumbling that became words which turned into songs.

The string of cameras and the open streets.

The rhythmic stamping of our feet.

The commitment to stay.

The commitment to stay together.

The rumbles of thunder.

The hard-won meal in a hurry.

The symbols of darkness and light.

The gas masks, water bottles, and signs.

The jumping and chanting and watching and waiting.

The circles of prayer, the clusters of pain.

The playful way we wondered what in the world we were the doing.

The amplified voice of that one man commanding them, not us, to leave.

The joking.  The questions.  The long silence.  The disgust-filled prayers.

The heavyset, sweating leader we stood with and for.

The shock to our bodies from the weight of the evening.

The words of that one sister, the missionary, who checked us all.

The stark contrasting pictures of justice.

The greetings and the welcome words.

The shaking of our heads and the wringing of our hearts.

The long, aching journey home.

The stars, bright like flashes, overhead in the darkness.

Treasured Check Ins

Your faces–your eyes and smiles and histories with me brought forward–were another invitation.

Even though we were missing two from our circle, your place settings stayed wrapped, our reunion hinted at all those previous encounters where some wonder was being made before our eyes, unseen by our eyes.

Catching up, being present, keeping company over those delightful tacos at La Cuchara helped me do an easy thing: remember.  And you all helped me see, just as you have before.  What a treasure.

I look forward to the next time, when we get to celebrate the next update, when we get to hear each other and keep this going.Dessert at LaCuchara


Two things happened in the last week.  I found out that a good friend was getting married, a friend I didn’t know was even engaged.  And another friend got sick and was admitted to the hospital for a couple days.  In both those situations I wondered what kind of a friend I was, whether I was loving enough, giving enough, present enough.

Together with Dawn, I went back and forth, mostly laughing at the insanity of our friend whocould be close to marriage and we be sorta left out of that news…  At least she didn’t privilege others, and we all found out around the same time.

All the relevant questions came up.  And they came up as we scrambled to do what life really is about when someone close gets ill.  We changed course, and it was the most natural thing in the world.Howard University

I’ve learned about friendship this week.  I learned that friends are the people who’ll laugh at you when you do something stupid.  They are the ones you’ll talk about the colleges where you’ll send your sons.  They are the people who won’t keep plans even though you’ve tried to set up another group dinner for the tenth time over Facebook.  They are the ones you’ll, somehow, love anyway.  They are the ones you’ll tell things to, things you haven’t quite spoken freely about before.

I’ve learned that whether I know as much about my friends and their health (mental health for some of them..haha) as I’d like, life is shaped by our friendships and how we are with them.  I want to be gentle with those relationships, handle them with care, because those are the people who are around during the significant moments.  Or they’re the people I’ll want to be around during those times.

Good Memories, pt 1

As I said yesterday, these posts will focus on my scrambled thoughts as I remember good memories from our vacation.  I’m writing toward a new practice, a habit of paying attention to good things rather than my most natural tendency to hold to the bad.  Most of these memories will be good, though there are a few not-so-pleasant moments littered through the last two weeks.

The point of the post today, for you who like points to posts, is to plan a vacation.  Or a getaway.  Or a break.  Or a series of dates.  Or a significant time away from normal life.  The getaway, break, or vacation will give you an opportunity to nurture your marriage.  Of course, you could do this with a friendship or a significant relationship with some modification too.

I’m somewhat of a planner.  And traveling is important to me.  I like to do it.  You could say that I value it.  We started planning this last vacation a couple years back.

Before we had a baby, before Dawn got pregnant, we talked about how we wanted to celebrate our tenth year anniversary.  We wanted to do something big.  We wanted to stretch ourselves, save up, and have a grand time.  We couldn’t do what we really wanted which was to copy some friends who a few years ago spent a month on a different continent.  But we could stretch.  So we talked about what we wanted to do, and even though a little boy got made and delivered since those first conversations, we committed to acknowledge, in some way, that we were a we.  That we existed as a married couple.  That we were together.  To be honest, we had our challenges conceiving, and affirming who we were outside of the parenting thing nourished us in ways that we haven’t always seen.  So we determined to go on a cruise.

We’ve cruised before, done what I call the local cruises, the popular one to the Caribbean.  We cruised the year I graduated from seminary, too, because that was my gift to myself after getting another masters degree!  We also decided, in planning this last vacation, that we wanted to return to an early desire to see Italy.  I had a dream when we were engaged at 22 years-old that we’d honeymoon in Italy.  I was young.  I was, in a word, foolish, on many fronts.  I thought about a lot of things for us, but I didn’t think that going to Italy at 23 years-old when you had a mortgage and a construction project called a fixer upper was impossible.  It didn’t become possible in those early years either really.  So we took smaller trips.  We saw family.  We drove to many places.  We went on those ships that I mentioned and saw the Caribbean and parts of Mexico.  I used honorariums from speaking engagements and payments from work-for-hire contracts to make sure we were traveling together.  One reason why we got married young was so we could see the world together, so we saw what we could.

When we planned this time, it was a similar experience.  I started saving money, even though we couldn’t really afford it.  We were blessed.  I cut up portions of my second and third incomes–income that I never count until I have a contract–because my primary income is restricted to relatively fixed expenses and giving.  We agreed on an itinerary, a mix of France and mostly Italy with enough Spain to keep us interested.

Dawn started looking into logistics.  We struggled, waiting for the best time slot.  Back then, Dawn was considering school.  I had a small frame between my supervisor’s sabbatical and the start of my next calendar year in the VFCL program at GETS.  We waited as late as we could because my coworker’s decision wasn’t exactly made.  I knew when my teaching responsibilities would start.  We really could only go at a particular time because of both calendars.  Dawn looked at flight plans after I came up with a window of dates.  She reserved and purchased our tickets.

We decided easily that the boy was staying when the cruise line said he would cost the same amount of money we would.  We thought they were joking.  They weren’t.  We struggled with the matter of leaving him–for about two minutes.  I mean, we are a couple and this was our anniversary celebration.  We are not alone as a couple anymore so we were thinking that including the boy wouldn’t be all wrong.  And yet there was this voice of wisdom speaking.  Why not find a way, if it was possible, to leave the kid.  To leave him and to remember that we were separate from him.  To say our goodbyes and to have that be some shared meaning between me and the wife.  Of course, we are parents and that reality is hard to get away from.  But we are something else, a reality that’s easier to lose sight of as a couple.  Everyday we attend to him, naturally and necessarily, but there is this other thing called a relationship which needs attention too.

We met with our mothers about staying at our home one week apiece, and I texted a few people to secure supplemental childcare.  The week before we left, I went grocery shopping.  I picked up enough apple sauce and wipes and diapers to last for a month.  Just in case, you know, we couldn’t get back.  In case we decided not to come back.  I washed all the clothes in the house.  Dawn bought her textbook and read her first week’s readings.  I finished two contracts so I wouldn’t have them hanging over my head.  I looked over the syllabus for the fall semester and thought through what September would be like.  I did as much work as I could at the church to leave things well and in the hands of my colleagues.  I had a few more meetings than I thought wise.

We talked to friends about Barcelona and France and Italy.  Alan told us about the architecture in Barcelona, leaving me mad that we weren’t just going there.  His eyes widened when he spoke, and he relived days where he ate bread and salami while sitting in a park in front of some building.  I imagined him drooling while he ate in that park, though he wasn’t drooling exactly as he told his stories.  We ate with Libby and Omar who helped us figure out what to see if we only had so much time, which was true, because it was a cruise and not a land-based trip.  Libby wrote up a three-page cheat sheet and sent it to Dawn.  She gave us more direction than any guidebook.  She gave us guidebooks too!  Omar told me to wear a fanny pack to keep our euros hidden from people pick-pocketing.  I refused.  I told Dawn that I’d simply wear my I-grew-up-on-the-south-side-of-Chicago face.  It seemed to worked.

I wrote up the first draft of the cheat sheet we intended to leave our grandmothers and to our friends.  We left explicit instructions to call us only when the boy was hospitalized since calls to the ship would be $10/minute.  We had full confidence that Bryce would cooperate and not injure himself.  We packed.  We dreamed.  We talked about what we wanted to see, where we wanted to go.  We did something that a counselor I worked with during the early years in our marriage called “planning a future together.”

It’s a powerful thing to plan and map out your future.  Of course, you make vows to a spouse about a vague future, but planning it is a second strategic step.  It adds to the vow or the pledge the particular means and the specific steps.  We were doing very romantic and relationship-strengthening work: looking at those next tomorrows and saying how we, together, would face them.  Before us was a delightful series of dates.  They included easy travels, long lines which we greeted with smiles and gladness, and a lot of words we didn’t understand.  Those tomorrows included sumptuous meals and great servers and questionable taxi drivers.  It would be wonderful, a little messy, slightly nerve-wrecking, and glorious.

Kisses, Hugs, Rib Bones, and Accountability

Several of my friends serve as leaders in a ministry.  Several are educators and administrators of schools.  One’s an editor and entrepeneur.  There are writers.  One works for county government, and another adds to his life in ministry by singing and not doing it enough.  A good number of my friends are friends of each other, which isn’t always the case.  Last weekend Patrick Winfield, one of these folks, returned to Chicago from Dallas to speak at his uncle’s church.  So, one of our circle took the lead in organizing an early dinner last Saturday. 

We took up a couple of tables in Carson’s, snapping pictures, slapping backs, and trading kisses and hugs.  It became clear quickly that everyone around the table lived in Chicago and could take more opportunities to snap, slap, and trade.  For some reason, it took Winfield’s arrival to rekindle what is there, what has been there.

You should know that when these gatherings take place, in whatever venue and for whatever purpose–be it a special birthday, somebody’s wedding, a critical decision facing one of our number, or no purpose other than the sad passing of time between these fun evenings–there will be laughing, loud talking, and what many affectionately call “the dozens.”  We haven’t quite grown out of all our adolescent practices. 

We joust and spar verbally.  We argue, doing what I hope is keeping each other on our intellectual and theological toes.  We talk about current events, old events, and any new events we see coming soon.  We ask each other questions and tell each other what to do.

Last Saturday we talked about what many pastors, particularly, but not exclusively, black pastors are talking about–Bishop Eddie Long.

Not all of us were as interested in that particular topic, but the one thing that bounced around our tables was the need for two things, despite whatever comes of Bishop Long’s situation: 1) For us, around the table, to live a clean life; and 2) For us, around the table, to be honest when we couldn’t.  Live clean.  Live well.  Don’t separate honesty from the process.

I thought about how around those tables–tables dressed with rib bones and chicken pieces and potatoes au gratin–sat one of the major requirements for people who want to live well, whether in ministry or not.  Accountability. 

When I hear that word, I think of Mrs. High’s classes at Simeon High School when I first learned of debits and credits and balance sheets.  I learned what it meant to account for things.  I learned that whatever happened on one side of the paper had to be balanced on the other side.  Things were a bit more precise than that.  Accounting is more precise for sure.  But the language of balance and the practice of being critical of one’s transactions connected with me Saturday as we ate and talked and laughed and, underneath those things, prayed.

I don’t think a person can live well without somebody(ies) else contributing to that life.  Being in a relationship, or in a lot of friendships in this current example, is the context for honesty and vulnerability and truth about what and who I am. 

If I didn’t have those faces and stories and sarcastic dialogue partners, those present Saturday and those who clutter my life with love and grace and soul confrontation on all those other days, I’d leave ministry tomorrow.  And not because there’s something looming or some stuff questionable.  Indeed, everyone has something looming at the core in my view.  Still, not because of that.  But because work would be boring, lonely, and impossible without those folks and their jokes and their truth-telling.

Questions for you: What do you need to live well?  Do you think relationships without accountability are real relationships?