Someone left a beautiful blue box on the front porch of our church recently. A note on the top said "For Gordon." Inside was an elegant, blue fountain pen with gold bands, a gift from an Episcopal priest named Cristopher whom I had met in a coffee shop. We had one of those "You're a minister? Me too!" conversations that ministers often have. I noticed he was writing with a fountain pen. And since he is left-handed, there was ink smeared all over his hand.
I ran into Perry recently. How many years has it been, I wonder? I came to know Perry when he visited our church. He was a man with no passion of his own, a guy who walked from church to church and seemed to come to life only when he discovered some well-hidden heresy or doctrinal error. For Perry, Christianity was only a means to an end.
A woman brought a small book to our church a couple of years ago. She put it on the wooden table in our worship room, right beside the guest book and the orders of worship. Inside the cover she wrote, “Prayers and Thoughts of Covenant People.” She left a pencil beside the book but provided no instructions. She never mentioned the book publicly, so neither did I.
As you head south out of San Antonio, you begin to enter the brush country. It’s something of a cross between a desert and a briar patch. Cacti abound, and almost every plant has thorns or spines of some kind. Everything is armored and protected. Even the cacti are on the offensive. It is this brutal and scorched countryside that thousands of Mexicans brave each year as they cross the border looking for a share of the legendary wealth of los Estados Unidos.
The lion’s roar came out of the Age of Enlightenment. It was the roar of freedom. It was the roar of truth. It was the roar of the victor standing over the body of his vanquished foe. It was an angry roar, and the lion had good reason to be angry.
Dolphins have no reason to fear darkness. When they move into deep water, they use their built-in sonar echolocation system. They see with sound waves instead of light waves. This would be like having a flashlight permanently embedded under your tongue. If the lights go out, you could just open your mouth.
I can’t imagine absolute silence. Even when I’m in a quiet place, my mind produces its own ghostly, seashell sound. The noise in my head is a faint but high-pitched whine accompanied by a lower rumbling that sounds like an engine pulsing away in the distance. These are the default sounds of my brain—what I hear when there is nothing else to hear.
Children living on the edges of time zones are the ones most aware of the arbitrary nature of timekeeping. On the Western edges, they whine about being called indoors on summer evenings when the sun is still shining. On the Eastern edges, they are rightly offended when the winter sun starts to go down at 4:30 in the afternoon.
A free association exercise: Random memories from the 18 months I spent as a chaplain intern at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas.
Computer lists of patients generated by the clacking dot matrix printer and folded neatly to fit into my coat pocket. My tiny notes and check marks slowly accumulating beside the names as the day went by.
A few months ago I was allowed to view a page or two from the Gospel According to Matthew in the famous Saint John’s Bible, which will be a priceless masterpiece when it is finished. The calligrapher is using ancient tools and techniques to produce a handwritten copy of the Bible, filling it with beautiful art that is reminiscent of ancient Bibles but with a modern flair.
I went to look for “Main’s Folly” the other day. It’s at the back of the church property, down the old road to the back and left at the Chinaberry grove where I used to preach every Easter. Go past the rock altar and head toward the ring of stones where we cooked hot dogs back in the old days.
If I close my eyes and become quiet, I can almost remember how I used to think of preachers long ago, when I sat in the pew myself. I didn’t know how a person came to be a preacher in the first place. I didn’t know where preachers came from or where they went when they were finished. There was a preacher in every church, so obviously they were coming from somewhere.
When my parents bought their home in Marshall, Texas, in 1984, there were 96 mature trees on their one-acre lot, many of them towering pines that rise 75 feet or more from the ground, covering their house with a peaceful green canopy. These giant pines are beautiful but deadly.
There is no such thing as The Gospel in the same way that there is no such thing as a circle. The Good News, like the perfect circle, lies forever beyond us and out of our reach.What we have is the gospel according to. Nothing more and nothing less.
Let’s call her “Susan.” She’s a 40-something woman who works at the convenience store near our church. I frequent this store to buy soft drinks, and we have developed a casual relationship over the past year or so. She teases me about the number of Diet Cokes I drink, and I often respond with humor or pleasant conversation. Neither of us know the other’s name.