Category Archives: Spirituality

A Wonky Advent Wreath

We recently took our Advent/Christmas decorations down from the attic. The tree went up, we fought with the lights (as we always do), our two-year-old almost destroyed the ornaments, and we began the annual adventure of rediscovering what we actually have in the Advent/Christmas bins. One thing I knew that we had, however, was our home Advent wreath and candles.

Upon unwrapping the candles that we used last year, I noticed something was askew with them. And then it dawned on me that they had been in the attic. In the hot attic. All summer. Perhaps this was not the best place to store candles, but when the attic is nearly freezing when you put things away, the thought doesn’t cross one’s mind.

I had a good laugh, and I shared the photo and a lot of us had a good laugh at it, particularly when the candles are put into the holders in the wreath. It looks like Tim Burton, Edvard Munch,  Salvador Dali, and Dr. Seuss designed an Advent wreath. It still makes me laugh. But as I look at it, I’m not sure that I want to replace the candles. The wreath is all messed up and I wonder if there is something in there.


I’m a perfectionist. I like things to be straight, clean, even, symmetrical. When I annotate books, I use a ruler to get straight lines, I spend almost as much time cutting things off of my tatting projects as I do tatting, so as to eliminate as many mistakes as possible. I spend far too much time editing my social media posts, trying to get them to perfect, eliminating errors, changing word order, clarifying my intent. I’m convinced that the ability to edit posts and comments was the worst thing for me because it is like an all-you-can-eat buffet for perfectionism.

Perfectionism isn’t really about the thing itself, but something deeper. The thing itself is simply a mirror in which I see myself — and i suspect I’m not alone here — whether it is realized or not. The crooked lines or asymmetry is simply a mirror that reflects my crooked and asymmetrical places. The parts that are not quite right, the parts that are askew, the parts that are wonky–and not in a charming kind of way but a way that deeply disturbs to the core.

But even beyond oneself, it reflects the imperfection and chaos of a world which is broken, a world which is not quite right, a world which is crooked and asymmetrical, it reflects a world that is so often wrong. A world in which more often than not things don’t really make sense, where tragedies strike at random, where one cannot depend on good outcomes if there are good efforts, good intentions, even good choices and actions. And so we design buildings that are well balanced, symmetrical, that have crisp lines and right angles. Designs that meet some sort of platonic ideal of how things ought to be.

And while the perfection of a building or a chair, or a line may be striving after some sort of platonic ideal, the deep sense that something is wrong is not. There is something within us that knows that something is deeply wrong with the world, we know that things are not right, that things are not as they ought to be. And this can lead to two very opposite things: despair, and hope.

And this all brings us to the season that we enter on Sunday. Advent is largely a misunderstood season, as we tend to think of it as simply getting ready for Christmas. And too often, Advent is taken up with shopping and wrapping and parties and Christmas carols, which deprive us of the depth of Advent, and everything that Advent has to offer.

More than anything, Advent is a protest of hope against a broken world. 

Advent is what helps us to move to hope, rather than despair. Advent gives hope that things will be set right, that God is doing something that we cannot yet see, that somehow there will be good that comes out of this mess, even if we cannot understand it. And Advent is a time when I can be reminded that God can, somehow some way, make something good out of the mess that is me.


And this is what leads me back to these wonky candles. They are bent, though not bent the exact same ways. They don’t sit the same in the wreath, and they have lost the smooth and largely unblemished texture and are now a bit rough and a bit lumpy. They are crooked and askew, though not completely devoid of their function.

Kind of like me. And perhaps you. And likely all of us.

I think I’m going to keep these wonky candles. (Though I’m not sure if I’ll burn them, they look like they might be a fire hazard.) But there is something very Advent about them. Something very already but not yet, something that invites one to look deeper, to be aware of what is, but also to imagine what might be.

The candles are messed up and so am I. But there’s something better on the horizon.

And maybe, just maybe, there’s something beautiful, even inside those wonky candles.

The Hidden Life

Those who know me know that I have been called to a new place. No longer in the Midwest, I make my home in the East, in a place also settled by the Dutch, only this place was settled over a hundred years earlier than in my home. Though, the traces of Dutch settlement lie only in place names and the Dutch Reformed churches that dot the landscape in cities and villages, valleys and hills, flatlands and mountains.

And we have settled in a little village on the edge of a mountain and I pastor the church under the mountain and I live in the pastorie next door which was built at the same time as my church called its own minister. And for generations, over a century, the ministers of this little church under the mountain in our little village have resided in this house, walking on these floors, occupying these rooms, doing the ordinary things that comes with life. It is a place which bears the memory of changing people and times. It has many pieces that are original to when it was built in the late nineteenth century. It also has many pieces that have changed over the years.

A couple of months ago, when autumn advanced, we made our mark, or rather, will make our mark. Not an indelible mark but a mark of fleeting beauty. Hopefully. In the cool of autumn with the winds blowing we planted bulbs along our front walk. Daffodils and tulips, to offer the world color and joy come spring.

Is a bulb life, or is it potential life? I’m not really holding a plant, but a part of a plant, something which will become a plant given the right conditions. Perhaps the most fascinating part of this is that bulbs need to be in the ground through the winter. They need the cold, they need to freeze.

And so as I look out my window buried somewhere under the snow are those little patches of dirt that we turned and below that the bulbs that we nestled into the spaces created for them. Looking at it, one can see no difference between this space and the others, no one would know that this space was any different than the space next to it, or beyond it.

Even I forget, at times, of the bulbs which I planted. But whether I realize it or anyone realizes it, the fact remains that life is hidden, in waiting, just below the surface. And that in due time, the snow will melt and the ground will thaw and the days will lengthen and life will sprout forth from the ground.

Life which is hidden remains life, and sometimes what lies beneath the surface is known, other times it is a mystery. But the life which lies below the surface, hidden from view is nothing short of grace.

To Our Home’s New Owner

Welcome to your new home!

We are so happy that you were interested and even happier that you’ll be staying a while.

We are very sad to leave, perhaps it’s good for you to know that. We’re not leaving here to get away from here, but because we’ve been called elsewhere. We intended to stay here for many years, but life, at times, has different plans. And so we are moving across the country, and this space has been prepared for you.

A building is made of wood and plaster and nails and paint. It is a material thing which was, at one time, built; and will be, at another time, gone. It is a thing, not a living thing, but a thing which is made up of so many things which once were living but had died so that this house could be built. But in a way, It is living. Because, as I’m sure you understand, a house is made of wood and plaster and nails and paint, but it is much more than just that.

This house saw our family grow from two to three, and it was to first home to which we brought our son. It was within these walls that we had sleepless nights, laughed, cried, and began learning how to be parents. These walls saw his first smile, first sitting up, first crawling, first pulling up. These rooms echoed with laughter from dinner gatherings with friends and family. These walls heard of joy and sadness, hope and despair. In fact, this was the very first house that we ever owned.

Far more than a shelter from the elements, this house served as a respite from the trials of the world and was a place that was bursting with love, with all of the ups and downs that come along with that. And so we will take all of our things with us, and all that will be left will be the marks in the carpet where our furniture was. A desk, a table, the crib. And with time those marks will fade and any remnant of our time here will also fade away. But that’s okay, that’s the cycle of life.

You may be wondering why I’m sharing all this with you. There is, though, something within me that finds the process of selling a home less than satisfying. So impersonal, anonymous. Those times that you’ve been here, I’ve been gone. And we will likely never meet. And it is strange for me, to have this home that has been so much a part of our lives, and now to sell it to someone that I’ve never met. And perhaps you feel similar, wanting to meet the people who loved this home before you. And so this is why I’m sharing this with you. To let you know a bit of ourselves, and to welcome you to this space.

Even though we’ve only lived here a few years, so much life has happened here. And now it is time for a new chapter for this house. Our chapter has ended, and you are just beginning to add a piece of yourself to these walls and to the collective memory which is held within its bones.

I hope you add much life, and life in its fullness, to the memory of this home. The ups and downs, the twists and turns. Because it is not just the happiness that is meaningful, but all of it.

We hope that you enjoy it here. We have been blessed here. I hope you find the same blessing. 


Blessed are the Autumn Daisies

Long after the trees have dropped their leaves, and the canopy of green becomes a jagged collection of branches reaching upward toward the disappearing sun, long after the geese have ceased honking and the birds have stopped their morning songs, long after the bushes begin to blaze but are not yet consumed, long after the patch becomes nothing but green stems without any sort of beauty, the autumn daisy blooms.


Autumn has always been a significant time for me. It is a time of transition. The leaves die and fall off, and the trees, which not long ago were thriving, look dead. Once the leaves have fallen it is nearly impossible to look and tell the dead trees from the live trees.

Flowers which brought forth color into the world have all wilted and died, leaving nothing behind but stems and a corpse.

Autumn is a time in which it is evident that we are in the midst of a broken world. The colors are beautiful, to be sure, but the beauty is fleeting, as each leaf which turns into brilliant reds and yellows and oranges are in throes of death. It is a transition that happens every year, and while I know that spring will be coming, and these very trees will bud and the flowers will once again bloom, there is a long and cold winter filled with ice and snow which covers all with which to contend.

Yet in the midst of the cooling temperatures and the ever decreasing sunshine and the clouds which cast a gray haze over all, something unexpected occurs, in the midst of the daisy patch when all of the flowers have given up their energy, one more blooms.


I never cease to be amazed at the resilience of the natural order. Trees which have cracked and have fallen down continue to grow and bloom, small and comparably weak blades of grass can burst forth through the concrete of a parking lot which has been vacant for only a short time, and dandelions, although they are mowed over again and again, are determined to finish their mission and go to seed.

And when all the other daisies have bloomed, when the bees are gone, when the temperatures turn cold, and there has already been a layer of frost, when the sunshine can no longer be reflected in its golden centers and white petals, a daisy shines like the sun in the midst of a gray autumn day.


There are days when I find it hard to face the world, days when I can relate to the trees which have let their leaves die and have dropped them, and they hunker down, and prepare for the lang haul. When the light lessens and the darkness grows, I, too, have the instinct that the rest of nature has as it begins to den and hibernate for the duration.

But I cannot do this, even when the days are difficult, even when the darkness is difficult, even when the world which I must face is harsh, I catch a glimpse of the daisy beaming in all of its glory, amid the dead leaves.

Blessed are the autumn daisies, for they point to life when it is difficult to find.

When you can’t find the words

My calling is centered around language, as language is the way to communicate, to express. In my pastoral role, it is my charge to speak to the community and for the community — to express the experiences and life of the community and to help us all find meaning in our individual and shared experiences. But yet, for myself, I often lack words, I lack the ability to sufficiently translate my experiences into the limits of language. This is especially so in my attempts to speak with God.

Much of this Lent has been spent in the hospital, periodically standing on the boundary between this life and eternity. As I have recently written, nighttime was particularly isolating. When the doctors go away, when the tests and scans and procedures are done for the night, and all that surrounds me is the sound of monitoring machines and the hiss of the oxygen tube, I am left without anyone to which to speak or for which to speak. There is no communal life or experience to articulate. It is just me, overflowing with fears and worries and pain, none of which will abate, and I lack words to offer to God.


Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;
   my eye wastes away from grief,
   my soul and body also. 
For my life is spent with sorrow,
   and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my misery,
   and my bones waste away.  
(Psalm 31:9-10, NRSV)…


I’m over at That Reformed Blog today, come on over to read the rest…

When God sits at your bedside

I am a pastor. I spend time with people, not only preaching and teaching, but also checking in on them, visiting them in the hospital, praying with them and talking with them before operations about which anxieties are high. But in March, the day after Ash Wednesday, the tables were turned.

I spent almost three weeks in the hospital, one week of which was in intensive care. I was extremely sick, but for a while, none of the seven physicians could ascertain a root cause. I went through a significant regimen of scans and tests and exams and lab work and biopsies as I continued my downward decline. I was having difficulty breathing, was being pumped full of fluids continuously and in incredible constant pain. It was a scary time for my family, and it was a scary time for me.

It was a time in which, instead of caring for others, it was I who was being cared for by other pastors, and members of my congregation. I was cared for by members of my family. I was cared for by my beloved.

Night time was particularly scary. While I was hooked up to all different types of machines and nurses checking on me every couple hours, I was afraid of what might happen when I go to sleep. Would I stop breathing? Would my lungs continue to decline in their ability to absorb oxygen? Would my heart finally give out under the tremendous strain to which it was being subjected?


My beloved sat with me many days and every night. We tried to carry on some of our routines and watched Jeopardy every evening. But we could not follow our routine, and we both knew it, and we worried that we would not be able to return to our routine.

One night it was getting late and my eyelids were getting heavy. My beloved saw this and she took my hand and held it and patted it. “Go ahead and close your eyes,” she said to me, “and I’ll stay here and sit with you for a while.”


So often we wonder why, when sickness or tragedy befalls us, why didn’t God do anything to prevent this? Why doesn’t God fix this?

It’s a valid question. It is a question that I have asked many times.

But I also wonder if we tend to place our focus on the wrong thing. Perhaps we ask the wrong questions. What if the amazing thing about God’s presence in tragedy is not that God will prevent it or fix it, but rather that God simply sits at our bedside?

While I am careful not to deify my beloved, I do strongly believe that God works through people in the world. While the face and the voice was that of my beloved, I have no doubt that the words were God’s, “close your eyes, my child, and I will sit with you, and keep watch over you.”

I fell asleep and I know that my beloved did leave that night, but even though she left, it later became apparent that God never did. Sometimes God manifested Godself in tangible form: my beloved, a visitor, a chaplain, or a nurse who was concerned not only with my physical well-being, but also my emotional and spiritual well being.

This, I think, is the wonderful thing about God’s presence in our lives and care for us. It is not so much that God waves a wand and makes it all better, but rather, that God spends countless hours, and sleepless nights sitting in the chair next to the bed, allowing us to sleep because of the assurance that God will watch over us when we cannot watch over ourselves.


While my sickness was serious, I am thankful that it was not what they initially thought. It was treatable and the treatment should completely resolve it. I’m doing much better now, and at the same time that I am filled with gratitude, I grieve for those who are not as fortunate, and are diagnosed with something without a cure, or something for which the treatment is difficult and the outcome uncertain.

But I never cease to be amazed that in these dark hours, when things look bleak and the shadows seem to come ever closer, God remains in these hours. Sometimes working something more clearly miraculous, other times simply sitting at one’s bedside keeping watch.


In the Bleak Midwinter


Sitting at my window, I cannot make out what exists outside. The view is obstructed by the coat of ice on the interior of the century old windows in my century old flat.

It is winter, I am not complaining. I am from Michigan and live in Wisconsin, long and cold winters are simply part of life. I largely appreciate winter, and the drastic change in seasons. But today, in February, I look out and all I can see are distorted shapes representing life.

Or rather, life in slumber.

I appreciate winter, but today it feels bleak. A city typically teeming with life seems desolate. Water, typically inhabited by ducks and geese is solid and empty.

Trees without leaves, sidewalks largely empty except for a couple of times a day. The only signs of life are the buses and cars which continue to carry people from place to place. But still, a meager sign of organic life.


I know that winter does not last forever, I have experienced many seasonal cycles, enough to know that winter will come to an end, the ice and snow will melt, birds will return, leaves will grow, and my city will once again be filled with life. I am looking forward to being able to go outside without a coat or boots, or without ice forming in my beard. But today, on this day in February, it almost seems as though this will last forever…

Today I’m over at That Reformed Blog. Come and Visit for the rest of this post…

Deep seated pieties

As I closed my eyes, I felt moved to a different time, and a different space.

In becoming familiar with our denomination’s new hymnal, Lift Up Your Heartsthere was a hymn sing at the annual gathering of delegated Ministers of Word and Sacrament and Elders from the entire denomination from around the United States and Canada.


My faith was nourished by a steady diet of rural Midwestern Dutch Reformed fare. We take religion and faith seriously, and we take the church seriously. We sang hymns. At the time I hated it. I loathed the hymns, I did not appreciate the simple faith of my farming community. The organ was ancient, the practices were dated, and nothing reflected what I estimated to be a lived Christian faith.

My Jesus, I love thee, I know thou art mine;
for thee all the follies of sin I resign;
my gracious Redeemer, my Savior art thou;
if ever I loved thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

Ever since I have gone to seminary, I have not particularly appreciated the personal language when it comes to Jesus, I have come to learn that perhaps the language of Jesus as “mine” is not always the best way to think about our relationship to God. I often find myself trying to avoid hymns like this, as I find them theologically lacking, and simplistic in piety.

The hymn-sing selections where chosen to represent different types of pieties, of which this hymn is one. It is a familiar hymn, it was a hymn that felt like Sunday evenings in my Christian Reformed Church.

I love thee because thou hast first loved me
and purchased my pardon on Calvary’s tree;
I love thee for wearing the thorns on thy brow;
if ever I loved thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

The hymn was being accompanied by a piano, and I could hear people behind me harmonizing. I closed my eyes, and I felt that I was moved to a different place and a different time. For a moment I stopped singing and simply listened to the intimately familiar words of the hymn.

I’ll love thee in life, I will love thee in death,
and praise thee as long as thou lendest me breath,
and say when the deathdew lies cold on my brow:
If ever I loved thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

I could hear the organ in my childhood church, and I could see the see the familiar faces who formed my faith. As I looked around my small country church, I saw a host of simple people, unrefined people, people of deep faith who loved God in their glorious ordinariness. At the time I wanted nothing more than to be rid of my church, but this hymn, reviled at the time, functioned almost as my heart language and brought me into deeper communion with the divine.

Despite how much I had desired to flee from my church of upbringing, rural Midwest Dutch Reformed pietism is so deeply imbedded into my very existence.

The piano began to crescendo in preparation for the final stanza

In mansions of glory and endless delight,
I’ll ever adore thee in heaven so bright;
I’ll sing with the glittering crown on my brow:
If ever I loved thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

As I returned to my time and my particular place, tears streamed down my face as I knew not what else to do with my deep experience with God.

Curiosity on a Sunny Saturday Morning

The sun is warm and the birds are chirping. It is finally a spring-like day during this unseasonably cold spring.

The front window is open and I hear a group of boys talking.

The city is doing utility work on our street and there is a square of concrete which is removed surrounded by sawhorse barricades so that unsuspecting motorists do not drive into the section of missing street.

This is all I see, a square of missing street.

What the boys see, however, seems to be something more than that.

The three of them stand around the missing segment and look down into it and they talk to one another. I cannot not hear what they are saying, but they appear to be interested in what lies before them.

One of them puts his foot out, as if to step into the void (although only about six inches deep), but backs away from doing so. Again and again they circle the void, looking into it and talking.

Finally, that same boy, again puts his foot out, and after pausing, takes a step into the hole. The other boys, seeing that this one was okay, also step into the hole as well. Shortly after this, they move to the porch on a house across the street. The whole experience was about twenty minutes.

I could not help but watch the event. Not because it was particularly exciting, but because I was enamored with how interested these boys were in a square of missing concrete. Something which I overlook, or if I do notice, it is seen as a nuisance — this is a source of investigation and curiosity for these boys.

Perhaps they were bored and this was the most interesting thing. Or, perhaps they were curious.

Curiosity may have killed the cat, as the adage goes, but it is the very thing that is life-giving for humans.

Seeing with New Eyes

I wonder what Moses saw. After wandering with a rag tag group of refugees recently liberated from slavery, Moses stood atop a mountain and was given a view of the Promised Land, the land that God was giving to this people, the land which he spent so long looking for. But it was also a land which Moses knew that he would never step one foot into that land which was lush and fertile, a land that scripture tells us that “flows with milk and honey” (Numbers 13:27, NRSV).

Moses was very old and close to death. It would only be natural that he would be in a time of looking back at his life and considering whether it was worthwhile and meaningful. Moses set off to lead a people to a new land, but he would never be there to lead them into that land. He was charged with leading a people who did not want to be led, to bring to faith an unfaithful people, to teach a people who were not interested in being taught.

Perhaps Moses wondered whether it was all worth it; perhaps Moses wondered whether any of it really matters. So what does God do? God brings him to a mountain where he could see the land that he had spent much of his life journeying toward, yet would never enter.

Me? I would likely have been disappointed. Looking for meaning, and all that is given is a view of some property. But I wonder what Moses saw.

From the mountain he had a broad view of the land that laid before them, the land that would become their home, the land which would become a tangible sign of God’s favor, of God’s promise. What was before him, then, was land — but it was also much more than that.

I can imagine that Moses must have had a great imagination. Simply to stay with those people for so long would require a great imagination — not only to live with what is, but to imagine what could be. This is the essence of hope: not simply wishful thinking, but to imagine God’s future and our role in it.


John Calvin writes beautifully about vision when he likens scripture as new spectacles that allow us to see the world in new and different ways. What we look at has not changed, what we see is different.


Thousands of years later and on the other side of the world, I stand on a chancel and look out. I am certainly not Moses, but I do lead my own rag tag group of people who are seeking to follow God. There are people who are hurting, people with cancer, people who have had friends and family who have recently die. I look out at people of great faith, and I look out at people who would dance around a golden calf without thinking twice.

But my desire is not only to see what is there, but to see what I ought to see. Anyone can look at what is there, but it takes a special perspective to truly see. If there is nothing more to see than what is, then there is no hope. Hope is dependent on truly seeing, not just observing.

I wonder what Moses saw, and I wonder what I ought to see. I am pretty sure that Moses looked at trees, bushes, dirt, water, and roads. I am also pretty sure that Moses saw something much greater and much deeper.

For me, it is easy to see the “not yet” but is so hard to see the “already”. The best I can pray for is vision to see and not just observe.

What, dear reader, do you need to actually see in your life?