Tag Archives: Simplicity

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.

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.

Being faithful with my little

I often find myself frustrated. I have been given very little.  I have very little in terms of number of people in my congregation, very little in terms of my facilities, exceptionally little in terms of financial resources, and little in terms of other resources in my congregation and community.

I don’t want to have little, I want to have much. I want to have a resourceful congregation. I want to have a big and beautiful building that will make people want to stop in if nothing other than to see the facility. I want to have a church which has a large endowment so that I can have some sort of stability and that we can follow God’s leading without having to worry about from where the money for the electric bill will come. I want to have a community in which people want to live, and where people have jobs and some sort of stability.

I often find myself dissatisfied and think about moving on to somewhere else. This is one of the problems with our governance. I am not placed, I interview and accept a call, if offered. As such, it feels much like looking for secular employment. I decide where I want to apply to. I interview, if they like me, they will extend a call which I can decide whether or not to accept.  While these procedures do have to pass through the regional assemblies, in practice, the bulk of the processes reflect secular employment. I have no term of service, I was not obviously placed here by the church.

Because of this, I feel like I can sometimes just leave and go to greener pastures.  To those type of churches in which I always imagined I would pastor. However, this is not just dependent on me. I have to believe that God placed me where I am for a reason. I am a servant of the sanctuary, after all.

“‘Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much'” (Luke 16:10, NRSV).

This is a sobering verse.

A judgement, almost.

“Whoever is faithful in a very little…”

Perhaps it is not a mistake that I am here. Perhaps my desires have run rampant. Perhaps my desires for more, my desires for much are too much too soon. Perhaps I am not fit, at least right now, for much.

I find myself sometimes jealous of others who have much. This makes me want to search the parish openings, freshen up my profile, and try to move somewhere else with much.

Perhaps, however, I am not in the wrong place. Perhaps I am in precisely the right place. Perhaps what is wrong is my pining for more. Perhaps I desire more than I ought to. Perhaps I have little because that is all I can have now. Perhaps God is actually smarter than I, and knows that I am not yet ready for much. Perhaps I am being taught how to be faithful with little.

Please, O God, help me to be faithful with my very little, and banish my desire for much.

Meeting God at Lake Michigan

The breeze was cool and the geese honked as they flew overhead. Right in front of the dock on which I am sitting, I listed to a rowboat quietly skimming across the surface of the water, the only sound to be heard is the oars dipping into the water to propel the small boat toward one of the sailboats anchored in the harbor.

The water lapped against the posts supporting the dock on which I sat.

I love water. I can’t swim and I don’t have a boat but I love the water. I grew up near Lake Michigan and now I live on the other side of Lake Michigan. It has been an important part of my life. I have never lived apart from Lake Michigan. I have a strange attraction to water.

A large body of water like Lake Michigan continually influences life in the areas surrounding it. In summer it moderates the temperature and keeps it slightly cooler than other areas. In winter the moderation keeps it slightly warmer than other areas. The Lake can greatly increase snowfall and can suddenly change the projection of storms.

One of my favorite things to do is just sit by the lake. I could do this for hours. Perhaps it is the rhythmic sound of the water, perhaps it is the ripple pattern that appears when a gentle breeze moves over the surface. Perhaps it is the fact that many cities, including the one I live in, owe their entire existence to water. Perhaps it is the paradoxical nature of water: it gives life and destroys life. Nothing can live without water, yet water also holds potential for great destruction.

Water also has great religious significance as well. It was with water that God purified the earth (Genesis 7-8), it was through water that God liberated God’s people from slavery (Exodus 14), it was with water that God sustained God’s people in the desert (Exodus 17:1-7), and it was with water that John the Baptizer prepared the way for Jesus of Nazareth (Mark 1:1-11).

“Water cleanses; purifies; refreshes; sustains…” as the baptismal liturgy reads. “…Jesus Christ is living water.”

* * *

When I look across Lake Michigan it seems as though I can see forever. Like it never ends.

For me, Lake Michigan is a thin place – a place where heaven and earth meet. Just like the sky and the water deeply embrace at the horizon.

Simple Things Like Coffee


Jennifer K. Warren on Flickr

I drink coffee every day, and I drink it all day.  I love coffee.  I’m not talking about Folgers or Maxwell House, I’m not even talking about Starbucks.  I’m talking about good micro-roasted coffee.  Always strong, always black. Coffee is not just something that I drink for the caffeine. I love the taste. It provides a unique experience.  I like that coffee is often a medium for relationships.  We gather at coffee shops, and we go out for coffee with people.  Friendships are formed and  people fall in love.  Books are written and intellectual depths are probed.

Today, however, I did something different. I drank coffee without doing anything else.  No television, no radio, no reading, no writing, no work.  I tried not even to think.  I simply tried to experience the moment.  I lifted the cup to my face and I could smell the heavy aroma of my dark-roasted Guatemalan coffee.  The temperature was hot, but not boiling.  The taste was bright and it felt as though a flower was blooming in my mouth.

I then began to think of the farmers that grew and harvested this coffee.  I buy fair-trade coffee, always hoping that those who labor can receive adequate fruits of that labor.  I wondered how well they were compensated for it. I wondered if the farmer had a family, and where in Guatemala they live. I wonder if the farmer realizes how much joy their work brings to me and others like me.  I wonder if it matters.  I wonder if the farmer is blessing or cursing those who buy their crop: if I am seen as a customer or an oppressor.

I think about those who roasted the coffee, the hands that took the raw beans and transformed it into the beautifully dark bean which is able to be ground and brewed.

I found myself quietly thanking those who labored over this so that I can have this simple yet wonderful experience.

Although the “live in the moment” mantra is everywhere, it is difficult. Always planning for the future, always worrying that church won’t have enough to pay me, always worrying that our lives will be up-set…again.

And then I try to remember the simple pleasures of this earthy drink, and I give thanks for simple things. Even in the midst of uncertainty we can still experience something of pleasure.  It need not be something grand, it need not be something extravagant.  Sometimes these simple things can be truly understood and celebrated as gifts from God.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
Praise God all creatures here below;
Praise God above ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.