Sunday, May 31, 2009

run and catch the wind

On this Pentecost morning, I woke up thinking about this commercial. Yes, that's right: this commercial.

May the day be full of discovery and disquietude.


P.S. -- There's a new recipe.

Friday, May 29, 2009

waking up

I’m about a week and a half into the resurrection of the ritual of writing my Morning Pages and I’m already feeling a shift. I’m getting used to getting up and, other than making the coffee, letting those three handwritten pages be the first thing I do. Those scribbles are starting to shake up my soul.

Something about waking up with a pen in my hand seems to set the prevailing themes of thought for the day. I woke up today realizing I had not spoken to my parents or my brother in several days and I found time to call them this afternoon. On a more profound level, I’ve felt a growing sense of restlessness in my job of late and this morning I woke with Paul’s words leaking out through my fingers:

“[F]or I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”
The seed was planted last night when Ginger asked me if I was happy. When I said, “Yes,” she told me I didn’t always seem that way of late. And she’s right, yet the past few days have brought a shift. As a therapist told me long ago (and I have repeated here more than once, I’m sure), the only two things I can change in any given situation are what I do and say and how I feel. My control of the circumstances ends there. I was in a more observant place when I answered her question last night and followed her response by saying when I took time to remember who I get to spend my life with, my home, my friends, and the fact that I get to do something I love for a job, I think life is pretty good.

Two nights ago left me almost sleepless because I had brought home my frustration with me from work. The events of the day had left me feeling taken advantage of and I chose to pack my bitterness in a take out box rather than shake it off in the parking lot. The bleary-eyed morning pages that followed woke me to the realization that, rather than allow myself to feel victimized and bitter (as Cherry’s friend says, “Bitter is a flavor, not an emotion”), I need to speak up for myself (I’m working on that one) and I can chose how I want to feel at work. You see, part of the changes are I’ve been moved from cooking on the line to expediting the shift, which means I call the tickets and check the plates before they go out to the dining room. It also means I get to set the tone in the kitchen, for the most part.

I love the job.

After my morning musings, I came across Marcus Goodyear’s post at and began to see the theme of my day, which was my day off. Part of what he had to say was:
We can talk about glorifying God through our work all we want, but if we’re not also serving our neighbor we are completely missing the point. We can’t love God without loving our neighbors. And loving our neighbors means showing mercy to them.
He also quoted a line from a Marge Piercy poem that is one of my favorites and worth including here.
To Be of Use

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.
The real work of my life is in giving mercy: “a disposition to be kind and forgiving.” In the common tasks of the kitchen, I am called to contentment and compassion. I can’t do either one in my sleep. I have to be awake.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy,” Jesus said. Though my week has not necessarily borne that out, the real work of my life also entails leaning into those words as though they will come true, just as I must trust I am a vessel shaped to share love with those around me.

Sleeper, awake.

If I am going to be of use, I must remember every move matters: every cut of the knife, every spoon on a plate, every word from my mouth, every beat of my heart. If I am to be merciful, as I am called to be, I must be intentional. Compassion is not an accident. Neither, I suppose are bitterness or complacency.

The choice is mine.


P.S. – How could I not end with this piece? And I love that the guy is sitting in his kitchen.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


It’s not so
much what I say
but what you hear –

I can pick through
my words like fruit,
choosing what’s
ripe and ready –

I can order them
meticulously, like
mosaic tiles turning
tiny chips of meaning
into a shining image –

I can pack them
like pipe bombs, full
of all I know the world
needs to explode
what is wrong and leave
peace in the ruins –

I, too, can listen
and lay open my heart
to the brushfire
that burns, baptizes,
and leaves me looking
for you and a way to say,
“I love you” in your language.

Isn’t that the message
of Pentecost?


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

mixing metaphors

Walk into any professional kitchen and you will most likely find two things at a premium: knives and cutting boards. In fact, in many restaurants, it is customary for the chefs to provide their own knives. Practically, it means when you get a hold of a cutting board, you make the most of it – and you use it more than once. Of course, it has to be washed well if you are using it to prepare raw meat of some sort, but as far as veggies and bread and most other things, the way of the restaurant world is you wipe it clean between each action (or flip it over) and keep working on your next project. Whatever the task, it works best when you clean your work area of whatever you were working on before and then move on to the next thing.

How nice it would be if life were so easily segmented.

A chance to submit a piece of writing this week brought with it the residue of relationships and the trace elements of insecurity that somehow seem connected to much of life (at least for me) and have set me to thinking how I might clean my board, so to speak, so I can make a clean offering to the project. Perhaps it begins with finding a new metaphor.

Soup making is a regular activity in our kitchen. I love making soups mostly, I think, because it means seeing what new thing can come from things that already exist. Our soups, for the most part, are made from what we have on hand; other than some dried beans, we don’t order anything exclusively to make soup. After brunch on Sunday, for example, I set aside the last of the pinto beans (along with some extra we made), the salsa fresca, some caramelized onions, and some sautéed poblano peppers to become our soup for tonight. All I have to do is add some vegetable stock (our beans are vegetarian – I’ll keep them that way for the soup), adjust the seasonings, and puree the mixture and we will have something wonderful to offer our customers made from the things we carry, if you will.

Granted, the leftovers of life don’t always offer such a flavorful recipe, but the creative tension that lies between cleaning the board and making the best of what is left appears to be the path I’m pulled to walk in these days, if I wish to do more than let my insecurities get the best of me. And I wish. I want to clear out those things capable of turning toxic and hang on to all the tasty tidbits that add flavor to what I have to say. Sometimes those are easier to distinguish in the kitchen than they are in the rest of my life.

One of the lessons I learned from one of my chef mentors is you make soup ahead of time. You don’t, for instance, make tonight’s soup this morning. The bean soup I’ll finish today will be for tomorrow night or Thursday. We have a chilled carrot soup with orange and mint I made on Sunday that has been waiting to debut today. A little time lets the flavors marry to become what they want to be together, rather than merely a collection of ingredients. A good soup takes time, and patience. When we heat it up to serve, I will check the seasoning balance again to see how they have matured together, what they have become given some time.

Sometimes our insecurities get the best of us (and by us, I mean me) in situations seasoned too heavily with history. I struggle when I feel pulled back into who I was, rather than who I am in these days. Growing into wholeness as a human being requires some of the same sense of timing and patience as soup making, it seems; rechecking the seasoning and the ingredients added to my life along the way will help me remember who I am and who I have become, even as I step back into a context that connects to who I was. Growing into that same wholeness requires I clean the board, if I am to make an honest offering, and wipe away what is not healthy or useful and get to going on the work at hand in the context of the relationships as they are in these days, not as what they once were.

The best cooking is simple. By simple, I don’t mean quick or expedient, but well-chosen ingredients prepared in a simple, patient, and straightforward way that allows them to, well, be themselves. When we were in Turkey a few years back, my favorite dish was made of eggplant, tomatoes, onions, parsley, and olive oil. That was it – and it was amazing. Life, perhaps, is the same way. I have an invitation to write, which I love to do. I have a chance to lean back into an old friendship to find something new. The call, then, is for me to work in the same simplicity, patience, and straightforwardness and trust that it, too, will be a flavorful offering.

Thanks for listening while I worked this out.


Saturday, May 23, 2009

paying attention

In life, most days, it’s not so much what happens as it is what we notice, what we choose to remember and carry with us.

A week or two ago, I noticed Julia Cameron’s The Writing Diet on the shelf at Barnes and Noble. She is the author of The Artist’s Way, a book that has been significant to me at several different junctures of my life, so I browsed through this new (to me) book and was intrigued, since she speaks to me and I’m carrying around more weight than I want to. I chose to come back to our neighborhood bookstore, The Regulator, to have them order it for me, so I didn’t get it until late last week.

One of the key components to her approach to both art and losing weight is something she calls “morning pages.” No real mystery. The name says what it is: get up in the morning and write, first thing, three pages of whatever comes out and then go on about your day. What I learned before, when I wrote every morning as I began to come to terms with my depression and as I have written now for about a week, is my early morning scribbling is a living prompt, in the same way I’ve been given writing prompts in classes over the years: a call to pay attention.

Interesting phrase, isn’t it? Pay attention.

I must pay attention in the same way, perhaps, that I paid the man at the bookstore for my inspiring little volume – give something up for something I want. If I want to pay attention to life as it happens around me, it’s going to cost me. And it’s going to pay off in ways I seldom am able to imagine. Which leads me back to my opening sentence: in life, most days, it’s not so much what happens as it is what we notice, what we choose to remember and carry with us.

I clicked over to YouTube tonight, in search of a video we had talked about at work today and found a selection of four short films from the National Film Board of Canada (gotta love those Canadians) that were competing at the Cannes Film Festival. They range in length from about two and a half minutes to a little over nine, all of them incredibly well made and imaginative. As I watched, I began to think of all the love and work and play and art and sweat and struggle and joy and hope and despair and determination that went into each of these projects, knowing full well they would only be seen by a relatively small group of people. You don’t get famous making two-minute movies.

But you can tell a great story.

And, when you find someone telling a great story you should pay attention long enough to suggest to everyone you can that they might do the same.


Friday, May 22, 2009

digging in the dirt

I've spent two days this week with the folks from Bountiful Backyards working on turning our front yard, which is shaded by a hundred year old pin oak, from the scraped landscape it was

into something both beautiful and useful. They brought in edible, medicinal, sustainable, and native plants to give our yard a new look and new life.

Next week, the finish touch will be to inoculate the wood chips around the tree with oyster and golden mushroom spores to create a mushroom bed.

I'm tired of hauling wood chips and I'm very excited about what we have set in motion.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

chuck taylor afternoon

In the middle of a sunny
Chuck Taylor afternoon, I sit
in the space between work

and obligations, hoping
for time to read and write
and then the day descended –

closed in from all sides
like shrink wrap on a shiny toy
and I had only a moment

this moment

to write away the defeat
brief lines offering a chance
to slip away from suffocation

and slide back into sunshine
and the promise that this
is not the only afternoon

for me and my Chucks.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

try a little kindness

Ginger called me from the Festival of Homiletics today after hearing Craig Barnes because she wanted to pass along something he said (and I’m writing it as I remember it, not as a direct quote): “Preachers are ‘minor poets,’ which is to say they speak a particular truth to a particular people.” The point is not to speak to everyone in the world, but to speak a truth that will matter to those in the room with you. His definition of “minor poet” led me to some poetry reading of my own before I go to work at the restaurant for the evening.

Once again, Naomi Shihab Nye:


Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
The only thing I would say to Barnes, other than, “Nice work,” is whether major or minor, it seems to me poets find far-reaching truths by revealing what they see in the small world in front of their faces. Though kindness may change the world, for instance, we begin by remembering it ties our shoes.

And gives me grace to find meaning in the evening that lies in front of me.


Monday, May 18, 2009

spring planting

Somedays you have a chance
to give hope hands and feet
or, should I say, leaves and flowers.

With the help of some who know
more than I about planting,
we dug holes in our front yard,

etching out earthy invitations for
heurchera, hellebores; edworthia, and
elderberry; currant, fiddlehead,

lobelia, and white wood aster;
paw paw and -- of course -- wild
ginger (no tamed ginger, thanks)

to sink their roots and grow into
themselves right before our eyes, as
we go about our goings out and

our comings in, all of us under the
shade of a centenarian pin oak
who has seen more springs and

summers than I will ever know.
Whoever planted that tree never
imagined me digging in the dirt,

sinking roots and hoping for enough
springs and summers to see growth
and leave something behind.


Saturday, May 16, 2009

I can hear music

The end of my shift yesterday marked the first time in eleven days (and thirteen shifts) that I had a day off to look forward to. In fact, if I count the hours from the time I got off work until I have to go back tomorrow afternoon, I had forty-eight of them to do with as I pleased. Treasure, I tell you. Pure gold.

The landscape of my leisure has led me from one gathering to another; I have traversed my city finding friends. (Ginger’s out of town.) Last night, I sat on the porch of Parker and Otis listening to bluegrass music and sharing wine and cheese (thanks, Cherry) as I watched this little girl who was wearing a bow as big as her face dance with total abandon. She was awesome. Then there was the little guy standing next to his mom at the cash register when I went in to get more food who had azure blue eyes as big as quarters and wanted me to see the candy-filled car he had found while his mom was shopping. When she saw the car she spoke to him in German and I thought, “Man, this kid is three and already speaks more languages than I do.”

I got home about eight-thirty to feed pups and spend some time with them, but I had a promise to keep. One of the servers I work with at the restaurant also tends bar at The Green Room, a pool hall across the parking lot from our eating establishment and as we have left work for the last several days he has said, “Come by and let me buy you a beer.” So, about ten o’clock I walked the block to the bar and gladly accepted a Shiner Bock. Another person from the restaurant came in looking for someone to shoot pool and, since I had the next day off, I was happy to oblige.

This is no ordinary pool hall. It is a Durham institution, going back to Prohibition, and has this sign posted on the front door:

-- misbehaving
-- drinks on tables
-- beverages in or out
-- facist regimes
-- poor sportsmanship
And they welcome pets. There were three large dogs, unleashed and inquisitive, working the room the whole time I was there. The setting was completely different from the folks on the porch and yet, when I sat back and watched the groups of people playing pool and shuffleboard, or just sitting at the bar, the dynamic was the same: they had come to be together.

I got up this morning and took Ella, our youngest Schnauzer and lover of ALL people, to the Durham Farmers’ Market. She loves seeing all the people and dogs that gather to buy and sell everything from local produce to baked goods to chocolate. I let her make her rounds and then asked her to wait in the car while I bought some food. I’ve gotten to know a few people there. Some are suppliers for our restaurant. One woman sold me most of the heirloom tomato plants in my garden. Another makes awesome cheese. One of the guys I work with at the catering kitchen helps out one of the artisan bakers and made the lamb chorizo in the homemade empanadas (don’t think I didn’t bring that home for lunch). I bought some fresh ground pork and kielbasa from a young girl (working with her mom) who had all the confidence of a young Broadway star and appeared to love all the people as much as Ella.

I brought Ella home and wandered back downtown for the Bimbe Cultural Arts Festival, one of Durham’s traditions I have not yet participated in. Again, people were gathered together, this time around African dance and drumming and, of course food, which ran more along the festival and carnival menu than ethnic. I saw the Only Burger truck and my decision was made. Brian, the owner, is someone I had met previously, so he and I had a nice chat as his crew made my burger. I went back over to the stage area and shared a table with five elderly women who were happy to let me sit down, mostly because they wanted to know where I got my burger.

My morning shopping set me to imagining dinner (and this new recipe) once I got back home from the festival, which set me to whom I might gather around my dinner table. After all, this blog is called “Don’t Eat Alone.” I called Lori and Terry and they joined me for dinner. And a good time was had by all.

Tomorrow, in the hours I have left before I go back to work, I’ll head to church where, once more, I will be with a group of intentional gatherers, people I mean to be with. My peeps, as the kids say. (Those crazy kids.) Thank God.

In our work-a-day world, it’s far too easy to believe that the rhythm of life is akin to the opening verse of Jackson Browne’s “The Pretender”:
I’m going to rent myself a house
in the shade of the freeway
I’m going to pack my lunch in the morning
and go to work each day
and when the evening rolls around
I’ll go back home and lay my body down
and when the morning light comes streaming in
I’ll get up and to it again
Amen, translated, means, “So be it.” Well, no. (Which is actually Browne’s point, as well, I might add.) The melodies that rolled out of the mandolins on the porch at P & O and the beat of the drums in downtown Durham sing a different song, as does the jukebox at The Green Room and the couple playing and singing on the grass at the farmers’ market and the hymns we will sing in the morning, and it is a gathering song. If we listen to our hearts and the rhythm of all creation (rocks crying out, trees applauding) the song we know best is one rich in harmonies, one that calls us together in whatever groups we can gather, for whatever reason we can imagine.

Now – amen. So be it.


P. S. -- An added bonus. Here's Jackson Browne talking about the song and singing it.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

of skunks and storms

It was a dark and stormy afternoon and I was trapped in the Barnes and Noble by a thunderstorm. Ginger was on the other end of the Streets of Southpoint looking for shoes. Since I had the time, I migrated upstairs to the poetry section to see what I could see. There I found a teenage Latina girl who was planted in front of the poetry books and so deeply engrossed in what she was reading that she didn’t even see me when I took my place in front of the bookshelf next to her and opened a book of invitations of my own. Neither of us spoke or acknowledged one another; we simply shared the space the poems made for us there on the second floor.

We were both deep into our poems when three other girls descended on the young poet like pigeons on breadcrumbs, barraging her with Spanish I didn’t understand. I assumed they had come to tell her it was time to go, or that the rain had stopped. Then one of them asked, “What are you reading?”

“Poems,” she said. And for the first time she looked at me, perhaps to know someone understood.

More Spanish, and then the older of the three intruders grabbed the book out of her hand and said, “You don’t need to read poems,” finishing her thought in Spanish.

The girl grabbed the book back and answered, “Yes, I do. They talk about love and yearning.” The others shrugged her off and turned to walk away. She put the book back on the shelf and began to follow, but not without asking, rhetorically, “What do you want me to do – just get a job and make money everyday?”

My chance encounter fell in the middle of an eleven-day-thirteen-shift stretch for me at work in a frame of my mind that has me examining what meaning I am making of my life these days. Reading and writing far too easily gives way to prepping and cooking; I spend much more of my life with pots and pans rather than poetry. I love cooking, I like my job, and I would like to spend my time differently, proportionally, than life affords me the opportunity to do in these days.

The last paragraph has less to do with existential crisis than with the desire, to borrow words from a biblical poet, Paul, to “make the most of the time.” As long as I’m borrowing words, I’ll turn to a poet and recent acquaintance, Justin McRoberts and one of the songs he sang at the Writer’s Conference in Jackson a couple of weeks ago:

you see the question isn’t are you going to suffer any more
but what will it have meant when you are through
the question isn’t are you going to die, you’re going to die
but will you be done living when you do
What the poets know is life adds up to more than the sum of the parts. A poet who has befriended me with her words over the years is Naomi Shihab Nye who wrote a poem in response to a student coming up to her at a workshop, handing her a piece of paper with his address on it, and asking her to write a poem and send it to him.
Valentine for Ernest Mann

You can't order a poem like you order a taco.
Walk up to the counter and say, "I'll take two"
and expect it to handed back to you
on a shiny plate.

Still, I like you spirit.
Anyone who says, "Here's my address,
write me a poem," deserves something in reply.
So I'll tell a secret instead:
poems hide. In the bottoms of our shoes,
they are sleeping. They are the shadows
drifting across our ceilings the moment
before we wake up. What we have to do
is live in a way that lets us find them.

Once I knew a man who gave his wife
two skunks for a valentine.
He couldn't understand why she was crying.
"I thought they had such beautiful eyes."
And he was serious. He was a serious man
who lived in a serious way. Nothing was ugly
just because the world said so. He really
liked those skunks. So, he re-invented them
as valentines and they became beautiful.
At least, to him. And the poems that had been hiding
in the eyes of skunks for centuries
crawled out and curled up at his feet.
Who knows what the days ahead hold for any of us. Here’s what I do know: I want my life to be about poetry more than paychecks. I want to live in the middle of the skunks and the storms and still have the wherewithal to notice who is standing beside me at the next bookshelf, who I come home to, and, whether I spend the rest of my days cooking or writing, do more than get a job and make money, even though I need both.


Friday, May 08, 2009

what's the word

I’m looking for?
(Not that anyone has asked
for a word, you understand)

Still – the swirl around
the swine flu has left me
looking for a word or two
with which to respond . . .

I could say something
about malaria, or cholera,
or tuberculosis, or hunger –
all bigger killers we could do
something about, but

that too quickly begins to
sound (and feel) superior.

I could repeat what I read
on the church sign driving
to work: “God is in control.”

And then I drove past a car
that had fallen into the ditch.

Most every time an angel
appears in a Bible story,
he says the same thing:
“Be not afraid,” as if that
would be enough.

Tone, you know, travels
across time and scripture
about as well as it does
in email; still -- I can’t help
but hear something other
than a command.

And I wonder . . .

how I might give my
word wings of compassion
and the lightness of love
whatever it might be.


Thursday, May 07, 2009

daily office

My morning, so far, has been made up
of coffee shop chatter and a pretty good
ham and cheese croissant served with an
complimentary portion of overhead disco
(thank God for headphones and Patty Griffin)

My afternoon will call me to the kitchen
to assemble a fajita bar for fifty folks whom
I will not see; I will cook and then clean up,
much the same way, I suppose, as the
one who made my sandwich this morning

We take turns taking and offering, being
the one who needs and the one who
provides, most of the time (I think) not
taking too much time to regard the
transition, which is best greased by gratitude

Let me do my part. I’m thankful, today,
for ham and cheese, for a place to sit,
for good coffee and good writers, for
time, for city living, for Patty Griffin,
and for the one who invented headphones.


Sunday, May 03, 2009

close enough

I just got home from a great weekend in Jackson, where I got to preach this morning at Calvary Baptist Church. Here is the sermon.

You have to wonder how soon it started.

I’m guessing, even in the early church, where two or three were gathered there were two or three differing opinions. Though we have grouped the epistles in the back half of our New Testaments, they were some of the earliest writings we have and they show that from almost the very beginning of the church people were struggling with what it meant to live out our faith together. Paul, John, and anyone else who wrote one of these letters spends some time basically saying the biblical equivalent of, “Don’t make me come over there” or “If I have to pull this car over there is going to be some serious trouble.” And they all spend a good deal of time entreating their charges to love one another; they also do what they can to draw a picture of what looks like. Listen to Eugene Peterson’s translation of the first part of our passage for this morning:

This is how we've come to understand and experience love: Christ sacrificed his life for us. This is why we ought to live sacrificially for our fellow believers, and not just be out for ourselves. If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God's love? It disappears. And you made it disappear.
He could not have painted the picture any clearer: when we don’t care for one another, God’s love disappears. Disappears. And – not but, and -- when we do respond and meet the need we incarnate the love of God as God created us to do. God’s love appears.

Yesterday at the Writer’s Conference, Justin shared a story with us that led him to write the song he sang a few moments ago called “Driving by the Accident.” As he talked about how the song came together, he spoke of Jesus’ encounter with the woman who lived with a hemorrhage and knew she just needed to touch the hem of his garment to be healed. Justin said we have to understand “the healing touch of intentional proximity.”

I love that phrase.

By choosing to be church together, we are choosing intentional proximity: we mean to be close. We are also putting ourselves near enough to one another to create the opportunity to incarnate love to one another. Or – not. The truth is we are also close enough to do damage. When we decide to explode, we send chards and shrapnel into everyone around us. Not only must we choose to be in close proximity, we must also choose, day after day after day, to love one another as Christ loves us. We must choose the responsibility that comes with connectedness – knowing that choosing to be together in a world full of suffering and chaos is choosing to enter voluntarily into one another’s pain, even as we choose, perhaps first, to do no harm.

In his book The Will to Power, philosopher Frederich Nietzsche challenged the Christian call to love all humanity, saying love was weakness that denied such values as pride, war, conquest, and anger. As harsh as it may sound to think of pride and anger as values, remember we live in a nation that lives out Vince Lombardi’s notion that, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” Our culture says get what you can and leave everyone else to fight for themselves.

Our faith tells us differently: we are one in the Spirit, as the song says, and we have a responsibility for and to one another.

Since we’ve been a part of the writer’s conference this weekend, let’s play with words for a minute and break down the word responsibility. It’s made of two words: response and ability: the ability to respond. Being close to one another in Christ means we have the ability to respond to one another’s needs, incarnating God’s love in the most practical and meaningful ways.

Gary Chapman has a book Ginger, my wife, uses in marriage counseling called The Five Love Languages, which he defines as the ways we best give and receive love. They are:
  • words of affirmation – saying words that encourage and support
  • acts of service – doing the “little things” that show we are paying attention
  • physical touch – hugs, and supportive touch
  • quality time – making time to care for one another
  • gifts – again, things that make a person feel known
Though we are all able to speak more than one of these languages, each of us has a favorite we speak when we receive love and a favorite we speak when it comes to giving love. Sometimes they match up well: Ginger’s best receiving language is acts of service and mine is words of affirmation. So when I do something nice for her and she says thank you we both come out pretty well. Sometimes, in the context of community, we operate on the principle of speaking the language we wish would be spoken to us and we miss each other. Incarnating the love of Christ to one another means being multilingual, if you will. It also means being forthright about what we need and what we have to offer one another as we live in close proximity.

One of the other songs Justin sang a few minutes ago was Patty Griffin’s “When It Don’t Come Easy.” I asked him to sing the song because the chorus articulates the kind of hands on love we’re talking about. The lyrics are
If you break down, I’ll drive out and find you
If you forget my love, I’ll try to remind you
And stay by you when it don’t come easy
Here’s what love looks like: if you break down, I’ll drive out and find you.

There’s a couple in our church in Durham. He is a firefighter; she is a social worker. They were driving down a street in Miami, where they were visiting family, when he noticed smoke coming out of a house as a woman was running out the door. They stopped the car and got out. He ran into the house, turned off the gas, and did what he could to stay the fire; she called 911 and then sat and comforted the woman in the midst of the turmoil. Both of them did what they were trained to do in a moment where they happened to be close enough to help.

When the brought the woman to Jesus who had been caught in the act of adultery, which is a euphemistic way of saying they pulled her out of bed and dragged her down the street naked, Jesus knelt down and wrote in the sand when they asked what they should do to her. In that moment, their attention shifted from the woman to trying to figure out what Jesus was doodling in the dirt. He was close enough to offer her grace and, as the scene played out, forgiveness.

After Peter denied Jesus three times, Jesus met him on the shore of the sea of Galilee with breakfast. He was close enough to offer food and, again, forgiveness.

Then Peter, along with John, encountered the beggar at the gate and said, “We don’t have any money, but we will give you what we have. In Jesus’ name, get up and walk.” They were close enough to be healers.

I have a friend who grew up in a family of abuse and violence. She says she remembers as a little girl being in a store with her mother and her mother was yelling and screaming at her. She said there was another woman at the counter who leaned down in the midst of the violence and said, “Remember this is not your fault. It’s going to be OK.”

We are all wounded and hurting. We are all capable of being healers. And we are close enough to one another to make the love of God appear in our midst.
If you break down, I’ll drive out and find you
If you forget my love, I’m here to remind you
And stay by you when it don’t come easy
May we respond to one another in a way that makes God’s love appear at every turn. Amen.