Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became humanHaving become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

Eugene Peterson
Philippians 2:5-8, The Message

“I Cannot Live Without Books” Touring the Library of Congress

My family toured the Library of Congress last weekend, with alumni from Juniata College, our daughter’s alma mater.

The Library of Congress is in downtown DC, just behind the Capitol building (next to the Supreme Court). The LOC spans multiple buildings, but the one open for free tours is the Jefferson Building. The historic building now houses many exhibits, as well as a concert hall and a public reading room.

The building is gorgeous and we saw it in its holiday finery.

IMG_2507I enjoyed seeing the Gutenberg Bible and the Bay Psalm Book, along with lots of other Bibles and religious books. They have a great pamphlet you can take home. I also enjoyed seeing the St. John’s Bible displayed. It called to mind the wonderful weeks I’ve spent in Collegeville, MN at St. John’s Abbey.


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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — We Salute You!

One of the great things about living near our nation’s capital is the chance to visit the monuments. Last October when my parents visited from Michigan, I took them to the MLK memorial. We had the place to ourselves.


Notice the “mountain of despair”


We read all the quotations aloud, taking our time.


My parents chose this quotation for their portrait.


It’s a big monument, for a giant of a man.


Standing at the feet of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Here’s another time I blogged about a trip to The Stone of Hope.

Wishing you a day of rest and remembrance in honor of a great man and a legacy of work that is still unfinished.

Make a career of humanity.

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Writers on Writing (Notice How They Mention Love)

Will I see you at the Festival of Faith & Writing next month?

Every writer loves tidbits about writing, so here are quotes from my notes from past FFWs. These are from 2000 — and note that two authors will be repeat speakers this year, James McBride and Anne Lamott. اسعار الذهب عيار 21 فى السعودية DAVID JAMES DUNCAN

“The collision of faith & writing is a job description.”

“Loving God’s world is like loving peanut M&M’s. Loving God is like loving the factory.”

“God is truth, telling your truth inevitably leads you to God.”

سعر مثقال الذهب في العراق JAMES McBRIDE

Love is a verb. What have you done today to make your community better?

It’s all right to fail. Be good at it. Make mistakes.

jobba hemifrån avtal ANNE LAMOTT more here

There are 5 rules of being an American:

  1. Don’t have anything wrong/different about you.
  2. If you have #1, correct it.
  3. If you can’t correct it, pretend that you did.
  4. If you can’t pretend, don’t show up.
  5. There are no other rules.

Jesus doesn’t say, “live in my heart.” He says “Be my heart. Details to follow.”

The writer has to make it that the reader can find herself in any character.

“We’re not starving for what we don’t have, we’re starving for what we won’t give.”

“The world is afraid of grief. It looks at it’s watch. But we don’t get through life without losing people we can’t possibly live without.”

“Make messes, fail, beautiful things come from mess. Try to do less well — ironically you’ll do better.”

“Choose wonder over achievement.”

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Our lives change by chance. The chance is from God — or not! He doesn’t care which you decide.

“In the particular is the universal.” ~ James Joyce

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Don’t Ask: Why Write? Ask How.

festival-of-faith-and-writing-logo-2014Next month I’ll be attending the Festival of Faith & Writing at my alma mater in Grand Rapids, MI.

I love this every-other-year feast. In preparation I’m revisiting my notes from past FFWs, and thought I’d share.

These are from FFW 2000. . . . 


“Writing is almost never going to go well. All first drafts are bad. The secret of life is doing things badly.”

“Writing is radical inefficiency. Writing is about paper. Waste paper and time. You need to waste a lot more time.”

“Publication is me at my most mentally ill.”


“The world needs to know how faith feels, how it sounds in your mouth.”


“At the bottom of everything is a story. The process of writing is an organic whole, from unconscious observation to getting an idea to writing to revising. Participate before you separate and write.”

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Our cactus garden.

Last winter I savored a book called Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez. I read a few pages each night, shivering under my covers no matter the heat of our furnace.

Today the DC region has come to a halt under a blanket of snow. Yesterday I took this picture of our prickly pear cactus, which is trapped in ice.

Of course, “trapped in ice” is hyperbole. If you want real ice-entrapment, read this brief passage from Lopez’ book, which describes a whaling ship trapped in the arctic ice. The experience of the captain in trying to free his vessel is captivating.

“In May 1814, with his whaling ship beset off the coast of Greenland, William Scoresby set out on foot to reconnoiter the final mile of maneuvering that he hoped would set him free. Like many men caught in such circumstances, Scoresby was terrified. But he was mesmerized as well by the ice, by its sheer power, its daunting scale, the inexorability of its movement. The sound of its constant adjustment before the wind was like ‘complicated machinery, or distant thunder,’ he wrote. Even as he sought a way out, he marveled at the way it distracted him. He lost the sense of plight that spurred him, the pleading whining that came from his ship’s pinched hull; he became a mere ‘careless spectator.’ It was as though he were walking over the back of some enormous and methodical beast.”

~ from Arctic Dreams, by Barry Lopez, p. 214.

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Migration & Mothers

the Chesapeake Bay & a mother's face

IMG_0850I saw a sign at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels, Maryland one time, and I love the last line:

افضل شركة فوريكس Why Birds Love the Bay

The Bay and the bird species that visit it each year came into being together.

As the glaciers retreated northward at the end of the last ice age (their meltwater slowly creating the Bay), the distance birds had to travel between over-wintering sites and summer breeding grounds gradually increased.

Over thousands and thousands of years that growing distance — and the resting spots essential to traversing it successfully — became imprinted as migratory routes in the DNA of hundreds of bird species.

When you look at the Chesapeake Bay today you are looking at something a migrating bird knows and recognizes as an infant does its mother’s face.

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Living Into Our Lyrics

What if it works this way: We write the lyrics of our life when we’re young and spend our days and years living into them.

I blogged earlier about the Gordon Lightfoot concert we attended, and my favorite song, which was his finale, Song for a Winter’s Night. The lyric is about love lost and recollected, and is there anything more poignant?

In a few days Doug and I will celebrate our 29th wedding anniversary, so I know about love found and kept. But yes, I have also experienced love lost and recollected. The memory is both bitter and sweet.

In case you don’t know this romantic song, I’ll paste in the lyric, and a YouTube clip from a few years ago:

Song for a Winter’s Night
The lamp is burnin’ low upon my table top
The snow is softly falling
The air is still within the silence of my room
I hear your voice softly calling
If I could only have you near
To breathe a sigh or two
I would be happy just to hold the hands I love
Upon this winter night with you 
The smoke is rising in the shadows overhead
My glass is almost empty
I read again between the lines upon each page
The words of love you sent me
If I could know within my heart
That you were lonely too
I would be happy just to hold the hands I love
Upon this winter night with you
The fire is dying now, my lamp is growing dim
The shades of night are liftin’
The morning light steals across my windowpane
Where webs of snow are driftin’
If I could only have you near
To breathe a sigh or two
I would be happy just to hold the hands I love
Upon this winter night with you
And to be once again with you

As I listened to Gordon sing, I used my monocular to watch his face. Obviously, he has aged greatly in 50 years. He has had his share of health problems, including an abdominal aortic aneurysm that required multiple surgeries.

Always a handsome man, his face is still sculpted. His cheeks are even more hollow and his eyes just as piercing. There are reminders of the “hunk” I once mooned over.

Gordon Lightfoot Gord's Gold Album CoverAs I watched him sing, it struck me that there may be a meaning in the lyric beyond what he originally intended.

“The fire is dying now, my lamp is growing dim, the shades of night are liftin'”

Perhaps you can tell that I’ve been formed by hymnody and church music–and you will therefore discount this observation– but that lyric sounds to me like “Evensong,” a lyric you sing to close the day and commit yourself into God’s hands as evening falls.

The liturgy of Evensong helps us grapple with our mortality, with the awareness that at some point, we will be closing a day for the last time, and may not know it. At some point there will be no more nights ahead of us.

Does that sound morbid? I think it’s helpful to live with an awareness that life is fleeting. This is what the Psalmist describes. Facing mortality is an essential part of faith. We acknowledge that our days are numbered, and we are not in control of that numbering (which is why we colloquially say that someone “plays God” when they do something that takes this matter into their own hands).

Certainly when Gordon sings this lyric now, it tastes different in his mouth than it did when he first wrote it. He is aware that his lamp is growing dim. By all accounts this awareness causes him to live with great intensity. He still has work to do. I love reading this about him. He is an artist, accountable to his art.

Like him, I intend to keep loving the work every day that I’m given.

I also don’t mean to suggest that these fews lines are the only lyric of his that have deepened over the years. If art is true, it is also multivalent and keeps revealing itself to us over time. Isn’t this what distinguishes great art?

So today I wonder, what is the lyric of my life? What’s yours?

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Turning on a Dime

Life turns on a dime. Sometimes towards us, but more often it spins away, flirting and flashing as it goes: so long, honey, it was good while it lasted, wasn’t it? ~Stephen King

“Life can turn on a dime,” we say, meaning that everything can change in a moment, spinning into full reverse.

The expression calls to mind a precision auto that can execute a full 360 degree spin in a tight radius.

Usually we mean the most devastating of reversals. As a pastor, a parent, a friend, I have heard my share of stories.

~ A father of four driving home from a two-week vacation, only to be hit by a drunk driver a few miles from his own driveway. A fatal collision.

~ A child who develops a series of coughs and is referred up the chain of doctors until a specialist confers the diagnosis. Leukemia.

~ A minister who gets a dream job, only to discover it’s a nightmare, threatening their marriage and family life. Calling to mind the reputedly Yiddish curse: May all your dreams come true.

These little stories are true and I’m not telling the ones closest to my heart. You could add your own stories, I know.

But today I’m in shock because life has reversed itself not once, but twice, and what was devastating now has the promise of life. It can make your head spin.

It is not my story so I won’t tell it. But I am speechless with joy for my friend. A bit dizzy. But glad to still be spinning.

L’chaim! To Life!

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Heart Island & Boldt Castle

Have you heard the story of George Boldt and Heart Island? I had not until we took a Thousand Island boat ride and visited Boldt Castle.

George Boldt was a poor Prussian immigrant to New York City in 1864 who worked in hotel kitchens, eventually ending up in Philadelphia, where he managed The Philadelphia Club. From there he became famous by creating ever-more-luxurious surroundings, eventually serving as proprietor of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. My favorite tidbit is that he created room service.

Wikipedia calls Boldt a “self-made millionaire” and puts his story in historic context:

The enormous fortunes generated by robber barons in the post-Civil War Era led to an unprecedented level of luxurious living for wealthy Americans. Boldt catered to this new super-rich class, charging the highest prices for the very best, and becoming one of them in the process.

IMG_3673Doug and I toured Boldt Castle, pictured here. It was a lovely day and we were there shortly before sunset.

The story goes that workmen were in the process of building the stone Castle and various outbuildings when Boldt’s wife, Louise–for whom the castle was intended to be a Valentine’s gift–died, just before her 42nd birthday. Construction was halted abruptly and the unfinished construction fell into ruin. It has only recently been restored, and work is still in progress.

Folks seem to love this place, which is the essence of romanticism. There are hearts everywhere: in the stonework, the grillwork, the flower gardens, and embedded in the paths. It’s no surprise that this island is a popular setting for weddings.

I can sense the powerful appeal of a man creating a gorgeous, extravagant building for his woman as a testament to his eternal love. (Can you think of other examples? The Taj Mahal comes to mind, but I believe there are many others as well.)

But the appeal has its limits. Call me a Pragmatist, or an Unromantic. Say that my eye is “jaundiced.” But as I explored the castle, I wondered:

1) Did the excesses of the Gilded Age create a stratification in American life that persists today? (Thank you, progressive income tax.)

2) Material excess is often used to signify emotional excess, but isn’t this rather adolescent? Glitter is not Gold. (Thank you Shakespeare.)

3) How did the skilled workers manage when they were told to “drop their tools” and walk off the job site, when they expected to have many more years of well-paid work? (Thank you Union contracts.)

4) Did Louise even want this building? She already had a host of homes including one on a neighboring island. The fact that the building lay in ruins for almost 75 years, ignored by her children as they grew, suggests that there is more to the story than the brochure tells. (Thank you, 29 years of marriage, which has taught me a bit about True Love.)

Have you been to Boldt Castle? What did you think?

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