Re:Connect and Re:Create


A couple years ago I reconnected with a college friend. I was looking at a church’s website and saw an unusual, but familiar, name. Turns out it was my friend, now on staff at the church. It also turns out that she, like me, is a writer. Early this year, my friend invited me and a number of others to guest post on her blog with the theme, “Re:create.” Specifically, in her words, “we’re thinking about create with a healthy dose of play and how both can lead to transformation.

My post combines several elements: a relationship that transformed how I view the Bible; an appreciation for God’s creativity; and a healthy dose of “sanctified imagination.” You’ll need to click over there to see what that means (at least until I post about it myself).

I’d love it, of course, if you would read my guest post on my friend’s blog, “Miracles in the Mundane.” But don’t stop there; look at some of the other things she’s written—like the story of her son deciding to grow his hair to donate for wigs for kids. Check out other guest posts (the “re:create” series will run most Wednesdays), like this one that offers some helpful insights into those pesky New Year’s Resolutions.

The blog can be found at

Help! My Church is Closing!


I recently learned that my church was going to close. Well, my church campus, anyway—one of three campuses the church has around the city.

It doesn’t look much like a church in the traditional sense. We meet at a middle school: the main service gathers in the Multi-Purpose Room, while the youth and children fan out to classrooms and the library around the campus. But for many, this middle school is the only church they have ever known, and they have come here at 10:00am every Sunday morning over the past four years. For these, it might as well be the whole church that’s closing.

Others moved from the main campus, which has met for more than ten years at a high school eighteen miles away. They made that move for a variety of reasons: to be part of something new, to support the leaders of this new work, or simply to attend church closer to home.

Whatever brought each person to this location, each will feel its closure uniquely; each will navigate the change in his or her own way. Are there right and wrong ways to navigate? Probably. More helpful, though, would be to speak of healthy and unhealthy ways. I want to help us navigate healthily.

Sit on the ash heap
It begins with recognizing this for what it is: Change, but not only change. It is a loss—a death in some respects—and loss and death are traumatic events. They are to be grieved and mourned.

In the Bible’s epic story of suffering, a righteous man named Job loses everything of value to him in a matter of hours. His tremendous wealth—crops, flocks, herds, and servants—is wiped out or stolen by marauding bandits; and all his children—seven sons and three daughters—perish in a great storm that collapses the house they were celebrating in. But that’s not all: soon he is afflicted with “loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head;” they are so devastating that his friends scarcely recognize the man. Even his wife, reeling from her own loss, tells Job to “curse God and die.”

In his great pain and grief, Job—who had been honored as one of the greatest in the city—goes out of the city to sit on the ash heap, where garbage and dung were burned. On the ash heap he nursed his wounds; on the ash heap, he cried out to God and tried his own heart.

Of course, there is no ash heap for us to sit in today. (I suppose you could trek out to the local dump!) Still, we need to get alone, reflect on the loss, and name the hurt, as one of our pastors said. What am I feeling – anger? hurt? betrayal? sadness? shame? On the ash heap, journal in hand, we can silently name these emotions. We can cry out to God knowing, from Job’s experience, that God can handle all that we feel and say.

Sit with friends
Learning of Job’s great loss, several friends came to sit with him. I love how the English Standard Version says it: “They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him” (Job 2:11, emphasis added). Those are friends we need: people who are aware enough to recognize our hurt and care enough to sit with us – even going so far as to make an appointment together to come together. One of my mentors called these our “3AM friends”: the ones we can call at three o’clock in the morning and know they will pick up the phone!

Sitting in silence. Job’s friends sat with him in silence for seven days and nights. They just sat. No words. Just silence. Henri J.M. Nouwen describes this type of friend:

The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not-knowing, not-curing, not-healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is the friend who cares.1

Nouwen emphasizes that care must precede cure. Indeed, “cure [without care] can often become offending instead of liberating.” And silence is often best—and usually the first—evidence of care.

Sitting with questions. Here we need to move away from Job’s friends, for after a week, the silence and stench must have gotten the better of them; when they opened their mouths, little grace came forth. Friends who care will ask more than state. It’s not as easy as it sounds; for even questions can condemn, and tone of voice can betray an inner judgment.

(Want to try an experiment? Read the following question out loud four times, emphasizing a different word each time: What are you thinking? Read it once more, emphasizing both the first and last words. Do you notice any difference?)

Good questions are hard work. They probe beneath the surface, get beyond circumstances, express concern. What are you feeling? is often better than What are you thinking?, for loss and hurt are, by definition, feelings. But we also need help thinking right, for great grief can bring about a spiritual vertigo in which up seems down and right seems left. Yet thinking and feeling cannot be divorced: we can think all the right things, but still feel completely out of sorts. We can feel alone in the midst of the most loving community; feel lost while staring at a map; feel numb even as our heart experiences the deepest of pain.

Sitting again with silence. Nor are answers critical, at least in the moment. Sometimes the best question comes at a time when the heart (or the head) cannot provide an answer; but the question nonetheless sits and simmers, waiting for the best time to be answered.

Someone asked our pastor’s wife how she was doing with the decision to close the campus that had long been part of her and her husband’s dream for the church. When the question was asked, she was in the midst of caring for others’ hurts; but later, in the quiet of her own thoughts, she realized that she, too, was hurting – that she, too, needed to sit on the ash heap.

Face God and worship him
For 37 chapters, God is silent in the face of Job’s complaints and his friends’ condemnation. When he finally speaks, we hear little gentleness in his voice. He answers none of Job’s plaintive questions. But he also does not chastise Job for asking. He simply and convincingly emphasizes the vast difference between himself, the Almighty Creator God, and Job, the created. Deeply humbled, Job confesses:

My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes.

Job got his wish: an audience with God. But it wasn’t what he expected. Indeed, it was so much more: he gained a new understanding of God; he saw God anew. And in the seeing, he was brought back to the place he’d started: to worship (see Job 1:20).

In my own seasons of loss, I have moved away from the self-pitying question, Why? and sought new revelation of who God is. It’s not easy, and I don’t make the shift easily or consistently. But it’s much more satisfying to look for God in my hurt than to wait in vain for the because that I may not like. And God is so big, so multi-faceted, that there is always a side to him I haven’t yet seen. Indeed, Jesus suggests that knowing God will take an eternity (see John 17:3).

Back to church
Yesterday was our last Sunday at the middle school. It was a time of tears and celebration, of remembering and looking forward. We recognized, thanked, and applauded the dozens of men, women, and children whose labors made “church happen” for the past 200-plus Sundays. We thanked—and were thanked by—the school staff whose facilities we borrowed and cared for. Then we folded the chairs, packed up the room dividers and sound equipment, and loaded the trucks one last time. And then we ate pizza and tacos together.

Next week will be different. Some will go back to the high school campus, but not at 10:00am. Some will visit other churches, wondering if they will find a community anything like what they’ve had these past few years. Others will waken to a hole, a vacant space they’re not quite sure how to fill.

Each heart will be smudged with just a bit of ashes. But ashes can be good fertilizer. Where death and burial are, Jesus offers resurrection.

1 from Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Christian Life, by Henri J.M. Nouwen. Ave Maria Press, 1974. 38.


Berlin Wall

A section of the Berlin Wall now on display at Fort Huachuca, AZ

China. Berlin. Jericho. Three “great walls” of history. Three walls that failed in their purpose of protecting their citizens. (NOTE: There is evidence to suggest that the walls of Jericho were built more to protect against flooding than invasion, but it was in an invasion that the walls collapsed.)

In the words of one researcher, “the city wall began as a way to separate ‘us’ from ‘them’ socially, and evolved later into a way to prevent our enemies from laying waste to our homes.” Early walls divided neighborhoods, cities, and eventually whole countries.

As now-President Donald Trump begins to move forward to fulfill his campaign promise to “build a great, great wall on our southern border,” it would be worth a look back into history to see just how effective walls have been at protecting nations.

The Great Wall of China
It stretches nearly 6,000 miles, joining numerous smaller walls in an effort to protect the expanding Chinese empire from incursions by outsiders. It’s wide enough to drive a car on today – or a chariot in its early years. Construction began as early as the third century B.C. and continued off and on over the next two thousand years.

It is an architectural wonder, employing construction methods still used today. It may also be the world’s largest graveyard: as many as 400,000 workers died during construction, many of whom were buried within the wall itself.

For all its wonders, though, the wall was doomed to failure as a protective barrier. The Ming dynasty (1368-1644) was responsible for most of the wall’s construction, but nonetheless came to an end when the Manchus broke through. Ever since, it has been only a colossal monument to futility.

The Berlin Wall
On the night of August 12-13, 1961, nearly 30 miles of razor wire were laid, dividing a historic city. Unlike the Great Wall of China, however, this barrier was meant to keep people in, not out. I’ve often said to young students I teach, “imagine waking up in the morning to find a fence running down the middle of your street, separating you from your best friend on the other side.”

After World War II, some 2.5 million Germans fled from the Soviet-controlled East Germany into free and democratic West Germany. By mid-1961, nearly 2,000 East Germans a day crossed the border into the west – most through the divided city of Berlin. The razor wire fence was the beginning of the end of the exodus.

Over the next several months, the barbed wire was replaced with concrete walls up to 15 feet high and stretching roughly 100 miles through and around Berlin. Another barrier was built along the 850-mile border between East and West Germany. Nearly 200 East Germans were killed trying to cross the wall into the West. Thousands more were captured – many of whom, undoubtedly, were tortured and/or died in prison. Were their deaths in vain? Or were they the valiant front-line soldiers in the battle for freedom? A mere 28 years after that razor wire was stretched through Berlin, the 72-year-old Soviet Union collapsed in 1989; a year later, the Berlin Wall came down.

The Trump Wall
The wall President Donald Trump wants to build along the southern border of the U.S. would have the purpose of China and the look of Berlin. Trump’s Executive Order calls for “a contiguous, physical wall or other similarly secure, contiguous, and impassable physical barrier” along “the land border between the United States and Mexico.” Estimates of the cost to build such a wall—stretching more than 1,900 miles from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico—are put at $8-10 billion dollars. It would take as much as four years to build.

The President’s thinking falls short on several fronts, not the least of which is the simple ineffectiveness of a wall to keep out those who desperately want in. The people of San Diego—where I have lived nearly half my life—are all-to-familiar with the tunnels under our existing and quite secure border. Every year, it seems, another tunnel is discovered opening into a border warehouse, designed to transport everything from people to drugs. And these are not just dirt tunnels a few feet in diameter; one of the longest was an 800-yard long concrete hallway complete with “rail and ventilation systems, lights, and an elevator.” A $10 billion wall is no match for the $64-billion dollar a year drug business that will just dig under.

Effectiveness aside, the engineering and political challenges are enormous. If my research is correct, 1,255 miles of the border is actually water: the Rio Grande River between the Gulf of Mexico and El Paso and Ciudad Juárez. Would a wall not be constructed their because it isn’t a “land border”? Or would the wall be built on land north of the river (preventing American access to water that is rightfully ours)? Or would Trump try to convince Mexico to build a wall on the southern banks of the Rio Grande, with the same effect on their access to the river?

A border wall may be counterproductive to President Trump’s desire to control immigration. Professor Elisabeth Vallet of the University of Quebec at Montreal suggests that immigrants who risk crossing the border are more likely to remain in the U.S. because the wall would make it more difficult to cross back. In that scenario, people who would otherwise maintain a home and family in Mexico would have greater motivation to stay in the U.S. rather than increasing the risk and cost of returning home.

Most ludicrous of all was presidential-candidate Trump’s vow that Mexico would pay for the wall. Short of war and occupation, the United States has virtually no way to compel Mexico to foot the bill for a wall they don’t want. Trump certainly won’t get help from the community of nations, especially in light of his antipathy toward the UN. And his blustering pronouncements may sell reality TV, but certainly will not win friends on the international diplomatic stage.

If a wall is to be built, know that it will be American tax dollars poured into the concrete, American security threatened by new enemies who were once allies, and American children who will pay the price of an increasingly divided nation and world.

That is the terrifying reality of President Trump’s “America First” mantra.

God Knows – Know God


You do not know what you are going to do; the only thing you know is that God knows what He is doing.*

God Knows. The great challenge of faith is that we live and move in uncertainty. I chuckle to myself whenever I hear people lay out life plans: we’re going to finish college before we get married; we’ll wait a few years and get settled into jobs, then start a family. Or, We’re going to move to a cheaper area and work for a while so we can save money, then we’ll move back and be able to buy a house.

The encourager in me cheers on the young couple; the realist wants to start asking, “But what if…?”; the arrogant Bible student in me (yes, he’s there) wants to quote James 4:13-17.

God didn’t tell Abram where to go, he just told him to go; I wonder how Sarai felt about that. Jonah was told exactly where to go, and he went the other direction; God compelled a smelly, messy u-turn. Saul (the future evangelist, not the king) was following his plan when God interrupted with a blinding flash; he ended up finishing that journey, but with a very different purpose.

Plans are good and necessary; they help us make decisions today that would be more difficult without some idea of what we wanted to do tomorrow. But for those who want to follow God, our plans need to be held loosely. And when they don’t work out, we must lean on the One who is always certain.

God does not tell you what He is going to do; He reveals to you who He is.*

Know God. No matter how well planned, the future is always uncertain. Even when plans are going just as we … well, planned, life can change in an instant: Cancer. Car accident. Market crash. Layoff. Miscarriage. Or, as with a student teacher I met recently, someone else’s innocent mistake years back has rippled forward and disrupted everything, potentially laying to waste all the work and schooling and training she has done.

When plans are interrupted, life can spiral out of control. Emotions spin, hearts drain, motivation dies. We go from living to existing, and that in the cold, persistent grey of a Seattle winter. Questions drip from the dark clouds, slowly building in intensity until all life is a storm and spiritual vertigo blinds us to any sense of direction.

And it is there amid the tempest that God meets us. There we—like the Psalmist—find in God a refuge. He becomes shield and shepherd, guide and guardian. In the cancer, he is Comforter. After the layoff, he is Provider. In the waiting, he is Emmanuel, God With Us. In the injustice, Merciful.

God is not always who we want him to be, when we want him to be it. In the hospital, we want Healer more than Comforter. In the courthouse we want Judge, not Mercy (unless I am the one on trial). After the layoff, I want a job, not charity.

God rarely meets our expectations—and always exceeds them. 

In the midst of the storms of his life, Job had endless questions for God; none was answered. In the end, he only had a new glimpse of the Almighty, and that was sufficient. Saul, too, received new spiritual eyes (though, ironically, he is believed to have had very poor physical eyesight). The blind man’s prayer, “I want to see,” should be our cry when life’s circumstances blind us. The vision we need is not to see the road, but to see God, to know him in ways we have not yet perceived.

Jesus said, “This is eternal life: that they may know you….”

When only God knows, may we know God.


*Quotes are from My Utmost for His Highest, [January 2], by Oswald Chambers.

Now What?


Carols sung
Cookies frosted
Cinnamon rolls rolled
Dozens on dozens
Now what?

Tree trimmed
Halls decked
Presents hid
Stockings hung
Now what?

Baby born
Shepherds came
Now what?

Christmas morn
Joy unbridled
Laughter laughed
Mem’ries made
Now what?

Gifts unwrapped
Wrappings discarded
Dinner eaten
Hearts and stomachs satisfied
Now what?

Wise men-gifted
Flee to Egypt
Set up shop
Now what?

Games played
Puzzles puzzled
Movies watched
Cookies and desserts devoured
Now what?

Immigrants and refugees
Fear and strange new worlds
Tents and lines
Our ancestors once lived here
Now what?

Christmas isn’t just a day
Not just swapping gifts
Not just cookies,
Ham and bread
Now what?

Life goes on
The baby grows unnoticed
Will he in my life still today
Live on invisibly?
Now what?

Angels, prophets
Stars and kings
Shepherds, cousin
Now what?

Messengers from God
Tellers of the story
Angels then
Neighbors now
Now what?

(c) 2016, Randall J. Ehle. All rights reserved.