Sunday, April 20, 2014


Our session on forgiveness had just concluded, with several artists coming forward for prayer; they needed to forgive someone, and weren’t quite sure how to do it.  But one artist remained in her seat.  I didn’t think too much of it, but later she asked to speak to me. 

“I feel bad, but I don’t think I have anyone to forgive!” she confessed.  It seemed impossible to her that she could have no one to forgive; what was she missing? 

“Well, don’t make something up!” I admonished her.  She looked shocked. 

“Sometimes we did that as kids,” I continued, “made up sins because we had to go to confession.  I used the ‘I argued with my brothers’ sin because that happened everyday--I knew I was safe with that one!”

That’s as far as we got in the conversation before we both burst out laughing at the absurdity of feeling guilty because we might not have sinned.  It was a joy to see this particular artist laughing so hard—I was more used to seeing tears from her as she battled through some painful issues in her life. 

She laughed and laughed until she finally blurted out, “I’m not used to this joy thing yet!” 

Get used to it, my friend, get used to it.  “Weeping comes in the night, but joy comes in the morning.”

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Under the Tuscan Sun

For Easter Sunday, how about a few snapshots of our recent trip to Tuscany?! 

We brought our students there for a week of some cultural soaking in the birthplace of the Renaissance.   The BBC series on the Medici primed us for conversation in the van on the ride down, and filled in some history gaps in our memory banks. 

The movie setting we anticipated had to wait several days, while we dealt with rain, cold, and minimal plumbing.  Lumpy mattresses on squeaking bunk beds completed the inconveniences, and that's all I'm going to say about that, because an inconvenient day in Tuscany is better than a good day at a computer, right?! 

The sunshine finally did break out, and we got to explore and admire the surrounding villages and hills with their vineyards and olive groves.   Appropriately enough, our accommodations sat on a hilltop, adjacent to an olive grove, managed by caretaker Giovanni and his family.  On one of our sunny days, Giovanni gave us a tour of the olive grove, and a glimpse of his vineyard, complete with lessons learned under his little patch of the Tuscan sun--lessons in both viticulture and spiritual life; hands-on lessons as he taught us to graft vines.

It was a long, rather rigorous descent to the bottom of the olive grove, into the vineyard.  Although Giovanni is not a commercial wine producer, he does some production for his 'friends'--we requested to be numbered among them!  

Finally Giovanni stopped, knelt, and began cutting and teaching: 

"Keep the branches horizontal so all the branches get the same amount of fruit." 

"You have to get to the heart of the branch for a graft to take."

"A graft only works for like species.  And so God can 'graft us in' because we are of the same nature as God."

"In good weather, there are diseases.  In bad weather, there are diseases.  The vine grower must watch over the vines in all seasons." that one...

"Hebrew wisdom has three paths: don't tell your children fairy tales, but Bible stories; then they will never question if something is true or a fairy tale.  Ask God for wisdom.  Ask God to reveal the lessons that are everywhere around you."

Seems simple enough.  We ended our morning in Giovanni's wine cellar, sampling the goodness of his wines, then gathering around him to bless him, thank him, and pray for him.  Then it was up the hill again, pondering wisdom, just in time for lunch--which included a snappy little red...Grazie Giovanni! 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

A South African Sabbath

“Hey!  How about a South African Sabbath?” Lanette proposed. 

“Great idea!  What’s that?” I responded.

And thus began a small miracle…whose ripple effect increased through the coming weeks.

Part of our rhythm here at Incarnate is to hold a weekly Sabbath service, starting sundown Friday evenings, ending at sundown the following evening— following the Jewish tradition.  Our ‘liturgy’ is quite simple: asking ourselves a question: what do you need to cease from?  (“Sabbath” literally means ‘to cease from.’)—followed by a time of reflection and communion. 

Singing, sharing and praying for one another, we move pretty organically through our time.  And before taking communion together, we ask if any relational difficulties have cropped up during the week that we need to resolve.  After communion, we close our week with a celebration meal, and each one enters the  ancient-future practice of Sabbath.  It’s one of the highlights of the week for me. 

When Lanette, one of our former students, now on staff with us, proposed a South African Sabbath, I was thrilled.  For one thing, we could begin to give students more ownership of the service, and we would all get a broader view of Sabbath—a South African one.  I didn’t know exactly what all that meant, but had a vague idea there would be a change in musical style, perhaps some anecdotes born out of South African culture, with perhaps a meditation giving a unique slant on the Sabbath we may never have heard before. 

And so the following Friday arrived. May, part of our OM Arts team, a personal friend, and from South Africa, pulled me aside that morning and shared something: God was asking her to do something and she didn’t want to do it.  Oh…since we were about to launch our first session of the day, with no time to talk, I gave her a hug, and we were off.  The South African Sabbath flew far from my mind—safely being prepared in the hands of others. 

But again, during our small group time, May shared with the group that God had asked her to do something that she didn’t want to.  We prayed for her to find the courage to do whatever it was God was calling her to, and I felt confident she would do so, knowing May’s character.  And then it was time for Sabbath.

Sundown.  Hansie took the helm, introducing us to some of the South African history of apartheid.  Um….not what I had in mind, I thought, but let’s see where this goes.

Then he called May up; she took the mic and pulled a stool forward.  On her lap sat a sheave of notes, but I’m not sure she ever referred to them.  I wondered if she would ask ‘the question’—what do you need to cease from?—or share how she practiced Sabbath growing up in South Africa. 

Instead, May began recounting stories of growing up ‘colored’ in apartheid—under the control of the minority whites.  (As you may or may not know, there are three ‘races’ in South Africa: whites, blacks and coloreds.)  
The stories were hard to hear, hard to imagine—
hard to know my friend had to grow up in this injustice.  Her story, close to that of so many in our country who endure “discrimination” (to put a pretty word on it), made me want to weep.  I found myself begging God for forgiveness for the oppression of racism. 

May concluded with “I have one more thing to say,” then choked up.  The silence went from awkward to excruciating, until she got her voice back.  Looking straight at Hansie and Lanette, white South Africans, May asked their forgiveness for what blacks and coloreds have done to whites. 
Hansie and Lanette rushed forward to hug May.  The backstory: last November, Hansie and Lanette had been victims of armed robbery—by blacks—while on a visit home to South Africa.  They are still working through the trauma.   

Not a dry eye in the house was left, as these three hugged and cried together for long minutes.  I felt the very country of South Africa must be affected by this reconciliation.  I was never more proud of my friends.

Then it was time to take communion together, and Hansie called Elbie forward—the 4th member of our South African contingent—to serve us each communion.  I don’t remember when or if the tears stopped, as we participated in the meal representing the ultimate pathway to reconciliation, remembering the One who said, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing." 

“Do this in remembrance of me.”--Jesus

Judika Day

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Sleepless in Bobbio

While we were cheering Elbie on in her lovely story, one of the other artists in our small group was struggling: why should Elbie get an answer, so effortlessly it seemed, while she was grappling at the school with no breakthroughs?

As Elbie finished her story, this other artist confessed to feelings of jealousy.  When would it be ‘her turn?’   But as we nodded in sympathy, she went on to reassure us, “Don’t worry, I’ve worked through the feelings of jealousy, and God did give me an answer…”

This artist has battled with insomnia while at the school, to the point that we are working with her and our team nurse to schedule extra nap times, excuse her from some classes and activities, and find some natural sleep aids.  In the meantime, while we work to get a good sleep pattern established, we are working deeply on heart issues that might be behind the insomnia.  Because of the intensity of this deep inner work, and the sleeplessness, we counseled her to avoid heavy theological reading, or listening to sermons, when awake at night, but to listen to worship music instead.


The weeks rolled by, with seemingly no headway on either front, and we were all getting frustrated with the lack of breakthrough.

But this artist plugged along, and plugged in her earbuds one sleepless night to listen to some worship music.  Only the iPod stuck on a sermon.  No matter what she tried, she could not get the iPod to move off this particular sermon, which she had heard over and over before.  Finally she gave up, and just resigned herself to listening to the sermon, over and over again, sleepless on a couch in our chapel. 

Two sentences popped out: that depression can be caused by comparing oneself with others.  And that she could ‘talk to her soul’ and tell it things that would help her overcome.  For some reason, this night, this umpteenth time of listening, these sentences came alive for her, and she realized she could change the soundtrack in her mind, and break the cycle of depression, anxiety and insomnia it was leading her to.


She began talking to her soul, and arrived this morning to confess not only jealousy but joy.  The smile was real and deep, and though her battle with insomnia is not over yet, it is only a matter of time.  Months of lying awake are falling away into moments now of ‘waking up’—spiritually—and soon I expect this artist will be sleeping the sleep of infants.

But for now, we cheered again, gathered for hugs again, and then our time was up.  I left to put my materials in the office, then returned to our gathering place to collect my forgotten water bottle.  I walked into Elbie and this artist, locked in a tight bear hug, beaming.  I laughed and again wished I had my camera.   “We just realized we had the same Husband,” they responded, giggling, and we had a good laugh, followed by a good group hug.


I love these girls!  Pray for this one artist to win the battle against insomnia, by winning the inner battles first.  Each day is one step closer to victory.