A Witch Hunt and a Polaroid

Fragments of Evidence

I occasionally recognize a series of events that examined in isolation would be filtered by my perspective as insignificant. But time threads otherwise disparate moments together. Patterns with hints of meaning emerge. Serendipity.

This morning’s “social news” included an article about a classroom exercise using the Salem Witch trials as a theme to explore what happens to groups of people who create tribes founded in fear of other people. Shortly after reading this, I began a new chapter in a novel, and the story turned to a group of neighbors who ignite a witch hunt against a man on their street who takes photographs of children. Before sitting down to read, I adjusted the couch cushion and found an over-exposed Polaroid taken by my child.

I hear a cautionary voice, perhaps spoken from a trench of similar fears, warning me about attributing significance where none is warranted. Maybe. Another voice, perhaps spoken from a hill of suffering and love tells me to pay attention. Hopefully.

Sufficient Light for the Road Ahead

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” ~ John 14:6

Over the course of my life, I don’t think I’ve ever heard an interpretation of these words as anything other than an argument given by Jesus to be used in doctrinal debates – or as an item on an answer key for a test yet to come. Yet while these words continue to inform my belief about who Jesus is, when I primarily experience them relationally rather than doctrinally, I sense an invitation and hope for communion rather than a threat and tool for  exclusion. I hear a friend revealing a little more about himself to another friend named Thomas, who perhaps was struggling as I often do against doubt, cynicism, and fear on his journey. I hear a friend preparing another friend for both heartache and joy in the coming days.

When I’m in doubt about the way in which I am traveling – about the deeper motivations of my heart, when I search for decent footing but the darkness and fog of chaos prevent me from seeing my hand in front of my face, when I’m beset by those who adhere to the cynical view that the end justifies the means… I hear Jesus say, “I am the way.”

When I’m drawn by cynicism’s siren song, whispering to me that no person and no thing and no event can ever be known truly, that life is a mirage of eternally shifting perspectives fueled by mindless desire, when I can no longer see beauty in mystery and can only sense meaninglessness… I hear Jesus say, “I am the truth.”

When I awake to news of fear, terror, and destruction – when I think about those all over the world oppressed by self-seeking powers, when I remember my dad who passed away not so long ago… I hear Jesus say, “I am the life.”

So I no longer think of these words of Jesus primarily as an argument. I view them instead as an unveiling and a beckoning, and I say yes to these words… to the way, the truth, and the life. In other words, I say yes to the one who speaks them – who is them. And when my view towards home is darkened and dim, he provides sufficient light for the road ahead.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” ~ John 14:1-7

How forgiveness can flounder

Forgiveness flounders because I exclude the enemy from the community of humans even as I exclude myself from the community of sinners. But no one can be in the presence of the God of the crucified Messiah for long without overcoming this double exclusion — without transposing the enemy from the sphere of the monstrous… into the sphere of shared humanity and herself from the sphere of proud innocence into the sphere of common sinfulness. When one knows [as the cross demonstrates] that the torturer will not eternally triumph over the victim, one is free to rediscover that person’s humanity and imitate God’s love for him. And when one knows [as the cross demonstrates] that God’s love is greater than all sin, one is free to see oneself in the light of God’s justice and so rediscover one’s own sinfulness. ~ Miroslav Volf

Quote for the day

Heaven have mercy on us all – Presbyterians and Pagans alike – for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending ~ Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Amazing Grace

Yesterday morning Kim chose to stay home with our youngest two, in order to wipe the flow from their noses in the privacy of our home, so our eldest two and I headed off to worship with the feel of a “daddy daughter date.” By 10:15 we were seated in the nether-regions of our congregation (I let the girls pick our seats), and though I would have chosen to be more integrated and up close, the margins do have their advantages, especially for a parent with young children.

The time to stand and sing began on cue, which for us meant that I stood and my daughters chose to psuedo-stand by sitting on the top part of the upfolded theater seats. The independence, playfulness, and arguable defiance of this moment, reminded me of the myraid challenges of being a dad, but it’s not so much the decision about the appropriate posture for my children in worship that I want to remember. It’s what happened next that I don’t want to lose. In the midst of these swirling thoughts, my oldest daughter began to sing. Perched like sparrow in her makeshift nest, from a place within her that at times feels impossible for me to touch, the words rose strong and clear…

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost but now am found
Was blind but now I see



Yesterday around 4:00PM I was hit by an afternoon crash, so I decided to head down to the corner convenient store for a refill of my favorite caffeinated beverage. Standing in the check-out line, I experienced an interaction between two people that awoke me in a more acute way than the chemicals in my cup could ever hope to do.

At first, I assumed it was two friends having a somewhat spirited disagreement. I tried not to listen at first, but as the volume continued to grow louder and more heated, it became clear that one guy was the store manager and the other guy was a customer… a very drunken customer who was being asked to leave the store. When he couldn’t talk any louder, the customer opened up a can of expletive language, but rather than backing down, the manager’s frustration escalated to rage.

At this point I was expecting the punches to fly, but instead – at the top of his lungs – the drunken man yelled, “LOVE ME!!!” To which the store manager immediately replied,“LOVE YOURSELF, AND GET OUT OF MY STORE!!!” Then then manager told one of the three cashiers who were giggling behind the counter to call the police.

Staring at my feet, I was reminded of Jesus’ call for us to be peacemakers and to love our neighbors… the angry store manager, the giggling cashiers, and of course, the drunken customer. And I walked away from them all wondering about the terrible inconvenience of this command.

Quote for the day

“There was a time when the church was very powerful-in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. . . . But the judgment of God is upon the church [today] as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the 20th century.” (M.L. King, Letter from Birmingham Jail)

Interesting in more thoughts by M.L. King? Try here.

Going Back to Roatan

Honduras Water Project 2006 from Mike Houghton on Vimeo.

It’s 7:00 AM as I sit to write this letter. I’ve taken a hot shower, shaved, and brewed a pot of coffee. It’s a normal morning with one exception: without the gift of water none of these things would be possible. To be honest, I don’t usually think about this kind of thing, and the water in my life doesn’t really feel like a gift. Clean water is my expectation, and without it at my ready disposal, I’m pretty sure I’d be a grumpy person. But as I speculate how I’d cope in different circumstances, I realize that normal mornings for folks in other places are very different than mine.

Last summer I took a team to Roatan, Honduras where we built bunk beds and ministered to children in a community called Sandy Bay. It is a poor community where a family of six typically shares a one-room home with a dirt floor, and children are suffering from preventable water-born diseases. With the help of a water expert who has intentionally transplanted from southern California to Sandy Bay, we hope to return a team to Honduras along with a new water purification system.

Details to come.

Blessed are the discontent?

Leaving a large church in an affluent northern suburn of Tallahassee in order to be a part of a small midtown church plant has been a good thing for my family. Our past two years at CenterPoint have given us the opportunity to be a part of a formative Gospel community.

Recently, however, I’ve noticed that the experiment is beginning to feel… well… not so experimental. I’m not sure whether or not to embrace what’s beginning to feel “normal” or to push, pull, and pray onward and upward towards something more meaningful. Regardless, I feel the need to respond to these feelings in some way and have volunteered to lead a group journey into the Sermon on the Mount. Our first meeting is this Sunday evening. Details (hopefully) to come.