Thursday, November 29, 2012


Do you ever wonder? I do.

I wonder how it just so happened that my parents and my good wife Debra’s parents, not to mention all of my ancestors and all of her ancestors, got together and married and then got together and produced children that ended up, way down the line, being us. The odds of everything and everyone working together in ways that would lead to us are astronomical—yet here we are.

I wonder how it just so happened that she and I, who had never heard of each other’s hometowns, both decided to attend Mercer University and both made that decision only after considerable influence was exerted on us by people who cared so deeply about our futures that they thought that they knew better than we did about the direction we should take—and they were right.

I wonder how it just so happened that late one fall afternoon in 1976 we ended up standing in line together to get our pictures taken for the college annual and I noticed that she was cute; while I don’t know what she noticed about me I suspect it was that I was awkward, which I proved in the way that I asked her out, in the first date that I planned, in the way that I dressed for it, and no doubt in the things I said.

I wonder how it just so happened that, five years after we married, we combined our respective gene pools to produce a son who was born on February 21, 1984 and whom we named Joshua. He was our first-born.

I wonder how it just so happened that, a couple of years before that, the partners in a couple in Madison, Wisconsin were combining their gene pools to produce their third child and first and only daughter, whom they named Michelle.

I wonder how it just so happened that, following various educational, extra-curricular, and vocational pursuits, Joshua and Michelle both decided to be writers.

I wonder how it just so happened that, although he was offered a similar fellowship at other places, Joshua chose to attend Georgia College & State University to pursue his Master of Fine Arts. I wonder furthermore how it just so happened that, after growing up in Wisconsin, attending college in Minnesota, and serving two years with the Peace Corps in Honduras, Michelle decided to pursue her MFA in Milledgeville, Georgia, too.

I wonder how it just so happened that Michelle and Joshua decided that their shared love for life, literature, family, good food, good beer, exercise, and cats—and each other—could form the foundation for a life together.

I wonder how it just so happens that they will stand before God, family, and friends this Sunday afternoon in the Senate Parlor Room of the Wisconsin State Capitol building in Madison and become husband and wife.

I think a lot about that scene in Forrest Gump where Forrest says, "I don't know if Mama’s right or it’s Lieutenant Dan. I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we're all just floatin' around accidental-like on a breeze. But I, I think maybe it's both; maybe both is happening at the same time."

So if somebody asks me is it that God has plan for each of us or that we form our own destiny by the choices we make, I will answer “Yes.”

I’m not even sure I’d like to know how it all “just so happens.”

The beauty of life, I believe, is found in the wonder of it all…

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Two Reasons to Take Advent Seriously

[This is my church newsletter column for this week.]

This Sunday is the first Sunday of the season of Advent. The word “Advent” means “arrival” or “coming”; during the four weeks of Advent we anticipate the celebration of the birth of Jesus at Christmas, the second coming of Christ in glory, and the continuing and new ways that Jesus will choose to come to us right here and right now. Advent, then, is about watching and waiting; it is about trusting and hoping; it is about looking and listening.

I want to encourage you and your family to give special attention to the observance of Advent. I do so for several reasons.

First, Advent is a particularly Christian observance. You are likely thinking, “Now, wait a minute—Christmas is a Christian holy day.” Of course it is. But Christmas has also been co-opted by the culture at large so that for many people the secular and commercial aspects of it are much more important than the religious aspects; as Donald Heinz observed, “Christmas without religion is now more imaginable than Christmas without shopping” [Christmas: Festival of Incarnation(Minneapolis: Fortress, 2010), p. x]. It is not surprising that such is the case for non-Christians but it is rather shocking that it appears to be true for many professed followers of Christ.

Advent is different. There are no secular Advent carols; there are no Advent presents; there are no Advent sales; there is no countdown of shopping days until Advent; there are no Advent television shows or movies. If we choose to focus on Advent, nothing competes directly for our attention because only followers of Christ pay any attention at all to Advent. Advent, then, gives us a means to give appropriate focus to Jesus in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

Second, Advent encourages an alternative to pre-Christmas frenzy. One of the reasons that the observance of Advent runs so counter to the flow of our culture is that it is all about waiting, an activity at which our society is not practiced and that it thus does not embrace. Our Christmas practices, fueled by unrealistic expectations and by barely bridled materialism, lead us to approach Christmas at a frenetic pace that results in exhaustion and disappointment.

The observance of Advent, on the other hand, reminds us that life is not finally about what we do but about what God has done, will do, and is doing. It trains us to wait and to watch, to always be on the lookout for how God is acting. Advent keeps our focus on the grace, mercy, and love of God and thus teaches us to remember to trust in God. Very importantly, Advent slows us down and teaches us to pay attention.

So during this Advent season I hope and trust that you and your family will participate in Advent worship and will spend some time at home each day reflecting on our coming Savior.

Let’s slow down. Let’s wait. Let’s watch. Let’s listen…

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

With Thanksgiving Day upon us, I’d like to share with you a few of the many things for which I am thankful this year.

1. I am thankful for my wife and children, who love, encourage, and inspire me; I am also thankful for the opportunity to be a friend to those who have little or no family or who are estranged from their family.

2. I am thankful for my sound health; I am also thankful for the privilege of being with and praying for those whose health is unsound.

3. I am thankful for good food to eat, for clean water to drink, and for access to good health care; I am also thankful for those who are working to make those necessities available to people who don’t have them and for the opportunity to help those who are trying to help.

4. I am thankful for the privilege to live in a free nation in which we try to balance individual liberty and corporate responsibility; I am also thankful for nations that are trying to grow toward such freedom and for people who are working for change in those nations whose leaders have no interest in such freedom.

5. I am thankful for a church family with which I can worship God, with which I can share sorrow and joy, and with which I can bear witness to Jesus Christ in our community; I am also thankful for the privilege of being the church in the world so that we can share the love, mercy, peace, and grace of God with people in need of those blessings.

6. I am thankful for this beautiful world in which we live; I am also thankful for the opportunity of doing what I can to preserve that beauty for future generations.

7. I am thankful for the grace of God that loves me just as I am; I am also thankful for the way that grace nudges me to love others just as they are.

8. I am thankful for the great blessing of knowing and following Jesus Christ every day of my life; I am also thankful for those who follow along with me, whether or not I know it.