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Jul 16 20

Theodicy, God’s response to the problem of evil

by davesandel

Thursday, July 16, 2020                     (today’s lectionary)

 Theodicy, God’s response to the problem of evil

Darkness falls, filled with the sounds of gentle rain. Tornado watches and warnings dot the weather map all around us. Our chickens are wet and fit more easily on their roosting bar, settling in for the night. They look at me with bright eyes when I shine my light in on them. They’ll be sleeping soon, as will I.

My soul yearns for you in the night.

My spirit keeps vigil for you.

Four hundred years ago Leibniz coined the word “theodicy,” although in German. The word denotes our attempts to understand God’s response to evil. Leibniz believed we live in “the best of all possible worlds,” not because our problems are resolved but because we are consoled by God’s presence.

O Lord, you mete out peace to us

For it is you who have accomplished all we have done.

For three hundred of the years since Leibniz we have endeavored to console ourselves. We have believed we will overcome our finitude and “solve” the problem of evil for ourselves.

It has not been solved.

We conceived and writhed in pain

Gave birth only to wind

Salvation we have not achieved upon the earth

The inhabitants of the world cannot bring it forth.

In his book A Profound Ignorance, Ephraim Radner wrote “There is only one way to endure a world always about to fall apart. It is taught to us in Psalm 46, “Be still and know that I am God.”

Jesus calls us to slow down, then stop. Break into the centrifugal force of unremitting daily life.

Come to me, all of you who are weary and heavy laden

And I will give you rest.

Rest, and share Sabbath with me.

Restore the sacred rhythm. Break the bread, drink the living water, and be healed in my attending presence.

R. R. Reno reviewed Radner’s book in August/September 2020’s First Things magazine:

Radner argues that the remarkable discoveries of the modern era—geographical, moral, political, and technological—created tremendous hopes. Those hopes were again and again dashed against the hard realities of human sinfulness. If ships can sail to new regions, why can’t mankind enter into a new epoch of spiritual maturity? If we can eliminate smallpox, why can’t we stamp out ­injustice everywhere?

The question begs to be answered. What is this COVID-19 thing? Black lives matter. My friend had a massive stroke. Another is facing an unfair prison term. My son wonders about what to do next now that the place he worked has closed.

A fly is buzzing around my computer screen. I know soon it will land on my head, nestle into the hair just above my forehead. Should I give it a good whack, or let it go on with its life?

Why can’t we stamp out injustice!

The dynamic of raised expectations and bitter disappointments generated what Radner calls “theodical pressure.” Modernity is modern because it struggles to justify, in word and deed, our hope that somehow things will end well.

Help me, help me! Somebody help the boy!

When I suffer, God draws near. But his attendance is not a “solution” to remove the evil afflicting me. Rather than removing it, God overshadows. If evil is nothing more than the absence of Good, then God’s good presence is all I need. I do not need to “solve” the problem of evil. I can’t eradicate what doesn’t exist. And the healing within me, the healing of “Presence,” surpasses every expectation.

Our grandson Miles, who will be four in November, Face-Timed us today, breaking in to our quiet afternoon. He roared his terrible roar and began jumping on his parents’ bed. He was laughing as hard as he could. He had to hold his stomach, but with Andi’s encouragement he got out his question.

“How was your trip!?” Our trip was fine, but not as fine as watching you and laughing too.

Jasper rolled around underneath him. Andi told us Miles had a photography lesson today. He learned how to frame a shot and wait for the right moment. Soon they had to go eat supper, and whiz-bang! Miles pushed the button and they were gone as quick as they arrived.

Life abounded just then in our afternoon, taken in great deep breaths by all of us involved. God’s presence filled the room.

Your dead shall live, your corpses rise

Awake and sing, all you who lie in the dust

Your dew is a dew of light

And the land of shades gives birth.

            (Isaiah 26, Psalm 102, Matthew 11)


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Jul 15 20

Let the little children

by davesandel

Wednesday, July 15, 2020, Memorial of Saint Bonaventure                       (today’s lectionary)

Let the little children

I always loved this guy’s name. Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe, Mutiny on the Bounty, Where the Wild Things Are … bonnie ventures! So why wouldn’t I want to know more about him. Besides, he was nearly the contemporary of St. Francis, and in his own careful and logical way set Francis’ words and wisdom down for the ages.

Bonni was born five years after Francis died. For many years he was a popular professor at the University of Paris. Just as for his teacher Francis, Jesus was the center of everything for Bonaventure. His mystical writing continues to enchant us today.

Google loves him, just listen to Bonni’s words:

“The best perfection of a religious man is to do common things in a perfect manner.”

“Every creature is a divine word because it proclaims God.”

“To know much, but taste nothing … of what use is that?”

 “In things of beauty Francis contemplated the One who is supremely beautiful, and led by the footprints he found in creatures, he followed the Beloved everywhere.”

Francis did not eat much. Many of the saints just did not get fat. They were feasting on other things.

The Lord will send among his fat ones leanness,

And instead of his glory there will be kindling

Like the kindling of fire

Francis and Bonaventure followed the footsteps of his creatures.

The Lord will not abandon his people

Woe unto us if we forget that God’s eyes and ears are open, and he sees what we might not want to be seen.

But shall he who shaped the ear not hear?

Shall he who formed the eye not see?

Shall he who shapes nations not chastise them?

We need God’s knowledge every day of our lives.

Lord, You reveal even to little ones the

Mysteries of the Kingdom

ESPECIALLY to the little ones. Watch a child play. Watch Miles, for example, stand in awe and touch a garbage truck. Watch Jasper crawl with abandon exactly into places he should not go, his eyes open wide in exaltation. They learn, they learn, they learn. God is so good to the little ones.

You hide your wisdom from the learned

And reveal it to the childlike.

O Father, such as been your gracious will.

       (Isaiah 10, Psalm 94, Matthew 11)


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Jul 14 20

Dangerous business

by davesandel

Tuesday, July 14, 2020                       (today’s lectionary)

Dangerous business

Ahaz and Isaiah are getting into it again. Unlike the short in stature General Ulysses Grant, King Ahaz panics at the threat of danger or impending battle. Isaiah insists he stand up, straighten his back, and be still.

Take care that you remain calm

Oh sure, Isaiah, calm!

Let not your courage fail before these two stumps

The blazing anger of your foes will burn itself out. They will turn toward each other instead of you. BUT!

Unless your faith is firm

YOU shall not be firm.

In the Netflix series Messiah, the US president meets the Messiah. They talk and the president is told to seek peace rather than war and retribution against Russia. When he returns to the White House everyone thinks he is crazy. What is he going to do?

Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised.

In the city of our God, in the mountain of his holiness.

Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth …

On Sunday our pastor Rick spoke of dangerous aspects of the Lord’s Prayer. And he quoted our new father Scott Barber, who quoted Frodo when he said in Fellowship of the Rings, “The world is indeed full of peril … but still there is much that is fair.”

Then Rick hearkened farther back in the book (book one, chapter three) to Frodo’s memory of Bilbo’s words before his sudden departure. “It’s a dangerous business, going out of your door. You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

If today you hear his voice

Harden not your heart.

Jesus did mighty deeds, but no one cared beyond the day. He wrapped his robe around him and spoke the Woes.

Woe unto you on the day of judgment!

Will you go to heaven? NO! You will descend into hell.

I imagine myself in the crowd. I feel the breathless hot air all around me. We are spellbound.

What shall we do, Jesus? Is this anger of God that you are showing?

Jesus has plenty to say about what we should do. But right now, I think we better just keep our hands out of the fire. Jesus is alone right now. Maybe he misses his disciples.

I know, though that he’s right about one thing. We (OK, I should only speak for myself) … I forget yesterday’s mighty works and fail to see my sin today. My emotions are centered entirely on myself, and Jesus is sick and tired … GOD is sick and tired … of my forgetting to turn toward others. There’s just no getting around it. He won’t stand for this ethical laziness. It’s bad for everybody and everything.

            (Isaiah 7, Psalm 48, Psalm 95, Matthew 11)


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Jul 13 20

Cold water on a hot day

by davesandel

Monday, July 13, 2020                       (today’s lectionary)

Cold water on a hot day

During Advent and Lent the lectionary passages from Isaiah predict the birth of Jesus and then his crucifixion. They offer hope. The language is beautiful and poetic.

Now in the lectionary passages of these next few days Isaiah crashes down on his people with accusations from God that scream, sting, scald.

Princes of Sodom, people of Gomorrah

I don’t notice your sacrifices, I’ve had enough of burnt flesh and blood

Who asks these things of you!

Your incense is loathsome to me because

You are caught up in octaves of wickedness.

God closes his eyes and ignores the outstretched hands of these worshippers.

Your hands are full of blood, wash yourselves clean!

Come again, Lord?

No, YOU come again.

Hear the orphan’s plea. Defend the widow.

You are not worshipping me, you are worshipping yourselves.

The psalmist carries on from there:

You hate discipline and cast my words behind you!

I am not deaf

And I am certainly not like you!

Come and bring praise, offer joy and gratitude in song

Then, to you I will show my salvation.

Jesus insists on the Good Suffering for us, that we would be persecuted for the sake of righteousness. He brings the scalding word of God back into the air of Israel. His voice flies against the everyday way we take everything for granted, he shouts and his eyes are wide with anger. He speaks as Isaiah did, on behalf of our Creator, who is not pleased.

I have come to bring not peace upon the earth, but the sword.

The blood of family does not matter more –

I have come to set a man against his father and a daughter against her mother.

Just now I think of families in Germany who split down the middle supporting the Nazis or being disgusted by them. Closer to home, whole mid-nineteenth century American families in Maryland and Delaware and Tennessee and Kentucky who loved each other, were ripped apart to stand on opposite battle lines, shooting to kill, even their brothers and their fathers.

Jesus speaks beyond political persuasions and the fevered emotions that accompany them. Jesus’ division carries its import into eternity.

Whoever finds his life will lose it

And whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

He is finishing his talk to his friends before they leave in pairs to do the kingdom work they’ve been watching. That work is not complicated, but it must be definite.

Whoever gives only a cup of cold water to another disciple in God’s kingdom, he will not lose his reward.

Of course politics and religious fervor prevent many from becoming “disciples in God’s kingdom.” What of them then? Does Jesus divide us with these words?

Can I extend my cup of cold water to anyone? Or must they think like me, believe like me, look like me? St. Benedict told his monks they must receive everyone as if they themselves were Jesus. Jesus told us to love our enemies. Does that also mean offering cold water?

I want to hear more. But Jesus left then, though, to teach and preach in other towns, while the disciples went off on their own. They were going to find out a lot about themselves in the next few days. Their questions will be far more penetrating.

Mine should be too. Letting Jesus “prove” what I already think is cowardice. Jesus wants me to face him, ask my question, sit down, listen and learn. Likely he will teach me with a question of his own. Job led the way in perhaps the earliest book of the Bible:

Brace yourself like a man;

I will question you

And YOU shall answer ME.

This dialogue will go on for the rest of my life. It doesn’t get any better than that.

            (Isaiah 1, Psalm 50, Matthew 5, Matthew 10)


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Jul 12 20

Roland Sandel, Farmer

by davesandel

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 12, 2020              (today’s lectionary)

Roland Sandel, Farmer

If there are any farmers in the house, today’s lectionary is for them.

Dad was born in 1922 into a farming family. He joined the Army and sent the war-ending announcement telegram to US Armed Forces headquarters in the Philippines – Douglas MacArthur, General. Back across the Pacific he signed up for the GI Bill and got top grades and an accounting degree from the University of Illinois.

Before he left the army Dad met a wannabe girlfriend named Lenore in New Jersey. But back home and starting college in Urbana, he met and courted Angie Brummer, another Lincoln-bred student. They rode home together on weekends. They dated, and in his pocket journal Dad kept track of the money he was saving to buy her a ring. In 1948 they were married at Zion Lutheran Church, and after a year working as an accountant for Farm Service, Dad returned to the life he lived as a child.

He became a farmer again.

Every morning Dad dressed in Levi’s and a denim blue workshirt. Sitting out on the back porch,  he laced up scarred, worn brown leather work shoes over gray and white cotton socks that lost their shape after a few washes. Almost every day he pulled on four-buckle rubber boots.

He rarely took off those shoes until after supper … after milking the cows in the evening, after mowing weeds or shoveling manure or baling hay all afternoon, after a twenty minute nap, after lunch, after working an hour or so in his ledger, after breakfast, after milking the cows in the morning.

Our herd of Holsteins, like every herd of Holsteins, was famous for each cow’s insistence on being milked twice a day, 365 days a year. Dad did their bidding for twenty years. He woke up, never with an alarm, at 4 a.m. and went to bed at 9 or 10 at night.

When our farming family of five left for our annual August vacation, Dad’s pants and shirt and socks and shoes all changed. He wore sports clothes. He tied on softer shoes with shorter laces. And he got up, never with an alarm, at 5. It may be that even on vacation he grew restless after a few hours of sleep, because his system was charged up to work, to get things done.

Still, he said he really enjoyed those solitary morning hours, with cows or without them, more than any other part of the day.

For many years Dad’s favorite radio program lasted five minutes in the morning, in the barn. Sometimes he sat down on a white, fly-specked chair under the radio to listen. The cows ate the corn Dad had ground for them, chewed the hay he had baled, and the hydraulic milkers hummed. “A Seed from the Sower” settled his soul.

When Margaret and I tried our hand at farming a few years after we married, he told us never to think or plan for just one year, but always to think of five. Nothing is predictable about farming, it’s even worse than politics. And there is no compromising with the weather, only waiting for it to change. Like the Kubler-Ross Grief Cycle, farming often involves five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance (DABDA).

Only his psychologist, acronym-prone son would say it that way, of course. Dad smiled his shy, sideways grin and simply said what he must have heard God say,

Be patient, let the crops grow in their own time, rest when you can. Learn from your own parents’ mistakes, and make fewer of them, or at least different ones. Don’t do much on the Sabbath, and pray before every meal.

Come Lord Jesus, be our guest

Let these gifts to us be blessed.

After lunch, in the field or in the house, he laid down for twenty minutes on the bed or under the tractor. He slept on his stomach, legs straight out. He never took off his shoes.

Just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down

To give seed to the sower and bread to those who need it

So my word shall not return to me void

But achieve the end for I have sent it.

In the spring there might be droughts or floods. Sometimes the long spring days dragged on when, as Dad said, planting time was worth a thousand dollars an hour. He had to wait. And then the same thing at harvest time. Once in December I came home from Valparaiso University for Christmas and helped harvest the corn, which was usually put up by the middle of October. But that fall it rained and rained. The standing water  finally froze in the fields, and the combine could make it through.

Really, five years was not nearly long enough. Decade after decade, Dad farmed his fields, milked his cows, herded a few hogs. Mom raised chickens and canned vegetables, and Dad planted potatoes and cucumbers behind the house. In August every year we took a trip, to the Ozarks, to Wisconsin Dells, to Holland, Michigan, New York City, Washington DC. Dad’s brother Uncle Merlie, who farmed just a couple miles away until he became an elementary school superintendent, milked our cows while we were away. Then when Merlie and Gloria took a trip with their three girls, Dad milked his cows.

Margaret met my dad at a Friday night square dance. They both loved the music, and they loved to dance. He enticed her with a smiling, low-key invitation to help him weed beans Monday morning. Mid-July, Margaret had no idea what she was in for. Those beautiful green bean fields undulated in the breeze. Mornings are beautiful and cool, even in July. Why not?

But on Monday morning the breeze was heavy and quickly getting hot. Their conversation softened the blow of the summer sun. Plus, Margaret works hard like Dad did, and he really liked that. He just really liked her.

That first day the two of them had two other helpers, teenagers who threw up at the end of the field and missed more weeds than they cut. Dad frowned, Margaret teased him a little, he relaxed. The breeze failed them midway through the morning. Next day the boys did not come back, to everyone’s relief. But Margaret stuck it out for a couple of weeks until the work was done.

Years before I weeded beans, too. Until I left for college Dad paid me $25 a week to help with chores, and more in the bean season. My money bought gas for my ’56 Chevy, until it lost every gear except reverse. The bean money was for the county fair – for Cullers French Fries, corn dogs, lemon shake ups. As the sun set and the day cooled off, my girlfriend Nancy and I took pictures of each other and rode the rides. The midway music played. I’m sure I won at least one stuffed bear for her.

Not just one year, not just five, but decades. Dad and I did not get along when I was a kid, but that changed when I got out on my own. In my late 20’s, back home after a number of mostly miscarried adventures, Dad suggested strongly that Margaret would make a very very very fine wife. I took his advice, she hesitated, but then said yes.

You have crowned the year with your bounty

Your paths overflow with a rich harvest

The untilled meadows overflow

And rejoicing clothes the hills.

Logan County in those days was blanketed with four crops. Corn and soybeans rotated with alfalfa and oats, or wheat. There really were untilled meadows in every direction, and those perfect green squares blinked bright and beautiful from the air. Back on the ground I could lie down in those summer fields and listen to the wind, listen to the earth, close my eyes and feel the seeds from the sower falling right into my mind.

We shout and sing for joy.

Whatever sufferings there may be now,

They are nothing

Compared with the glory to be revealed for us.

In our living room we had a fine furniture cabinet hi-fi, made of blond wood. Mom played big black records – classical music,  John Philip Sousa marches, and American folk music. Every three months our family of five got dressed up for a Friday night Community Concert. Once we saw Ferrante and Teicher play their two white pianos, and we heard Victor Borge make musical jokes with his piano and sing songs that made no sense. He had a wonderful European accent. It became clear to me that there was a very big wide world outside the borders of the life I’d so far lived.

Creation waits with eager expectation

To share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.

That parable Jesus tells today? About the rocky ground and thorny soil? Our farm was rich! There were waterways and drainage tiles in all the right places with nary a rock. The topsoil was a foot thick (not 350 feet thick like under the old cotton fields of the Delta in Mississippi, but still!). Mr. Lauer, our John Deere dealer, kept Dad’s tractor and planter and mower and cultivator and disc and harrow and plow working, especially during those thousand dollar hours of spring and fall, until my brother John grew up. After that John fixed a lot of stuff while Dad followed behind and put the tools away.

Some seed is sown on rich soil.

And those seeds flourish, as do those who hear my word and understand it

They will bear fruit and yield a hundred fold.

I could never plant straight rows in the days before computer-driven tractors, and so it was hard for Dad to plow those crooked rows later in the summer. He kept hoping I would concentrate a little more, focus a little harder, but I never really did.

With the boundless energy of a young ex-soldier and new father and husband, often before bed Dad read a devotion to us from Little Visits with God. Really, Mom was the Lutheran, but he took to it like a duck to water. Years later he attended a Kogudus Lutheran Renewal retreat, and then became a charismatic Lutheran (yes there is such a thing!), and at his funeral he asked us to sing his favorite gospel song, “I’ll Fly Away,” which he knew well from Christian conferences with Mom and bluegrass festivals with me. I played my guitar and Margaret and I sang right through the song. It felt like a tribute.

After all those years of slogging through beanfields and shoveling manure, of praying and singing and napping twenty minutes every day, he followed his own advice. He just up and flew away.

We loved him so.

            (Isaiah 55, Psalm 65, Romans 8, Matthew 13)


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Jul 11 20

Wisdom on a post-it note

by davesandel

Saturday, July 11, 2020, Memorial of Saint Benedict, Abbot          (today’s lectionary)

Wisdom on a post-it note

Tom and I sat together eating dinner before our Transforming Community’s last retreat in January. Huge windows encircled the Q Center dining room, and snowy hills surrounded us. We ate shrimp and prime rib and sushi and flourless chocolate cake.

With some guilt, we savored the culinary delights of every meal at the Q Center in St. Charles, Illinois. We came to these retreats to fast and pray. Well … pray. The theme this weekend would be crafting our own personal “rule of life.”

St. Benedict coined this phrase 1700 years ago. He wrote the “Rule” which every monastery in Europe adopted during the next millennium. As I read it today, much of the language seems invasive and alien, but when interpreted by a modern Benedictine like Joan Chittister, it comes back to life. At the Abbey of Gethsemani, the Trappist monastery in northern Kentucky where Father Louis, aka Thomas Merton, spent twenty-seven years of his life, Benedict’s words are etched above the guest house door:

Let all guests that come be received like Christ.

Margaret and I have been to Gethsemani twice and to the Benedictine Saint Meinrad monastery in southern Indiana several more times. Saint Meinrad, south of I-64 and on central time, offers a prayer service at 5 pm. A few miles away the Sisters of Saint Benedict at Ferdinand, north of I-64 on eastern time, does the same. One day we prayed at Ferdinand, and then hurried back south and prayed at Saint Meinrad. Joshua is not the only one who stopped the sun.

One afternoon during a blinding summer thunderstorm, we visited Our Lady of Grace, a monastery planted by the Sisters of St. Benedict in Indianapolis. Making our drenched way into the lobby we were met by a “woman religious,” who told spell-binding stories and welcomed us in every way she knew. A former nurse, now she was researching and writing the history of her order.  She made sure we felt “received like Christ.”

What did Tom say about his rule of life? “I have thrown out so many longer versions, and now my rule of life fits on a post-it note.” I don’t know what he wrote on that post-it note, but I took his idea to heart and wrote my own new and longest-so-far-lasting rule:

Welcome all, and read, write, listen, pray, every day.

I think St. Benedict would be pleased. If he wrote haikus, instead of long paragraphs of old prose, he might write pretty much the same thing.

            (Isaiah 6, Psalm 93, 1 Peter 4, Matthew 10)


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Jul 10 20

Haikus for June

by davesandel

Monday, June 1

What gorgeous weather!

Met with Deb to talk in park

Mask on, smiles behind


June 2

Catch me by surprise

Wake me when the rain is gone

Nap so sweet today


June 3

Listened more today

Find compassion and care more

Then trust God, relax


June 4

Dr. Deem,  Christie

Interrupting natural

Path of life with meds


How long, O Lord

How long? Live until we die

Break in now and then

June 5

take off all my clothes

jump naked into the stream

cleanse me now O Lord


from The Bitter Southerner magazine:

Read, Listen, Repent, Engage, Repeat. To all our readers on the front lines: take care of yourselves, keep washing those hands. We are in it with you for the long haul. (June 5, 2020)


June 6

Jump up, then fall down

Is there anything to say?

Love life, love my neighbor


Sunday, June 7, 2020

51 percent

That’s Mountain humidity

Sabbath sit and smile


June 8

Silence of Monday

Morning for Mary Kay today

Born, smiles, lives well


June 9

Say yes, or say no

This is your ego speaking

The weather looks good!


June 10

Travel? Maybe wait?

Growing Miles, baby too

Jasper, bless my soul!


June 11

Zoom group with Charlene

Have a heart, let life shine through

Sleep calls out my name


June 12

Sunny. Eighty-two

Building garden spot outdoors

Marc, so much a part


June 13

Facetime, Cynthia

Chance next month to visit us



Sunday, June 14

Lazy, really

Sit home, wait for church to start

Watch, listen, sort of


June 15

Pull up a lawn chair

Read, write, listen, pray today

My rich Rule of Life


June 16

Sunrise, smooth breeze lifts,

Glides, birds sing along to sunset

Lulling me to sleep


June 17

all our outside work

Marc, Marg, Myranda and me

Coming quick to fruit


June 18

me, you, our lifeblood

what does S.D. mean to me? (spiritual direction = S.D.)

God comes, touches us


June 19

With Don, best old friend

Breeze across lake, sun-filled sky (Lake Baker in Peru, IL)

Hold close, but NO HUGS


June 20

Shimmin knows Apple

Ordered Marg’s new mac mini

She’s so excited


Sunday, June 21, 2020 (Father’s Day)

Cones, Chris, seeing Mom

Lincoln, how long has it been?

Mom behind big shield


June 22

Long days, wine, roses

Live now, let life come to you

Let rich sweet past fly …


June 23

I breathe, close my eyes

Left nose, right nose, sweet perfume

All I have is now


June 24

Wait for UPS

Apple mac mini for Marg

Been long time coming


June 25

sad sack on my head

see, hear, speak any evil

but I need beauty!


June 26

Beauty matters now

Can I get a witness please

More than ever, open, eyes!


June 27

Shimmins, Don, Vera

More RAM, Cyd’s, nice long visits (8 GB to 32 GB)

Carson spent the night


Sunday, June 28, 2020

New pastors at Life

Young evangelicals

Maybe too happy?


Monday, June 29, 2020

Preacher who is deep?

Does the ocean ever sleep?

Weep, plead, be still, pray?


Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Mom’s would-be birthday

Left alone at Grace Pointe Home

Making most of it

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Jul 10 20

You talkin’ to me?

by davesandel

Friday, July 10, 2020               Today’s lectionary

You talkin’ to me?

No punches pulled, the words fall like blows to my face.

You have collapsed through your guilt.

I imagine a trainer whispering into the bruised and bleeding ear of his boxer, who spent the night before the match drinking and spending his energy on everything but reflection and rest.

You have collapsed through your guilt.

Now own up. Ask for forgiveness, offer yourself, turn away from your fantasy about your grandeur and shine.

You are not as strong as you think you are.

We watch the morning birds flock to morning bird feeders. A red-rumped male house finch captures Margaret’s attention. “He catches the girls’ attention too,” she said. Flaunt it, baby. See what happens next.

That’s an easy path to follow, flaunting my way through the day. Red-rumped bravado helps me face what I cannot control.

We shall no longer say “Our God” to the work of our hands.

Laying low, I struggle to hear the Whispers of the Holy Spirit in the boxer’s ears.

I will be like the dew for you, my son.

With this living water you will strike deep roots like the Lebanon cedar,

Lasting roots, splendor in the sun

As your cedar scent scatters in the wind, drawing all good.

Hmm. This guy is named Ephraim, too. They are everywhere these days.

Ephraim! You have been humbled, but I will bronze your skin

Your muscles will bloom and grow powerful

Your path will be straight, and in me,

Through me, because of me

You will bear fruit.

Later in his life, King David confuses his own lust with some offhand picture he has of God’s blessing. As a young man he did not make that confusion. Even at the risk of death he refused to harm King Saul sleeping in a cave. But now, as he rests upon his laurels, the well-respected prophet Nathan corners David with a story and a question.

Once upon a time a rich man with much livestock is visited by a poor shepherd traveling with his only sheep. The rich man welcomes the traveler, but then he kills the shepherd’s single animal to feed them both. What should happen next?

David exploded with the anger of a righteous king. “Drag the rich man away and lynch him!”

But, David, you are that man!

David had seduced Bathsheba and then sent her husband Uriah into battle without protection, where Uriah was killed. David’s baby growing in Bathsheba’s womb could now be called the son of Uriah, and the king’s reputation stayed clear.

Clear, but hardly clean. As Nathan called him into a higher court David wept bitterly. He could not undo his guilt.

But even now, David could face God. That was always his greatest gift. Even when he hated himself, he was even more confident that God did not.

The king crept into his own cave and wrote Psalm 51. Sure, the papyrus was soaked with tears and tore easily at the touch. But David rewrote it, again and then perhaps even a third time, because God’s words poured the only balm on his sickened soul.

If you cleanse me with hyssop, then I will be clean. When you wash me, I will be whiter than snow.

Does David really believe God will forgive him?

Hide your face from my sins. Blot Out All My Iniquity!

I grew up in Lincoln, Illinois. In our Lutheran service there, while we made our offerings we sang a tune I’ll always cherish. The wooden offering plates made the rounds. As I grew older I sometimes passed the plate myself, waiting for it to return at the end of pew after pew.

What’s that plate for? To give my money, time, service, but far more, like King David, to offer up my sin. Freely give it up, freely receive the deep forgiveness that only God can give. So we sang.

Create in me a clean heart

O God

And renew a right spirit

Within me

Cast me not away from your presence

Take not your Holy Spirit from me

We went to church every Sunday and still do. Catholics pray the Mass every day. How often do I sin? How often does God attend my sin, then again receive my confession and cleanse my soul?

Restore unto me the joy of your salvation!

Sustain me with your free Spirit!

Just a few minutes after we sang these words we all walked out into the late morning sun. Our church doors faced north, so in the summer there was plenty of shade. Pastor Neitzel stood smiling in his whites beside the wide-open center doors, shaking our hands.

The concrete steps tilted precipitously down to the street, broken by a wide landing. But even in winter they were never slick. Early rising deacons made sure of that. Of course I grew accustomed to the liturgies of the morning service and barely knew what I was singing. But the deep foundation, the deep strong roots were laid, and now the words carry the sweet scent of incense into my nose today. And as I hear the words and feel the music in my mind, I know how much God’s forgiveness meant then, and means now, and will mean forever.

Off to the left of the pulpit there was a small room where Pastor Neitzel waited for Sunday’s service to begin. I imagine his own stage fright faded as he remembered Jesus’ clear words to his friends as they headed out to face the music, face the people, face the Great Unknown.

DO NOT worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say.

At that very moment, as you open your mouth you be given what you are to say.

Many times in my counseling that is exactly what happens to me!

It will not be you who speak

But the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

This … attendance! Pastor Neitzel, sitting on his straight backed chair alone with his thoughts … he is not alone but attended by the words of Jesus and the Spirit of his Father, who is about to speak through him.

Our pastor started every sermon with the confident words of Paul.

Grace and peace to YOU, from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

(Hosea 14, Psalm 51, John 16, Matthew 10)


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Jul 9 20

A room with a view

by davesandel

Thursday, July 9, 2020                       (Today’s lectionary)

A room with a view

Is it hoarding to collect Kindle books I know I’ll never have time to read? They take no space in my physical world. Maybe it’s OK?

Today I bought complete works of 10 composers and 47 landscape and portrait artists, as well as several free collections of short stories, Christmas stories, ghost stories, and poetry. Everything at Delphi Classics, already very inexpensive, is 40% off through July 13. I kind of went crazy.

Delphi’s summer sale made me salivate, search, and then start clicking YES. Besides the paintings and the music, during the last few days I have acquired complete works of E. M. Forster, Zane Grey, Bret Harte, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Lewis Carroll, George MacDonald, C. S. Lewis, Martin Luther, Ian Fleming, Abraham Lincoln, Walt Whitman, Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Steinbeck, Dashiell Hammett, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Sir Walter Scott, Joseph Conrad, Willa Cather, and George Orwell, along with a collection called Dickensia. I already had the complete work of Charles Dickens. And to top it off, I couldn’t help but buy the Complete Harvard Classics, both in a single volume and in separate volumes (they call that their “Parts Edition”) for $7. Minus 40%.

So it’s not just hoarding. It’s also buying bargains because they’re bargains. I’ve done the same thing with Faithlife Logos books three times this year. Whether I’ll use them well, or even use them at all, doesn’t matter in the moment.

Thanks for letting me exult in my bargains all over the screen. Or forgiving me. Or joining me. Any verb you like.

God loves me anyway alongside my foibles.

When Israel was a child I loved him

Out of Egypt I called my son.

Anne Rice left her vampire world fifteen years ago to write two extra-biblical novels about Jesus, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt and The Road to Cana. Like the current YouTube series “The Chosen,” those books help me imagine myself into the story of Jesus. Scripture leaves out a lot of details, and I love to fill them in, or read the fillings-in of others.

It was I who taught Ephraim to walk

And took him in my arms

And fostered him, raising the infant to my cheeks

God’s compassion for Israel is a mother’s love, mother’s milk that never dries up.

My heart is overwhelmed, my pity stirred

I will not destroy … I am God and not man

The Holy One present among you

I will never let my flames consume you.

Oh, Hosea! You accomplish this alchemy in every chapter, heating up words, burning my fingers when I touch them.

Take care of this vine

Protect what your right hand has planted

Again on a quiet afternoon, reading the words of our Lord, I know it’s true:

The Kingdom of God is at hand.

Jesus invites us to imagine ourselves into his story. What do you think? Really, we might be sitting in front of lockers before a big game, and Jesus is talking us up before we play. Just a few days after his magnificent Sermon on the Mount, Jesus sends out his disciples to do The Work.

Go and cure the sick

Raise the dead

Cleanse the lepers

Drive out demons.

Freely you have received, now freely give.

What we receive is more precious than silver, more costly than gold.

On this trip, don’t take gold or silver, not even a second shirt

Just a single pair of sandals

Everything you need will be given

By those you work with, listen to, pray for, heal

My peace I leave with you, now pass it on.

Let your peace stay with those who invite you in.

Relax. Have fun. Everybody gets to play.

What about those who turn away and turn up their nose?

SHAKE THE DUST OFF YOUR FEET. Keep moving. Let the dead bury the dead.

Ephraim was suckled at God’s breast. And now Jesus cares for his disciples through all the day and all the night.

So how is Jesus with you and me, here, now? Be still and know. Imagine. Live in the questions, live in the stories, live in the invitation.

What could Jesus be doing while his friends are off on their journey? I wonder. Sit and pray for them? Get some badly need sleep? Meet with Nicodemus? I don’t know, but I can imagine.

“Good afternoon. Our names are Bartholomew and Philip. We have come from Jesus. We want to help you with your home or your fields or your family. How can we help you meet your needs?”

Please, Bartholomew and Philip, come in. Take off your sandals, rest a bit.

“Thank you.” We come in and sit down. It feels good to take our shoes off. “Today we would like to listen to you, pray for you, even bring God’s healing right here right now.”

The suddenly silent Host smiles and begins to wash our feet. In a flash we remember when Jesus said, “The Master will always be your servant. His presence will carry you forever.”

And we become quiet too. We listen beyond ourselves, as the small town room in Galilee fills up with Love.

            (Hosea 11, Psalm 80, Mark 1, Matthew 10)


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Jul 8 20

Being Bartholomew

by davesandel

Wednesday, July 8, 2020                    Today’s lectionary)

Being Bartholomew

If our English approximations remotely resemble Hosea’s original written words, that man was a poet!

The king of Samaria shall disappear

Like foam upon the waters

Thorns and thistles overgrow the altars of Israel

And they shall cry out to the mountains, “Cover us!”

To the hills plead, “Fall upon us!”

God never leaves his people in a poetic heap, though. There is always a way forward. Conviction has never been the same as condemnation.

Sow for yourselves justice,

Reap the fruit of love

Break up for yourselves a New Field.

Now is the time to seek the Lord

Till he comes and rains down justice

Upon us all.

Take a deep breath and just do it.

Rejoice, take heart, seek the Lord

Look to our strong God and serve him every moment

Just look and take pains to remember God’s wondrous deeds.

You must not forget!

Because the Kingdom of God is at hand.

So I sit here two thousand years after Jesus walked in Galilee, and I want to be there now. So maybe I can imagine myself a disciple and get into the story. Who could I be? Who might I be most like? Two Simons, two James, a Judas and a Thaddeus, Andrew, Bartholomew (nee Nathanael?) along with John, Matthew, Thomas, and Philip.

I imagine I am Bartholomew (named by John as Nathanael) whose martyrdom in Armenia is dated 9/11. What did he think, what did he say, when Jesus chose him? “We are not just doing fortune-telling,” Jesus said, “but you will see much greater things than this.”

Jesus gave them authority over unclean spirits,

To drive them out

And cure every disease and every illness.

My name means “son of the furrows.” I am a man made from dust. I will improve the earth while I can and then become one with it again.

In the summer heat my dusty dirty toes squirm inside my leather sandals. I long for the shade under a fig tree, to pull off my shoes and soak my feet. Maybe this evening. Maybe when Philip and I leave Jesus and walk off to seek conversation with a family of Israel, they will invite us in.

“What can we do for you?” we might say.

“Can we sweep your floors, or pick grapes, or prepare meat for the evening meal? How can we help? Can I plow your field?”

What will they say? And who knows what will happen if, after we ask the simple questions, we just open our minds and be still?

Gradually we might speak of more important matters. “Is anyone among you sick?”

Everyone wants a chance to be heard, be helped and to be helpers themselves. If we cherish this chance that Jesus gives us, can we pass it on to our hosts? Can we ourselves really become healers?


After the ascension of Jesus, Thaddeus and I traveled east and north across Assyria to Armenia. After Thaddeus healed King Abgar of his leprosy, Armenia became the first state to make Christianity its official religion. But successor kings left the faith, and Thaddeus was martyred. Soon after, so was I, but not before I started a convent for religious women around a portrait of the Virgin Mary I had brought with me all the way from Jerusalem.

My own martyrdom took place on September 11. I watched with all of you in horror in 2001 when many men and women were killed in New York City, as I had been on that same day.  God watched in horror too.

Jesus told me greater things would happen to me than mere fortune-telling. He did often seem to know what people were thinking, or even what people were going to do. But far more than this, we saw Jesus mirror and model God’s joy in loving people but not judging them, knowing them but not controlling them. He showed us how to live freely, in what he might have called the “unforced rhythms of grace.”

You are free to be, Jesus said. Free to be ME, nothing forced about it. If we weren’t so caught in our fears and egos and ingrown histories, it would always be easy to choose life, choose the rhythms of grace, unforced.

There’s no pressure. You can even say no and go your own way.

But once I’ve walked with Jesus, what other way is there worth living?

(Hosea 10, Psalm 105, Mark 1, Matthew 10)




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