Sunday, May 29, 2022

Praying for Peace

We are beginning our final week of studies at Jerusalem University College and I’m still marveling that we are here, getting to walk around and see and touch this place. We spent several days last week in the desert, where both the heat and the beauty were incredible, and where Isaiah 40 and Psalm 90 with their words about the frailty of human life and the faithfulness of God spoke with a new (and ancient) depth and power.

And today we are in Jerusalem, where celebrations and protests are anticipated because it’s the 55th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967. There’s some anxiety in the air, and a much greater police presence.

Last Sunday we worshipped with Christ Church, the first Protestant church in the city, and today we worshipped with a small English speaking congregation at Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, the second Protestant church in the city. It wasn’t by design, but seemed fitting. Both services were beautiful and left me missing Boston Square and feeling connected to you at the same time. Last week, during the communion liturgy, just after we proclaimed the mystery of faith (Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again), the congregation also said: “We are brothers and sisters through Jesus’ blood. We have died together, we will rise together, we will live together.” What a powerful statement of unity. It had me thinking about some of the ways we’ve experienced this at Boston Square. And it had me thinking about how important it is for Christians to learn to live together, because we’re going to be doing it for a long time.

This morning’s service included prayers for peace for Jerusalem today as well as prayers for Christian unity and the sermon was on John 17 and Jesus’ prayer for unity. It was challenging, especially as we pray for the Christian Reformed Church Synod as it convenes and we wonder what will happen, and what unity might mean or cost . . .

Yesterday and today Jay and I visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the traditional site of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial. You could smell the incense before you could see the church. There are chapels and altars everywhere and at the site of the tomb both yesterday and today there was a priest ushering people in and out. Part of his job seemed to be keeping people who were wearing shorts from entering the tomb area. His expression was very stern and we saw him turn people away and I keep wondering about it. Is he trying to teach reverence for God? To keep people from treating holy things too casually? And what it is like to be turned away? Is it experienced as rejection? Does it prompt reflection? Do they come back later in pants? Does the priest wonder about the people he turned away? And what does this communicate about Jesus?

One of my favorite sites we visited this week (after our time in the desert) was Jacob’s Well in Samaria, where Jesus asked a woman for a drink of water. (We actually got to drink a sip of water from the well!) We heard about the differences between Jews and Samaritans (who are still around and still live there) and how each group thinks they are more pure or faithful to God than the other. The questions of who is in and who is out and who is faithful and who is not were big then and they are big now. And Jesus didn’t hesitate to cross the lines and borders in inviting people to follow him.

Paging through the Corrymeela Prayer Book this morning, I came across this Prayer for Groups that I’m sitting with today as I pray for peace in Jerusalem and for peace among Christians:

God of groups,

You are within and beyond all of our borders,

our names for you; our words about you; our gatherings;

our stories about you.


We seek to praise but sometimes we imprison.


May we always be curious about what is beyond borders,

going there gently, knowing you have always been there.


We ask this because we know that

you are within

and beyond

all our groups and our stories.



Monday, May 23, 2022

A Series of Unfortunate Events

Elizabeth made it to Israel without too much difficulty. After rescheduling our flights because I came down with COVID a week before we were scheduled to fly, we decided to send Elizabeth on ahead so she could start the class in Jerusalem pretty much on time, while I needed to wait a bit longer before I was cleared to fly.

Elizabeth arrived on Tuesday, just a day late. She missed some of the orientation and a trip to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, but not too much else. She navigated all of the airport transfers and luggage pick-up and airport COVID test and shared taxi to Jerusalem like a pro. She settled in well and started making new friends.

I, on the other hand, have been a different story. The plan was that I would fly the next day after I cleared COVID protocols. But this meant I had a different itinerary that had me flying from Grand Rapids to Newark to Brussels to Tel Aviv. I smiled when, as I checked in at the airport, I looked over and discovered Chad Gunnoe standing next to me waiting to drop off his luggage. He was on his way to Iceland with a student group from Aquinas.

I should have taken it as a bad omen, though, when he told me he had been scheduled to fly out the day before but their flight had been canceled. He had spent nine hours on the phone with United trying to get his group rescheduled, only to end up with two of them going straight to Iceland while the other eleven were heading to Germany where they would have to spend the night in Heidelberg before going on to Iceland (ironically without, it should be noted, Chad Gunnoe—an expert in the history of Heidelberg).

That first flight was delayed by about an hour. That wasn’t too bad because I had two hours scheduled in Newark before heading to Brussels. As we deplaned, I asked Chad if they were going to be okay despite the delay, and he noted that they had a six-hour layover. I cringed and said I should probably get off to my flight that was now less than an hour away.

Five hours later, after my flight had been delayed again and again as they replaced and then rescheduled a malfunctioning module in our airplane, I looked over as I got into line now late at night and discovered that I was lining up next to the gate for Reykjavik. And sure enough, there was Chad, getting on his plane before I was getting on mine. I had spent most of the last five hours in line at the United customer service counter trying to reschedule my connecting flight to Tel Aviv, since it was clear I would not make my connection in Brussels. Thankfully I was able to connect over the phone, after waiting on hold for almost an hour. They rescheduled me for a later flight connecting through Frankfort, this time on Lufthansa. I didn’t really want yet another connecting flight, but at least I was still scheduled to get into Tel Aviv the same day I had been expecting.

When we landed in Brussels I grabbed something to eat and then made it to the Lufthansa gate once they announced where it was. I asked at the gate for my boarding pass since the reservation change had been made over the phone. They were extremely unhelpful, however, and refused to let me board the flight. At one point the gate agent turned her back on me and refused to acknowledge that I was even there. Before turning her back, she told me I would need to leave the terminal and find a United representative and have them reschedule my flight. But then she refused to tell me where I might find such a United representative or explain exactly what she meant.

I tried another gate where a Brussels Air flight that was also a United flight was about to leave. She kindly informed me that all the United people had already gone home—they were only there in the morning. I left the terminal and tried to find the United check-in. The counter where it was supposed to be now proudly displayed Qatar Airlines. I asked at the information desk—United is only there in the morning and they had all gone home. And now I couldn’t get back in the terminal because I didn’t have a boarding pass.

I tried calling United. After waiting on hold for another hour, I finally started talking to someone. He said he could change my flight, but I’d have to pay a change fee. I kindly informed him it was United’s fault I was stuck in an airport in Brussels. After significant back-and-forth, he finally rescheduled me for the next day’s direct flight to Tel Aviv at no additional charge. But I’d have to stay overnight in Brussels. And figure out what happened to my luggage.

After spending another 45 minutes trying to track down my luggage, the representative asked if I had another flight scheduled. I said yes, so she said not to worry about it—it’s better to leave it at the airport and it will get connected to my next flight.

I then found a nearby hotel reservation for the night and tried to figure out the hotel shuttle. I was back at the airport before 7 the next morning so I’d have time to find a United representative if there were any difficulties. This time, however, I had no issues getting my boarding pass—this time on Brussels Air. I made sure to note there was luggage somewhere at the airport that needed to go with me, and they assured me they would add it. I then found myself with plenty of time before my flight, so I breathed a bit easier, hopeful I would finally make it to Tel Aviv. I must admit that as I spent the night in Brussels, I had wondered if perhaps I would be better served just turning around and going home.

The flight into Tel Aviv was uneventful. Once I landed and made it through customs, however, my luggage was no where to be found. I waited in line for forty-five minutes to make a claim, and—sure enough, it was still waiting in Brussels. Hmm…it should get here tomorrow, they said. That would be Friday. But then the next day was Sabbath, so they wouldn’t be able to deliver it until Sunday.

It's now Monday evening, and I still don’t have my bag. I’ve been wearing the same clothes I boarded the plane with last Tuesday. I’m hopeful that maybe my bag will come late tonight. There’s a staff member from Jerusalem University College flying in to Tel Aviv tonight, and they have all my bag information, and will stop at the luggage claim and try to pick it up for me. If it’s there. And if they let these people take it for me. And if they can find it (another student had his luggage delayed as well—and it was just sitting in a pile in a back room at the airport until someone went to pick it up).

We leave for a three-day excursion to the desert tomorrow, leaving at 7 am. I’d really like to have my bag before then. In the grand scheme of things, however, I suppose it’s a fairly mild inconvenience. Mostly I’m just grateful to finally be here. There were moments I wasn’t sure I would make it. In the end, I missed three days of class, but the days I’ve been a part of have been intense and good—pretty much everything we had hoped for and expected. We’ve already seen some amazing sites. We’ve done a lot of hiking. We’ve deepened our understanding of Scripture and in particular the land and how knowledge of the land informs our reading of Scripture. We’ve decided to do a fall sermon series on the book of Deuteronomy (well, maybe not…). And we’ve grown in our appreciation for God’s care for us.

This series of unfortunate events (that’s not quite over yet…) has been hard. But it’s reminded me yet again that we are dependent upon God. And God cares for us.

One of the lessons we’ve learned in class this week is that a land “flowing with milk and honey” doesn’t mean prosperous and lush. That was Egypt. God tells the people in Deuteronomy 11:10 that the land God is leading them to is not like what they knew in Egypt where they could plant seeds, and if they needed to irrigate them, they could just drag their foot from the river and make a path for water. No—this new land was going to be harsher. Water would be much scarcer. In some places, you won’t be able to grow anything—sheep and goats might barely survive on what little green there is. But it’s a land God cares for. A land God watches over. You will be dependent upon God, but know that God loves you.

This last is a lesson we sometimes forget. But it’s no less true for us as it was for ancient Israel. We are dependent upon God. And that’s okay. Because God loves us.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

The Land Between

These last couple of weeks have been a blur of softball, soccer and baseball games, various appointments, and lots of details in preparation for Jay and my trip to Israel. And maps. Lots of maps. The course we’ll be taking at Jerusalem University College is called the History and Geography of the Bible, and sometime earlier this spring, two large packets of maps arrived, with instructions to study and work with them before arriving in Israel. We’ve come to the conclusion that we should have started sooner . . .

The resources we’re using – maps and study guides – all talk about the land of Israel as ‘The Land Between.’ It reminds me of how often we are aware of being in a place or time between – Holy Saturday between Good Friday and Easter, Advent between the already and not yet coming of God’s kingdom.

One guide says, ‘This Land Between is never isolated and throughout history more often than not was a powerless pawn in greater struggles.’ One of the things I’m relearning is how small Israel is and was in the world. A reminder that God over and over again chooses small things, small places, small communities to demonstrate God’s work in the world. Another guide describes the land as a ‘fragile testing ground of faith between sea, desert, and great political powers.’ A fragile testing ground of faith feels familiar too, as we continue to live with ambiguous loss.

In between studying maps, I’ve also been re-reading In the Shelter by Padraig O Tuama. This prayer, near the end of the book, resonated with me and I wanted to share it with you all.


God of watching,

whose gaze I doubt and rally against both,

but in which I take refuge, despite my limited vision.

Shelter me today,

against the flitting nature of my own focus,

and help me find a calm kind of standing.

And when I falter, which is likely,

give me the courage and the kindness to begin again with hope and coping.

For you are the one whose watchfulness is steady.



God of silence,

who watches our growth and our decay,

who watches tsunamis and summer holidays,

who cares for the widow, the orphan,

the banker, the terrorist, the student,

the politician, the freedom fighter.

We pray to be nurtured in our own silences.

We pray that we might find in those silences

truth, compassion, fatigue and hearing.

Because you, you, you see all, and are often silent.

And we need to hope that you are not inattentive to our needs.



God of darkness

You must be the god of darkness

because if you are not, whom else can we turn to?

Turn to us now.

Turn to us.

Turn your face to us.

Because it is dark here.

And we are in need. We are people in need.

We can barely remember our own truth, and if you too have


then we are without hope of a map.

Turn to us now.

Turn to us.

Turn your face to us.

Because you turned toward us in the body of incarnation.

You turned toward us.



May you know you are held in God’s loving watchfulness and silent presence, and that God’s face is turned toward you in the darkness.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Poems for Holy Week and the Week After

These are some poems that have been on my mind the last couple of weeks. The first two came to mind during our Palm Sunday service. I thought of Mary Oliver’s poem when Jay mentioned in his sermon how difficult it is to get a donkey to do anything it doesn’t want to do. And I thought of George Herbert’s poem as we received communion that morning – God’s love made edible, Jesus’ life poured out that we might know forgiveness. The last poem, by Barbara Holmes, may be less familiar than the others. I saw it on social media last spring, soon after another shooting death, and it came to mind again this week as I sit with Jesus’ words of blessing for those who have not seen but have still believed (John 20:29).

The Poet Thinks About the Donkey

On the outskirts of Jerusalem
the donkey waited.
Not especially brave, or filled with understanding,
he stood and waited.

How horses, turned out into the meadow,
   leap with delight!
How doves, released from their cages,
   clatter away, splashed with sunlight.

But the donkey, tied to a tree as usual, waited.
Then he let himself be led away.
Then he let the stranger mount.

Never had he seen such crowds!
And I wonder if he at all imagined what was to happen.
Still, he was what he had always been: small, dark, obedient.

I hope, finally, he felt brave.
I hope, finally, he loved the man who rode so lightly upon him,
as he lifted one dusty hoof and stepped, as he had to, forward.

- Mary Oliver

Love III

LOVE bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
            Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
            From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
            If I lack’d anything.

‘A guest,’ I answer’d, ‘worthy to be here:’
            Love said, ‘You shall be he.’
‘I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
            I cannot look on Thee.’
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
            ‘Who made the eyes but I?’

‘Truth, Lord; but I have marr’d them: let my shame
            Go where it doth deserve.’
‘And know you not,’ says Love, ‘Who bore the blame?’
            ‘My dear, then I will serve.’
‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’
            So I did sit and eat.

-       George Herbert


Joy Unspeakable

erupts when you least expect it;

when the burden is greatest,

when the hope is gone

after bullets fly.

It rises

on the crest of impossibility,

it sways to the rhythm

of steadfast hearts,

and celebrates

what we cannot see.


-       Barbara A Holmes

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Praying in the Garden

I’ve been re-reading the book Unfettered: Imagining a Childlike Faith… by Mandy Smith, and this section caught my attention again. (I think I may have quoted the first part in a sermon or midweek reflection when I read the book before, this time the second part is what caught me):

‘Celebrating what God can do without knowing what God will do brought me to a new place of hovering – hovering between the known and the unknown. Paradox is a place where we are very uncomfortable and where God is right at home . . . It’s a place Jesus visits in the garden of Gethsemane, and his prayer there provides the perfect way for humans to hover . . . There is a way for us to be honest about our hope for particular outcomes and at the same time to trust that God is good and powerful regardless of how the prayer is answered.’

I’m feel particularly aware of discomfort and tension this week, especially with the death of Patrick Lyoya just a few blocks from church. Tension between the terrible pain expressed in the march on Saturday and our joyful procession with palm branches on Sunday; tension between what we long for for our community and the brokenness that exists in it. I’m longing for hope and I’m afraid.

Jesus’ prayer in the garden is ‘please take this cup from me’ and also ‘not my will but yours be done.’ And I haven’t really thought about it as a model for our prayer before, but it is. Both parts of it. The part where Jesus prays for what he wants – the cup to pass – and the part where he prays for God’s will to be done. It’s a hard and scary prayer, because of course, we know that the cup didn’t pass and that God’s will was done and it meant death before resurrection. And I don’t know how to untangle how this might relate to what’s just happened in our city, or what’s happening in our world. It feels hard to trust that God’s will might somehow be done in all the suffering around and within us.

But I’m hearing in this a deep invitation to pray, to pray for what we want, to be honest with God with our hopes and our desperation, with our longings for ourselves and our loved ones and our city and world, to somehow express and entrust these things to God, AND to hold on to and trust that God is good and powerful regardless of what happens. To pray for what we want and to pray that God’s will be done.

Sometimes it’s hard for me to pray for what I want, because I’m afraid it won’t happen. And sometimes I’m afraid to pray for God’s will be done, because I’m afraid of what might happen. But I’m hearing an invitation to have the courage to pray for both. And as I look for this courage, I’m reminded of the song Open My Hands by Sarah Groves:

I believe in a blessing I don’t understand

I’ve seen rain fall on wicked and the just

Rain is no measure of his faithfulness

He withholds no good thing from us

No good thing from us, no good thing from us


I believe in a peace that flows deeper than pain

That broken find healing in love

Pain is no measure of his faithfulness

He withholds no good thing from us

No good thing from us, no good thing from us


I will open my hands, will open my heart

I will open my hands, will open my heart

I am nodding an emphatic yes

To all that You have for me


I believe in a fountain that will never dry

Though I’ve thirsted and didn’t have enough

Thirst is no measure of his faithfulness

He withholds no good thing from us,

No good thing from us, no good thing from us


I will open my hands, will open my heart

I will open my hands, will open my heart

I am nodding an emphatic yes

To all that You have for me


As we draw close to Good Friday and Easter, may God grant us courage to pray with Jesus – both for what we want, and that God’s will be done.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022


I preached on the parable of the Lost Son on Sunday, and as I mentioned in the sermon, I found Amy Jill Levine’s book Short Stories by Jesus to be really helpful as I wrestled with the story.

She had these observations about parables that didn’t make it into the sermon, but that I’ve continued to ponder this week:

. . . what makes the parables mysterious, or difficult, is that they challenge us to look into hidden aspects of our own values, our own lives. They bring to the surface unasked questions, and they reveal the answers we have always known, but refuse to acknowledge.

Parables . . . tease us into recognizing what we’ve already always known, and they do so by reframing our vision. The point is less that they reveal something new than that they tap into our memories, our values, and deepest longings and so they resurrect what is very old, very wise, and very precious. And often, very unsettling.

As I shared in the sermon, I’ve come to a new and deeper appreciation for the father’s words to the older son at the end of the parable: ‘My beloved child, you are always with me and everything I have is yours . . .’ I’m still sitting with those words this week, and I keep running into these lost and found parables in my daily life.

On Friday night last week we went to see the Grand Rapids Christian Middle School production of Godspell Junior. We haven’t been to a play in a long time, and I wore my favorite bright pink embroidered blouse from Mexico with my bright yellow scarf from London and a favorite pair of earrings that Jay and the kids gave me several years ago. When we got home after the play, I was only wearing one of the earrings. I really like those earrings – they were from Haiti, they went with lots of things, and they were precious to me because the kids picked them out for me.

The next morning, I texted Jay (who was out with Peter doing Little League tryouts) to ask him to search the car, in case it had fallen out there. I asked Emma if there was a lost and found at the high school that she or I could check on Monday. And I asked Bri, when she went back for the afternoon performance, if she could look for it. She reminded me that she would be backstage, so unlikely to be where I lost it. I was heading out for a walk with Luna when both girls said, ‘Just walk over the high school and see if it’s outside.’

The weather on Saturday morning was not pleasant, but the dog and I needed a walk, so we headed over to the high school, and there it was, right by the door, where I had taken off my mask when we headed outside. I cheered – I may have even jumped up and down – I definitely confused Luna who wasn’t sure what was going on. I texted Jay right away – found it! And when I got home, I announced to the girls, ‘I’m like the woman with the coin! We’re even going to celebrate!’ One of them pointed out that we were going to celebrate because it was a belated birthday gathering, not because I found my earring, but I was really glad. Thinking about it still makes me smile.

And, as I said, I’m still thinking about these parables. I try to do the wordle each night and on Monday night, the word was ‘FOUND’.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Longing for Coffee

Council is reading the book Soul Feast by Marjorie Thompson together this year. We’re reading a chapter a month and then briefly discussing what we’ve read at the opening of our time together. Soul Feast is a book about spiritual disciplines, and each chapter goes in-depth on a particular way of deepening our spiritual lives.

We’ve already discussed prayer, worship, Sabbath, and several others. The chapter we read for this past Monday’s meeting was on fasting. The author distinguished between fasting from food and “fasting” from other things in our lives that threaten to become more important to us than God (social media, anyone?). Both types of fasting have their place. Fasting from food helps us remember that just as our physical bodies need to be fed regularly, so our spiritual selves need to be nourished regularly as well. Our lives are just as dependent upon God as they are upon food and taking time to fast can remind us that we do not live on bread alone. And fasting from other things helps us keep our lives in proper order and can help keep things that are not God from taking the place of God.

Embedded in this chapter was a brief critique of the practice of giving something up for the season of Lent. Thompson was none too keen on the practice, implying it was more for show than anything else and didn’t necessarily get us into a long-term rhythm where the practice could shape us spiritually over time. At one point she even referred to such things as “frivolities.” This caught my attention, since, for the first time in my life, I’ve actually given something up for Lent. Something that has cost me dearly.

Oh, I’ve tried this before in the past. I’ve given up chocolate. Or I’ve given up sugar. And these forays into Lenten practice have typically lasted about three or four days before I decide that I’ve learned enough and don’t need to sacrifice in this way anymore. Or I’ve simply failed. I’ve caved. I’ve eaten chocolate and then decided it’s not really all that spiritually important anyway and thrown my Lenten practice out the window.

This year, however, has been different. This year I’ve given up coffee. And I’m sticking to it. I was drinking a lot of coffee before Lent. Often well into the afternoon. Enough that Peter saw me one day and noted, “Dad, you drink a lot of coffee.” And he followed it up with, “You should go a week without coffee.” Apparently, I hadn’t had enough coffee that day, because I was just crazy enough to say, “Okay.” And then I was crazy enough to say, “I’ll give it up for Lent.”

This is the first Lent where this practice has been meaningful to me. I used to rely on coffee to get me going in the morning. I would look forward to it with breakfast. I’d have a cup with my Duolingo Spanish homework. I’d sip some while trying to figure out the Wordle of the day. But now there’s a noticeable gap there. Something missing. Orange juice isn’t quite the same. Tea isn’t cutting it. But I’ve noticed I’m more spiritually attuned. I’m very conscious that I’m doing this to remind myself that God is the source of my life—not coffee (or anything else). It’s led me to pray more (mostly without swear words). I’m more aware of little decisions I make throughout the day that affect my mood or my attentiveness to God.

One of the best aspects of this practice has been my Sunday cup of coffee. Sundays don’t count in Lent because Sundays are still celebrations of the Resurrection. Count them up—the forty days of Lent only works if you don’t count the Sundays. And that means that on Sundays I get to enjoy a cup of coffee. And that means folks at Boston Square don’t need to see “Grouchy Jay.” But it also means that already on Friday I begin looking forward to Sunday. I begin to think, “Ah…only two more days before I get to enjoy a cup of coffee…” And then I think to myself, “I get to enjoy a cup of coffee on Sunday because of the Resurrection.” And then I think, “I get to have life because of the Resurrection.” (coffee doesn’t equal life for me, but it is a part of the fullness of life). And then, because of the gift of the fullness of life that Sunday represents, I begin looking ahead to Sunday because we get to worship. And that’s something that has not been enough a part of my life. It’s a new feeling—this looking ahead to Sunday—and I like it.

What’s more is that this Lenten practice has me looking ahead to the new creation. Not because we’ll be able to have all the coffee we want there (we will, won’t we?), but because the new creation will be a wonderful goodness that Sunday’s are just a taste of. Looking ahead to Sundays is a reminder that Sundays with coffee are just a glimmer of the goodness of the new creation. We may need to endure some hardship here and now, there may even be some things God asks us to do without, but there is a day coming—not too far out—when all will be made right.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I decided to give up coffee for Lent. Headaches, mostly. Grumpy mornings, maybe. I wasn’t even sure if I’d be able to do it. But I’m grateful I’m trying it. It’s already taught me a lot, even if it is a bit frivolous and not what the spiritual life is truly about.