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April Journal, First Sunday after Easter


Fish Out of Water CoverI recently read a remarkable memoir, Fish Out of Water, by Eric Metaxas. It is told in an informal conversational style, full of anecdotes of his growing up in the Greek Orthodox community in Danbury, Connecticut. One of the threads or themes particularly resonated with me.

His church life as a boy did not claim his love, did not call him to believe. When he does experience God, it is an answer to a yearning not fulfilled. Through a series of miraculous events, he finds his way as an adult to the evangelical stream of Christianity in America, for it is being born again that recreates him and claims him as one of Christ’s own. His joy in these pages is nearly tangible.

It often happens that established, successful churches dull our belief with their familiarity and routine, and we have to leave our childhood church and return to a different stream of Christianity. Probably like many things we do, ritual can become hollow and automated. Prayer can become words memorized and unfelt or even unheard. And yet ritual and prayer, when cultivated in love and adoration in the worship of God, add richness and beauty to a sacred conversation.

I was raised in the Presbyterian church. At some point in the 1960’s as a young adult I lost my faith, but returned as an Anglican, having been won back by the apologetic reasoning in C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. I was luckier or more blessed than many in that my time in the agnostic/atheistic desert (essentially my college years) was short, and God found me and claimed me again. I do recall those years, however, as painful ones, full of sadness and confusion, for life had no meaning without God.

God was everything, and I had lost him. But he had not lost me.

And with my return to the Church and to life in Christ, I returned to moral law and peaceful order. For only with an objective and true authority can we know what is right and what is wrong. This is the righteousness of God’s rule in our world and the universe, a righteousness we cannot own without the Resurrection. This righteousness I wrote about in my recent post at American Christian Fiction Writers, “Resurrecting Righteousness,” how Christian storytellers are called to remind their readers and the world that there is a better way, a righteous way, a way ordained by God, for us to live with one another.

ResurrectionChrist_Behind_Locked_DoorsWith these thoughts running through my memory of the week, this morning’s Gospel sounded a sweet note. For as the resurrected Christ appears to the fearful disciples, he says, “Peace be with you.” This phrase is repeated throughout our eucharistic liturgy. In some Roman Catholic parishes the peace is passed one to another in the pew, with a handshake or a nod (maybe not presently with the pandemic). These words remind us of the great reward of being claimed by Christ and of our claiming Christ: peace.

And how we need more peace today. Perhaps our time is no different than any, but peace seems particularly illusory. We fear to speak or we will be demonized or cancelled by those who disagree. We fear rampant crime as police are defunded and defamed. We lock ourselves in our homes, fearful of virus, but also riots and revolutions.

Peace. I recall in the 1960’s folksongs with their call for peace, not war. They thought peace would come if we did not defend America in war; peace would come if drugs were plentiful and morality was ignored in the name of free love.

They were wrong. For it was a devil’s bargain, an illusion. Peace comes from righteousness, from heartfelt trying to act right, from admitting wrongs, from experiencing God’s will in our lives. Peace comes from the loving authority of our Creator, as found in Scriptures and the Church. Peace comes from Christ breathing upon us in our baptisms and our eucharists and our evening prayers.

Holy_TrinityThe Epistle lesson today was almost harsh. St. John writes, “He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.”

I have found that truth, if it is truly true, makes sense. One strand weaves into another to make a perfectly woven tapestry. This morning it happened again. Mr. Metaxas’ account of God speaking to him in dreams and through people and events, in miracles, bringing him home again, upheld and verified the righteousness of God, his goodness, his personal intentions for each of us in his moral universe. And this morning we received God’s peace, the result of rebirth and righteousness.

And so we pray that we all are reborn, again and again, redeemed again and again, returned to Our Lord to be remade, again and again. We pray that we know the peace that passeth all understanding.

And we pray for our country, that America once again be a land of peace, a land of rebirth, and a land of righteousness, that America will return to God.

Resurrecting Righteousness: New Post Published by American Christian Fiction Writers

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I am pleased to announce that American Christian Fiction Writers has published my post today, “Resurrecting Righteousness,” how Christian writers redeem American culture in the choices they make in the stories they tell, as seen in my recent novel Angel Mountain. Thank you ACFW!

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April Journal, Easter Day

Resurrection Of Jesus Empty Tomb drawing image in Vector cliparts category at pixy.org“Christ is risen!” the faithful cry.

“He is risen indeed!” the faithful reply.

Every Easter Christians throughout the world greet one another with this joyful announcement. It is a reminder of the empty tomb.

In many ways we have been entombed over the last year. We lived in the darkness of isolation during the threat of the Coronavirus. We hid from one another, fearful of contagion. Today, Easter 2021, many are vaccinated, and many look forward to their own resurrection from the cavernous and deadly lockdowns.

We have been deadened by this time, a time that has stood still. Some think of 2020 as the year that was lost. And yet no time is lost. No minute forgotten. No life unimportant to God.

And that includes the unborn, who also live in the shelter of the womb, a dark place, a tomb of life. After nine months, the child breaks into the light.

RESOURCE_TemplateHermits are also entombed, in their caves, retreating from the light, from the business of the living, to commune quietly with God, the saints, the angels. My recently released novel, Angel Mountain, is about such a hermit, an elderly Holocaust refugee who converts to Christianity and lives a life of prayer in a sandstone cave in the hills east of San Francisco. The story opens as he leaves the darkness of the cavern and steps into the sunlight, a moment when he speaks the words of repentance and baptism, when he speaks the words of God’s love for mankind, for each one of us.

In an odd way, I am grateful for this last year of darkness, isolation, and reflection, for I appreciate resurrection so much more. Yet surely the lockdowns were not worth their cost to human livelihoods and children’s growth, and so many other losses. The masks became hideous, dehumanizing, cancelling expression, cancelling love, cancelling touch, cancelling smiles, cancelling personal connection. The social distancing mandates separated us, divided us. And so the turmoil of the year was to be expected – the imprisoned energy escaping and vandalizing and raping our towns, stealing our peace, used and abused by the unscrupulous and the Machiavellian.

The virus fueled fear, and the fear spread faster than the virus. The fear fueled lies and manipulation and government control.

Each person became master of his own isolation, protecting himself from others who had become the enemy.

To Christians, the dark, demonic aspect of this year has been all too clear. And it continues today.

Yet today is Easter, a day when we celebrate resurrection and life, a day to rejoice in the stone rolled away from the entrance to the tomb so many years ago.

And so, when my husband and I tuned in to our virtual church liturgy, we were flooded with memory of a better time when we were present, kneeling and singing, in the nave of our parish church, a kind of ark-cavern. And as the memories returned, so too did the recognition of the words and hymns and actions of the morning. A union of past and present birthed a dove rising from the ashes of our lockdown, resurrected by joy. We sang,

“Jesus Christ is risen to-day, Alleluia!/ Our triumphant holy day, Alleluia!/ Who did once upon the cross, Alleluia!/ Suffer to redeem our loss. Alleluia!” (#85)

We listened to the familiar Gospel lesson, in which Mary Magdalene discovers the empty tomb:

 The Gospel. St. John xx. 1.

The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre. Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him. Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre. So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre. And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in. Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, and the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed. For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead. Then the disciples went away again unto their own home. (Book of Common Prayer, 1928)


We walk with Mary Magdalene in the dark before dawn to the tomb. We see the stone taken away. We run to tell the others. We too fear He has been stolen and we cannot find Him. We run with Peter and John who outruns Peter (a little pride?). With John, we see the burial cloths.

GIVING THANKSWe do not know what to think… and they do not know the Scriptures.

But we know the Scriptures. We know the miraculous magnificence of this morning, Easter. We know the love of God made incarnate, His blood shed for us, His hand reaching for ours, pulling us out of the dark and into the light of eternity. We know. We believe. The testimony of two thousand years is abundant and convinces us that there is more to life than we can see; there is divine meaning to every minute.

And so we sang into our screens, the chapel organ booming,

“Welcome happy morning!” age to age shall say:/ Hell today is vanquished, heaven is won today!/ Lo! the dead is living, God for evermore!/ Him, their true Creator, all his works adore!/ “Welcome happy morning!” age to age shall say. (#87)

As we sang, our age joining with all the others, past and future, the priest set a wooden cross in the central aisle and, with the help of one or two others, gently placed flowers in the holes on the cross, resurrecting the cross of death to one of life, flowering the cross and flowering us as well.

Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. The simple truth of the risen Christ is enough. It is more than enough. For we have laid in the tomb all this year and happily emerge, like Lazarus, like Christ, from the dark. We take Our Lord’s hand, and He pulls us into the light of Eternity, today and always.

March Journal, Palm Sunday

palm-sunday-globalToday is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week leading to Easter. It is a grand, serious, and holy drama in our part of the Body of Christ on earth, played out in liturgy, song, and prayer. We tell the story of Jesus the Christ entering Jerusalem to the cry of Hosannas and the strewing of palm branches as he rides on a donkey through the city gates. Our parishes once acted out this holy week with daily liturgies leading to the Triduum, the three days before Easter. Then on Maundy Thursday we celebrated the Last Supper, when Christ gave the Church the gift of himself in the Holy Eucharist. On Good Friday we mourned as Our Lord was crucified on the cross of Golgotha, the “place of the skull.” On Holy Saturday we prepared for Easter and the transformation of the sanctuary from purple shrouds to white lilies on the altar. Easter Eve was often a celebration of the first Easter morning, candles lighting the dark of the nave. Easter Day was resurrection day when children flowered a white wooden cross at the chancel steps.

Today, with Coronavirus restrictions and fewer numbers of the faithful, we enact a more abbreviated Holy Week. Even so, the liturgies are rich and beautiful, poetry distilled through centuries. We are a joyous people, and our liturgies embrace the transformation of mankind from despair to joy, from suffering to saved, from death to life.

I for one am so very grateful I came to the Faith early in my life so that I could experience these yearly festivals, beckoning me along my path to Heaven. It is a rich and colorful weaving of time and eternity, for with each Eucharist, eternity intersects time. Even today, from home, locked down and attending church virtually, I have experienced such grace, grace that demands immense gratitude. For grace abounds where faith, hope, and love intersect.

tempImagemJDA7BAnd so it was with particular joy that I realized my great grandfather Nicholas Nelson was a devout believer. I have inherited a number of anniversary mementos, silver with “N to C” engraved in swirling cursive letters. The most cherished of these mementos, however, is a plaque designed by Nicholas for Christine for their fiftieth wedding anniversary. He writes in careful printing, framed by leafy tendrils on parchment:

“The thoughts that fit a long life of happiness together have been said so well over three thousand years ago, that they are the best suited to convey all the meaning in my heart. And they are here repeated.“ (Here he quotes Proverbs 31)

Ending with:

“Golden indeed have been the years now registered by this Golden Wedding Anniversary, May 10, 1942.”

 

My grandmother’s notation can be seen at the base the frame, telling us her parents were married 56 years and 5 months and had three children: Helen Christine (my grandmother), her sister Armorel, and her brother Gilbert.

I had wondered about Gilbert who died at age 27 in Denver in 1922. In researching my Norwegian ancestors I learned from a news article that he died from appendicitis. An aunt of mine, today young at ninety-four, supplied another bit of story: Gilbert’s mother Christine was so grief stricken that she left Denver for San Francisco in the next few months. Why SF? It turns out that Nicholas’ brother Harry had a candy company there, just as Nicholas had founded one in Denver. Nicholas joined Christine in the year following and they made their way to Los Angeles.

My heart ached for Christine and Nicholas, losing a son at 27 years of age. Life was often threatened in those days, and perhaps more appreciated than today because of those challenges. Children didn’t always survive infancy. Surgery was dangerous. Infection was common. And yet they valued what was precious, life itself, family bonds that strengthened the trials.

And so I pray on this Palm Sunday 2021 that we do not forget our history, be it family or nation or world, that when the darkness settles upon us, shrouding our past, demonizing faith, scattering families, that we keep the light burning, keep waving our palms before Him as He enters the gates of Jerusalem.

PALM SUNDAY (2)For as we tell this old story of God incarnate two thousand years ago and His great acts of redemption, we remind ourselves and our world that this is an ongoing, present-day story of God incarnate. Each year we process and wave our palms and sing “All glory, laud and honor/ To thee Redeemer, King! /To whom the lips of children/ Made sweet hosannas ring.” (#61) Each year we act out the drama of His crucifixion and resurrection and His offer of salvation from death, His offer of eternal life to each one of us, His beloved children. Death is no more, conquered by the love of God.

In this way, each year we renew our own life in Christ’s life, weaving our story into His and His into ours. Our ancestors understood these magnificent truths of mankind and told the story too.

Just as we do, today, Palm Sunday 2021, as we enter Holy Week.

March Journal, Passion Sunday, Fifth Sunday in Lent

AMERICAN FLAGIt has been said that America is a nation of immigrants. Why did they come here? Why do they continue to come?

To be sure, we need them. Our population is shrinking since the pill and legalized abortion. We are a people who prize the individual at the expense of the family, at the expense of authorities of all kinds. And now we are paying the price, with a surge of aging boomers requiring care, reaping our childless past. We need workers to settle in our country and take care of the boomers.

But we need immigrants to enter legally. We need to protect our country from drugs and human trafficking and Coronavirus, from foreign agents seeking to harm us. We need legal immigrants who desire to become Americans, who cherish freedom, abide by our laws, and speak our language. We need them to respect our history and our institutions, especially our religious institutions.

Especially the First Amendment to the Constitution, the free speech amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Clearly we should be allowed to express our beliefs and opinions without fear. Clearly we should encourage civil debate. And yet today opposing opinions are forced underground. In the wake of the rise of this totalitarian terror we are self-censoring, and this has been the most dangerous development of all (see a recent Epoch Times discussion of this frightening phenomenon: “Communist Tactics to Force Self-Censorship Sweeping America” by Petr Svab, March 9, 2021)

What this means for writers of all genres is that publishers will be even more hesitant to risk the anger of the mob, risk subscription counts, risk employment, risk livelihoods, risk life and limb.

The rush to cross our southern border is only equaled by the silencing of any objection to illegal immigration, and thus the silencing of law and order, the Constitution, the history and culture of our country.

Gulicksons.Christine (Nelson) Gullickson, lower rightMy family immigrated from Norway and I have recently been researching some of the details. Each fact carries within it another question, why this, why that, what caused them to leave and come to America?

The Nielsens and the Gullicksens knew each other for many generations in the farming community of Solum, Telemark, Norway, before they immigrated to America, before Nicholas Nelson married Marta Kristin Gullicksen in 1892 in Chicago. Their families had been farmers, and all were baptized in the local Solum church.

Why did they leave to risk the long sea journey to our shores? The Gullicksens traveled with four young children. It is my guess they only spoke Norwegian. And it is my guess they wanted a better life. They became Americans. They worked to assimilate, to become part of their new community of Chicago, part of their new country, America. They learned the language, and they even anglicized the spelling of their names. Marta Kristin became Martha Christine. Nielsen became Nelson. Gulliksen changed as well over the years. They desired to share this land with other immigrants, those who came before and those who would come after.

I believe also they entered legally, probably through Ellis Island (will research that at some point). How did they arrive in Chicago, after coming into New York City? The Nielsens came first in the 1860’s. The Gullicksens arrived two months before the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Somehow they survived.

They were fearless and full of faith; their faith made them fearless or at least fearing what should rightly be feared. They knew right from wrong, according to the law of Moses, fulfilled by Christ, and they taught their children these values of hard work, honesty, kindness. Love your neighbor. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Examine your own life for sin and repent and start over. Obey and honor God.

Martha Christine Gullickson Nelson (1870-1949)Martha Christine (photo to the left) married Nicholas Nelson in Chicago in 1892. Their three children were born in Chicago in the years following. But at some point they left for Denver. Why? Nicholas, like his brother-in-law Ole Gullicksen (see earlier blog), founded a company in Denver.

Ole founded a furniture manufacturing company, The Churchill Cabinet Company in 1904 in Chicago. Nicholas founded the Nicholas and Rhodes Candy Company in Denver. It was listed in Denver in 1914-15 when it became a member of the Confectioners Association.

Their three children grew up in those years, mainly in Denver. My grandmother, Helen Christine Nelson, married James Headlee Martin in Denver in 1919.

And in 1920 my mother, Helen Martha Martin, was born, followed by Mary Ruth Martin in 1921. Headlee worked for Texaco and in the next few years was transferred to Spokane, where Lucy Jane Martin was born (1927). A few years after that, concerned about the moral ethos of the company at the time (according to my mother), Headlee quit and the family made their way to the West Coast and took a steamer to Los Angeles.

Ole stayed in Chicago along with many relatives. But my branch of the family were travelers, immigrants within the nation as it were, looking for something else, or forced to look, or ? Norway-Chicago-Denver-Spokane-Los Angeles. In each generation, a child, now grown and married, pulled up roots to plant somewhere else.

They embodied a frontier optimism so characteristic of America. They traveled from Norway, conquering land and language and law and labor. They survived the fire in Chicago, and the next generation moved to Denver to make their fortune there. Then following the spirit of the growing economy, the next generation went to Spokane, where Headlee made a principled decision, to stand up for what he believed, quitting his job. The sacrifice placed them in the Depression with no livelihood.

candleI have cobbled this story from bits and pieces and welcome family members’ corrections. As a novelist I am fascinated by human character, the depth and variety of created humanity, no two persons alike. As a Christian novelist I am fascinated by conscience, formed and informed by Christ. When this fiery spirit resides within, it burns brightly and enlightens our decisions. When this spirit is put out or ignored or denied, choices are made in moral darkness, with only concern for the self.

It is this debate between the light and the dark that is being silenced today. The fire of freedom that burns within every American is being snuffed out like a candle burned down to its last bit of wax.

We are a country of immigrants, of travelers, of creators, of doers, a people of imagination and energy. Let us protect this heritage and keep the flame burning, that fire of the first amendment, promising free speech, free assembly, freedom to practice religion, freedom to petition for redress of grievances. Let us continue to be a beacon to the world, a light in the darkness of tyranny.

Today is Passion Sunday, the beginning of the passio the last days of Christ on earth. The light of the world becomes dark only to rise again to new life and light. America celebrates this grand passion and welcomes all to celebrate with her this great gift of freedom and the promise of eternity.

March Journal, Fourth Sunday in Lent


Martha Christine Gillickson NelsonAs I was gazing upon some old, framed photos of ancestors on one of my bookshelves and quizzing myself on their names, whether they were the English or Norwegian branch, I noticed some volumes of autobiography near the photo of my great grandmother, Martha Christine (Gullicksen) Nelson. They were slim volumes, about 4” X 6”, hardbound dark blue, and titled Little Masterpieces of Autobiography. The first of four volumes was subtitled Greatest Americans and included Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, and Lincoln. The volume was edited by George Iles and first published in 1885, but this edition was dated 1925, published by Doubleday, Page and Company in New York. They were part of a collection given to me by my grandmother Helen Christine (Nelson) Martin (1896-1994).

The books renewed an interest to learn more about these Norwegians who came to Chicago from Telemark, Norway in 1871.

I have been thinking of including an American history theme in my next novel, and I realized I could use this slim volume of Great Americans as research as I explored my own immigrant roots in Chicago.

Ole Gullickson (C's Brother)I had heard via family lore that one of these ancestors founded a furniture company in Chicago. I opened an old file where I had placed bits and pieces given to me over the years, notes and jottings penned by my grandmother Helen Christine and my great grandmother, Martha Christine. From these bits I learned that Martha Christine’s brother, Ole Gullicksen (1867-1948), founded the Churchill Cabinet Company in Chicago in 1904.

A quick online search revealed the company was still in business, refashioned to construct pinball cabinets when forced to compete with lower priced mass-produced furniture. The business, named after the original location (Churchill Street), had moved a few blocks southwest.

I can see why folks love to research genealogy. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle, and each piece added is a great discovery.

I soon learned that Ole became a successful entrepreneur, helping to fund the Norwegian American Hospital near Humboldt Park. I also learned sadly that the hospital is in the process of changing the name to Humboldt Park Health to better reflect the community – a sign of the times, the rebranding, the renaming, the cancelling and erasing.

There are those today who wish to erase our history, topple our great Americans, as if to reinvent our country and reform our union. But it is history, true history, that defines us as individuals and as nations.

Churchill Cabinet CoLooking at these Norwegians that came before me enriches my life today. I know there are many other strands from other countries that wove together to make me me, and I marvel at God’s intricate and beautiful (if also mysterious) ways. These threads of life continue into the future, and I smiled when I saw that my grandson is attending a college not far from Churchill Street: Wheaton. When I saw Naperville nearby, I recognized it was the location of one of our APCK (Anglican Province of Christ the King) parishes, All Saints.

The glories of the past – and the inglorious – all affect the present and the future.

And so as we celebrated this morning the Fourth Sunday in Lent, the lessons reverberated with these themes of identity, who we are as Christians in this long journey through time. We travel the path of faith, reliving the journey God lived among us, beginning with Abraham and fulfilled in Christ. We travel with and within the Church through these celebrations each year. We live out the past in the present so that we can live in the future. We teach our children how to do this. We teach them to never forget who they were, are, and will be.

In this way my immigrant ancestors added to the stream of Christian witness. They taught us how to become Americans – through a common language, through hard work, through a strong family life, and through a devout faith.

I wish I had known them. With research, I will know a little more. But I will know them one day more than a little, one day in the Heavenly Jerusalem.

March Journal, Third Sunday in Lent

In the Gospel reading assigned for today, Our Lord’s words rang especially true: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against a house falleth.” (St. Luke 11:14+) America is divided by the politics of division itself.

It is tragically ironic that we are told we must return to a segregated society, and the call to make this happen has come from those who championed southern segregation and the ownership of slaves, the Democrat Party. 

The work of Martin Luther King and many others up to this day is being abandoned and denied. We are being separated into groups by the color of our skin. We are being told what to think and how to act according to rules of race.

This tyranny goes by the name of critical race theory or identity politics. Instead of restoring identities and celebrating our differences, powerful groups seek to foment war between races.

Those who seek to bring Americans together through common language, history, and idea,  to celebrate diversity, the many cultures that have enriched our country, are deemed racists, haters, and even terrorists.

As an Anglican, I have been part of congregations of mixed race and heritage. The Anglican Church, stemming from Britain and her Commonwealth, was and is a universal church, finding its way to Asia, India, Africa, and the Americas. We have members and clergy from all parts of the world. The native culture learned English as well as the Gospel message of salvation, but Bibles were translated into their own language as well. All this continues.

We celebrate an individual’s talents, gifts that will make our parish life vibrant.

And it is the common faith, common language, and common history as freedom-loving Americans that has made this globalism within a parish family thrive. It is Christianity that has brought freedom to those enslaved, whether chained by sin or by man.

Today I fear there is legislation by decree that threatens our wonderful melting pot. There is also a silencing of those who object, a silencing carried out by powerful interests joining to solidify their power: big business, big tech, big media, big government, big trade unions. These sectors use the politics of division to silence objections to twenty-first segregation and enslavement that they see as beneficial, at least to their own sector. 

For when speech is silenced, debate dies, respect for others, their opinions or skin color or belief system, turns into hatred and demonization. When academia becomes the training ground for groupthink, and fear of reprisal keeps students and faculty in lockstep, the next generation will march to the same tune, wear the same uniform, think the same thoughts. The boot in the face associated with dictatorships is near.

One hopes for the voiceless to find their voices, to stand up when they are told to fold, to hope when they are told to despair, to light the darkness of our world.

Christians understand freedom and its importance to practicing their faith of freedom. We have sent missionaries to their martyrdoms for centuries in the name of the faith and in the name of freedom to practice that faith. We understand objective truth and are attuned to slippery lies. We are trained in logic through theology and apologetics (even the Nicene Creed), in language through Holy Scripture, the ultimate Word, and in joy through experience of the holy, the divine, the eternal in sacraments, liturgy, and prayer. We understand the nature of love and its expression, sacrifice. We submit to Love’s demands in the Ten Commandments, the cardinal virtues, the fruits of the spirit, the Beatitudes. Amidst the chaos and suffering of this world, we see a greater good and we look to a greater Love when Christ leads us into the Holy City, the New Jerusalem. We know and grow to fully understand that this life is but a prelude to one of immense joy, but also justice.

We also see clearly that our present world must follow a similar path, live by a similar rule, be part of a similar hope, that the Judeo-Christian rule of righteousness, sometimes called natural law, gives order, secures peace, encourages individual dignity, and celebrates the sanctity of life.

We are told by powerful interests to erase the past, ignore or rewrite history to suit those in power. This is not our way. This is not the way of truth, of healing, of peace. Rather, history that celebrates freedom and human dignity in its heroes is a history that unites us. We must learn from our past, the rights and the wrongs.

We are told by powerful interests that speech must be controlled. This is not our way. This is not the way of artists, of writers, of painters, of musicians. This is not the way of beauty. This is not the way of celebrating the sanctity of every person made in the image of God.

It is a time for truth-telling, for honoring America’s promise, for hope that burns in Lady Liberty’s torch. It appears that it is a sputtering flame, a flame that all the world is watching carefully. For America is an exceptional land, one we cannot take for granted. America needs us, needs our words, our prayers, our love of one another. Liberty’s flame must burn bright.

February Journal, Second Sunday in Lent

It is a curious thing that the most beautiful season in the hills east of San Francisco usually coincides with Lent, a penitential time. The hills surrounding our house are a deep green from February through May, if we have enough rain. By Memorial Day the green grassy slopes dry to a golden brown until next year’s watering.

Angel Mountain, aka Mount Diablo, rises behind our house, and the white cross on its flanks stands bright against the green. Beyond the cross, the mountain rises to meet the sky, today a brilliant blue, the air blown clear by a brisk breeze.

Lent is a time of waiting and watching, the new year leaving winter behind and looking to spring. It is also a time of healing, of reconciling the accounts of our lives. As we did with New Year’s resolutions, we reflect on the path we have traveled and consider whether we have lost our way. We repent our wrong choices. We confess them to our Creator, to our Savior, with true tears.

The tears we cry water the brown parched places of our heart, like spring rains. We are watered with our own remorse, in hopes the promise is true – that we are forgiven when we repent, that we are forgiven when we forgive others who repent: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” Our Lord told us to pray.

Can there be forgiveness without repentance? I think not. “Go and sin no more,” Jesus commanded. And so we find the right path through the hills to the mountaintop intersecting the sky. We find the straight and narrow path of righteousness, led by the Shepherd whose voice we have come to know.

One of our preachers this morning (I tuned in to three liturgies and am becoming a sermon junkie) made the remarkable observation that we are to pray to God forcefully with no hesitation, as the Canaanite woman did, begging, in the Gospel today. We too are to ask as she did, arguing that even the dogs eat the crumbs from their master’s table. And indeed, she was forceful in her tone. When we petition God, we nearly demand, as the Psalmist does, crying out to God for help and healing and protection. Indeed, in The Lord’s Prayer, the model given to us by Christ Himself, the direct requests are clear: Give us, forgive us, lead us, deliver us. Our preacher said that in this way we get God’s attention. In this way He sees us, and we become sanctified as we travel through our time on Earth because He sees us.

All we do in the liturgy, all of our work we can call good, is for a simple reason – to be seen by God, to be sanctified. And as we are seen, we see.

We were blind, and now we see. It’s really not that complicated, the preacher said. God is our Father, and He loves us. He wants a relationship with us through His Son. And so we include in every prayer, “In the name of Jesus, Amen” as Christ told us to do. We are to ask in Jesus’ Holy Name, and we will be heard and seen by our Heavenly Father.

I have a prayer list of family and friends for whom I pray by name each evening. I add to this lovely necklace special requests for others, those I see suffering, those who have asked for my prayers. Sometimes I rattle off the names too quickly, by rote, and I try to slow down, to see the name with its face. The names are called out and as I say the name, the person enters my consciousness, bringing sweet memories of friendship, kinship, fellowship. I also pray for those who have trespassed against me and whom I have forgiven, as we are commanded to do. This is a stretch at times but is always a surprising balm for my soul. I pray for our leaders, for our country, for our Church, for our clergy, some by name.

Lent is a time of healing and as I watch the national stage and the currents of change not all for the good, some frightening, some discouraging, some a prelude to disaster, I know this is only a temporal time, a span on Earth we are given. But since it is our time we are responsible for what we do with our time. And we pray for the healing of our nation, the healing of our people, that God’s light shines in our nation’s darkness. We pray for freedom and faith and churches wide open to the suffering souls clamoring to enter. We pray for an end to mask mandates, to lockdowns, to fear itself.

In my recently released novel, Angel Mountain, the hermit Abram preaches from the hillside and baptizes in the pond near the white cross. The waterfall pouring into the pond is cold, but the line of penitents grows. Other not so penitent hover on the edges of the crowd, tapping their phones, feeding frenzied social media and calling Abram’s words hate speech. As masked Antifa move toward the hermit, police divert them. Suddenly lightning flashes above the mountain and thunder rumbles. The rain falls, splashing and dispersing the crowd into the day’s darkness.

Our world is fallen and falling still, careening downwards. But we are called in our time to heal our time with our time. For we are no longer blind. We see God and are seen by God. We are called to water our people with Christ. In Lent, we are called to remember the promise of Easter’s resurrection, the white cross rising on the green hillside.

New Post at ACFW, American Christian Fiction Writers

I am pleased to announce that ACFW has published my post today, “Unmasking Righteousness,” about how God speaks truth to his people through the voice of Christian fiction. Thank you, ACFW!

And congratulations ACFW on your beautiful new website!

February Journal, First Sunday in Lent

Rush Limbaugh died on Ash Wednesday this last week. Some said, “He always had good timing.” Perhaps, but we can’t control the timing of our death. I believe it was probably God’s timing.

I was introduced to Mr. Limbaugh’s radio show in the 1990’s when we were having some floor tiling done in our home. The workmen had the radio on. They were listening to Rush.

I listened too, from time to time, intrigued with his straightforward reasoning. He was a bit brash, as entertainers are. He was funny and interesting. I recall he would rustle paper during pauses, as if the paper were impatient. He may have drummed his fingers on the table. He was a master of the dramatic silence, allowing his reasoning to become your reasoning, allowing us all to follow his train of thought. Over the years I tuned in occasionally, in the car, in traffic, driving home from our chapel in Berkeley and wondering what his take on the world was at that point in time.

I was grieved over the various health problems he had. His courage gave us courage. His strength strengthened us. He misspoke from time to time and called people names (not unheard of in talk radio or for that matter any media). But he created a friendship with each one of us that is difficult to describe. I smiled when I heard he was getting married, as though he were a brother. He was funny and full of hyperbole. His station was the EIB station, Excellence In Broadcasting. His talent was “on loan from God.”

As a conservative, he spoke my thoughts, gave order to my logic. He said the things I wanted to say but didn’t have the forum or the opportunity or the courage or simply the words. He was concise. I imagined him rolling his eyes a good deal at some of the goings on in the world of the Left. He was much like Donald Trump. Both men did not “suffer fools gladly,” but saw clearly, saw that to make a log cabin you had to cut down trees. Ronald Reagan, the rough cowboy from Hollywood, was a leader like that as well, but it took hindsight to appreciate his gifts to America and the West.

More recently, with the threats to free speech in the public square, in academia, in church, he saw the direction these trends could take. He warned of the dangers ahead if we continued along this road. Others do this today, following his example, having been inspired by him.

So Rush Limbaugh died on Ash Wednesday in a country that is on fire, bit by bit burning to ash. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, we say in Lent, and we wear the ashen cross of Christ on our foreheads. We are reminded of our pride, the root of all sin. We are reminded to be humble, to watch and wait and listen, to allow God to rule us within and without.

Cruel and unseemly remarks have surfaced in the media regarding Rush Limbaugh’s death. Even in elitist conservative circles, he was considered beneath their notice, an embarrassment to the way they wished to proceed and be seen. These same elitist influencers, I believe, became spoilers in the presidential election, and I wonder if they reflect on the first hundred days of the new administration. They are responsible for these results.

Elitists are divisive and shunning and brimming with self-pride.

Pride kills. Pride is cancerous, devouring the heart and mind and soul. Pride is secretive, pretending to be something it is not, a destroyer of love. Pride is self-righteous. Pride puffs us up and looks the other way when convenient, recalling Germany in the 1930’s. Pride makes excuses for behavior, for keeping a distance from the working and middle classes. Pride kills the proud like a parasite. Pride is blinded to truth and efficacy and results. Pride lies and creates comforting narratives. Pride spews propaganda and marginalizes undesirable deplorables.

And so these forty days are a time to root out pride. They are days to kneel and reach to touch Christ’s robe to be healed. They are days to grow small, for the way is narrow. They are days to be silent, to listen for the Shepherd’s voice in His word and in His song and in His Church. They are days to empty the ashes of pride into the trash, to make room in our hearts for salvation and for the salvation of the world.

It is a time to take stock, to consider how to better protect and celebrate our country, to consider freedom and its erosion by the proud, the blind, the elites. It is time to come together as believers and as voters and as lovers of America. It is time for races and classes to find common ground as Americans, an exceptional people, to weave a new cloth with language and lore, with symbol and song, with stories of how we worked by the sweat of our brow, tilling the fields, protecting the weak, freeing the slaves, fighting for freedom at home and in the trenches of Europe.

Rush would have wanted that. Rush Limbaugh, rest in peace. May light perpetual shine upon you. Thank you for your courage, your wit, and your steadfastness. Thank you for your love of America and your love of we the people, Americans.

Most of all, thank you for reminding some of us that we are not alone in this great love.