23 hours and 15 minutes

Crawled out of bed at 2:15am, got washed, shaved, dressed, kissed my sleepy wife good-bye and headed out on the trip to the airport.  Parked, went through security with no bags except my briefcase and made my way to the gate.  Flew to Nashville, TN and, even with having lived in FL for 10 years, felt like I was suddenly, really in the South.  Rented a car and drove to the address I was given with GPS.

When I got there I stopped short because I was suddenly at the right number on a semi-busy road and backed into the driveway.  There were three young adults on the front stoop.  I hopped out and asked, “Are there Cloningers here?”  They all smiled and nodded and so I hopped back in and backed up the driveway and behind the house, got out and came in.

There was grown-up Lilly who said, as she came across the room and hugged me, “I’m Lilly.  Gosh, I haven’t seen you in soooo long.”  I said, “I know, yeah, but I’ve seen pictures of you right along.”

And so I was in Nashville, TN at a brief stop on my way to Franklin, TN to be with my friends Curt and Tish Cloninger as they celebrated the life of their son, Kappel.  I caught up with them at the house, met Lilly’s friends and their friends, the ones helping with the service, and then we drove on to the church in Franklin.

The place flooded with young adults.  There were older people.  I was there.  But, it was filled with young people who had come to touch something other than death.  One person made the comment, ”Look at how many people loved Kappel” and they were corrected with, “No… look at how many people Kappel loved.”  Both true.  These people had come to touch love again.

All the best stories are about what we do for love and Kappel’s life grew into the Best of Stories… what Love did for us.  The shared experience of this day was love.  It was sisters and brothers, friends and family, mom and dad, God and his people.  It was a joyful, deep celebration of how high, strong and eternal is Love.  Death is not stronger than Love because Love’s strength is light and the darkness of death has no defense.  The celebration was amazing and beautiful.  It shared, re-created the experience, of how Kappel’s darkness was flooded with the light of Love and how it pervaded every relationship and moment he had.  It was so much about what a mess he was and his life was and how it was from out of the mess that the light now shone into the lives of those who also recognized the mess they were… or who found permission with him to admit it.

Said my good-byes and gave and got the hugs.  Hopped back into the car and rode the GPS back to the airport.  Came through security, still with just a briefcase and found my gate.  Flew to PA, found the Jeep, drove back home, kissed my sleepy wife and climbed into bed and fell asleep at about 1:30am.  All for love.


Singing in the Run

As I left for work today a young boy crossed the driveway ahead of me, walking along the sidewalk, on his way to school.  Backpack on his back and swagger in his step and song in his mouth.  He was about 9 years old and he was into his song.  And the song was into him.  It was in every corpuscle and working its way out into the sunshine.  I couldn’t understand the words, all in Spanish, but I could understand the joy.

Phrases were conducted to the empty porches.  Treetops were signaled to pay attention with pointed fingers for particular words.  Sections of sidewalk were dance floors flowing one to the next for the bouncing, tapping, shifting sneakered feet.

As I walked behind him I couldn’t help but smile because it felt like the sunshine of the cool morning had found a second source.  Maybe it was just reflective, but it seemed to be generated from this little heart, shining into the freedom of his walk to school.

As I came up alongside him at the corner where the light was against him, the beat and melody subsided into humming, tapping.  His head bobbled as he checked out the street, the light, the traffic, me… but then it connected with the tune that percolated throughout.  Occasional tiny half words popped with the gentle pressure that permeated his frame.  He had a small, tan burnished face and squinting eyes in the morning sun,

The traffic dissipated and the light changed and I was ahead of him for a few steps, but the music returned, now filling the air around me.

And then it shot past, as we came to the next sidewalk, like something had signaled that it was time to really move.  He went into a run, but the song didn’t change in pace or flow, except to grow louder.  Before it stopped, if it did, he was clearly out of earshot, running in his song.  I heard his singing run until it just faded from being too far down the block and mixing with the car and people and morning air noise.

I walked on considering this marvel and recognizing my desire to be part of it, to do it myself.  I wanted to run and sing.  I was part of this grand, good day as well.  I know life and God’s good grace and peace in my heart.  Sing and run!  I walked on, smiling and whistling and came by the school where this warrior harpist had rushed so valiantly to face the challenges that would come.  I walked on and felt this confirmation in my soul.

I am singing and running.  I felt this verified thoroughly, throughout myself, down to my toes.  I am doing it in different ways.  But I also realized, for this to be true it must be evident to anyone who might catch sight of me.  I pointed to the top of the tree I was passing and said, “Do it.”  And whistled and slid and tapped the rest of the way to work, ready to face the challenges to come.


Why I Love this Week

Every Sunday people make their way to church hoping something will happen, some encounter with the holy will take place.  They ache for a moment when the stuff of the deeper truth of the world surfaces.  They watch, with a slight holding of breath even, seeking to experience something within the patterns of the day that reveals, pulls back the curtain.

In ancient times, people spoke of thin places, times and locations when the physical and spiritual world grew close to touch.  This week is that for me.  This is when the tangible and the conceptual and the spiritual and the emotional converge like Van Gogh’s paintbrush.  This is when the colors of the week’s events I see are mixed by Parrish but the lighting is focused by Rembrandt.  The breath I breathe feels like constant prayer.  And while I probably seem like I have something else on my mind to others, the truth is that I feel more attuned to what is going on.  I’m paying attention more than usual.

“God’s grace is the most incredible and insurmountable truth ever to be revealed to the human heart…” wrote John Bunyan (author of Pilgrim’s Progress).  This is the time when I feel closest to reality. It’s like nothing is too far away or isn’t included.  God is very present and it is because of the humanity of Jesus.

I find the hope of the world in Jesus because I find the presence of God in him.  Every expression of doubt or challenge that I am offered or find growing within myself, continues to be confronted by the act of grace and love in his sacrifice and the proof found in the resurrection.  I cannot account for the change in myself or the promises I find fulfilled in life outside of his work, teaching and life.

Many years ago I sat in a diner with a friend who said to me, “I bet you’re the kind of person who believes that there is something in everyone, something they have to offer.”  I agreed.  He went on to ask, “But, what about the person who has nothing, who brings nothing because there is nothing inside them?”  I said, “Everyone has something.”

Having spent time talking with coke-addicted prostitutes, impoverished and self-centered welfare recipients, entitled and wealthy and thoughtless teenagers, hard-working practical atheists, faithless priests, simple believers, sexually consumed child abusers, exhausted fathers and mothers just trying to do their jobs, those who admit no pain nor connection with others and those who can’t get enough of others… I still find the same thing.  Everyone has something.

The worth I discovered in my own soul and find now in others’ souls stepped up from the empty tomb.  This week of Jesus’ was given over to making that worth fully realized and I find that tangible expression of love insurmountable.  This is the week I touch holy.


Power Addict

It’s been interesting, in a frightening sort of way, to watch the rise of Donald Trump.  One interesting moment came in the numerous responses to the support Trump is receiving from evangelicals.  I guess I’m surprised at the surprise expressed in many of these articles or blogs.  Evangelicals (with a capital “E”… I consider myself an evangelical) are addicted to power and that’s what they are aching for.  The Donald delivers the fix.

Like all addictions, power is subtle.

It seeks to take us, body and soul, completely by undermining our relational guidelines.  Relationship keeps us out of addiction.  As we depend on others, give to others and are grateful for others, we desire life and living.  We are satisfied in many deep and abiding ways.  An addiction grows as it replaces this satisfaction with want and it does that sometimes in the very cells of our bodies.  Very gently, addiction replaces our relationships with separation so that, over time, we ache for no one and nothing except the feeling we receive from the drug of choice.

This can happen with power.  We feel like we can “make things happen.”  We love when people give in and do as we want.  Evangelicalism, in its worst forms, has focused on bending people to its will through conversion.  Unfortunately, it moved away from conversion to Jesus and following him to conversion to a culture.  The culture was what it created around Jesus… “Jesus stuff.”  Jesus stuffConferences, trinkets, study Bibles in all colors, studies, videos, radio stations, clothes, pundits, separation from other culture… all to build a sense of protection and worth that didn’t rely on God’s grace.  It sought to make people believe its culture and to fall into line with behavioral patterns.  The trouble is that these patterns are focused on perfection and purity and not on relationship with people or God.  The aim is to be good, not to be real.  The dominance with its pressure to submit individually, in groups, through teachings, music and books, reveals the greater importance of power and authority over other people.

When the Moral Majority came into a period of national attention, the movement became focused on wielding political power.  Candidates fed this need by wooing the leaders.  Those following the leaders began to feed on the trickle-down obsession.  Even though the national attention shifted away because the hollow core was revealed through cascading scandals, the need and the need to feed remains.  Trump is simply giving them a free ride and they’re basking in the high.  When they realize that they have gained no ground but actually fallen into a deeper expression of loss, they’re going to get angry, but it won’t matter.

The example of humility, abiding in trusting God’s power, seeking others’ significance provided by Jesus has nothing to do with this community any more.  As has been the case for over 2000 years, the future of faith will be led by those who pray and assist their children to discover the One who is the heart of that conversation, the One who guides them deeply into relationship with other human beings, rather than those who anguish over it not being forced in schools anymore.



It’s a snowy day in Lancaster as well as a holiday.  So, time to think and read and catch a movie and just hang out inside (especially with the heat working again).  I was in between things when I noticed a gift from my birthday almost 2 years ago.  It was a Peanuts lunch box that had been sitting on the bookshelf for almost that whole time.  I was pretty sure there was something in it, but just hadn’t picked it up since then.  High time…

I opened it to find a t-shirt, a Spiderman t-shirt exactly like the one my wife gave me for Christmas this year.  It still had the label on it.  So, now I have two.  Which is great, but I was shocked because this was the top of the pile in this stuffed little box.  I continued down and discovered all the birthday cards I’d saved.  Suddenly I was back on that summer day reliving the thoughts and experiences.  Then, after the cards, I discovered another gift… the book, “The Boys in the Boat.”Peanuts box

I wandered around the house for at least a year, looking through bookshelves, under tables, beds, couches… wondering what had happened to my copy.  Finally, when I knew I’d have some time, I bought a new copy to read.  So, now I have two.

I was just putting the box back, along with my first copy of the book, when I noticed another metal tinMarvel box and wondered what might be in there.  It was a birthday card from 25 years back from our oldest daughter – handmade and filled with a whole other set of memories.  So, now both boxes are filled with memories and cards and won’t be forgotten this time.

I’ve noticed that when I touch it (whatever “it” might be) twice, I tend not to forget what it is or where it is.  Memories stored and then handled again, later, become part of me even more than the first experience.  It’s made me think of how much I let pass by once and the importance of reflection, of seeing it again, handling it again, touching it twice.  Then it becomes more than treasured.  It becomes part of what is known.  What was written in those cards has become part of me more deeply.

There’s a story in the Bible about a guy named Gideon.  For many years I heard that I should NOT follow the example of Gideon who asked God to prove himself twice.  God had sent an angel to tell Gideon that God was going to use him to help Israel.  Gideon laid out a fleece and said that if this was true that God should make the ground wet with dew the next morning, but that the fleece would be dry.  God did it.  But, then Gideon asked for further proof.  This time make the ground dry and the fleece wet.  (The first time could have been just a fluke, you know.)  And the next morning the ground was dry and the fleece was wringing wet.

I don’t think of Gideon as a bad example any more.  After examining the story for myself, I now think that Gideon wasn’t testing God.  He was confessing his fear.  The wonder I see is that it never says God was bothered by Gideon’s request and that Gideon let it be after the second touch.  He knew all he needed to know and that meant he could move ahead, even while being afraid.

Touching it twice secures it in our souls.  It becomes part of us.  So, I’ve practiced that.  When I think God is telling me to do something I say, “Huh… if that’s you, do it again.”  If it happens again, then I know I better get about doing whatever it seems like I was told to do… even if it scares me silly.  But, it’s now part of me and I don’t forget.



When is 57 degrees HOT?
When your furnace has been dead for almost 2 weeks and a new one just took its place… that’s when.  The thermostat says it is 57, but I can tell you that the house is cooking!thermostat
Just after the second highest recorded snowfall in Lancaster, the Kohlers’ 30 year- old furnace decided it had had enough.  We had a couple of companies look at it and they agreed… “she’s not only merely dead, she’s really most sincerely dead.”
furnace2          The good news was that I was signed up for a pastors conference that included spouses in Orlando, FL.  So we stuck it out for 4 days… blankets, little electric heater, closed doors, sectioning off rooms, opening the front window blinds to let the sunlight add any warmth it could and plenty of clothes.  We made arrangements for a new furnace and then we boarded the plane for Florida.
We got 5 days at the conference and then Beckie waved as I flew back to brave the next 3 days and nights.  Over the week we were gone the temperature rose to 45 degrees and when I got back it was still hovering in the low 40’s, but then it dipped.  Twenties and thirties kind of dug their fingers into the old bricks until today.  Do you know how cold bed sheets can get?
Having camped quite a bit I own a great thermal undershirt.  It came out of the depths of my dresser and became my second skin.  And you know, if you have some things to cook, standing in front of a stove is a great idea.  I made sugar cookies, homemade chili, hot tea, oatmeal, eggs and bacon… I was cooking up a storm.  Hot baths and showers… it’s like liquid grace.  There are not enough words to describe the wonders of hot water.
And then today, these guys show up with this brand new furnace.  It’s half the size with 30 times the efficiency.  They finished about 5pm.  By the time they were leaving the house was up to 52.  Now it is up to 58 and gradually beating back the cold and getting ready for the next snow that is supposed to start by midnight.  I can’t wait.

I can’t help thinking about God’s warm love.  I can’t help thinking about the time in my life when things were way cold and dark.  I can’t help remembering that something melted within me when Jesus found me.  It’s the difference between just surviving, just figuring out what else will help at least for a little while, and the freedom of movement and living at ease.  It’s not always being mind-full that you have to deal with it and deal with it and deal with it.  Being back in my house, in its sheltering warmth, is life… life again and I am grateful.

Hope you’re warm,


The second highest recorded snowfall hit Lancaster City and I went out to dig.  I decided that I’d see how it was as soon as it finished coming down.  I worked for an hour and my sweat started to chill.  So I went in.WP_20160123_003

The next morning, I came out the side-porch door because the back door wouldn’t open.  The snow was above my knees, half-way up to my waist from there.  I dug straight across so I could begin piling into the garden. To get the snow cleared down to the pavement took 3-4 shovelfuls.  So, it was sort of like shoveling the whole driveway four times.WP_20160124_003

With a third of the driveway to my left and 2/3’s to my right I started right, to go out to the road.  Every hour I would stop and stand with the shovel in my hand, catch my breath and consider the effectiveness of my labor.  Once, while standing, a neighbor I knew came walking by with a shovel in his hand.  He smiled and waved. “Hi,” I said.

About 15 minutes later the same neighbor walked past in the other direction, this time with his wife who also had a shovel.  This time he stopped and looked at the 3-4 foot-deep stretch of white between us.

“Ah…” he said, “Are you… are you… ah… are you making a path for your CAR?!  Are you digging a way out so you can get your car out?”  I pointed at my sister-in-law’s car and said, “Well, I have to get her out by the time she gets home on Monday… so yeah.”

“Wow,” he said, “I was going to say we could help you, but… ah… that’s going to take you HOURS!!”  I said, “Yup!” and smiled.  Can you see the humor?

I went back to work.  As I did, person after person came by with shovels and waved.  I waved back and then cleared it out to the sidewalk and then did the sidewalk and also did the front steps.  At that point I came back to the end of the driveway.  There between me and the cleared portion of the street was an ice-filled, heavy-packed, plow truck pushed up bank, easily 4 feet high and 8 feet deep (to the road) and 14 feet wide.  I took a deep breath and started.

Somewhere after the 7th shovelful, I felt myself run out of gas.  There was no way I was going to make it through.  I turned around and looked at the third of the drive that still needed doing in the other direction.  I went into the house.

I sat down and sent out word to several emails and said, “Help!”  Within 5 minutes a ping hit and Jim from around the corner said he was on his way.WP_20160124_005  In another 20 a second response came by phone from Maurizio who said he was driving into the city. In 20 after that Dawn came to help us finish.  I can’t tell you how it seemed at times like snow was simply disappearing from the driveway.  I couldn’t help but laugh.

Joy in neighbors.  Joy in friends.  Joy in hearing the words, “If this happens again… call us first.” WP_20160124_006

Ecclesiastes 4:9,10

Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their labor:
10 If either of them falls down,
one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
and has no one to help them up.

Geoff (The one who was helped up)