The Gospel at Lent (according to The Velveteen Rabbit)

Was going through some newsletters
from the first church I served the other day…
and came across this article,
written about this same point in/during Lent:

I look forward in coming years to a bedtime ritual in which I can read bedtime stories to Katie [who was 5 months old at the time…  she’s crossed 30 years now…  where does the time go?!?!?].

I imagine such times will be truly meaningful and intimate.  I’ve already had a little practice in reading with nieces and I’ll admit I’ve done some private reading on the side to get extra “practice” for the future.

One of the books which I’ve met, and which has helped to give me a new perspective on children’s literature is The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams.  Listen for yourself:

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you.  When a child loves you for a long, long time, riot just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful.  “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become.  It takes a long time.  That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and you eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby.  But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

In this season of Lent —
with its eyes looking towards Easter,
I pray, even amidst the hurts and losses of life,
that you become “Real”
through the grace and love of God
which we know in Jesus Christ.

[I produced a video of this passage a few years latter–
for use in worship at Strawbridge UMC in Kingwood.
I provide it here, below as another ways of engaging this classic…]

To be sure, I was not ready for a call that followed that newsletter’s publication:

“What do you mean I am not real?!” the bellicose and somewhat slurred voice said at the other end.  “Are you saying I’m not real?!”

Somewhere in here I tried to explain that compared to God’s ultimate hopes and plan for us all, none of us is real, all of us is becoming.  But he wouldn’t, he couldn’t hear any of it…

“Oh, you don’t have any idea what your talking about!”, he finally concluded (with a few choice words thrown in).  “Where to you get off saying I’m not real?!” and he hung up.

Fact is, he wasn’t real.
It went beyond the fact that
he was a practicing alcoholic –
something pretty well know
to the whole church
and surrounding community.

Fact is, it could have been a call
from anyone in the community
and I would have said… and still would say:
“you are not fully real,
you haven’t arrived,
God is not through with you yet!”

It’s a crucial confession to the season.
It hints at a most fundamental Christian virtue
which must prevail
throughout this season
and our Christian lives:

  • Humility: not to be confused with humiliation…
    but with a proper recognition and estimation
    of who we are and whose we are.
  • Humility: that essential move of dying to self,
    taking up the cross,
    and following Jesus.
  • Humility: that willingness to die to lesser things,
    confident of greater things to come.
  • Humility: deriving from the word “humus” (dirt),
    it’s a good word as we enter this season…
    “Human, remember that thou art humus, dust…
    and to dust you shall return.”
  • Humility: with it’s age-old questions…

Are you dying to live — really live?
Are you dying to become real?

Taking Flight: God’s Part and My Part in Christian Spiritual Formation

Soren Kirekegaard (1813 to 1855) could be quite playful and pithy as he addressed the individual and corporate demands of the Christian life.  Like those of Jesus, Kierkegaard’s parables could/can sneak up on you — hitting you with truth when you least expect it.

The other day, I was introduced to one of his parables that I had not heard before.  It speaks to a paradox which we return to over and over again in our conversations about spiritual formation: namely, the essential tension of our part and of God’s/Grace’s part in our spiritual healing and development.

barnyard gooseA certain flock
of geese lived
together in a barnyard with
high walls around it. Because the corn
was good and the barnyard was secure, these geese would never take a risk.

One day a philosopher goose came among them. He was a very good philosopher and every week they listened quietly and attentively to his learned discourses. ‘My fellow travelers on the way of life,’ he would say, ‘can you seriously imagine that this barnyard, with great high walls around it, is all there is to existence? I tell you, there is another and a greater world outside, a world of which we are only dimly aware. Our forefathers knew of this outside world. For did they not stretch their wings and fly across the trackless wastes of desert and ocean, of green valley and wooded hill? But alas, here we remain in this barnyard, our wings folded and tucked into our sides, as we are content to puddle in the mud, never lifting our eyes to the heavens which should be our home.’

The geese thought this was very fine lecturing. ‘How poetical,’ they thought. ‘How profoundly existential. What a flawless summary of the mystery of existence.’ Often the philosopher spoke of the advantages of flight, calling on the geese to be what they were. After all, they had wings, he pointed out. What were wings for, but to fly with? Often, he reflected on the beauty and the wonder of life outside the barnyard, and the freedom of the skies.

And every week the geese were uplifted, inspired, moved by the philosopher’s message. They hung on his every word. They devoted hours, weeks, months to a thoroughgoing analysis and critical evaluation of his doctrines. They produced learned treatises on the ethical and spiritual implications of flight. All this they did. But one thing they never did. They did not fly! For the corn was good, and the barnyard was secure!”

Yes, God and Grace have equipped us to soar…
and filled our lives with reminders of that great promise!
And, small though it may be (in comparison to these rich gifts),
ours it still the responsibility (i.e., the ability to respond)–
of trusting and
of stretching wings and
of slipping the bonds of comfort zones and insecurities.

We’ve Refreshed Our Resources/Links Page!

updated linksAs part of Zoe-Life’s mission
(to facilitate experiences and discussions
about d
eeper-fuller life and living
in individuals and faith communities),
we maintain a resource section on our web site —
pointing folks to a whole host
of internet-based resources and materials
for spiritual formation.
Much of it is ripe for the [free] picking!

To be sure, there’s a lot of junk out there on the Web, too.

All the more reason to have a three-fold test
for the sites and resources that we commend:
a) a sense of theological balance/integrity,
b) an abundance of quality materials, and
c) minimal costs, if any (to engage these resources).

We’ve just finished an update of that section…

  • We’d love to have you visit and sift through the mix.
  • We’d love to hear what resources were worthwhile to you (and why)…
    and what resources weren’t so worthwhile to you (and, perhaps, why)
  • And, we’d love to hear about those online resources that have been a source of blessing and enrichment for you in your journey of spiritual formation!

Happy gleaning!


The Baptism of Christ: “Respect the Union”

Mind The Gap

This last Sunday, many congregations observed “Baptism of Christ Sunday.”

At St. Andrew’s Episcopal (in Bryan, TX), Fr. Daryl Hay shared the story of Dr Margaret McCollum—grieving the loss of a precious voice that once encouraged folks riding the London Underground rail system to “Mind [or respect… pay attention to] the Gap [between the cars and the platform].”

A few external links may tell the story better than I can:

That story seated, Fr. Daryl went on to ruminate about God’s voice speaking over Jesus, there at the Jordan “station”: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17)

It’s a truth (for me, at least) that while “you can take the preacher out of the pulpit, you can not take the pulpit out of the preacher.”

So that, I found my mind playing with that metaphor in multiple ways:

  • Seeing and framing the words of the Old Testament prophets (or, at least, a significant portion of their words) as a message of “mind the gap”—observe, respect, pay attention to the gap (or the differential) between God and humanity.

  • But, then, seeing God’s words at the Baptism of Jesus as signaling a significant shift — in which the message, now, is “mind the union” (i.e., observe and pay attention to and respect and honor the union of God and humanity in Jesus)!

And we, who sit and wait with Jesus
there at the Jordan…
We find tears gently rolling down our cheeks.
A voice, a word,
once lost to our hearing,
has been restored…
and, with it, our consolation.

Not sure whether I’ll share this addendum with Fr. Daryl or not.
(Not sure whether I’d appreciate another preacher
saying something to the effect of
“hey, look what I did with your story!”)

But, maybe that’s the nature of preaching in and for all of us:
that Deep calls to deep in one
and ripples out from there into the depths of others—
becoming what each needs to see and hear.

Reel Theology: Join the Conversation!

reel theologyRuminations is the name we’ve given to a [free, downloadable] “Seasonal/Quarterly Spiritual Formation Resource, especially designed as a guide for personal or small group retreats-devotions.  (For back issues as well as a link to an article highlighting the basis of “Ruminations” as the title of this quarterly, go to

(with its images of light shining on [and through?] things,
illuminating truth for
all the world to see)
seems like a perfect season for us to ponder the power of cinema as an channel of spiritual formation—the basis of our next issue of Ruminations (to be released on Wednesday, January 8).

Page 3&4 of this coming issue
(focused on “Reel Theology: Focused Conversations
at the Intersection of Hollywood and Divine”)
posits a host of our favorite movies
(valued for the ways they spark meaningful spiritual conversations),

Movies for Young Adults and Older (in alpha order)…
* August Rush (2007)
* Amadeus (1984)
* Chocolat (2000)
* The Color Purple (1985)
* Dead Poets Society (1989)
* The Godfather Trilogy (1972, 1974, 1990)
* Grand Canyon (1991)
* Groundhog Day (1993)
* The Help (2011)
* Hoosiers (1986)
* The Last of the Mohicans (1992)
* The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000)
* Les Misérables (1998)
* Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001, 2002, 2003)
* Mass Appeal (1984)
* The Matrix (1999)
* The Mission (1986)
* Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995)
* Schindler’s List (1993)
* Shawshank Redemption (1994)
* Silence (2016)
* Tender Mercies (1983)
* The Truman Show (1998)
* The Way (2010)

Movies for Young Families
* Radio (2003)
* Rudy (1993)

Movies for Children
* Finding Nemo (2003)
* Frozen (2013)
* Lion King (1994)

Also included in this issue is an invitation to “Join the Conversation.”

And so, we open up the reply section, below—inviting you to…

  • Affirm our choices (of tope films to watch)… and/or register a few of your own favorites.
  • Or, maybe, enter into a discussion about whether the Church/Christians should be hosting such conversations about engaging cinema as a “spiritual discipline.”