Posts Tagged With: journey

A New Ministry Journey – Seeking the Shalom of the University

This summer I’m beginning in a new ministry focus.  Here’s a brief view into the journey on which God is leading me.

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.  -Jeremiah 29:4-7

IMG_3384God is doing a tremendous work on the universities in Greater Cincinnati, a work similar of that to which he calls the exiles in Babylon. While campuses are not places of exile, at least for most people, the call to seek the peace of the place where we are situated is universal.

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, through its Graduate and Faculty Ministries, is helping to “build homes and plant gardens” on these campuses by walking alongside graduate students and faculty in their callings to these places, helping them along their journeys as they seek to live out the life of God’s kingdom on campus and to draw others into His peace. These are the people God is using to transform the universities.  Starting July of this year, I will be joining InterVarsity in this mission.

During the past years serving at UC, I’ve seen how God is working on campus, particularly in the lives of graduate students and faculty. As these individuals delve deeply into research across disciplines and teach undergraduates, they are having a significant impact on the university and beyond. Yet, there is also great need for them to see God’s mercy in their lives and seek opportunities to reach out with this same mercy to others. That is, to continue to seek God’s welfare in this place.

In the context of the campus, we are seeking the welfare of places where people are learning about God’s amazing creation, cultivating and sharing a love for beauty, and speaking mercy into the hurts of the world. It’s also a place where God’s shalom – true peace and welfare – is often absent. This lack of peace is seen through the isolation and alienation that many students and faculty experience, the extreme workloads that can result in stress and broken lives, or the divisive interactions among individuals and departments. Over the past months God’s words to Jeremiah have been an encouragement and model for the lives of graduate students and faculty as they yearn see God’s peace on campus.

  • Students have been remembering the ways God has been faithful over the past months and want desire to share this faithfulness with others;
  • Faculty have been praying for the campus and starting to meet for Bible study and prayer.
  • Both students and faculty have been asking what it looks like to be Christ on campus.

As I begin to work full-time with IVCF this summer, my focus is on planting and building communities of graduate students and faculties at UC and NKU – bringing together people who love God, learning, and the campus  To be able to do so, I’m also building a support team to surround this ministry in prayer and ongoing financial support in monthly increments of $25 to $200. There are also opportunities to partners by supplying meals, mentoring, and hosting events. If you would like to learn more about this work, and partnership in it, please contact me at  You can also check out or Cincinnati Case Brochure PDF. Though I’ve been on campus for several years, this change is a new journey in trusting God and serving him on campus.  I’m excited to see where He takes this work.

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Ask for the Ancient Paths

IMG010Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. – Jeremiah 6:16

Have you ever wondered where all our inner turmoil gets us?

As I look back over my journal entries from last year I am struck by how much complaining and critiquing they contain.  Nothing major or incisive about the world – just a general negative picture of daily life.  I didn’t get enough sleep.  I didn’t want to work.  I felt hemmed in.  For the most part I saw life as something to get through to reach the a few times of rest.  I wanted it to be different, but I struggled to see how.

Trying to honestly assess my life, I fell into a spiral of complaining.  It started because I was frustrated by an underlying and nagging discontent. If I pinpointed where and what was holding me back from the job I wanted, from writing, from building friendships, I could get rid of it and go on with life.  Yet, my reflections had the opposite outcome.  Instead of making me more free, these complaints became the reality of my life.  It was a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I needed an external prophet to point to the way out of this turmoil.  Words of God from the prophet Jeremiah speak of such a new path.

  • Stand by the roads and look

I’ve got to get out and look, not inside myself, but to the ways out there. Some are roads I’ve walked on; others have been trod by friends, family, other pilgrims.  The point is I’ve got to go out.

  •  Ask for the ancient paths, where the way is good

I need to ask, not strike out on my own to try to fix, to create a story that will work.  Instead, the Lord is calling his people to ask him for these roads.  He will guide as he did Abraham, Ruth, Nehemiah, and many others.

  •  Walk in it and find rest for your souls.

Finally, I need to walk along these paths.  Not sit and fret about why I can’t, or give excuses.  It’s time to go, and in the going with God, find the rest that I can’t create myself.

I’ve been doing it all wrong.  I’ve struggled to create the road and then do the walking – all on my own.  I also haven’t taken the time to stand and look.  What I thought was a year of honest looking, wasn’t.  At least it wasn’t the right kind of looking.  Instead of getting out and seeing where God had lain the roads for me, I stayed inside and dreamt about the comfort of remaining within.  Safe.  Secure.  I tried to put together the perfect story and plan for life.  Again, by myself.  And along the way I stopped looking at the roads and became comfortable in the ditch.

Overall, last year wasn’t terrible.  There were quite a few highlights – conversations with friends, travels to authors’ homes, new ministry opportunities.  As I consider what was different about the life-giving times, I realize that in those moments I was looking outside of myself, standing by the roads and taking time to consider the ancient paths.

And, yes, every once in awhile, actually walking.

It’s time to change to use these moments as my models, instead of the endless complaining.  Instead of focusing on what’s not working and what I don’t like, it’s time to get out.  To look at the roads, to pray to see those ancient paths, and to walk in the good ways more often.  I have it on good authority that Someone will be with me as I do so.

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What Will You Make Today?

What will you make today?  Mako Fujimura in his commencement address to the 2012 class at Biola asks a question that we may expect of artists.  (You can watch the commencement address here .) They, of course, are in the business of creating.  However, he was speaking to a students going into many different fields – finance, medicine, teaching, and more.  Ultimately his point is not to make everyone into artists, but help them become more conscious of the image of the Creator we carry within us.  Are we stepping out as creators, aware of what we are making in this world or are we satisfied with consuming the creations of others?   

This is a very different stance than my usual way of starting a project or even waking each morning.  Usually I begin by considering everything that I have to do, often driven by outside forces.  Sometimes it gets to the point of my barely being able to start the day because it seems so laden with the expectations of others.  I feel shackled.  I’m not making anything, just continuing along the same rut of getting things done.

Yet, asking the question – what will I make today – does change my perspective.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that I will throw off all responsibilities that I have to others.   I do have duties to fulfill for those with whom I work, to family, and to a church community.  However, if I see myself making something in these relationships instead of just being pushed along, a new sense of freedom emerges.  Instead of being frustrated with shopping for yet another meal I have to make for students, I can create a feast around which people will gather and build community.  Or, instead of having to plod through the steps of finishing a family estate plan, I can help create a legacy.  At times, the end product may look the same, but how I relate to the activity and the people involved are very different.

It is vital to be conscious of what we make each day.  Our interactions with others are creating relationships and may give people hope or despair.  In the small tasks we do we can see a bunch of scattered work that amounts to nothing or a series of activities that God has put into our lives.  As we move into this way of thinking, maybe we start to get rid of unimportant and unnecessary activities or see them anew.  We may even take on the latent yearnings deep within us.  What will I make today?  I will start putting together landscape quilts of pilgrimages.  I will work on deepening friendships.

A significant part of this creation comes because we are made in the image of God, the ultimate creator.   How does this making relate to God’s creative Word?  It’s comforting to know we are not alone in this making or without guidance.  Even so, there is a need to be careful in the making.  Why are we doing it?  Is it constructive – or destructive?  How does it relate to the community?  How do we see ourselves, as the all mighty creator or as the servant to others?  When we are aware of what we are making, we can become aware of how this making effects others.

So, what are you making?  A book, a blog post, a journey plan, a new friend, an environment for people to see God, a picture of hope.  This question of making helps us find that story that leads us on pilgrimage.  What will you make today?

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A Pilgrimage of a Bible Study

I’ve cut and pasted sections of past work research and writing into a new document.  It’s now ready to look at it from a new perspective, for a new audience – a Bible study on pilgrimage for a local church.  This isn’t so much following the theme of pilgrimage throughout the Bible (which is another project that would be fun), but delving into historical and theoretical research I’ve pursued in this field and weaving it together with passages from scripture.

Part of me is reluctant to put together this study.  If I keep this work safe on my shelves and in my mind, then no one can criticize what I’ve done or tell me that I need to look at these ideas in a different way.  Yet, does such an attitude accomplish anything?  I remember my initial enthusiasm for reading about the stories of individuals who struck out on these journeys to reach sacred sites – and for many different reasons.  St. Helena, Constantine’s mother, traveled Jerusalem and is said to have discovered the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial.  A nun, Elgeria, went to the Holy Land to have a deeper experience of God’s Word.  In the Middle Ages some individuals may have trekked long distances on pilgrimages wanting primarily to get out of town on one of the few accepted reasons for travel.

As I look at this new study, I want to share some of these intriguing stories of early pilgrims, along with a simple description of how pilgrimage ‘works’, and ways that people can step into pilgrimage even without traveling to the ends of the earth (though such journeys are pretty amazing).  This is an uncomfortable liminal space for me – one of starting conversations about pilgrimage even though I may not know the outcome.  I’m between feeling goad about my research (a somewhat finished product) and putting it in front of other people to interact with.  What will they ask?  How will it meet them in their life stories?  What will I learn?

Will this change the world?  Probably not.  But it may change me and maybe a few people – opening us to that that pilgrimage dynamic, that transformation that can occur in the midst of place, story, and pilgrim.


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The Writing Life – Solitary or Communal?

What a solitary journey the writing life can be.  We create alone.  Only we as individuals can put pen to paper or fingers to keys to share the ideas that are in our minds.  We need time away from everything and everyone to reach the deep waters of creativity within.  Consider the image of a writer with well-worn clothes and crumpled paper at his feet, furiously working in an empty garret.  Or, within the walls of a beach house on an island looking out at the sea, typing away on the novel that has been welling up within her for years.

But do we have to be alone?  When working on individual projects it is necessary to spend time apart from others – sometimes many hours.  However, that does not mean that we are by ourselves.  We are surrounded by many who have gone before us – authors, teachers, family, or friends.  They are part of the community that has shaped and continues to shape us.  I can’t sit down to write without feeling a sense of the joy of reading.  That little girl who loved to hear her mother read books before bed is grown, but the comfort of those stories and of the people who shared them with me continues.

Walden Pond

In addition, as I write I am in the worlds of Jane Eyre and Heidi, Walden Pond and the Bible.  Books have and continue to be an essential part of my being.  I am drawn to the words and to the characters.  Sometimes I remember the plots and settings as if I had lived them.  I can return to them intentionally.  Along with their works, authors’ lives influence me as I learn about their inspirations, practices, and trials.  They are all part of this creative community.

Then there are those who are actively part of my writing today: teachers, writing groups, readers of blogs.  We sharpen each other’s art as we see how ideas play among a group.  To be honest, I’ve been reluctant to engage with such a community.  It’s safe to keep writing for myself and only dream about sending it into the world.  However, I’m more and more aware that writing is not only about putting words on a page in solitude.  It is also about engaging others with those words – and engaging with the words of others. The small writing group I’m involved with keeps me honest, provides thoughtful encouragement, and keeps me writing.  Through this blog I’m learning that there may be even more who are part of this community and who can hone this work.

Ultimately, that lone artist image isn’t so ideal or even true.  Writing and other creative endeavors do not need to be solitary practices. Why should they be?  The ultimate creator – God – created the earth in community as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and continues to even involve his ultimate creation, humanity, in this project.

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Truth Telling

I like truth, but in a safe, quiet way.  To turn it over in my mind, talk about it with friends who agree, and to pat myself on the back for believing the right things.  This type of truth isn’t difficult.  I tend to steer clear of speaking truths when I know there will be dissension.  And with students I don’t think I’ve ever really called them out to look at the truth in their lives – to examine how they spend their time, to challenge their thinking.  As with so many other people, I want to be liked.

As I look at life as pilgrimage I can easily fall into the trap of just allowing people to go off and learn on their own.  It’s their journey.  They will eventually reach their destination.  However, as pilgrims journeyed to sacred sites in the Middle Ages, knights along the way shared warnings about thieves ahead, priests and monks invited travelers to come off the road and rest, and fellow pilgrims sharpened each other’s views of God’s Word.  As faith ancestors of the elect exiles to whom Peter wrote his first letter and of Christian pilgrims over the centuries, we really should do no less with others on – and soon to be on – this journey of following Jesus.

Often I’m leery of the truth telling because I may be wrong.  Who am I to tell anyone about their lives?  Do I really believe God’s Word fully?  Do I really love Christ enough?  Do I sit at the cross?  At the cross.  This may be the best place from which to tell the truth –  in a posture of knowing my place as fully dependent on Christ for forgiveness and life.  The ultimate story Christians are journeying toward is wrapped up in God’s perfect mercy and justice that came together at the cross.  It’s not a safe place.  But the truth here gives amazing life.

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Pilgrim Desire

Sitting here in the middle of April with rain coming down, I long for a journey.  A trek to a place of sun and adventure. Or, maybe a wind swept moor.  It’s time for a pilgrimage, as Chaucer and his fellow pilgrims knew full well.  Time to travel towards a sacred story.  Time to get away in order better to live the story back at home.

Where would you go?  What story would you follow?


When April with his showers sweet with fruit

The drought of March has pierced unto the root

And bathed each vein with liquor that has power

To generate therein and sire the flower;

When Zephyr also has, with his sweet breath,

Quickened again, in every holt and heath,

The tender shoots and buds, and the young sun

Into the Ram one half his course has run,

And many little birds make melody

That sleep through all the night with open eye

(So Nature pricks them on to ramp and rage)-

Then do folk long to go on pilgrimage, . . .

Canterbury Tales Prologue, Geoffrey Chaucer

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Are you a Pilgrim or Tourist this Holy Week?

Are you on a pilgrim path?

What’s the difference between a pilgrim and a tourist?   For a time I struggled with exploring this difference.  Innately I knew that when I was exploring the Canterbury Cathedral in England – visiting Thomas Becket’s murder site, walking up to the altar, and even lighting candles – I was a tourist.  However, only days later, when I stepped out of a bus onto the streets of Haworth, the home of Emily, Charlotte, and Anne Bronte, I knew that I was on a pilgrimage.  I had very different relationships to the stories that drew me to both places.  One was to gain knowledge and the other to encounter the place of a well-loved novel.  On a pilgrimage, a significant, personal connection to the place and its related stories motivates the travel.  In contrast, the intention of tourists to see the sites as other and outside of themselves often keeps the journey on a recreational level.

This difference has something to say about the way we travel, but also the way we live our faith.  In the book, The Way of the Lord: Christian Pilgrimage Today N. T. Wright speaks directly to this idea.  While leading a group through the Holy Land, he reflects on how the stories, theology and place merge to bring faith to life.  The essence of pilgrimage especially comes to the forefront upon entering Jerusalem.

As Jesus heads to Jerusalem – and we follow in his steps whether in Jerusalem walking the via dolorosa, in church as we participate in worship services, in our homes reading the Bible, or in the community serving others – this is not a simple journey to revel in the upcoming passover holiday and see some sites along the way.  It was and is a journey into the very midst of God.  Wright explores how the “The road to Jerusalem stands for the deeply inviting, yet deeply threatening, journey into the presence of the one true God, where all is known and all is unknown, where all is asked and all is promised” (64).  This pathway requires listening, sacrifice, time, questions, and trust on the part of the pilgrim as we enter the story.  It’s possible to stand afar and watch as a tourist, but if you’re truly on the journey, you’re in the midst of the mess interacting with the reality of the people and situations along the way.

As Jesus’ journey continues to the garden of Gethsemane the story becomes more intense.  Jesus does not skip over this place of profound suffering.  He could have gone to another location, kept walking out of Jerusalem, knowing he was pursued.  He could have changed his teaching to be more in line with what people wanted.  He could have even called down legions of angels to fight.  Instead he stayed, prayed, sweated.  He remained with God in the pain of suffering.  This is pilgrimage.  Meeting the difficulties of the place and story head on.  Can we do any less?

So what does this mean for our walk today.  Those of us who have not been to the Holy Land are still on a journey of following Jesus.  As we become more enmeshed in God’s story, we go to the places that are uncomfortable, ask the questions of which we don’t know the answers or know we won’t like the answers, and seek God deeply.  Following Jesus’ path from his final meal with the disciples, to the garden and eventually the cross and tomb, where do you find yourself?  Are you a pilgrim or a tourist on this Holy Week journey?

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Opening Up God’s Story

My earliest memories include hearing by mother reading me Bible stories before bed and learning the same stories in a Sunday school class.  However, I have to be honest.  Even though I remember stories from that beloved nighttime ritual and those hour-long classes on Sunday mornings, I can’t say they really left me with any life-changing ideas.  The stories were nice – Noah surviving, Samson winning, God caring, Jesus dying and rising.  I knew the stories, and believed they were true, but they did not really change me.  They were a bit too neatly wrapped with cute pictures and closed-answer responses.

Another thing too neatly packed for me is church doctrine.  Like Sunday school lessons, doctrine can flatten out God.  Yes, it may make it simple and easy for people to know exactly what they must believe.  It helps to weed out errors and can put a person at ease.  But what kind of ease is it?  Underneath I feel something is missing when someone says don’t worry, all you have to do is simply believe in the Gospel – Jesus came, died, and rose.  This may be true, along with much well-thought out doctrine. But to me, it also leaves out something – the soul of the Bible

When I look at the Bible I see more than a list of facts, a set of dogma which leaves me cold.  Or, a nicely formed children’s story.  I see a truth – not a tidy creed – but a narrative of people living in the midst of relationships, God’s interactions, and questions.  Yes, God is there in the midst, but not in a flat, uni-dimensional way – a cardboard form that can easily be torn and manipulated.  It is a dynamic, multi-dimensional truth of God that we can’t understand, but we can trust even without knowing everything about it.

Mystery exists in this narrative.  It’s easy to see God in the victories of the Bible – Daniel  being saved from the lions and Peter escaping from jail.  However, sometimes God is hidden behind questions – when we wonder why he hardened Pharoah’s heart or question why he wanted Israel to completely decimate some of their enemies.  God’s description cannot be neatly stated once you piece together the truths throughout the Bible.  It seems contradictory at times.  Yet, in these enigmas we see God at work in the midst of unexplained suffering – the kind we regularly encounter even today. This is a story I can hold onto.

Running the race, leaving the land, wrestling, following the cloud – the images used in the Bible to describe people’s interactions with God are active.  Even those related to the law – share them with your children, write them on your hears – don’t refer to only a mental affirmation.  In the Bible we don’t have so much an end point to reach, but a story to live.  Because God can not be contained in a cleaned-up children’s story or a neatly formed doctrine, we are not alone on this journey.  God does not remain safely on our shelves.  He ventures out with us – and eventually we may even turn and venture with him.

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Pilgrimage: A Journey to a Story

Moors of Haworth

A journey to a story – this definition of pilgrimage deeply resonated with me when I first encountered it in the book The Life you Save May Be Your Own by Paul Elie. Stories are powerful elements of our world.  When connected to places these stories can take on new dimensions.  In fact they can lead to the transformation that often accompanies pilgrimage as a person seeks to entwine themselves in a story that relates to some of their deepest ideas of self.  Walking the paths of story is a powerful way to learn more about specific pieces of literature –  it opens a person up to learn from literature, not just about it.  Let me take you back to one of my first.

On a cloudy afternoon in July of 1993, I boarded a bus in York, England, to complete a solitary, five-hour journey that had begun in London the day before.  I was a bit nervous heading out on my own, away from my study abroad group for an entire weekend in an unknown country.  The bus schedules I used to plan this trip were unclear and I did not know if I would make all the necessary connections.  Still, I went.

Two hours later, the bus stopped at the foot of a hill that led to Haworth, the village where Emily, Charlotte, and Ann Brontë had lived.  After touring the Brontë Parsonage, I turned at last toward the moors, the land that had drawn me to England in the first place.  The sky was clear and the sun shone along the paths through the wild expanses of purple heather. I couldn’t believe I was actually here.  Along the way I alternately scanned the horizon to grasp its breadth and bent down to touch the heather.  Then, without warning, clouds gathered and the land’s shadows were the guides along the same paths that now evoked a more solemn mood.  My walking slowed to match. Through changing weather conditions the landscape appeared as a vast, and at times turbulent, sea of green, blue, and gray.

Such continual transformation echoes the changing passions that move the characters through Wuthering Heights.  At that point I more deeply understood Emily Brontë’s description of young Catherine Linton that compares her to the land in which “shadows and sunshine [flit] over it, in rapid succession” (202).  The land, and associated weather patterns, evoked a more intense emotion than I had gained by reading the book alone.  Brontë provided a visible image of the depth of passion, particularly melancholy, that was encroaching on young Catherine’s life.  This passion was not only an internal trait, but also a composition of her interaction with the environment and other characters.

Although I could not explain it at that time, this novel had moved from being an object created primarily within the imagination of the author or reader, to being a living transaction among a place, author, and me. From that moment on I’ve been exploring pilgrimage, particularly those associated with literature, and am continually amazed at the transformations that arise at unexpected moments and in unexpected places.

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