Sunday, February 22, 2009



Function: noun

Etymology: Middle English shadwe, from Old English sceaduw-, sceadu shade

Date: before 12th century

1: partial darkness or obscurity within a part of space from which rays from a source of light are cut off by an interposed opaque body.

2a: an imperfect and faint representation; b: an imitation of something

Too often we live in the shadows rather than the light. In the Christian church calendar, the season of Lent begins on February 25, 2009.

The Lenten season is traditionally spent in self-examination and reflection - sometimes fasting from food or activities. Some people give up sweets or television or shopping or being tied to the technology that can dominate our lives. Sometimes people add something to their lives – more prayer time or more time spent meeting the needs of others.

While the Lenten season may be more somber than other church seasons, it is not meant to be sullen or melancholy. Lenten disciplines are not meant to be punishment – we are not doing arbitrary disciplines to make up for wrong doing. We are not trying to behave ourselves after months of misbehaving. Lenten disciplines are meant to draw us toward the light of God so that we might live in the light rather than the shadows.

The Ash Wednesday liturgy in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer issues an invitation to a journey of looking intently at ourselves and those things and activities or attitudes that darken our hearts and our lives – those things that keep us lurking in the shadows rather than in the light.

Lent invites us on a journey of repentance – a time for turning from one thing to another; a time for turning from those things drawing us away from God and keeping us from living in the light.

Monday, February 16, 2009



Function: noun

Etymology: Medieval Latin obituarium, from Latin obitus death

Date: 1703

A notice of a person's death usually with a short biographical account

I don’t like obituaries. They are futile attempts to sum up one’s life in a few words.

As a hospice chaplain, I officiate at a lot of funerals. When a family asks me to read the obituary as part of the service, I try to remind those gathered that the obituary is just a skeleton of one’s life – no real flesh and blood. Even long obituaries that include a person’s accomplishments and hobbies are still just a bare bones attempt to capture what cannot be captured in just a few printed black and white words.

It has been almost 9 years since my brother and I had to write our mother’s obituary.

“She died as a result of injuries from a motor vehicle accident.” That part is true. The part left out is the agony we lived while deciding whether to continue life support. Her obituary says “She was a long time member of the Talbot Park Baptist Church and one of their first women deacons.” That part is true, but it omits the church controversy it stirred over women deacons, and it also omits that a long standing church member left the church over it.

“She is survived by 2 children and 2 grandchildren” That part about the survivors might be the truest part. Surviving – bare minimal existence is all we did for a long time.

It omitted that she hated cats and sweet potatoes. It omitted that she took in relatives with no other place to go – a cousin, a nephew and an invalid aunt. It omitted that her laughter was contagious.

When my brother and I are together we never read the obituary, but we do tell stories – the stories that help us remember her and our father. It is the remembering and the telling of the stories accompanied by laughter and tears that keep them alive in our hearts and minds.

Monday, February 9, 2009



Function: adjective

Etymology: French similaire, from Latin similis like, similar

Date: 1611

1 : having characteristics in common : strictly comparable

2 : alike in substance or essential

The similarities between these two vehicles are greater than the dissimilarities. Both vehicles are pulled by something other than the person riding. The car is pulled by the engine and the cart by the horse. Barring any unforeseen accident, both drivers will arrive at their destination. The purpose of any mode of transportation is to move someone from one place to another, and both of these vehicles do that. It is too easy to see differences before we affirm similarities.

When someone is dying, families often have conflict over how to best care for them. Often it is the differences that are most obvious, but underneath the differences one can usually find similarities. Sometimes the obvious differences keep us from digging far enough to find the similarities. I find the same thing among people who claim Christianity. We get too focused on what separates us than what binds us.

(This photograph won second place in the North Missouri Harmonies Photography Contest and will hang in the Jefferson City office of State Representative Rebecca McClanahan)

Sunday, February 1, 2009



Function: noun

Date: 12th century Definition:

1. broken remains: the physical remains of something such as a building or city that has decayed or been destroyed ( often used in the plural )
2. complete devastation: a state of complete destruction, decay, collapse, or loss ( often plural )
3. complete failure: complete moral, social, or economic failure
4. somebody or something destroyed: somebody or something completely lost or destroyed

Ruin– if you look at the picture posted just prior to this one you will see a photograph of the same house a year ago.

It is hard to tell exactly what happened to bring about its complete ruination. It may have simply been continued neglect, or it may have been high winds and rain that knocked the front off the house. It was probably a combination. High winds and rain will not have this kind of effect on structures that are well tended, but when buildings are ignored wind and rain can cause ruinous damage. The dictionary definition - broken remains- seems an accurate description of this house.

Broken remains – it is also a good description of people who are grieving.

Death leaves behind brokenness, and it is up to those remaining to figure out what to do with the broken remains. I have seen people choose to live among the ruins; sometimes wallowing in them. It is hard to live among ruins, and often the people who choose it don’t recognize that, hard as it may be, it would be better to rebuild.

I have seen other people build something new and extraordinary from what is left behind. Rebuilding takes faith that something new is possible.