A Word for the Weary: Part I


Isaiah 50:4-8a

Every morning I read a psalm and a few gospel verses, set the timer, and write into the sunrise.   There are days when when my lingering in bed or the demand of an early meeting squeezes my 20 minute practice into 5 or 10.  There are days when I stare at my timer impatiently, ready to get on to the real work of the day.  There are days when I doubt the words I write are worth their weight in ink.

But then there are those other days…

Days when I can’t write long or fast enough.  Days when my pen finally stops and I breathe heavily over pages filled with words somehow only partially my own. Words too desperately honest, too important, to be held back by my measured hand.  The seemingly formless scribbles concealing the rawest beauty.

Writing is the spiritual practice that helps me transcend the noise of my first conscious moments and listen.   Word by word, I am emptied like the body exhaling out every last bit of stale, constrictive, breath.  In the mystery of hand and mind moving at the same time,  I read back the surprising things I’ve written and breathe in refreshed, resting in a new space of center.

Writing invites me into self-examination before NPR tempts me with self-righteousness.   Writing affirms that I am enough before my inner-personal trainer tells me to run faster.   Writing (for myself and not anyone else) allows me see beyond my work the God who is working on me.

Writing is the discipline that reminds me that I need to hear the voice of the Lord before I have words to offer anyone else.  Isaiah writes, “The Lord has given me the tongue of a teacher that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.”   My worst writer’s block occurs when I forget that I am chief among the weary ones.  My pages stay empty when I write to meet my preconceived notions rather than whatever words my pen forms.  And so morning by morning I show up.  The timer is running…


Declaring my LGBTQ love: thoughts on the Illumination Project


“Love is not what you say.  Love is what you do.”   I’m glad this quote is posted in the youth hall men’s room for our teenagers to see during the Valentines season.  These young men need to know that words of love mean nothing without a commitment to actions that make space for others to flourish, even and especially when that costs something (for this is why St. Valentine was martyred).  These young men need to think very carefully about telling someone they love them if they aren’t willing to embody that love.  These young women (I assume the same poster is  hanging in the ladies room?) need to learn to only believe the words “I love you,” when their partner shows them the kind of fidelity and care that love really is.

But I also hate this poster.   It makes me angry.  What we say matters.  Words break trust and wound souls.  Words dehumanize.   The nursery rhyme is a blatant lie: Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will cripple me far longer than physical injuries.

It is also true that what we don’t say matters.

I am proud of the many beautiful, thoughtful, courageous responses to the Illumination Project’s short-sighted conclusions and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship‘s  discriminatory policy  that prohibits the hiring of LGBTQ persons for any missionary assignments or key leadership positions.  With all of the Facebook comments, blogs, and articles, and sermons, I’ve wondered “What else is there to say?” And so I’ve said nothing.

In an Ethics Daily interview with the Illumination Project Committee, Suzii Paynter makes the point that what is most important is not the hiring policy of our denomi-network, but the love and care that LGBTQ persons receive in CBF congregations, even in congregations that are not welcoming and affirming.  In one sense it seems that Suzii and the Valentines poster are right: actions speak louder than words. This has been the message of many pastors and churches I’ve served over the years.  I’ve been encouraged to work for what I saw as justice slowly and gradually behind the scenes, being careful not to speak too loudly and offend people, especially if they have money.  This approach has been framed as balancing “the pastoral” and “the prophetic” or described in a favorite phrase of the Illumination Project as, “meeting people where they are.”

But I now see this type of voice as a voice of privilege and this type of love as incomplete.

I now see that not saying anything is only pastoral for part of my community.  I now see that speaking out prophetically is in fact the fullest expression of the pastoral office when the people I love are being excluded by the baptist family they hoped would be their home.

I will no longer be silent.

I will not personally attack any individual or organization, but I will speak up forcefully for and with the ones I love.  I will speak up with my gay friend seeking ordination.  I will speak up with the woman who stood in my kitchen with tears of joy as she gave thanks that her and her wife could finally worship together in a Baptist church.  I will speak up with one of the most gifted preachers I know as he receives rejection letters from search committee after search committee.  I will speak up with my future adoptive son’s adoptive”guncles” whose wedding I look forward to planning.  I will speak up with the couple who loved my aging grandparents, helping with groceries and doctors appointments, and becoming the sons they never had.  I will speak up with all of the LGBTQ people who have invited me into their homes and into their lives, teaching me more about love and grace than I ever could have known without their friendship.

I love the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.   The CBF has financially supported my education, created space for me to discern my calling, opened up opportunities for employment, and brought me friends who have sustained my ministry over these last ten years.  I am proud of the CBF’s courageous efforts to elevate the voices of women, work for racial reconciliation, and respond to God’s work outside of traditional institutions with new church starts.  I truly believe that this is a movement that is seeking to follow the Holy Spirit.

I love the CBF enough to speak up when I believe that they are choosing to be less than God has called them to be.  I love the CBF enough to speak out when I see them choosing less than the fullness of God’s image, as they say “no” to the LGBTQ lives and the unique gifts they offer.  I love the CBF and my gay friends enough to lean into the tension. I know not all of us can or should walk this path any longer, but I will stay and speak up.

Who are the other lovers out there?  How will you speak up online or in person? How will you speak up in Dallas? With acts of protest or resistance?  With rainbow pride? With motions on the floor of the business meeting?

Love is not just about what you do, but what you say.

“Shut up!”

Mark 10:46-52

My mother really didn’t tolerate any “bad” words in her home but she never ever wanted us to tell each other to “shut up!”  Of all of the “four letter” words I heard playing basketball at the Y, or sitting in the back seat of the youth van, I couldn’t understand why these two were so bad…until I said them to the woman who would become my wife.  In an instant, Jenny who always seemed to radiate a quiet, easy-going joy completely shut down, doing exactly what I had demanded she do.

“I’m sorry!  I’m sorry!  I didn’t mean it,” I stammered, but the words that  floated like balloons beyond my grasp, unable to be contained.   Could their be anything more dehumanizing than angrily telling someone to stop speaking?  Than forcefully invalidating the emotions, needs, and ideas they are trying to share with you?

Mama was right.

“Shut up!” the crowds yelled at blind Bartimaeus as Jesus walked by.  But the beggar kept crying out for mercy until Jesus stopped.  We easily remember the stories of Jesus’  healing words and healing actions but we often forget that Jesus almost always asked first, “What do you want me to do for you?”  Instead of asserting he knew what was best for those he encountered (even if he actually did), Jesus asked questions and listened, creating space for others needs to be heard within the dignity of their own voice.

As I re-read this story yesterday morning, I felt righteous anger toward this crowd rebuking the beggar.  I felt sadness over the hardness of their hearts.  But then I thought about my own response to those who cry for mercy from the street corners.

Living in cities with large homeless populations over the last 13 years,  I’ve been trained by non-profits and pushed by city ordinances to direct people to services rather than giving out cash.  I occasionally make a gut decision to give a couple of bucks, but usually give away whatever food is in my car.  I sometimes offer to buy dinner or pay for a bus pass. When I don’t help, I try to follow the dignity-protecting way of my friend Heath, “I say no, but I look them in the eye when I do it.”

But more than I’d like to admit,  I just keep driving, just keep walking, I refuse eye contact or acknowledgement, saying in my spirit, “Shut up!”

A few weeks ago, a woman flagged me down as I left an empty parking lot. After I lied about not having cash in my wallet, she asked for a ride.   Still shivering from the chill of the 22° afternoon,  I unlocked the door.  My stomach turned as the smell of body odor, cigarettes, and booze filled my Father-in-law’s Lexus.  As she navigated across Raleigh, she weaved an intricate narrative about her father’s funeral, her daughter’s illness, and the Greyhound ticket she needed to buy to get her family home.  As she made her phone call, I prayed the light would not be red long enough for her to run away with my iPhone.   As she shared her testimony and called out left and right turns, new requests for help kept coming.  I offered to pay for her hotel room but after another phone call, she told me the hotel was paid for.  When I refused to stop at the ATM for the second time, she asked if I would buy dinner.  As the fear and resentment squeezed me from within I pulled into the Bojangles parking lot instead of letting her direct me to the restaurant of her choice.  I heard myself saying,”I’m sorry I won’t give you cash, but I’ve heard a lot of stories over the years and I just don’t do that.”  She told me she understood.  She agreed that there are a lot of hustlers and liars out there, but asserted that she wasn’t one of them.  She told me what I already knew in my heart of hearts, that they were just doing what they had to do to survive.

As I pulled away from that shitty hotel, her words rang in my ears, “It’s all God’s anyway.”  Yes, she said them to shame me into giving her money, but she also spoke the truth.   Our time, our money, our very lives are God’s, not ours.   But I also felt frustrated about the hour I just wasted, foolish about letting her take advantage of me, careless for letting her navigate to an unknown place, guilty for not being present and pastoral, self-righteous about the control I exerted over the situation, angry that she ordered the family-sized, tailgate special (that I could easily afford), sad that her story might be true and sad about whatever had happened in her life that led her to make up a story like that.

Didn’t they tell us as children that serving others would make us feel good?

In so many ways, without saying it, it felt like I told that woman to “shut up!”  I also trust that she heard the voice of Jesus,through me and in spite of me, asking, “What do you want me to do for you?”   I pray that my anxious and distracted listening was life-giving for her, even if only for a moment.

And I wonder, “Aren’t we all just like this before God?”  Stinking of our own bad choices and the tragic circumstances that chose us? Earnest and manipulative?  Speaking directly and changing our stories? Asking for what we need and demanding much more than we deserve?

May we learn from the boldness of this woman.

May we shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Last weekend (next year)

Two Sundays ago, I preached a sermon that included the story of Jenny and me saying, “no,” to a adopting a child who was far more developmentally delayed than we previously thought.  This experience was crushing, but I believe our heartbreak helped us more fully understand the heart of the God who suffers with us and this child.  In this time we felt closer to the God who is the father of the fatherless and the mother of us all.

The exciting news is that we have been pre-approved by the Chinese government to adopt a little boy who will turn three in September.  We’re not ready to say more than that online, but we’d love to talk to you about it in person!

Knowing that we will be traveling this summer to pick up our son has changed the way we experience everyday events.

On Friday we went to the Rodeo.  As we watched the little boys run through the stock barn all we could see was our little boy in the cowboy boots we’d already picked out for him. I could hear us saying, “This is a cow.  This is pig.  This is a chicken.”   I thought about how the familiar sights and sounds and smells would move him forward in enchantment. How I long to see the world through his eyes of wonder and discovery!   We laughed at the parents buying the ridiculous light-up toys sold at the arena, but I knew deep down that he would be drawn to them and that our principled refusals would likely melt as quickly as asked.   When the arena lights went down, I imagined helping him stand up and take off his hat.   I thought about how when he got a little older he might ask why Mom and Dad stand up and put their hands over their hearts but also make little wry jokes about the way others worship his adopted country’s flag.  I thought about the conversation I would have with him when he got a little bit older about why it was inappropriate for the rodeo announcer to introduce the Episcopal Priest with a Ph.D in Hebrew Bible giving the prayer as, “a beautiful lady.” At the same time, I would also tell him how remarkable it was that an African American woman was even giving the prayer at this event so shaped by white American Christianity.  But mostly I just smiled thinking of the way his eyes would light up as the cowboys rode by swinging their lassos.

Thirteen hours later, we slipped into the crowd down Main Street. The repeated chant of “Love, not hate, makes America great!” ringing in my ears, I thought about my son again.  I saw him walking beside me, an immigrant holding a sign he decorated just like the little girls in front of us.  I would make sure he saw the other signs, especially the one that said, “Boys will be…(boys crossed out) good human beings,” and the one that said “Men of quality don’t fear equality.”  No doubt he will already know the strength and goodness of women.  He’ll know it through the nannies that raised him until now.  He’ll know it through the story we tell him about his mother who risked being arrested and shunned by her culture and endured the pain of letting go of her own flesh and blood that he might get the medical treatment and nutrition he needed to survive.  And he’ll know it through the mother who chose not to have her own child because of her calling to open her life to a little boy like him.  He’ll already know how strong and good and indispensable women are, but I will remind him year after year, because somehow as boys and men we forget. When he gets older, I’ll help him see the ways that more than forgetting, we make subtle and obvious choices to maintain our power and comfort at the expense of girls and women.  Or maybe he will help me understand?

As I walked forward, I thought about how I would lift him up to see a crowd of people that look like his parents, and others who look like him, and others whose skin tones display an array of darker shades.  I thought about how I would tell him that he should be proud to be Chinese and American, because in God’s eyes it is the love that can bring so many different people together that can make America and all nations great.  But as child after child approached to ask if they could pet Lily, I knew he wouldn’t want to be on my shoulders for long.  I knew he’d beg to get down and reach out his hand, for that is what this same love looks like at three years old.


Lectionary(A), 7.23.17: Psalm 86:11-17 & Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.

“Lord give me an undivided heart…”  I find myself praying with the psalmist that I might worship God alone, not commit the idolatry of trying to worship God and my own comfort.  I find myself praying  that I might possess love alone, not love diluted by  judgement of self or anyone else.  I wonder if that kind of undivided love and undivided worship might be the same thing?   Hoping to find my way out of  what I interpret as humanity’s “original” and most destructive sin, I change the psalmist’s adjective “undivided” into the verb un-dividing. “Lord, give me an un-dividing heart.”  A heart not willing to divide people into categories of  “good” or “evil”, “worthy” or “unworthy.”  For I believe this dualism  prevents us from truly worshipping the one who created all.  I think this is why Jesus, the Lord of the harvest, tells the workers to cease and desist.  “You can’t tell the weeds from the wheat.  Stop! In your zeal you will destroy both.  You will surely hurt other people, but the life most uprooted will be your own.”

Trying to identify “the weeds” robs us of wholeness.  Rather than giving us the justification we desire, our constant judgement of others makes us more unsure of our own identity.   What we see and criticize in others often only intensifies our own self-doubt as we are forced to deal with “the weeds” we would rather not see in our own lives.   Obsessing over “the weeds” also prevents our own lives from growing and blossoming.   Instead of being grounded and reaching upward, we grow sideways pointing at the other plants, eventually becoming as warped as we think they are.

Caught up in our toxic patterns of “dividing” and judging, we often take the next illogical step of thinking that we  are the ones tasked with pulling “the weeds.”  We exclude.  We ignore.  We shun. And shamefully, we do so in the name of Jesus.

What reasoning, even in the realm of parabolic analogy, makes us think our role could be both wheat and weed puller?  How is it that we can believe that we have that kind of divine wisdom, authority, or responsibility? Anytime we do this we are forgetting our role in the story.   We are playing God…and not very well.

So what is God really like?

On a warm spring morning, a man surveys the green expanse of his back yard.  After hours of tilling, fertilizing, and watering, he can’t help but be exasperated at the weeds sprouting up in his otherwise perfect lawn.  As he contemplates a morning of pulling each and every alien plant out by the roots, he’s interrupted by a little girl’s laughter.

He shouts, “Stop! Don’t do that! If you blow on that dandelion they’ll spread all over the yard!  That’s a weed!”

“No, Daddy!” his daughter cries,”It’s a flower!”

After a few minutes of gentle debate, the little girl finally says, “I don’t care if it’s a weed…It’s so pretty!” and resumes her giggling and twirling around in clouds of fleecy, airborne, dandelion petals.

Is the God you worship like the anxious man futilely attempting to eradicate every single weed? Or is your God like the little girl dancing around, understanding that the dandelions are technically “weeds”, but delighting in them just the same?

Anne Lamott writes, “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”

Even when our judgements don’t reach the point we would call “hate”, I believe you can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out God judges all the people you judge ( yourself included) in all the same ways you do.

I ‘m done trying to pull weeds. I don’t have the time or energy for that and even if I did, without the weeds I would’t have much left to call a yard…

Northwest Passage: Washington photo gallery

You may be thinking, “It’s been a while since Drew and Jenny have blogged.” And you would be right.  We haven’t shared many updates about Washington, because…well… we have been having too much fun in Washington.  We hope these photos and the short captions will make up for the thousands of words you have been missing.

Capitol Lake and the Puget Sound

Capitol Lake and the Puget Sound

WA state capitol

WA state capitol

Boats at Budd Inlet

Boats at Budd Inlet, we lived in a house right behind there up on the hill.

Oly from my kayak

Oly from my kayak

Our church, "Emmaus House."

Our church, “Emmaus House.”  It was in the old parsonage on the church property of First Baptist Olympia.

Turkey Spaghetti night

Turkey Spaghetti night, every Tuesday for community time.

Our friends Carrie and Gary

Our friends Gary and Carrie

The Nash's

The Nash’s

Drew leading worship

Drew leading worship on Saturday night at Emmaus House.

Our fearless leader: Pastor, "Pappa" Mark

Our fearless leader: Pastor, “Pappa” Mark at the church softball league game.

"Oly" from our place during Lakefair

“Oly” from our place during the annual Lakefair festival.

Stay tuned for updates from our trip back home #eastboundanddown

People watching and Jesus paintings

"Head of Christ", Warner Sallman, 1940

“Head of Christ”, Warner Sallman, 1940

Baggy striped PJ’s.  A white beaded rosary necklace.  Messy hair, sunglasses and a backpack.”Oly” fashion never ceases to amaze me.

Cut-off  jeans, chains, lumberjack beards, piercings, tattoos, a rainbow of hair colors. Outdoorsy people, hippies,hipsters (the distinction of the last two depending on frequency of showers, length of hair, and tightness of jeans), homeless, and a few professionals.   I see it all in this delightfully eccentric little town.

I don’t know why I fixate on this woman.  Perhaps its her appearance at the 4th Ave. Tav during a slow moment of the nil-nil world cup final.  Perhaps its the 2nd IPA.

Three hours later I walk past Jesus.  I intentionally make eye contact as I run back and forth bringing  bags of  food, toilet paper and toiletries to those who line up in the fellowship hall during the meal.  Jesus is sitting at the table with his disciples.  A table filled with food and large glasses of wine.  His brown hair flows around his milky-white, smiling, face like a Disney prince.  He is well dressed and looks like he would smell like your Grandfather’s Old Spice.

Each time I pass the painting I take a deep breath hoping to tap into his compassion and love.  Feeling good that for at least a few minutes of my week, I am doing exactly what Jesus asked.  Taking care of those called “the least of these.”

I think Jesus would especially enjoy giving out makeup, hair dye, and nail polish.  I think he’d smile knowing that even dogs and cats were getting something to eat.

“Can I help you?”  I ask, flipping my note pad to the next page. “I need mouthwash, toothpaste, snacks, and canned food. Thanks!”

My jaw dropped as I looked up to see the woman from the bar.  The woman I had judged.  The woman whose clothing I had laughed at earlier.  I walked down the hall humbled, ashamed, grounded.

People watching is all fun and games until you remember that she is a child of God… Jesus in his more distressing attire.

Why do I automatically assume that Jesus is on my side of the table?  Jesus was just as smelly, dirty, and disheveled as anyone at tonights meal.   He was only rarely the host, mostly relying on the hospitality of others. (What color hair dye do you think Jesus would have asked for?)

When we forget Jesus was poor we forget Jesus.

Jesus in the receiving line forces us to rethink our position in the transaction.

Those of us  intent on giving have to let go of the status that comes with that.  We must take the person before us seriously.  We have to make eye contact.  If we do that we can’t help but make conversation and joke and believe that he or she has something to offer.  We have to look and listen and pay attention.

As I hand her the bag, her boisterous  “God bless you,” rings in my ears.

Lord, help me to take hold of that blessing.


Dizzy Children or Learning to Worship Again

"Tree Grace", Makato Fujimura

“Tree Grace”, Makato Fujimura 1998.

My church is messy.

A seven year boy old debuting original rhythms on the drums.

A young girl loudly offering random thoughts.

Children stampeding down the hall.

Distracting, frustrating…an infringement on “my time” with God.  I can barely concentrate on singing the first hymn.

We broke for coffee and the leader struggled to bring us back together.

Our groups started with the questions and ended up somewhere else entirely.

But as we sang the last song with bread and cup lingering on our lips, God cut through the clutter.

One of the children started to dance, and then another, and then a third.  Joyful little dervishes  lost in the music, giggling as they spun out of control and teetered into the arms of their parents. Without knowing it, they reminded me of what worship is all about.

In God’s eyes we are more like these little children than the put-together adults we pretend to be.

We are just as distracted.  Just as unsettled.  We sit calmly in our chairs with our thoughts and feelings running wildly like the kids through the house.  We insist on our agendas, but more cleverly.   We open our mouths to speak, but often avoid the real answers.

And sometimes we dance.That moment when we let go and allow ourselves to be caught up in the presence of God.  And perhaps She smiles like we all did on Saturday night when the children started spinning.  

We dance when…

we vulnerably share our hurts and hopes

listen long enough to recognize the song we are singing harmonizing with the notes of our lives

we tear off a satisfying hunk of bread and let the juice dribble down our chin, realizing that God is our sustenance.

It doesn’t happen every time.  It often only lasts a moment.  But this is why we gather every week to engage the practice of worship together.  Giving God the chance to cut through the chaos, mixed emotions, and garbled motivations that we all carry with us.

As the children danced around, I felt God wishing I would let go of my idols of neatness and routine.  I felt God nudging me to surrender my notion of worship being about me (and my preferences).  I felt God opening me to understanding that worship is about “us” and the spirit of God that blows through us like the wind blows through the trees.


Genesis 21:8-21: Hagar’s Cry

A Proper 7: Genesis 21:8-21


“Hagar”, Jean Michael Prosper Guerin, 19th Century

I’ve always found the story of Sarah and Hagar extraordinarily unfair, cruel, and troubling, but also filled with surprising hope.

It’s one of the biblical stories that makes me wonder about the goodness (and seemingly lack thereof) of the God we see in the Old Testament.

Sarah can’t have children and so she gives her slave girl to her husband as a concubine.

When Hagar does what she has asked, well really forced to do, (have sex with Abraham and conceive a baby that she must give away)Sarah erupts in jealousy and makes Hagar’s life so miserable that she runs away.

Hagar should  have never gone back.  And she probably wouldn’t have if she did not hear God’s messenger calling to her.

Promising her that she would have a son that God’s blessing would fall on, but more immediately telling her to go back to a toxic, abusive, situation.

In today’s text, Sarah decides to kick that Egyptian woman and her “wild ass” of a son out of the house.  Abe rightly vetoes, but then God lets him off the hook, telling him not to worry about it.

While Abraham’s household celebrates with a feast, Hagar and Ishmael wander into the wilderness with scant rations.  As Abraham and Sarah laugh (Isaac literally meaning, “he laughs/will laugh”) in the wonder of their baby boy, Hagar tearfully leaves her son to die under a tree.

Why would God let this woman suffer so much at the hands of the one he would use “to bless all the nations of the world?”

This is a valid question, one that understandably de-rails many from claiming faith in a benevolent divine being, and keeps the rest of us up at night.

But in the same story we see a God that is remarkably inclusive, progressive, and loving.  When I say progressive, I don’t mean it in the modern sense as a synonym for liberal, but as a way of affirming a God that is out in front of us.  God’s concept of justice, and practice of mercy being literally beyond the grasp of our comprehension.

Hagar is the first person and certainly the first woman in Hebrew scripture to be visited by an angel.  She is the first person to have the courage and wisdom to name God! As an Egyptian slave girl she receives a promise only rivaled by that of God to Abraham.  God hears her cry (Ishmael meaning, “God hears,” or “God may hear”).  God shows her the well that would save her life and the life of her son.

God spoke to, heard, and blessed this outsider.  God honored God’s promise to make a nation from her descendants.  Hagar is honored by our Muslim brothers and sisters as the wife of Abraham and the mother of Ishmael…in some sense the “mother of Islam”.  Her desperate search for water is ritualized in the Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca), by a symbolic retracing of her run by pilgrims.

Whether or not you agree that God blessed Ishmael in the same way God blessed Isaac, I believe that it would only enhance our spiritual lives to lift up Hagar as an example of faith.  She demonstrated remarkable perseverance, wisdom, and strength.  She was open to the voice of God when everything in her circumstances tell us she shouldn’t have been.  God embraced her, when everything in our exclusive logic says God shouldn’t have.

Admittedly this is complicated.  It opens up all kinds of questions about Israel, Islam, and “God’s plan”.  It forces us to grapple with Sarah’s cruelty and Abraham’s cowardice. It requires us to rise above our “us vs. them” logic.

But more than this, the story of Hagar is a ray of light streaming into our dark circumstances,,pointing us to a God who makes a way out of no way.

Whispering to us that we are never completely forgotten, never all alone, never left for dead, whatever our circumstances may be.


Psalm 8: A Hiker’s Thoughts on “Dominion”

Trinity A: Psalm 8

As I tramped up the rocky, semi-snow covered trail, I heard rustling ahead.  My heart pounded and my breathing grew more intense as I moved closer to take a look.  IMG_3172.JPG

20 feet away was a fleecy, but fiercely horned, mountain goat.  I stood at a safe distance, waiting for it to move so I could continue.  I’ve had similar moments watching a mama bear guard the tree her cubs were climbing in the Smoky Mountains, or gingerly moving around a rattlesnake sunning itself on the Appalachian Trail.

“What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?”

The more time I spend in the woods… climbing mountain ridges, staring up at century old trees, standing on jagged peaks…the more deeply I understand the psalmist’s question.


Once we get out of our secure, well-landscaped, city grids it is easier to understand that we are not the center of the universe.  

This is terrifying.  God created a world that is dangerous and demanding.  Our lives are fragile.  One wrong step, change in the weather, or wildlife encounter away from death.  But something within us also drives us to take risks and push our limits in those parts of the world that are clearly out of our control.

“Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.  You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet,all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.” (v.5-8)

Even with all of our advances in technology, these verses sound hopelessly naive.  If you have ever  spent a dark twilight throwing bear bags or tried for a season to grow a meager patio garden “dominion” seems out of reach.  Even more puzzling is the use of this word in the context of the dangerous lives of our nomadic, agrarian, ancestors.

My Old Testament professor explained that the Hebrew word for dominion (and in Genesis 1) is very different from our modern understanding of the word.  Far from “domination,” it should translated as something more  like “skilled mastery.”  Learning to find sustenance by respecting the delicate relationships of creation.

A healthy fear of the natural world allowed early humans to respect the wildness of animals, weather, and micro-organisms, and to express gratitude when harvest emerged.  Humility wasn’t just a virtue, but a necessity of survival.   Our fear fueled by scientific advancement and consumerism has pushed us into a different kind of “dominion”.  Unable to cope with the danger and uncertainty of the world, we have done everything in our power to take control.

Divorcing verse 5 from verse 4, we’ve hunted Buffalo into extinction.  Blasted tunnels through mountains.  Dammed rivers.  Drilled for oil and dug for coal.  Genetically engineered crops and fed cows growth hormones.  Built bigger and more sophisticated structures,and paved over the dirt.

Admittedly, some of this was necessary.  We produce more food.  We live longer, safer, more convenient lives.  But survival has turned to lust.  Dominion indeed, but what have we lost? And what have we really gained?

Our neighbors in the “global south” understand more than we do (yet) that our safety and security is an illusion.  Because of the consumption of the west and “developing” nations, they struggle to find fresh water and fertile land.  They catch fewer fish and lose ground to the rising oceans.  They face more extreme heat and more destructive pests.

Perhaps what truly makes us “a little lower than God”, is our ability to rediscover the healthy fear that our ancestors had of the world, restraining our use of force and technology to manipulate it.    Perhaps it is the ability to find the courage to live within the boundaries of natural processes, co-creating with God rather than trying to be God.

If we could learn to live within our limits maybe  there would be reason for all creatures to recognize the name of the Lord as majestic.

Until then, I think more of us should go hiking…