Love on a Tennis Court

My 1959 Revised Standard Version (a gift from my parents when I was a young, eager lad) said Jesus talked about the “kingdom of heaven.” The RSV was the first Bible I seriously used to sermon preparation. Newer versions that followed often echoed the RSV’s “kingdom of heaven.”

However, I frequently used “realm of love” in sermons, like . . .

The realm of love is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.

I can more easily tell you why I prefer “realm of love” to “kingdom of heaven” than what it means. Simply, realm is not male-oriented. A king is male. I was raised in an era that started to question male-only words and phrases. In a sense, I was trained to emphasize alternatives to sexist language. Once I thought God was male, bearded, and mostly elsewhere. He seemed a Divine Dude you were obligated to invite to activities, but often wished He’d arrive early and leave quickly.

When I started using “realm of love” instead of “kingdom of heaven,” it was pretty cool that I got reactions from folks in the pews. Continue reading →

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Dogs, God, and the Golden Gift of Ongoing Creation

With Hannah, in the Sierra high country…

Four dogs have owned me.

As a dog-loving guy, that’s not many.

And yet each has taught me about life, death, scary words, relationships, and the ways of God.

(All four have been girls. I wonder what that reveals about me?)

Ginger was first. I was a tyke, age-wise still in single digits. I probably whined for weeks (or months), begging for a dog. We made a family decision to have one and the next major hurdle involved naming our furry future. I wanted Ginger and—though memory is unreliable—I believe my older sister suggested something else. We voted, and somehow in that then family of four, Mom swung the election in my direction.

A Chihuahua/terrier mix, Ginger was cute like the proverbial button. Alas, here’s the hard lesson of childhood, of enthusiasm meeting reality: I did a poor job of caring for her. I’d forget to feed her and Mom or Dad had to remind me. Picking up the smelly “objects” deposited in the backyard was often accomplished . . . tomorrow (aka, the day of the week that never dawns). I was good at playing with Ginger, not so good with the short list of other chores. Continue reading →

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Baptized to Ask Questions

19th Century Baptism. Willisville, Illinois

Raised in the American Baptist denomination, it was up to me to declare that I felt led by God’s spirit to be ready for baptism.

“Who wants to give their life over to Christ?” The pastor asked at the end of worship. He seemed to study each member of the congregation.

Me!

I do!

Actually, it was a version of, “We do!” My older sister and I, probably after a few minutes of intense discussion (before scurrying outside to play) had decided to get holy and wet.

Which meant standing up in church when the pastor asked who would follow Jesus.

Which meant taking a class to prepare for the big day.

Which meant we’d eventually find ourselves on the other side of the expansive red velvet curtain hiding the baptismal pool from the pew view. Full immersion, baby! Continue reading →

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