At this point in the summer, the tomatoes thrive in our small raised-bed garden. Not the cilantro. To use Matthew 13:6’s language, my once luscious, tasty herb appears “scorched” and “withered away.”

The 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for July 10, 2011

“But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away…” (Matthew 13:6)

Echoing the agrarian concerns of Matthew 13, was the cilantro’s demise because of:

Farewell, good Cilantro
  • Birds eating the tender leaves?
  • Rocky ground preventing healthy growth?
  • Each day’s scorching sun (an issue here in California’s Central Valley)?
  • The presence of thorns?

No times four. My wife, after observing the cilantro’s failure, simply stated, “Snails.” Drats. Helix aspersa, or as the French might exclaim, escargot! Indeed, many of the “common” snails lurking in my garden have ancestors brought over from Europe during the mid-1800s. They hit American soil and did what any self-respecting Helix aspersa would do: endlessly, relentlessly breed.

Why didn’t Jesus mention snails as a danger to a sower’s future seeds? Easy answer: wrong climate. Snails weren’t a local threat for first century Palestinian farmers. For example, in the Bible thorns are mentioned at least 50 times. What about the snail count? Twice (Leviticus 11:30 and Psalm 58:8). And most scholars—yeah, if it’s in the Bible, even snails receive a scholarly, theologically-inclined analysis—would argue the Leviticus reference is really about a specific sand lizard. Lizards and thorns do well in the dry, desert climate. Not so much a snail.

My wife is right. Snails slimed us.

“Why didn’t they go after the tomatoes?” I asked.

My wife shrugged. “Who knows?”

Not surprisingly, a percentage of Jesus’ parables are farm fresh and garden ready. Many in Jesus’ day were directly linked to the earth: farmers, bread-bakers, potters, shepherds and so forth. Everyone knew the risks of sowing, nurturing and harvesting. Birds swooped down and plucked seeds. The sower, distributing his or her future food across the ground, would inevitably hurl some into rocky, thin-soiled spots. Therefore, when Jesus warned about birds and thorns and poor soil, his audience nodded. It had all happened to them.

Grow, fair tomato

And yet he wasn’t only talking about the first-century farmer scattering seeds or the twenty-first century suburbanite tending cilantro in a raised-bed garden.

This agrarian story invites us to look at the growth of our faith.

My faith.

However, as with a sower in Jesus’ original audience, I could comfortably dismiss this story by rationalizing Jesus told it so people—others, them, those new or old or unfamiliar ones—would understand the “big picture” of faith. Some people get God, some don’t. Some people understand loving your neighbor, some don’t. First or twenty-first century, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make her drink it. Folks come, or don’t come, to your church, and some of ‘em don’t stay. But it’s not my fault. They were thorny or bird-brained people, after all. Not like…me. Continue reading →

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F is for . . .


I once had a lengthy conversation with a man about to leave the church I served because of “gay rights*.”

His argument was simple. No one should be treated with “special favors.” He grumbled that at work he’d been overlooked for promotion because women and people of color were always prioritized. Not fair. Now it was happening with gays. Not fair.

He was white, male, and (by global standards) affluent. Just like me. I remember sharing with him that it may be difficult for people like us—white, male, and affluent—to understand how subtle (or not so subtle) forms of discrimination work. Did he worry, like many women do, about walking alone at night from his office to his car in a distant parking lot? Did he, like a Hmong immigrant who speaks accented English or an African-American male pulled over by a cop because of racial profiling, feel anxious about how he sounded or looked?

He blankly stared at me. They got special treatment. He never did.

We are a society far from full equality. Those with power don’t want to share power. No, that’s not it. Those with power have difficulty understanding that, in God’s Realm of Love, it’s never about power and always about sharing.


*btw…this conversation occurred several years ago. Read the Huffington Post to learn about what happened to Rev. Amy Delong in Wisconsin this week: found guilty of marrying two loving individuals who happened to be same-gender. Once the United Methodist Church was several compassionate steps ahead of other denominations…in racial equality, rights for children, respect for women. Now we’re a day late and a gospel truth short. Sad. Tragic. Embarrassing.

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Pho (not faux) Friendship

My friend Mark asked if I wanted to find pho with him.

Pho? Off we went during an Annual Conference lunch break, in search of a hole-in-the-wall restaurant that served pho, a traditional Vietnamese dish. After all, ever since a Conference twenty or so years ago, I’ve never considered fasting when I have a chance to share table with friends.

The 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time – for July 3, 2011

“…the Son of Man came eating and drinking…” (Matthew 11:19)

Some definitions…

  • Pho: Noodles served in a bowl of broth, with slices of beef, vegetables, herbs, and who-knows-what-else that is “every day food” in Southeast Asia. Heavenly. More pho, please!
  • Annual Conference: United Methodist churches are “connectional,” with lay and clergy meeting annually at a regional conference for worship and business.
  • Fasting:  Spiritual discipline, where not eating for a period of time honors God and/or protests a societal concern. (i.e. Caesar Chavez fasted to call attention to the plight of field workers.)

Mark and I attended seminary together nearly forty years ago (sorry for being forthright about that, Mark). He’s done extraordinary things during his ministry, serving and working alongside folks in Africa, Central America and Malaysia. He’s currently the senior pastor at a large, thriving congregation in California’s Silicon Valley where he jokingly—and seriously—describes some of his church members as “masters of the universe*.” When Mark worked in Malaysia’s Sarawak, he discovered the pleasures of pho. He’s as comfortable with children playing on the streets of Southeast Asia as he is in California’s high-tech, high-powered jungle.

Delicious Pho (photo purloined from

When Mark suggested pho, I had no problem following him down a street and away from Annual Conference business. For me, it’s the essence of friendship and Christian fellowship. Table time. Breaking bread and spreading crumbs. Chatting and eating. Napkins tucked on the lap, laughter the best and last spice added to the meal.

In Matthew (along with Luke) Jesus claimed others referred to him as a “drunkard and glutton.” Is there a more embarrassing passage in all the Gospels? Who do you follow as a way to embrace God? I choose to walk with the drunkard! Who has shared as no other about the power of forgiveness and the life-altering need to serve neighbor? The guy called a glutton!

Isn’t it embarrassing for Christians to have Jesus—the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of Humanity, Mary’s child—referred to as drunkard and glutton? Absolutely. And yet, it’s also one of the most refreshing revelations about the Nazarene. What mattered…people! What mattered…the equality of a table where all are welcome! What mattered…there’s always room for more chairs!

At an Annual Conference years ago, Theresa (another friend from seminary) asked if I wanted to go to lunch. I hardly ever saw her. We were both ministers and, darn it, always busy on weekends and holidays. Theresa was also the person my wife and I asked to marry us, so any opportunity to spend time with her felt precious and essential. Continue reading →

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