The apostle Paul’s like a friend I wish would leave after the first day of a weekend’s visit and yet I miss him when he’s gone.

When I read Paul’s speech about the Athenians worshipping “an unknown god,” (Acts 17:22-31), I admire him. I think of Acts as creative history, biased and bold, cheerleading the emergence of Christianity. Maybe Paul’s declarations never occurred or were embellished. No way to know for sure.

The 6th Sunday of Easter – for May 29, 2011

“I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’” (Acts 17:23)

Still, I sense Acts 17 is at least a glimmer of Paul, of the “friend” I miss when I haven’t seen him in a long time. I don’t think that because Paul’s speech to the Athenians conforms to my bias about Christianity. Just the opposite; the words unsettle and challenge me.

In the New Testament books* scholars are confident the apostle personally scribed, Paul—again, for me—just as easily inspires as irks.

Because of Paul’s very real apocalyptic beliefs, followers of Jesus since the first century possessed scriptural ammunition for demanding others repent before an impending judgment day. I won’t quote the apostle from where he proclaims the end. Find those verses on your own! Indeed, it’ll be real easy because—as I write these words in mid-May, 2011—there are road billboards and Internet postings announcing the end-of-the-world on May 21, 2011. Even staid National Public Radio aired a segment on May 21 as I wrote the first draft of this essay. So, batten the hatches, tighten your seatbelts, and prepare for the last, worst, holier-than-thou rumble. Blame some of these dire, dreary warnings on Paul.

There’s more. As someone who supports gay rights—oops, I really mean human rights and equality for all—I’d prefer Paul never again wipe his sandals on my doormat or press the ringer by the little ceramic sign at my front door that says “Welcome.” Paul’s minimal mention of what is now called homosexuality (a word invented 1,800 years after Paul’s death) created maximum pain for Christian community. Coupled with Paul’s wishy-washy comments about marriage (read chapter seven in I Corinthians and see if you understand his meandering position), I’d never trust Paul for advice on romance, relationships or sexual orientation.

And yet my pal Paul has written words so brilliant I can’t imagine Christian faith without them. Just one, predictable example . . .

Though not currently serving a church, I have a wedding and memorial service on my calendar. In both of those very different celebrations of faith, I could confidently read Paul’s declaration about love in I Corinthians 13. My singular concern would be that the attendees have heard “love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude” too many times to actually pay attention. When I read Paul’s “Love Chapter,” I usually invite people to listen as if for the first time. The first time . . .  as they witness the precious love of two friends about to be married, or as they mourn a companion who personified trust and compassion for them. Is I Corinthians 13 over used? Yes. Could I read it every day and be blessed to the core of my faith? Yes.

Which is why, when Paul stands beside my ceramic “Welcome” sign, I invite him in and offer a mug of Peet’s French roast. Let’s talk! Continue reading →

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C is for . . .


I refuse to look the word up in the dictionary. I think I know what Webster might suggest, though: happenstance, two or more unrelated events that take place together, a chance meeting or moment. You supply your own Webster-inspired definitions. You’ll do fine.

I searched for “coincidence” in my hoary, heavy Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance for the King James Version, which includes every word. “Coffin” is mentioned above where “coincidence” could’ve been listed . . . and there’s a singular use of “collar” below where it’s not. No “coincidence” in the KJV. I could search further in other translations, but it would weary me.

Maybe it’s only by happenstance that we bump into another’s life. Maybe bad news or a delightful gift arrives merely by chance. Maybe life is all fate and dumb luck. (“Luck” is also not in the Bible).

I don’t think God plans the details of our days. But I’m a joyous and naïve fool and believe God somehow lures us toward Good, even when Awful has decided to room with us. Or that God compels us toward the New, even when we, with knuckles turning white, grip the Past. Sorry, I don’t but much coin in coincidence.

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I’ve been pondering nicknames after reading a slice of John’s gospel where (in the Bible I most frequently use) the disciple Philip’s last black-printed words are spoken.

To immediately digress from Philip, one of the nicknames for my Bible is a red-letter edition. All of Jesus’ statements are printed in red, whereas everything else is black. In the fourth chapter of John’s gospel—a mightily red-lettered chapter, I might add—Philip’s black words sparingly interrupt the red ink beside comments from two other disciples: Thomas and Judas.

The 5th Sunday of Easter – for May 22, 2011

“Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.’”

Digression complete . . . either within the Bible or from Christian tradition, what’s Philip’s nickname? Or does he have one?

What is the disciple Thomas’ nickname? Or Judas? I’ll wager ten denarius and some leftover loaves & fishes you know Doubting Thomas and Judas the betrayer.

What’s your nickname? Is it cute, clever or a name that kindles childhood memories? I have an affectionate nickname for my wife that, as far as I know, no one else uses. No, I won’t tell you what it is! I attended high school with a guy who played professional baseball and then managed the San Francisco Giants (and currently the Cincinnati Reds) named Johnnie Baker Jr. But most call him Dusty. Is Lady Gaga a nickname? How about J-Lo or A-Rod? I’ve read Barack Obama was Barry until his college years.

I’m similar and different to President Obama, at least in the realm of nicknames. Barry is boring compared to Barack, but it’s a nickname people might better remember. I’m officially a Lawrence (and I can show you my long-form birth certificate for confirmation), but have usually gone with the mundane “Larry.” If I wanted people to respect me more, or contemplated running for President, should I urge folks to call me Lawrence?

I volunteer for a local hospice, visiting to support patients and families. When a person is under hospice care, she or he is suddenly meeting nurses, social workers, aides, etc. It’s a bit overwhelming, so all staff and volunteers wear nametags. Mine proclaims “Larry.” Accurate! But I often tell patients they can remember me as “Hairy Larry.” I’m a dude with a beard and though its thinning, I also sport unkempt hair atop my noggin. The line gets a chuckle, but it’s also a nickname people more easily recall in the supportive crowd of the hospice team. Continue reading →

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