What the Heck is Psalm 23?

Psalm 23 – The 4th Sunday of Easter – for Sunday, May 7, 2017

“The Lord is my shepherd . . .” (Psalm 23:1)

For years, I attended a weekly writers’ group. There were usually around ten of us, huddled in a county library’s back room. As with most gatherings of busy people, we eventually went our separate ways. But for a nice chunk of time, it became a meaningful support system for receiving criticism—er, feedback—on my writing.

We weren’t there to admire John Grisham’s latest mega-seller about scheming attorneys or to envy Flannery O’Connor’s southern gothic tales about hurting humans and a hopeful God. The group was about us, about our work. We critiqued each other. However, not criticizing content was one of our few rules. Which is also like learning to love your neighbor as yourself, thank you Jesus. Which is also to say that if I wrote a sentence like—

Marvin ran as fast as the wind and as swift as an eagle to stop the weeping, sobbing, teary-eyed Gertrude before she boarded the plane to leave his heartbroken life forever.

—my fellow writers might comment on the dull clichés or the clutter of words, but not about the value of Marvin and Gertrude’s bittersweet tale of love.

As a writer, I should be challenged to realize that “fast as the wind” is a dreary trope. And while my critics likely wouldn’t question Gertrude’s emotional water works, they probably would wonder if one rather than a bunch of adjectives could improve the paragraph. It’s easy to criticize content: your novel stinks. It’s harder to provide helpful feedback: what if a single word described Gertrude? Honest, empathetic critiquing makes me better. Love your neighbor. Love yourself. Tough work.

Much of what I shared with the group involved Christian faith. Once, I brought a scene with my novel’s protagonist reading Psalm 23 at a graveside service. Continue reading →

The Good (And Dissonant) Shepherd

Psalm 23, John 10:11-18 – The 4th Sunday of Easter – for Sunday, April 26, 2015

“The Lord is my shepherd. I lack nothing…” (Psalm 23:1)

From Colonial Williamsburg . . .
From Colonial Williamsburg . . .

How many blacksmiths do you know?

Have you ever met a cartwright? (Note to baby boomers: I don’t mean Pa, Adam, Hoss, or Little Joe.)

Ever watched a glassblower? Conversed with a falconer? Longed to be a lamplighter?

Some professions no longer exist. If anyone enters “cartwright” on a 2015 IRS form, it’s likely they’re joking or employed by Virginia’s Colonial Williamsburg. There, the bygone world of 18th century America is recreated for an adult entrance fee of $40.99. It wouldn’t surprise me if Williamsburg had someone on the payroll skilled at constructing a wagon! Continue reading →

The Passenger Side Of A Hearse

Psalm 23 – The Fourth Sunday of Easter – for May 11, 2014

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want . . .” (Psalm 23:1)

Psalm 23 is an old friend, following me throughout my ministry’s journey. Indeed, even before ordination, Psalm 23 frequently starred in Sunday school lessons. As I kid, I might’ve wished for the Lord to act like a cowhand more than shepherd (since my grandparents’ ranch had cattle), but I understood the meanings . . .

How comforting that the Lord is my shepherd.
I easily picture green pastures, imagine still waters.
My cup overflows; goodness and mercy shall follow me.

Still waters...
Still waters…

Psalm 23 is like a favorite pair of jeans.

It’s comfort food, the macaroni-and-cheese of sacred scripture.

How each believer views the psalm’s still waters may be different, but every distinctive memory inspired by the ancient words calms and soothes. In the six spare verses, we can be transported to a favorite beach, to the bend of a placid river, to the view of a mountain lake when the sunset paints the water gold.

*      *      *

In the year after my ordination, I was an intern in a church, a newly minted clergy testing the ministerial waters. Three other full-time pastors served the bustling church. Except for one wedding, my more experienced colleagues celebrated every “I do” event. No one trusted me with a baby (let alone an adult), and I didn’t do a single baptism. I preached once, with my faulty memory recalling it as of those splendid summer Sundays where every preacher was on vacation and guess who’s left to proclaim the good news?

One wedding. One sermon. Zero baptisms . . . but wait! Continue reading →