Questions for Daring to Draw Near

Considering how to invest in staff led us back to John White’s Daring to Draw Near.

Those ten profiles of biblical “people in prayer” from 1977 is still in print with IVPress.

Dyann found reflection and discussion prompts she wrote for a group around 1994.

Now you and others can benefit – as we still do.


my #EatThisBook 2012 Twitter habit

This year, the church I attend with my family has been encouraging biblical literacy and spiritual formation through a daily habit of Bible reading. The Eat This Book discipline is a bold initiative, even for evangelicals. Bolder still is the Eat This Book challenge to read through the Bible in 360 days. The Advent issue of the church magazine included a number of cool stories from the experience. Mine’s not there, not typical and definitely more geeky than most. But who aspires to be average?

My family and I are relatively new to Blackhawk, though we’ve lived in Madison six years. Dy and I are both on staff with InterVarsity and have served together on campus, in a field office, at a retreat and training center and now at the organization’s National Service Center. We’ve enjoyed comparing notes as we Eat This Book.

I’ve read through the Bible before a couple of different ways and looked forward to doing it again, especially with such a large community. I appreciate the posted resources related to the initiative, and it’s been exciting to hear of 38,000+ using the plan on YouVersion (not my favorite Bible app). I’ve not participated in much of the online interaction, though. It seems to me that platform is still in its infancy compared to its potential for promoting biblical literacy through genuinely personal interaction.

To make time and space for digesting the daily text and meditating on it throughout the day, I adopted the practice of tweeting a summary of the non-psalm chapters. For example, one of this fall’s tweets was:

Luke 8-9: Jesus leads and sends a mixed, missional community. They recognize Messiah, but not the path he pursues. +Ps 120 #EatThisBook #fb

A few others use the #EatThisBook hashtag on Twitter; evidently there’s an unrelated Bible study course by that title. A few of the most recent tweets are visible. Mine appear for Facebook friends and are backed up online and offline.

It’s helpful when studying shorter passages to title natural paragraphs in scripture with a few words arising from the text, as part of observing their main features. It’s more challenging to puzzle through the connections within a couple of chapters or more – not always naturally divided – to a summary that fits in 100 characters. But it’s also been tremendously fruitful when God’s Spirit brings insight as things begin to add up. It often takes until evening to sufficiently mull over the collection of themes, characters, actions read or heard in the morning.

As with any spiritual discipline or new habit, it’s most doable when it connects with multiple parts of our personalities and experiences. This one has hooks in my problem-solving bent, enjoyment of complex systems (and text) analysis, amateur wordsmithing, and (borderline Asperger’s) symbiosis with a smartphone. It also helps me practice brevity – not one of my strengths, as you can tell from the length of this post. Thus a daily opportunity to aim for what my team director describes as “crispness” while trying to avoid sounding terse.

I also read aloud the psalm most mornings while some of our family drives to school or work. There are sometimes shared themes between the psalm and the other texts, if I’m alert. Between those times and the tweets, I’ve sensed the Lord renewing my thinking about both the big themes of scripture and the particulars that don’t seem to fit very neatly.

For example, it’s been instructive for me to hear in some of Jesus’ sayings not-so-faint echoes of the prophets’ occasionally harsh words of stinging rebuke. Feeling something of the emotional life of God has been a fresh theme that’s stood out in many passages that I can no longer read without a more whole and human response.

All this to say that I’m grateful for the opportunity to bring more of myself to scripture, reinforce the daily pattern of meeting God in his Word, give space for the Spirit to speak, exercise summarizing skills, and in a bite-sized way sharing the insights God gives. Eat This Book has built my awareness of the overall arc of scripture’s Story. I’m being better equipped to live into and communicate the rich texture and content of God’s whole, living Word.

Thanks for reading, and let me know if any of this is worth further interaction for you.

More certain than…

With flux seeming to dominate the economy and politics, my thoughts have turned to what’s most reliable. One relationship stands out. See if you recognize this paraphrase:

With Yahweh treating me as part of his flock,
what else could I want?
He causes me to stop and relax in meadows where my hunger can be met.
As I follow his initiative, there is ready access to refreshment that satisfies my thirst.
Here I find he’s soulfully renovating my entire life.
He dependably redirects me into patterns that demonstrate right relationships – to honor his character.
I might expect to be anxious when plodding through the depths of extremity,
but malevolent powers’ ultimate threat of death fails to intimidate me because of your constant presence.
The weapon of your just wrath and the instrument of your caring discipline: both reassure my security.
Gracious host, you feast me within plain sight of would-be powers of destruction.
You sooth and renew me head first;
stretching my capacity for satisfaction, there seems to be no end to my tab at your bar.
I have no doubt that such utter integrity and loving kindness will persist through every day I breathe,
and I so look forward to settling permanently into your hospitality,
sharing the same address as Yahweh –
for an eternity.

With apologies to an ancient David – j

dirt sandwiches and other delicacies

Eating freshly boiled soy beans last night reminded us of boiled peanuts – not altogether a pleasant recollection for most of us. Delightful, I thought, but then I like boiled peanuts.

Here’s a concoction borne of desperation years ago when there was no jelly found in the house:

Special Sandwich or (later) Dirt Sandwich
a recipe by John and A.J. Egleston

2 slices of bread (toasted dark as “rocks” or “burnt wood”)
peanut butter (smooth or chunky “clay” or “mud”)
some brown sugar (“sand”)
a little cinnamon (“dust”)

Toast the bread, dark but not burnt. Then spread as much peanut butter as you like on one side of each slice of bread. Sprinkle some brown sugar on top of the peanut butter on one slice of bread. Then sprinkle a little cinnamon on top of the brown sugar. Turn the other slice of bread upside down on top of the slice with the brown sugar and cinnamon on it so the peanut butter seals in the rest. Cut into as many pieces as desired, or eat it without cutting it up. Enjoy!

Nutritional value: probably not much

Sharing this with A.J’s class was almost as fun as offering a variety of cheeses (including gorgonzola) with a reading of The Old Man Who Loved Cheese by Garrison Keillor. It was amazing how fast Tee and A.J. moved toward the kitchen when these were offered again recently for lunch. Dy outlawed the addition of M&M “pebbles” but chopped nuts or chocolate chips occasionally appear. (The pic comes from 2004 while we were housed in Bayview Cabin at Cedar Campus.)

None of this compares with my childhood memory of being driven almost an hour on North Georgia backroads to an all-you-can-eat fried catfish joint – and home again – by my Uncle Wyman. He reportedly died yesterday morning, and I trust is enjoying better fare.

As may you – j

two dumb things done

I’m sure there are more others could kindly point out, but two stand out from recent history.

The first came after gladly consuming leftovers from a Mexican restaurant Dy added to my lunch, including part of a roasted jalapeño I sliced barehanded. A little later, while consulting with a teammate, I noticed a speck of matter in my left eye’s tear duct and lightly disposed of it.

“Hello!” said my left eye, reacting to the jalapeño residue on my finger. After a trip to the bathroom, much water and soap, and tears through tight squints, both eyes recovered nicely and I returned to my work area to explain my sudden dash down the hall.

If the stinging heat is caused by oxalic acid, it’s also used as a wood bleach, marble polish and rust stain remover – came up in my recent search for deck stain solutions. It reportedly forms needle-like crystals in water, so some sort of cream or doughy bread might have brought faster relief before making matters worse. A few years ago, Dy suffered for hours after cutting up a jalapeño; now she holds any such pepper with her hand inside a baggie.

The second? As A.J. and I scouted the berry patches at Elver Park yesterday morning, my left foot found a rut in a gravel section of trail I wasn’t watching. I collapsed on a twisted ankle, giving A.J. a bit of a scare, but he calmly helped me back up and down the trail to the van. (Good thing we’d driven over with cans to get mulch from the other end of the parking lot, but even if we’d biked it wouldn’t have been too difficult to find someone with a phone.) Skipping the mulch to make the short drive home, I was glad it wasn’t my right ankle, which I injured similarly late in high school.

Tee and Dy joined us for the trip to prompt care, where the care really was prompt. We had our books along in case it wasn’t; Tee read us most of “Cow Dung Custard” from Unreal!, and Dy read their lunch book, The Wednesday Wars. The RN, x-ray technician and doctor were efficient and engaging. A.J. got to “help” wrap the temporary splint, motivated by a “10% discount.” (Arey was painting faces with friends across town.)

Turns out the three outer ankle ligaments were kind enough not to tear in the twist, but they did break a bit of the small bone to which they attach on the lower end. If I take proper care of it and healing is granted, this misstep shouldn’t threaten our planned travels later in the summer. In the meantime, it’s quite the nuisance and frequent pain. Determined not to complain – j

spoonerism mania = moonerism spania (and gracious suffering)

Our lives recently seem to have been punctuated by trips to visit family members – well, ailing or worse. Back to that in a moment.

Besides reading our own books and reading one of them aloud, one of the ways we occasionally entertain ourselves is with spoonerisms. I’ve accumulated a small collection from other sources, but sometimes the homegrown variety are the funniest. (We’re still trying to remember Dy’s most recent contribution to the art.) On a van ride earlier this year, we spent over an hour sampling spoonerized fairy tales. A fellow staff member, Mark S., picked up a couple of these while hosting a foreign worker years ago, and shared with our kids – among many others, with similar uproarious results – about the time “Rindercella slopped her dripper.”

Were it not for another family medical crisis unfolding in Florida, along with other factors, at least one of us would be on the road as planned in Indiana this weekend. What was to be a celebration of God’s ongoing work among the colleges and universities there was appropriately postponed as one of the honorees approached death quite painfully. Yesterday her obituary appeared (as I was attempting to write my own as an exercise following chapter 1 of Waters from a Deep Well). It tells just a little of JoAnn’s amazing life and influence, and only hints at the excruciating end. Only a believer in the resurrection guaranteed by Jesus’ own resurrection could be both honest about the pain and solidly hopeful of the ultimate cure. That cure comes (at the latest) with the repacement and restoration of our planet (at least), and our re-creator will not lose us between now and then. Christ-following martyrs most pointedly share such confidence, openly and graciously affirming that “Jesus is Lord” in the face of Roman imperialism gone mad – and many other wanna-be-gods since. You can meet more of them in Jerry Sitser’s latest book.

Meanwhile, it looks like the situation in Florida is headed toward court, against our better judgement. [As usual, the most interesting comments are probably best left offline in my journal.] Suffice it to say: My Florida brother-in-law has survived heart surgery with complications on June 3rd – against all odds – but with few signs since of consciousness and additional difficulties. His wife, my sister, after enduring with us repeated loss recently, would stave off another, whatever the expressed wishes of the other sufferer. On such issues, we “deg to biffer” (to quote Dy out of context). We continue to ask for a miraculous recovery for one or both. Knowing such boons are an overflow of the next age overlapping with this one for a while yet…

Did I mention Dy and I yesterday passed the 21-year mark of marriage? It’s true, and good. – j

free IVPress shipping this month

Here’s a little shameless promotion for our favorite publisher – we get no commission, honest! Purchased via the web by Dec. 31, any order over $25 ships free – at least around the U.S.

Arey’s favorite quote from Rick James’ (CruPress publisher and Likewise author) Jesus Without Religion (IVPress 2007, p. 44): “Genre is everything. The merit of the phrase ‘eggs, chili powder, prune juice and Captain Crunch’ can only be assessed by learning whether the genre is that of a grocery list, a poem or a recipe. It’s a coherent grocery list, a lousy poem and a vile recipe.” (Think this will show up on some recipe search?)

Hit and keep those elves in Westmont, IL busy while rewarding yourself and/or others with some of the sanest quality literature by Christians for anyone. – j

Satisfaction, contentment, BBQ, Tee pix and rehab

Several guys at the office are reading The Contented Soul and discussing it over weekly lunches. Monday’s discussion of the difference between satisfaction and soul contentment led me to an experiment this week. I knew it was culminating last night at supper.

When the rest of the family left Tuesday for a two-day visit four hours south, I thought I might try to be content with the food available in the house. The breakfast foods, yogurts and leftovers were fairly satisfying, but didn’t keep me from suggesting dinner to a workmate. I got a raincheck, worked late both evenings, and avoided any spending. The quiet hours of reading took me into the wee hours, and offered a different kind of nourishment.

Everyone’s return on Thursday was followed by a supper of instant macaroni and cheese – filling, but not the baked kind A.J. and I (at least) prefer. The leftovers were delivered to me in time for lunch Friday; I’d somehow managed to forget them at home.

Last night’s dinner was delayed by my late arrival from work and the further wait for the charcoal to be ready. But was it worth it! The grilled ribs with (for most of us) Sweet Baby Ray’s bar-b-que sauce were (for me, at least) a perfect complement to Aunt Dana’s spicy preserved asparagus and slices of French bread topped with the same aunt’s strawberry jam. “Wow,” I kept saying frequently throughout the meal. A.J. got to gnaw several bones Florida Gramma would have enjoyed. We ate almost half the jar of jam, and the asparagus was finished, mostly by me.

The delicious combination was matched plentiful quantity; we usually treat meat more as a condiment than the main dish. The whole shared experience more than made up for the previous days’ slim fare and balanced the solitude. The past day had also seen Dy and I move from opposition on an important decision-making process toward collaboration, which has continued today. A measure of contentment was restored along with the physical and relational satisfaction.

Okay, enough analysis for now. Tee’s visit with the DJs at a local radio station almost two weeks ago is now visible at (or for mobile devices). The promised CD of her on-the-air chats arrived this week, and I’ve been commissioned to make at least one copy.

Meanwhile, my Mom has completed her first week of rehab from gall bladder surgery. After the previous posting, she went into the hospital and surgery soon followed, placing a drain when removal proved too risky. Not having a cell phone, we kept up by public phones and at friends we visited on the way home from Cedar. (We got to see more of Sleeping Bear Dunes [] this time too.) Your prayers will be appreciated for her fuller recovery and for safe and sustainable arrangements once she’s home. I’m looking forward to being some on-site help when visiting later this month.

Hoping you’re finding contentment with the best – j

first benefit of a first pet, and a shared journal

Striking a mutually satisfactory deal with one of my teammates, A.J. recently traded a polished agate (he’d been given) for a beta fish and its life support paraphernalia. Herbie (never mind his previous owner’s name for him) is A.J.’s first pet – if you don’t count short-termers like worms and insects.

As I was reading Tom Sawyer aloud with him and Tee a few days later, A.J. agreed that deal was like the trade of a tick and a tooth between Huck and Tom, described in chapter six: they “separated, each feeling wealthier than before.”

After a few days of feeding, watching and caring for Herbie, A.J. asked me, “What does my fish give me?”

The benefit was obvious to me, if not yet to him: “Responsibility.”

A week later, he agrees. It’s about the right balance.

A.J.’s also plenty proud of his backyard (ours and part of a couple of neighbors’) pumpkin patch, having profited from its first sale today. It’s one thing to sell things for Cub Scouts, another to unload his spare stuff for cold cash. He’s the entrepreneur and saver of the three kids. Hymn with him at bedtime: “Riches I heed not, nor people’s vain praise…”.

Arey’s extended analysis for Honors English of avoidance of responsibility as a theme in Lord of the Flies reminds me of that and other early experiences in modern literature. I think she’s way ahead of my abilities in tenth grade, but declined to do a peer review of her rough draft.

Amid the mass media storm clouds of rumor and lightning strikes of violence, the hymn Tee and I often sing at bedtime rings all the more true: “‘Peace, perfect peace’ – in this dark world of sin? The blood of Jesus whispers, ‘Peace’ within.” How like the living God to make that professionally barbaric act of tortuous bloodletting the cure of humanity’s self-destruction.

Humiliating and unjust, that Lamb’s suffering was only as inescapable as his loyalty to the One who set him in motion as the eternal Word. He walked into Passion Week knowing what lay beyond its wrenching end. Through him at least one universe entered existence, and its birthpangs of regeneration commenced historically at the rising of the Firstborn. Alternatives are endless and empty of such holy love, wisdom and power; I will venture on no other hope.

Opening my thoughts like this echoes an experience from 20 years ago. Dy and I visited Turkey for the summer with a group of students, staff and recent graduates, learning the culture, language and sharing ourselves with new friends. One of the latter weeks we all spread out among host families in communities around Istanbul, enjoying a variety of adventures in immersion and hospitality.

As my host and new friend Ercan (EHR-jon; not his real name) and I got to know each other over tea and games with friends through slow summer days, we each revealed as much as we dared about ourselves with growing trust. Living in close quarters, he soon discovered my habit of digesting each day’s experiences and insights in a written journal. I was especially keen to note things I knew would interest Dy, as we were out of touch for that week and dating as seriously as appropriate in that setting. My reflections on my Bible reading, conversations with Ercan and others to whom he introduced me, and prayers punctuated my entries in a notebook set aside for the purpose. (Do I need to mention it was paper? My offline journal is not so insecure these days.)

Friends share. Ercan one day asked to read my journal. The wave of incredulity at this unintentional assault on my sense of privacy passed quickly as I understood his honest curiosity. Without too much hesitation, I said, “Sure.” His English was excellent, so comprehension was not a problem. You can imagine how a daily cycle of writing, reading, questions and discussion continued to deepen our exchange of ideas, values and experiences. My risk in transparency was rewarded with mutual understanding and trust.

Don’t get me started, or I’ll tell more of our adventures that week. Between a wedding and a traffic accident, it was memorable for us all. If I get back to Istanbul some year, as I’ve (literally) dreamed, I look forward to finding out where Ercan and others we met then are venturing these days.

Dy announces the successful entry of about 30 staffing job role requests in the system supporting the world-class convention for which she’s helping manage registration. 270 more to go… – j

GrrAnimals for grrown-ups

Who says guys don’t ask for help? For years I asked for – and received – expert advice from my wife and eldest daughter on the subject of which work clothes match. Now that I have returned to an office environment for most days, it’s again no longer as simple as camp attire (jeans with layers of shirts). At least four days a week I try for something like business casual; Fridays are more informal, at least on one of my teams. (Most members of the other team are fairly laid back the whole week.)

But no more. No more asking, that is. About five years ago, I was informed the free advice would no longer be available, as the experts had better things to do. If I couldn’t remember from week to week what shirts went with which pants, that was my own problem. Since I couldn’t, it was.

Several streams of interest and preference converged to bring about a solution to this shortfall in color coordination (one of several types of coordination I lack):

(1) Being an oddly sized fellow, and having already trimmed my office-eligible wardrobe by long wear, I had no desire to further reduce the range of combinations to what would fit my memory capacity for such content.

Say, to only two pair of pants and four shirts.

To say nothing of the midweek laundry which would be required – but disallowed for so small a load. (I would not be entrusted with most others’ clothes to combine with mine, for understandable reasons upon which will not be elaborated here.)

(2) Not wishing to embarrass my significant others by my continually poor choices, I sought a means for extending my memory and capturing their expertise. A label matching system (animal-related or otherwise) would give them private amusement, which there’s enough of already at my expense.

(3) As a database-friendly sort with a (now ancient) Pocket PC for early morning use, I pretty quickly hit upon the idea of a sortable list of acceptable combinations. After some convincing that it would be the final such regular request, it took less than an hour of their time for me to build the essential guide to both short- and long-sleeve seasons.

Oddly enough, after returning to active use this year, that ListPro database has usually proven unnecessary. Or rather, it’s shown its worth as I’ve somehow internalized all of its most commonly deployed matches.

Or maybe it was in me all along, only awaiting middle-age to draw out some sense of taste.

Nope, that’s not it. Definitely not that.

While I’m thinking of the reduced wardrobe, has anyone else read George I. Mavrodes‘ out-of-print InterVarsity Press booklet, “The Salvation of Zachary Baumkletterer”? It was a short story that caught my attention and taught me about thinking well outside the box, even dangerously. Maybe the author would permit it to be republished online – or adapted for a new generation. [Whether or not the author has permitted it, the story does now appear online in rough form. Skip down a few paragraphs for the start of it. – ed. 2009]

Not for a movie, though. I’d rather see The Hobbit hit the big screen in a form to which I can take my under-twelves – while they’re still under twelve. Once again, we’ve recently been enjoying Tolkien’s folksy, intimate and occasionally humorous tone. The dwarves’ clean-up song at Bilbo’s unexpected party still dissolves A.J. into belly chuckles. Perhaps the effect is amplified by his own regular dish-clearing responsibilities. – j