Tag Archives: Imagination

Aaron Perry ~ Desire and Duty in Everyday Life: The Narrative of Ethics

C.S. Lewis argued that before writing a story, two elements must be considered: desire and duty. The story begins with the Author’s desire. Something captures the author that he or she needs to get out. Before the writing process begins, however, the story should be considered for its value as well. So consider the would-be storywriter from two angles: the Author and the Person. The would-be writer as a Person must answer not only, “Do I want to write this?” but also, “Should the story be written?” The story can only emerge if the writer has a desire, and the story should only be written if it contributes to the benefit of humankind (duty). Both desire and duty are necessary for this free action to be rightfully taken.

Much popular ethical reflection still begins with desire: what does the “Author” of one’s own life want? However, the check or restriction on one’s desire is almost never the “Person’s” duty. Instead, desire is checked only by how one’s desire impacts the desires of another. The result is a spirit of permissiveness as long as one’s desires do not hinder another’s desires.

But duty still sneaks into the conversation. Think about how often you hear people say that they “owe it to themselves” or need to “be true to themselves” or “deserve to get my rights.” These phrases communicate something important about ethical deliberation. The individual cannot be swallowed up by the community entirely; however, without an objective reality (whether family, community, the Divine, a friend), duty crumples into a simple reaffirmation of subjective desire. Duty to oneself – “I owe it to myself” – is moral language repurposed to express individual desire. In effect, we become our own standards of right and wrong: your moral duty is to identify and fulfill your desire. 

In postmodernity, a common move has been to find others with similar desires. Intentionally or not, one may then ground the pursuit of one’s own desire as duty to this community. In this way, desire is carefully hidden in the name of duty for one’s community. In case this feels abstract, consider how the mindset has impacted political communities. The postmodern political move has been to galvanize these communities linked by desire, using the underlying fear of tyranny from those who are “not like us” or whose desires are different. It’s not a phobia: human beings do master and control one another on big and small scales. The final result is communities of desire with self-justifying duty against other communities of desire with self-justifying duty. This complexity then requires a political solution who breaks in from beyond. Hail the political hero who is “not an insider,” who is “just like one of us.”

In contrast to this kind of politics, the Christian narrative teaches that there is no true outsider except for Jesus: the one whose life truly reveals ourselves and whose life truly reveals God; the one who so truly reveals because he is both God and human. In him, desire and duty are unified: his duty to the Father is his desire, and his desire to please the Father through the power of the Spirit drives his faithfulness to his duty.

Here the Christian community, especially in the local church, provides a correcting and prophetic word to other political allegiances. The unity of the church doesn’t come from shared desires with other members: the unity of the church is in its leader. There is membership not in what is owed to ourselves, but in what is owed to Christ because we are now in him. The local church provides an all too flesh-and-blood community that puts us in covenant relationship to other people in Christ not simply in the abstract, but concretely to the man or woman in the seat next to us at our small group or in worship. The politics of allegiance in the church is not simply of desire, but of duty to one another—the actual person—in Christ.

The Christian story, in the form of this community, does not merely affirm that Jesus is the Savior, but that through Christ we will be conformed to his image, too: our lives, from the inside out, will be remade, and any split between desire and duty perfectly healed.

Michelle Bauer ~ What It Means to Be Rooted and Established in God’s Love

What is it like to rest in God’s wide and long and high and deep love for you?  If you could choose how God expresses his love to you today, what would you ask for? Consider what the Apostle Paul wrote to some early Mediterranean Christians:

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. – Ephesians 3: 14-21    

God promises to strengthen us in our inner being. Take a moment to consider your inner being. What part of you – soul, spirit, mind, emotions, memories, fears, desires – would benefit from God’s strengthening? What efforts have you made to try to strengthen yourself? What have those results looked like? Talk to God about your willingness to surrender your core being to his work.

God’s strength becomes available to us when we are rooted and established in his love. In what other things are you tempted to root yourself? What in your life makes you feel secure and established? Ask the Spirit what it means to be rooted and established in God’s love and listen for the answer.

Verse 19 describes, “love that surpasses knowledge.” Where do you picture yourself on the journey of experiencing this kind of love from God? Where would you like to be? The author’s prayer is that you would be able to experience – grasp and know – this love.

God’s promise to strengthen us at the core is part of his plan to enable us to fully receive his love. How have you already experienced God’s love? What aspects do you long to experience? What parts of your heart, mind and soul would need to be strengthened in order to receive the love of God?

God is able to do, “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” In what situation are you waiting for God to work? Take a moment to imagine what more would look like. How does it feel to release the plan and outcomes into his care?

Leave this time trusting that the Spirit will root and establish you in God’s love.

Shaun Marshall ~ Learning How to Tell Your Story

This powerful sermon by Rev. Shaun Marshall comes from Genesis.


Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ #notwithoutmychild

Today’s post is written alongside others delving into the moral, ethical, and biblical ramifications of the current practice in the United States of separating immigrant parents from their children. In it, we include reflections on the plight of children in the Old Testament; the plight of families in the Western hemisphere; and the ways in which Jesus, a Messiah who saw the suffering of families, stretched his followers’ moral imaginations.

It is also written with consciousness that this is not the first time parents and children in the United States have been separated from each other, as the history of Native Americans and the Black slave trade demonstrate.

Please feel free to share today’s post with the hashtags #notwithoutmychild and #familiesbelongtogether.

Children Adrift: The Old Testament

Now a man of the tribe of Levi married a Levite woman, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.

Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe, and her attendants were walking along the riverbank. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female slave to get it. She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said. – Exodus 2:1-6

I do not think I’ve ever heard someone preach on the compassion of Pharoah’s daughter. She also strikes me as a savvy woman. She came face to face with a squalling infant who was suffering because of her father’s decree to kill the Hebrew infants and toddlers who could potentially pose a future threat to the Egyptian way of life. She probably surmised precisely who the young girl was half-hidden in the reeds near the basket. She knew it was a Hebrew baby; here was a nearby young girl. Not only did Moses’ birth mother get to raise him while he was young, she was now paid to do so. Yes, Pharoah’s daughter was compassionate, and savvy.

I don’t know if she was able to intervene in the fate of other little baby boys; maybe she saved the one she could. Maybe she was haunted by the fates of the ones she couldn’t.


Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba.

When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there, she began to sob.

God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid;God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”

Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer. – Genesis 21:14-20

Hagar didn’t ask to sleep with Abraham. She was a servant, and Sarah, impatient and distrustful of God’s promise, lent her to Abraham. But Sarah couldn’t put away her jealousy of Hagar’s son, even after having her own. She wanted Hagar to go. Hagar didn’t get autonomy over her own body, and once she had a son, the injustices continued. With no secure future, she was sent away.

Yet what a tender passage we encounter: she is sobbing, she cannot bear the notion of watching her son die. And this little slave woman and her beloved son do not escape God’s notice. What’s the matter, Hagar? Don’t be afraid.

Later, Pharoah’s daughter will hear a young one crying and feel sorry for him. Here, God hears a young one crying under a bush, and responds as well.


The king asked, “Is there no one still alive from the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?”

Ziba answered the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is lame in both feet.” So King David had him brought from Lo Debar, from the house of Makir son of Ammiel. When Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, came to David, he bowed down to pay him honor. David said, “Mephibosheth!” “At your service,” he replied.

“Don’t be afraid,” David said to him, “for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.” Mephibosheth bowed down and said, “What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?”

Then the king summoned Ziba, Saul’s steward, and said to him, “I have given your master’s grandson everything that belonged to Saul and his family. You and your sons and your servants are to farm the land for him and bring in the crops, so that your master’s grandson may be provided for. And Mephibosheth, grandson of your master, will always eat at my table.” 

 And Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, because he always ate at the king’s table; he was lame in both feet. – II Samuel 9:3-13

Mephibosheth was five years old when the news about his dad and granddad came. While David was mourning the loss of his best friend, Jonathan, Jonathan’s son was being spirited away by his nurse, to protect him in the political upheaval; but in her hurry, Mephibosheth fell and was disabled the rest of his life: the little boy’s feet would never work again. On top of the tragedy of his father dying, he would equate receiving the news with the loss of being able to properly run, jump, and play.

Mephibosheth was a child of tragedy and grief, through no fault of his own. He didn’t ask to be in the middle of political upheaval; he didn’t choose his family, he wasn’t old enough to weigh in on their decisions.

But David wants to “show God’s kindness” to any lingering survivors of Saul’s line. He restores property; he ensures income and livelihood; he bestows honor by issuing a standing invitation to supper, any time. David can’t erase Mephibosheth’s past, but he can ensure a future of dignity and safety. And he can make sure that Mephibosheth’s family is provided for.

The cries of other sons had been heard by God, had been heard by a Pharoah’s daughter. David went searching for a child whose cries had faded, if the injuries to spirit and body had not.

In a basket; under a bush; in the arms of a nurse.

The lost children of the Old Testament were not overlooked by God.

Children Adrift: The Western Hemisphere

Currently in the United States of America, immigrant parents are being separated from their children. No law requires this.

It can be difficult for American citizens with quick access to WiFi to imagine life with dubious communication connections; frequently immigrants to the United States have incomplete or inaccurate information about what lies ahead, what policies they will face, how much money they’ll have to pay to whom.

Some parents are trying to get their kids away from cartel violence, food shortages, and political upheaval. In Venezuela, children are starving to death. In Guatemala, the raid of one workplace in the U.S. can directly affect the sustenance of an entire village.

Children Adrift: A Messiah for Families

In a time when Americans often suffer compassion fatigue, seeing footage of wildfires and hurricanes, volcano eruptions and war, school shootings and tragedy, we are called to step back and reflect. Frequently in the Gospels we read of a Messiah gone AWOL: frustrated disciples search high and low, scout around town, attempting to find Jesus. In these moments, he had always withdrawn to pray in quiet away from the frequent chaos that surrounded him.

When Jesus encountered people swept up in debate or confusion about ethics or religious laws or the will of God, he invited them into the insight and truth he centered on in those times of prayer. Often, he met their questions with stories.

“Who is my neighbor?”

“Once, a man was traveling…”

In these teaching moments, Jesus was stretching the moral imaginations of his hearers. He took them from a narrow question to a broad principle, by way of illustrating vivid characters. Jesus’ responses may as well have been prefaced with the phrase, “imagine this…”

Over on First Things, Jonathan Jones describes the strengths and virtues of moral imagination: “a uniquely human ability to conceive of fellow humanity as moral beings and as persons, not as objects whose value rests in utility or usefulness.” This is a profound challenge: to conceive of other humans as persons, not as objects useful or unuseful to us. Neighbor implies valuable personhood, not just asset or liability. To be fully human, Jones posits, is, “to embrace the duties and obligations toward a purpose of security and endurance for, first and foremost, the family and the local community.”

This personhood is woven in the most essential fabric of human existence, the family. To deny family is to deny personhood. To deny personhood is to relegate people to existence as asset or liability in a ledger. But to deny recognition of personhood to another is also to undermine our own humanity, because, as Jones asserts, moral imagination is a uniquely human ability.

Jesus was a Messiah who saw families: frantic parents like Jairus asked him to heal their children; young kids offered their fish Happy Meals to him, which he happily multiplied and fed the masses with. When the disciples tried to remind parents how important Jesus was, he stopped them, and said, “let the little kids come over.” To stuffy adults, he sternly reminded them that to enter the Kingdom of God, one had to become like a child.

Jesus constantly reframed the questions his followers threw at him. He challenged the edges of their imagination, coaxing them to a place of empathy. Imagine this, he’d say: your neighbor is the Samaritan you fear who saves you from robbers on a barren road and pays for your recovery; maybe the person you distrust will be the means of your survival. Maybe the dynamic between you will be turned upside-down and you’ll end up receiving, not just sacrificing and giving.

Today, what do we as Christians believe about who God is?

We see that God cares about moms and children who have had an unfair life and are left out in the cold without resources.

We see that God allowed a savvy, compassionate woman and a completely vulnerable infant to encounter each other in a river in ancient Egypt, restoring the baby to his worried mama and preparing him for leadership later.

We see that God intersected David’s life in such a way that David knew and trusted God’s kindness and wanted to show God’s kindness to the devastated survivors of warfare, a family ripped apart at the seams.

We see that Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, valued the personhood of sons and daughters, moms and dads, and saw their lives as valuable and worth intervention.

We see that Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, constantly pivoted questions away from the concerns of the asker and toward the concerns of those being asked about. Jesus Christ celebrated the humanity, the personhood, of those who were deemed a liability.

In continuity with God-who-heard-a-child-crying-under-a-bush, in continuity with God-who-made-his-way-to-the-dying-daughter-of-Jairus, today, we affirm that families matter to God; that children have personhood and value, and that to willfully separate parents from their children and children from their parents is to deface our own “uniquely human ability to conceive of fellow humanity as moral beings and as persons, not as objects whose value rests in utility or usefulness.”

We affirm the beauty of parenthood, the value of childhood, and the imperative to honor both. We appreciate the parenthood of Mary and Joseph, the childhood of the toddler Jesus, and the care Jesus extended to his mother while he was dying by crucifixion.

We grieve violence, food shortage, corruption of leaders, and lack of infrastructure that places families in the impossible scenario of weighing whether their children will be safer in their home towns or migrating to a new place. We agree with Jesus that it would be better to have a millstone around the neck and to be thrown into the sea than to deliberately hurt and harm a child.

We pray that a robust vision of the value of human life will prevail over short-term practices that separate kids from their dads and moms. We pray that a holistic value of human life will stretch from dangerous school hallways to full social services for impoverished pregnant women, from holistic crisis pregnancy centers to bleak nursing home hallways, from law enforcement encounters with people of color to immigrant detention centers.

We reject notions that ease us into giving up our moral imaginations, like the necessity of evil “for the greater good,” the necessity of social “collateral damage,” the necessity of inflicting damage on others’ families in order to prevent potential future harm on our own.

We condemn the use of human lives as pawns in political maneuvering when done by any portion of the political spectrum. We celebrate expressions of immigration policy that maintain the dignity and God-given value of every individual human life.

We know that the government of the United States is separate from any one religious body. But we pray that current and future government officials and representatives will recall the ethical principles at work in many world religions and that often guide our common life together in the public square of our democratic republic. Our grand experiment in the United States cannot succeed without a robust appreciation of individual personhood existing in the fabric of family.

And so, we stand, sit, and kneel with those who are crying for their children and their parents; we pray for peace, stability, and opportunity in their home countries; and we pray for wisdom for the leaders who have the power and the moment to create humane policies, if they will only have the imagination to do so.


Justin Gentry ~ A Fiction of Hope

“One of the biggest roles of science fiction is to prepare people to accept the future without pain and to encourage a flexibility of mind.” – Arthur C. Clarke 

This month Star Trek: The Next Generation turns 30. (I know, this fact made me feel old too.) I can still remember as a kid watching Star Trek with my dad. I had no idea it was nerdy; it was just something we did. Much has changed in the last 30 years but science fiction of all kinds has been a constant thread in my life. 

Science fiction is good for us. It gets us thinking creatively about the future and what could be. Star Trek specifically has influenced real life in fascinating ways: anyone who has opened a flip phone or experienced a needleless injection has Gene Roddenberry to thank. 

Star Trek’s influence doesn’t stop with gadgets, either. The original Star Trek aired in 1966 with a multiracial and multiethnic cast. It was the first television show to feature a multiracial kiss.  One of the main characters was portrayed by a Japanese American man who, at the age of five, was caught up in the Japanese internment during World War II. The USS Enterprise also featured a Russian on the bridge – right at the start of the Cold War. 

Star Trek was bleeding edge social commentary at the time. It imagined a day where humanity made peace and came together for the common good. It might seem campy or cheesy now, but at its heart these stories are sincere. 

I believe being optimistic and sincere is godly work.  

There is, of course, the gibbering tentacle monster in the room. In the last few decades, popular tastes have shifted from the optimism of Star Trek and its relatives to the pessimism of the dystopia and the post-apocalypse. In these worlds, humanity has failed some great challenge and as a result, we have a scorched earth, a totalitarian regime, or zombies – sometimes all three. 

Right now, dystopias are a box office smash. While the new Star Trek movies struggle to make their money back, movies like The Hunger Games and shows like The Walking Dead are incredibly popular. The new Star Trek show isn’t even on broadcast television – it’s available only on CBS’ paid membership website. 

Somewhere along the line, the future went from fascinating to fearful. Audiences more readily buy a future where humanity is broken and messed up. Our future is no longer bright. In these stories, we cannot reach the stars. 

Recently at a conference, science fiction writer Neal Stephenson discussed an essay he has written entitled, “Innovation Starvation.” In it, he laments that the world we live in was built on an infrastructure made in the 50s and 60s. We don’t dream big anymore 

Stephenson was confronted by a university professor who essentially said we stopped getting the big stuff done because writers like Stephenson stopped telling us we could. Creatives, artists, and dreamers were the ones slacking off.  

Stephenson took this to heart and created Project Hieroglyph, a group whose purpose is to create science fiction that will spur innovation in science and technology. 

So how can we look at this from a Christian perspective? 

We certainly have our own pessimistic speculative fiction. We have an entire cottage industry that celebrates a persecution complex and predicts a violent end to the world. In this, we are no different than the larger culture. We are so drawn to pessimism because pessimism at the end of the day is easier. It is easier to look down than it is to look up. 

Yet Christ calls us to be something different in the world, and I think it starts with how we feed our imaginations.  

What we dream of has power. When we only imagine fears about tomorrow, tomorrow looks like something to be afraid of. Many of us don’t fear the future for any rational reason: we fear the future because we have been told that it is scary.  

What if it doesn’t have to be? 

As we approach 2019, the year when the original Blade Runner is set, I hope we realize that the world is not as bleak as we feared it would be. It has its problems – we still don’t have our flying cars – but there is still so much good – so much grace – in the world.  

What do you believe about the arch of human history? Some Christians believe that the world is inevitably getting worse. Essentially, they believe that scarcity is our future. Ultimately, we won’t figure out our problems and we will fall so badly that God himself will have to save us again. 

Other Christians believe that we have some agency in this. They believe that we have the God-given power, and therefore the responsibility, to make this world better, to bear the grace of God into it. Essentially, they believe that God has already saved us and that a more whole world can be made from the tragedies all around us.     

I don’t know which side will ultimately be proven right. I do know which side I choose to be on. I know which one I am called to.  

I want to spend my life imagining a better world for myself, my children, and the future of our species. I think regardless of how this ends, that is the sacred work Jesus is drawing us into. 

Whatever happens, I look into the future wide-eyed and eager to see what unfolds. Will you join me? 


Danny Morris ~ How God Communicates

Nothing is more vital in spiritual discernment than to know that God communicates, and to know how God communicates.

Father John Powell, S.J., shared his insight that God communicates with us through five “ports of entry,” those means being the mind, emotion, imagination, memory, and will. I have explored his concept with dozens of groups in The Adventure of Living Prayer, a retreat model sponsored by The Upper Room and developed by Maxie Dunnam and myself.

I wrote the five “ports of entry” on a chalkboard and asked participants to tell their group-of-three about an experience with God, and name the port of entry which God used to communicate. I was always impressed with how quickly they could identify their experience.

After their discussion I called for votes “by precincts” around the room when each person designated his or her port of entry. I have done this with more than 50 groups, and a pattern became predictable. Typically, “emotion” was first; “mind” was usually second but sometimes third; “will” was usually third but sometimes second; and “memory” and “imagination” always competed for fourth and fifth places. I have never found an exception to this pattern, no matter how large or small the group.

Emotion was always first. When I asked the group what this tells us, the immediate and invariably apologetic conclusion was that it reveals we are emotional people (spoken as a downer!). I was saddened that many of the participants were ashamed of their human emotional nature. They assumed that to be emotional is to be weak, and the “worst case” of emotion they could imagine was religious emotion. They also assumed that emotion in religion connotes sadness, guilt, or remorse. They seldom talked of emotion in religion as joy and celebration.

Here are four additional beliefs that surfaced:

1) Emotion is caused by religious excess.

2) If you open yourself to emotions, you may not know how to handle the situation.

3) An emotional response indicates that one has lost control.

4) The person and/or their group might be embarrassed by “an emotional outburst.”

The church must address these negative attitudes about emotion in religion. Head-religion and heart-religion cannot flourish without each other. Separately, they only reproduce themselves while together they enhance Christian maturity.


My next question to the group was, “why does imagination get so few votes?” I began to answer my rhetorical question by telling my own story, and I could see nods of agreement all around the room.

As a child, I was told not to use my imagination. As a first or second grader, I was scolded for daydreaming instead of doing my work. Letting one’s mind wander was a no-no. I was told that if my mind wandered, I could soon be fantasizing, and that fantasy was dangerous: “you could go off the deep end if you are not careful.” They reminded me that I had work to do if I wanted to learn how to be productive. How many times was I told that an “idle mind is the devil’s workshop”? (At six and seven, I had no idea what they were talking about.)

My high school curriculum was no help. It offered only a smattering of poetry and no art. Throughout my high school years, great literature was never held up as a source of “food” for one’s imagination.

Later, the “Protestant work-ethic” kicked in, and there was no turning back.

Imagine my shock when at 40, I visited Disney Land (back then). I walked through the park with childlike intrigue. Everything was fascinating and colorful and creative. Everywhere I looked I saw sheer fantasy. It was wonderful! I loved it! Everyone loved it!

That day I made a discovery: all those people were wrong. Fantasy is good. It is creative imagination at work.

And creative imagination is a gift from God!


When we considered memory as a port of entry through which God communicates, many were puzzled. We thought of memory as our ability to recall dates, facts, telephone numbers, and names. But substantive memories, the good memories that nourish and sustain us, give us a sense of our history with and without God.

Professor Henri Nouwen described healing, guiding, and sustaining memories. My classmates were most keenly interested in healing memories because many of us had memories of negative experiences that had never been healed.

Professor Nouwen also wrote about “celebrating our hurts.” That was a new thought for most of the group. “What is there to celebrate? I am trying to forget a hurt and move on.”

But celebrating one’s hurts seemed to be a valid point. We celebrate a hurt by giving it prominence in our memory. Our memory has no power over us. Only when the hurt is remembered and offered to God can the hurt be healed.

God communicates with us through our good memories. They put us in touch again with the care and providence and grace of God. God also communicates with us through our bad memories when we place them into God’s care and grace.


The will is also a port of entry. It is probably the easiest of the five to understand. All of us have experienced either the presence or absence of strength of will. Father Powell referred to people in AA who find strength in their wills to do something that in themselves they had not been able to do.

During a week when I paid attention to persons around me, I witnessed dramatic effects of God’s communication through the will:

-A blind woman in her mid-twenties received her college diploma.

-Someone sitting behind me commented as a man walked forward to get his college diploma, “that man with the wooden leg is my 57-year-old daddy.”

-“I don’t want to put the tests off. Whatever is wrong, we need to know, so it can be treated.”

-“I love my car and I hate like anything to give it up, but I know it is only right that I do.”

In each case, strength of will made the difference. We know that God has communicated with us when we do that which is beyond our natural strength.


The mind is one of the strongest gifts we have going for us in spiritual discernment. To be able to think and reason is to use logic, assemble and assimilate data, make choices, and act out of “what comes to mind.” None of these is a contradiction or violation of spiritual discernment. On the contrary, we could not properly discern without our mental faculties.

God’s ways, for the most part, are not shrouded in mystery. They are usually reasonable, logical, simple and obvious. When I read the commandment, “Thou shall not kill,” I can grasp it with my mind.

Our world is full of innumerable examples that are far less dramatic. When I want to know God’s will on such matters, I simply use my mind. When my mind is influenced by the Holy Spirit, it is a reliable discerner of God’s will. I don’t need a theology book or a prayer group to help me discern whether God want me to abuse drugs.

Usually at some point during a discussion of the ports of entry someone will question whether the list of five is complete. “How about Scripture or the witness of a Christian friend? Doesn’t God speak to us in those ways?”

I distinguish between a source and our perception. The Bible is a source of God’s witness. But the Bible may sit on the table, unopened and unread. It is the same with the Christian witness of a friend. One’s Christian witness may have been given in word and deed on numerous occasions, yet it can remain unheeded-never really heard!

Only when one makes use of the Bible, or heeds a Christian witness, do they move through a port of entry into one’s consciousness.

Because of the story of a friend, I choose to add a sixth port of entry:


A professor friend described a personal experience that strongly suggests that our bodies are channels through which God communicates. He was an effective teacher. He received affirmation in his work. The university moved him into a coveted, tenured faculty position within six months, when for others it took five years. His ample salary also affirmed the quality of his work.

Everything was great, except that every morning when he went to work he became nauseated-really sick! A medical checkup did not reveal a cause. After nine months of daily nausea at work, his wife asked, “is it possible that God is trying to speak to you through your body and you are not listening? Maybe this is not what you are supposed to be doing with your life.”

In due time, he left the university and began a year’s sabbatical in residence with his family at Pendle Hill, the Quaker Retreat Center near Philadelphia. He stayed at Pendle Hill as a leader for ten years at a sizable reduction in salary compared to the university. He never again experienced daily nausea. His body was a port of entry.

In the midst of these ports of entry, to discern God’s will, two basic understandings must be fixed in one’s prayer life and personal theology: first, God is good! If you don’t hold that basic conviction, why would you want to know God’s will? Second, communication with God is possible!

 If you wish to be intentional about developing your capacity for discerning God’s will, the best way is to be open to, and utilize, all of the ports of entry that are available for God to communicate with you. We have considered the question of how God communicates with us. Let me raise a quantitative question. Let’s now ask, not how, but how much or how little God communicates with us?

We can never calculate this for sure, but we can surmize some things because of what we know about the nature of God. We know that God’s grace is given freely and abundantly. We experience weather, air, and the seasons. These simple reminders suggest that we never have to question God’s constancy.

Ironically, God does not always have to be “speaking” or “broadcasting” in order to be communicating. Nor is communication from God stopped if I am not attentive. The very possibility of our presence to each other is the beginning of communication. And God is constantly calling for the full realization of that possiblity. God’s constancy in relationship-even constancy in availability for relationship-is in itself a powerful form of communication. In a deep, deep sense, that communication goes on constantly. It is like my relationship with Rosalie. We have a deep relationship of communication in part because of our availabilityfor a deep relationship.

How much God communicates with me is a wonderful thought that opens marvelous images of totality and consistency that reflect God’s nature.

How little I communicate with God is a terrible question because it confronts me precisely at the point of a weakness. The answer to that question judges me because of my inability to receive what God is saying when I refuse to “have ears to hear.” A major factor determining how little I communicate with God is the closed or underdeveloped Ports of Entry in my consciousness.

How much God communicates with me by being constantly available to me is a matter of everlasting grace on God’s part.

Elizabeth Glass Turner ~ Imagining Glory


“Now we see dimly; then, face to face.”

Not, perhaps, the most utilized portion of I Corinthians 13 at the ubiquitous summer wedding – but oddly, one of my favorite parts of the familiar chapter. It seems to distill the essence of faith: trust that we will eventually see “face to face” what we now discern only dimly, in fragments and sketches.

“Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

Do we really believe we can know in part now? Postmodern instincts have eroded much of the basic confidence necessary to make simple statements of what we know; not what we believe, but what we know. If we can know, not fully, but truly – then we have that glimpse of the reflection.

What will we see face to face? The mysteries of the atom? Perhaps. A headcount of mysterious sea creatures inhabiting Loch Ness? (Fingers crossed.) Or the knee-bending, earth-shattering reality of Glorious Love? Of Triune Love, in all its glory? We get tantalizing hints of holy glory, sneak peeks of thunderous love and galaxy-spinning Triune chuckles. The book of Revelation teases us with vibrant portraits of the cacophonous zoo that is heaven – or is it Eden? No, and yet – paradise.

Glory is a concept a bit neglected by 21st century Americans – nonbelievers and faith-followers alike. We’ve been Goodyear-blimped and hyped and wowed and spectacled. Conversely, we’ve been flooded by dystopian literature that has all the arresting charm of London’s post-war architecture. We’ve dissected ourselves in the flickering light of the basement morgue and labeled the result “monster” (vampire, anyone?). We may be impressed or depressed but rarely awed.

And that’s where love comes in. Love, the gateway to awe. Awe – the suspicion of glory. Holy love – beating from the heart of the Trinity, sacrificing itself and leaving awe in its wake, awe opening our minds to the possibility of unforeseen glory.

Imagining glory keeps us human. To glimpse glory is to receive grace, the kind that results in plain, sunburned lips uttering “truly this was the Son of God!” To glimpse glory is to receive grace, the kind that cauterizes and compels:

“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

We need to discipline ourselves to notice glimpses of glory; these close encounters are a means of grace.

Matt Sigler ~ Our Hearts Burning Within Us: Eastertide

With the lyrics of “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” still ringing in our ears we enter into the season of Eastertide. The joyous proclamation of the hymn is not “Christ the Lord was risen two-thousand years ago;” we sing in the present tense, “Christ is risen today!” Charles Wesley captures in his lyrics the mystery that we often gloss over when we participate in worship: time is a blurry thing in Christian worship. While the past events of scripture are not repeated literally; by the Spirit, time collapses as we engage the Story of God—hence, the lyrics “Christ is risen today.”

The trans-temporality of Christian worship is important to embrace as we enter into these fifty days of Eastertide. Often the weeks after Easter can seem like a letdown. With our energies expended on Easter sunrise services and the other events of the day, we trudge into the following Sundays frequently missing the richness of the post-Easter Day season. The Story does not end with Easter morning and the empty tomb. We have broiled fish to eat and sheep to feed. We need to hear Christ’s voice say “peace be with you” as we’re caught off-guard when he unexpectedly shows up in our midst. Like the disciples, we need to encounter the risen Christ as we continue on the journey. Here are a few reasons why the season of Eastertide is so important.

Verifying the Resurrection

Confusion leads to disbelief, doubt is shattered by encounter, and in the presence of the risen Lord, fear dissolves into unbounded joy. We struggle with many of the same concerns that the disciples struggled with in the weeks following Easter. Inevitably, CNN or the History Channel will run their one hour documentaries giving alternative possibilities to bodily resurrection. If Eastertide does anything, it forces us into the narrative where we encounter a very physically risen Lord—one who eats with us and invites us to touch his wounds. In worship we also are given the opportunity to encounter the same risen Lord in our midst.

Manifesting the Already-But-Not-Yetness of the Kingdom

For forty days the disciples lived in swirling awe of the risen Christ. One can’t blame them for taking some time before finally asking in Acts 1, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus’ answer takes them by surprise and it does us too: it’s not for us to know the times set by the Father. What the season of Eastertide does allow us to know for certain is that our current age is temporary. The resurrection validates all that Jesus taught about the kingdom of God: a kingdom that has already been established, but has not yet fully come. It also shows us our destiny in Christ, the first fruits of this new creation.

Pointing Us to the End of the Story

At the end of the forty days following the resurrection the disciples stand gazing up into heaven and are immediately given the promise that the ascended Christ will return one day. Ten days later they receive a down payment on that promise at Pentecost. During Eastertide we also are (re)oriented to the end of God’s story of salvation. We renew our hope in the sure and certain return of a King who is making all things new.

Sending Us on Mission

Similarly, Eastertide is also a season where we are called to mission. “Feed my sheep,” “Go and make disciples of all nations,” are words of commission for the followers of the risen Lord. We cannot stand around gazing at the heavens because we have encountered the risen One and know how the Story ends. These fifty days simultaneously remind us of the good news we proclaim as well as our deep need to be infused with the Spirit’s power for this mission.

Our Hearts Burning Within Us

As someone who plans and leads worship, I find my biblical imagination is captivated during this season of Eastertide for all the reasons noted above. And then there’s Emmaus. It’s no wonder why so many have read this text as model for worship—Jesus opens up the scriptures and manifests himself in the breaking of the bread. Regardless of your exegesis on this passage, the text stirs a desire to feel our own hearts burning within us as we encounter the Lord in the Story. The same Lord who met the disciples on the road to Emmaus longs to meet us during this season of Eastertide. As we seek him, he opens his Word to us, meets us in the breaking of the Bread, and stirs our hearts with his holy love in a way that makes it impossible to contain the news of his resurrection.