Wednesday, September 28, 2005
Today I had about the most emotionally exhausting conversation I've had in some time. I had been connected through various avenues with a young man whose story parallels my own in some ways. It's still surreal for me to pause and remember where I was a year ago and then take in these situations around me. I must say, I have the utmost respect for counselors of all stripes - those who regularly bear the burdens, pain and brokenness every day. I salute you.

I was discussing this process of my story just last week with a friend. I hadn't preplanned it. I haven't thought about it extensively. It just sort of came out: How empowering it can be to come to terms with one's own brokenness, to wear it comfortably like a suit. Not to exploit one's pain, but rather to simply be honest with it. When my greatest fear may have been to be broken, admitting that I am broken beyond my own fixing changes everything. Everything.

I don't know I feel about standing in a room amongst faces more familiar to me by their online personas than their flesh and blood faces. Sunday was a party for Kyle as we prayed him off to the land of higher learning, also known as Oxford. Monday we celebrated Alan's birthday at his new house. The council of northern bishops was in attendance (Klinefelter, Marshall, Rains and Bean). The Sherwoods. The Matthews. The VBCC family. Much food and merriment. At one point, Kyle's episcopal sock puppets (believe it) found themselves upon the feet of a mini-Matthews. "Does anyone have a rapport with the child?" he asks me, the panic brimming in his eyes. I'll never underestimate the presence of good friends.

Speaking of friends, a band of seminarians watched Magnolia and talked it through together. The idea was thrown out that the frogs represented the impossibly possible and its parallel to the theme of forgiveness in the film. Good stuff.

Prior to the viewing there had been some talk regarding the phenomenon of Jesus-Is-My-Boyfriend praise music. I have to say, that if there ever was a legit Jesus-Is-My-Boyfriend song, it would have to be "Deathly" by Aimee Mann, which appears both on the Magnolia soundtrack and Bachelor No. 2. It provides the emotional crux of the film, and I see in it the character of Claudia from the film, who to me is a picture of unfaithful Israel as portrayed in the OT prophets.

Now that I’ve met you
Would you object to
Never seeing each other again
Cause I can’t afford to
Climb aboard you
No one’s got that much ego to spend

So don’t work your stuff
Because I’ve got troubles enough
No, don’t pick on me
When one act of kindness could be

Cause I’m just a problem
For you to solve and
Watch dissolve in the heat of your charm
But what will you do when
You run it through and
You can’t get me back on the farm

So don’t work your stuff
Because I’ve got troubles enough
No, don’t pick on me
When one act of kindness could be

You’re on your honor
Cause I’m a goner
And you haven’t even begun
So do me a favor
If I should waver
Be my savior
And get out the gun

Just don’t work your stuff
Because I’ve got troubles enough
No, don’t pick on me
When one act of kindness could be

posted by Peter at 12:30 AM
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Monday, September 26, 2005
Quiet Time
I grew up as a youth group junkie. There were certain Sundays I arrived at church at 9:30 am and stayed until nearly 10:00 pm, engaged in a deluge of activities. It was in this environment that I first was introduced to the spiritual discipline of the "Quiet Time."

The "Quiet Time," also known as the "Daily Devotional," or "Devo" for those in need of spiritual jargon, consisted of anywhere from 15 minutes to 6 hours (if you were a super holy televangelist) of Bible reading and prayer every day. That was the goal - to spend time alone with God every single day.

And now I find myself in the theological academy with guilt seeping around me when I don't take just 5 minutes for a "Quiet Time," and commonly hear from fellow students with similar religious backgrounds that the only thing consistent about their prayer time is its inconsistency.

And I have to ask myself: What is wrong with this picture?

What is the biblically theological argument for spending a considerable measure of time every single day alone with God? Where does this come from? Why do we do this and indoctrinate the young in the faith that they don't have it right until they spend a solid hour in prayer and Bible study a day?

Some will say we should do it because Jesus did. But a close reading of the gospel accounts would prove otherwise.

The gospel writer of Matthew describes just two instances where Jesus isolated himself. Interestingly, both of these times occur within the same chapter. "Now when Jeus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself," it reads (14:13). The writer has just explained the death and burial of John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus. Presumably, Jesus needs time alone to mourn. Maybe. Explicitly, the text gives no hint as to what Jesus plans to do alone. But the crowds Jesus' alone time, and the gospel writer here records the feeding of five thousand.

In closing this passage, the writer records, "And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray" (14:23). Here, we are told the reason and purpose for Jesus wanting to be alone: to pray. Yet, this is the only instance in the gospel of Matthew we are told that Jesus does this. Hardly evidence enough to justify the "Quiet Time."

When I look at the infant church in Acts I see no example of prayer in isolation. On the contrary, "Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people" (Acts 2:46-47). No where are we told that Peter or Paul or any of the disciples spent time alone to pray. Rather, every instance of prayer in Acts is a corporate affair. The believers meet daily.

Where do I get this idea to go to a worship service once a week, sit in a pew or chair, shake hands with and greet those in my immediate vicinity (I'll forget their names before the next song, but that's okay, I'll re-introduce myself next week again just like nothing happened), sing some songs, lift my hands, listen to an inspiring message that I won't remember and go home and convince myself that this is "church"?

How is it that we in our American Evangelical churches so badly divorce personal devotion from corporate devotion? I'm not suggesting that one should never spend time alone with God. Certainly, there are times to personally process internally with God. But I am suggesting that a doctrinal system that enforces guilt and shame when one cannot perform a "Quiet Time" regularly is pretty screwed up.

Human beings were not made for isolation, and I find it hard to believe that God would expect us to worship Him in isolation. There is no reason that my personal piety not include my friends and family, those around me. There is no reason why the next time I hear a brother confess his struggle to consistently pray to offer to pray with him together.

Our goal is spiritual formation in the picture of Jesus. And it is not good for any person to attempt such a task alone.

posted by Peter at 11:38 PM
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More links

  • I made my first contribution to the seminary blog. It's about books. I will be providing content there the 2nd, 12th and 22nd of every month, so mark your calendar. And leave comments, because that's what they pay me by.

  • What might the creation story look like if all the deities were present and had the personalities of the guys of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy"? Paul Rudnick of the New Yorker has the answer. (link via Dr. Cook; not for the easily offended.)
    Day No. 4:

    “One word,” said the Lord God. “Landscaping. But I want it to look natural, as if it all somehow just happened.”

    “Do rain forests,” suggested a primitive tribal god, who was known only as a clicking noise.

    “Rain forests here,” decreed the Lord God. “And deserts there. For a spa feeling.”

    “Which is fresh, but let’s give it glow,” said Buddha. “Polished stones and bamboo, with a soothing trickle of something.”

    “I know where you’re going,” said the Lord God. “But why am I seeing scented candles and a signature body wash?”

    “Shut up,” said Buddha.

    “You shut up,” said the Lord God.

    “It’s all about the mix,” Allah declared in a calming voice. “Now let’s look at some swatches.”

  • Speaking of the New Yorker, Geoff over at Communality references a piece from the print magazine by social guru Malcolm Gladwell (author of The Tipping Point and Blink) about what fame and fortune have done for purpose-driven Rick Warren. According to Warren,
    Out of that Psalm [72], God said to me that the purpose of influence is to speak up for those who have no influence. That changed my life. I had to repent. I said, I'm sorry, widows and orphans have not been on my radar.....I started reading through scripture. I said, How did i miss the two thousand verses on the poor into he Bible? So i said, I will use whatever affluence and influence that you give me to help those who are marginalized.

    Very interesting.

  • This just in: Sufjan Stevens reference at OverCompensating!

  • Alan has a piece for the online version of Relevant Magazine about the lifestyle of liturgy:
    As we re-examine the mode of our active Christian lives, we are discovering the real value of a liturgical lifestyle, not only the trappings of liturgical worship. We are finding, once again, the real spiritual formation that happens in the context of close Christian community, and we are finding ways of living that out in the midst of "real life." The monastic life is not merely a life of quiet and solitude, although there are elements of that within it. It is a liturgical lifestyle—a life of "spiritual work" that is done by a community together.

    Two thumbs up. Read it all yourself.

posted by Peter at 12:36 AM
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Sunday, September 25, 2005
Work of the Office
From By the Renewing of Your Minds by Ellen T. Charry:
Christian doctrines function pastorally when a theologian unearths the divine pedagogy in order to engagte the reader or listener in considering that life with the triune God facilitates dignity and excellence. I call this the "salutarity principle." What is good for us does not always mean comfort or immediate gratification, although surely there are times when what is good for one is immediately gratifying. It takes until age eight or ten for a child to want to brush her teeth twice daily, for example. But in the long run, the discipline gives way to the realiziation that one is securing one's dental health, in which one comes to take pleasure. It is similar with spiritual health. Reflecting on the quality of one's life before God is a taste to be cultivated (18).

This sharply reminds of a conversation Kyle and I had just the other night regarding the Divine Office. Over the last couple of weeks I've been experimenting with the Divine Office in my house. By some ironic twist I'm having a hard time selling this idea of wasting 15 minutes in the morning and evening on Jesus to a group of future pastors and leaders.

How about this - Evening prayer: It's better for you than eating vegetables!

posted by Peter at 12:54 AM
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Friday, September 23, 2005
Random link day, pt. I
I have snot issues.

My head is leaking all over the place. I've gone through an entire box of Kleenex and I'm taking enough pills to feel like I belong in a convelascent center.

Over the past weeks I've been collecting some interesting links. Here are a couple.

  • For local Wilmoreans, the city is having photo contest for their 2007 calendar. I sure hope the grand prize winner gets to light up the city Christmas tree. Because that kind of motivation would really get my creative juices flowing.

  • The coolest thing about this collection of useless baseball cards is that I remembering having nearly all of them. Except for the dirty moustache Jose Canseco one.

  • A group of really really smart Christian academics (including Asbury seminary professor-on-hiatus Chuck Gutenson) have begun a group blog think tank about the Church and Academy. Its really really smart stuff.

  • Kyle takes on some confusion of the semantics of "emerging":
    If I may be but a little flippant, some people are using candles and incense and celebrating the Eucharist because it's cool. Others have been doing it because we've been doing it for two thousand years.

  • I look forward to new Cameron Crowe soundtracks nearly as much as Cameron Crowe films. The man knows how to make a mixtape. And while Elizabethtown doesn't open for another three weeks, the soundtrack is available in a streaming fashion right about here. And for those curious, E-town is a mere two-hour drive from Wilmore.

posted by Peter at 1:01 AM
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Monday, September 19, 2005
Who needs the Bible?
From The Living God by Thomas C. Oden:
Christian thology seeks to understand in a reflective and orderly way what God has revealed. It is not merely reading the Bible as such, although it presupposes having read the Bible. It seeks to put the many sentences, episodes, and maxims of the Bible in a whole, orderly, consistent statement about the overarching meaning of the message revealed in Holy Writ. There is no Christian theology without the Bible, yet there is no Bible without an inspirited community to write, remember and translate it, to guard it and pass it on, to study it, live by it, and invite others to live by it. The Bible provides means by which the Christian message can be received into the minds and hearts of each new generation. It is from the Bible that Christianity learns how God is revealed" (25).

posted by Peter at 7:30 PM
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Friday, September 16, 2005
Sufjan Stevens live

The band
Originally uploaded by PedroBlanco.
Drove up to Southgate House last night with Jackie, Alex, Krista and new friend Andy to see Sufjan Stevens. I haven't been this excited for a concert since... since... I don't know if I've ever looked forward to a concert quite like this.

Laura Veirs and the Tortured Souls opened, and at times she makes me think of Lori Schaeffer of Waterdeep and other times like Aimee Mann with enough synth to remind me of John Vanderslice. Catchy, but not memorable to me. It's a speed bump on the way to the evening's attraction.

To say Sufjan Stevens is a concert experience like no other fails to do it justice. I thought about writing about the cheerleading uniforms the 7-piece band wore. I thought about writing about the musical virtuosity of Stevens who would seamlessly go from acoustic guitar to Rhodes piano to banjo. I thought about writing about the funky rendition of "They are Night Zombies" or the stripped down version of "Chicago," the somber "Casimir Pulaski Day" or the joyous "Jacksonville". I thought about the Broadway musical production feel of it all. Or that this was a band having the time of their lives and we had to join along. Or just of the plain ol' electric eccentricity of the whole thing.

But it all paled in comparison to the encore. Stevens returned by himself to the stage wearing a Laura Veirs t-shirt, acoustic guitar in hand. As he plucked the strings and breathed out the ballad "To Be Alone with You", the crowd was absolutely silent. It was an emotional suckerpunch. All the cartoonish levity and pep rally nostalgia evaporated in an instant. It brought the evening to a rousing climax of pathos. It was a jaw-droppingly stunning closure to the set.

Do yourself a favor and see Sufjan. Joe was also there and gives his thoughts. Andy provides his perspective also.

posted by Peter at 12:27 AM
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Wednesday, September 14, 2005
Dr. Lawson Stone:
As usual, the Bible is not about satisfying our curiosity, but rather it speaks to our need for redemption.

posted by Peter at 12:58 AM
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Monday, September 12, 2005
More lessons in simplicity

I'm not good with interruptions.

I got this picture as well as several other similarly themed photos from the campus security Thursday afternoon and spent the rest of the day on the phone with security, local police and the insurance company. It makes me wary when the phone rings seven times after calling 911 before anyone picked up. I'll plan on not having any emergencies in Wilmore. And neither is it a good thing when the first thing the insurance company asks is "Why do you have collision but not comprehensive?". ("You tell me that one" I reply as teeth-gritting politely as possible.)

So the passenger window is busted out. The middle console is ripped out with the CD player all mangled and ruined, dangling there. The subwoofer from the trunk was stolen. And a dozen or so burned CDs. Right know I've got the gaping hole covered with white garbage bags and green duct tape. Pretty stylin' if you ask me. All the cool kids will be doing that before you know it.

You know its going to be a good day when you spend the first hour of the day with a cop who's dusting your car over for fingerprints. This was my Friday morning. Probably the most excitement he gets in a month. Supposedly, CSI glorifies this job, so says the cop. Who knew? He finds two partials. He tells me he thinks its a local thug wannabee that he knows. He tells me he went to the kid's house and grilled for an hour the night before. "The kid's stonewallin' me," he says. Which immediately takes me to that scene in The Big Lebowski. ("Is this your homework, Larry? Is this your homework?")

Ironically, the incident probably happened around the time I was getting the House blog up and running, with the opening post about simplicity. Coincidence? Hmm.

It's just stuff to me, but dagnabbit, it sure is an irritating interruption in the middle of an already stressful week.

I watched The Big Lebowski Friday night and I'm feeling a lot better. At 8:30 am Monday I'll be getting the glass replaced.

Hopefully the rest is resolved this week.

posted by Peter at 1:21 AM
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Method and Praxis
From "Attending to the Gaps between Beliefs and Practice" by Amy Plantinga Pauw in Pracitical Theology:
Religious beliefs shape and are shaped by religious practices.

One example of this shaping is the way a community's beliefs become more credible to them as they engage in practices congruent with those beliefs. As Craig Dykstra asserts, by sustained engagement in Christian practices "a community comes to such an immediate experience of the grace and mercy and power of God that the 'nasty suspicion' that... theology is really about nothing more than human subjectivity simply loses its power." Belief in God's indiscriminate mercy is rendered more credible by religious practices of mercy. This is even the case for people standing outside the religious commmunity. The startling congruence betweeen the Chambonnais' mercy to strangers and their belief in a merciful God rendered their belief more plausible for non-Christians as well.

Yet no one who has read church history can conclude the truth of Christian beleif from the moral superiority of Christian pracitice (36).

I have been told that displaced students from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary may be granted free housing on my floor.

We Support

posted by Peter at 12:47 AM
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Two reviews
This weeks' print edition of Entertainment Weekly contains a review of Takk, the new album from Sigur Ros:
At times Takk almost rocks--as much as tiny ice-crystal elves from the magical land of Narnia can rock, but still. (A-)

The same issue also reviews the latest from Christian crossovers Switchfoot:
Their danger-free music seems the very definition of corporate rock. We'd call 'em the modern'day corollary to Styx, but we don't want to insult the latter band. (C-)

Give you two guesses as to which of these I have my eye out for at the public library.

So much for Christian artistry getting relevance in the mainstream marketplace.

posted by Peter at 12:39 AM
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Tuesday, September 06, 2005
Queen of sciences

The alarm goes off at 8:00 a.m. At 8:04 a.m. a knocking penetrates through my room. "Mmyeah," I garble through my still asleep mouth. "Oh I'm so sorry to wake you. My roommate locked me out of my room." Ah, this is my life as an RA. But a good thing, as I inadvertantly turned off the alarm rather than hitting the snooze.

I began training for my new job today with Information Technologies. But more importantly, today was the first day of classes on campus. My only class on Tuesdays will be Basic Christian Theology, a study in systematic theology reading through Thomas C. Oden's trilogy. And it doesn't meet until 6:15 p.m.

There were about 60 people in a room made to fit 50. The air conditioning does not work in the building. The windows were thrown wide open. By dusk the crickets were in full concert, competing with the lecture. "Seventy percent of the world's Christians are without air conditioning, so get over it," so says the professor.

Dr. Seamands displayed this picture of a stained glass at Drew University. It represents Theology as the "Queen of the Sciences." It is a principle that was held from the medieval period up to the Enlightenment. In the center is Theology personified. Below her is Humility (Psalm 25:9 - "He guides the humble in what is right") leading the Believer.

Above theology are the three moral virtues: Faith, Hope and Love. To her left and right are Philosophy and Science. The implication is that Theology leads to the life of virtue and that Theology rules over the academic life.

It all coincides nicely with some Karl Barth I was reading last night. Barth lived in an era that insisted Theology was one among equals in the pantheon of Sciences. But Barth insisted that Theology was the lens through which all other sciences could be judged rightly. As he puts it, "It is not a matter of arguing that the Bible is the finest book, but that it is the standard of all fine books."

Fides quaerens intellectum.

posted by Peter at 11:58 PM
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Monday, September 05, 2005
Common Ground
Joey's eyes are wide and deep. I see fear and despair in them. Like a deer caught in headlights. More than anything, they appear weary and tired. Like they have not known sleep for sometime.

Joey is two weeks' on the job. Common Ground Ministry was once a thriving ministry in the neighborhood of Over the Rhine in Cinncinnati. In its heyday it provided low-income housing to homeless families or families on the brink of homelessness. It was once a vitally relevant voice in the community. But with five directors in five years, the effort took a faceplant into the broken pavement. The ministry has been officially closed for seven months.

Two weeks ago Joey arrived. He had been commissioned to reopen the doors. He inherited an entire city block of diplated and rotting former apartment buildings. Some are full of hardware supplies covered in cobwebs. But there is no vision. Joey doesn't know whether he's been sent to restart the ministry or to clean up the buildings for selling them out.

A week ago last Thursday, during our week of RA training, the eight of us Asbury RA's visited Joey so that we could do a service project. Somehow Jeff had discovered Common Ground on Google. We arrived just in time for lunch, and we ate in Joey's small office front as he explained to us his story. Josh, Chris and Samantha then took to the outside sidewalk with scrapers and weedkiller to free the cracked sidewalk from the overgrowth. Jeff and Paul followed Joey into some upper apartments to chase out the unwelcome pigeons and board up the windows. There was even some cleaning out the dead, rotting birds as well, so I'm told.

Ben and I volunteered to stay in the office and chisel away broken tile. We decided to lock the door as people streamed by. We didn't realize why there were pedestrians tapping on the window until we realized Joey had taped the bus schedule inside the window. The bus stop is right outside the door. In our three hours there we didn't see a single white person. I'm later told that Over the Rhine is one of the top 10 crime-ridden neighborhoods in the country.

I follow Joey back to his "warehouse" to find a hammer. The door has no handle, just a gaping hole. It is deadbolted, though. I turn the key, put my hand in the hole where a doorknob might have been in a former life and yank. The door creeks open. Only the top hinge is attached to the rusted door. If doors had leprosy, this one did. Steeping inside I find the perfect scenery if I were shooting a horror film. Spotty electricity. Debris everywhere. A room full of nothing but 15 different varieties of sandpaper, thanks to a once-upon-a-time corporate sponsor.

After three hours of joining Joey in redeeming his property from the atrophy of time and neglect, we asked if we could pray for him. I encouraged him that his vision should be driven not by the houses he possesses but by the God he serves. At the end of our time, Joey's eyes were still wide and deep, but they were moist and brimming with emotion.

I hope we can see Joey again and partner with him as he establishes an outpost of the kingdom of God in Over the Rhine.

posted by Peter at 12:29 AM
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Thursday, September 01, 2005
The House of Healing
Pippin's face was anxious. "Well, you had better come with me as quick as you can," he said. "I wish I could carry you. You aren't fit to walk any further. They shouldn't have let you walk at all; but you must forgive them. So many dreadful things have happened in the City, Merry, that one poor hobbit coming in from the battle is easily overlooked."

"It's not always a misfortune being overlooked," said Merry. "I was overlooked just now by -- no, no, I can't speak of it. Help me, Pippin! It's all going dark again, and my arm is so cold."

"Lean on me, Merry lad!" said Pippin. "Come now! Foot by foot. It's not far."

"Are you going to bury me?" said Merry.

"No, indeed!" said Pippin, trying to sound cheerful, though his heart was wrung with fear and pity. "No, we are going to the Houses of Healing."

--J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King


This morning I prayed while I was brushing my teeth. This is odd because I don't think I've ever done that before. The mood struck after my morning liturgy. And I was praying about my house. With another guy I oversee a house for around fifty seminary students. Fifty seminary guys under one roof - intentional Christian community in all of its glorious messiness. Some would call it a "dorm." I call it a "house." The guys started moving in last week.

"Father, for those who enter these doors with burdens, may they find a house of rest. Father, for those who enter these doors with wounds, may they find a house of healing."

And the image of the house of healing was lodged in my brain.

I remember arriving here a year ago this week. I was a mess emotionally and spiritually, parts of my soul shattered in bits. I'm still a mess, though much less so these days. Over the last year I have experienced such healing at the hands of the men in this house. Slowly I am being transformed into a picture of Jesus. My prayer is that we together as a house may be intentional about being transformed together. My prayer is that my hands may be the hands of a healer.

I think maybe there are a host of us who enter the theological academy limping and wounded like Merry. Sometimes its easy to assume this place is a Top Gun academy, the best of the best of up-and-coming spiritual giants. But I'm trying now to train my ears and eyes for the broken in my midst, watching for those who hide their wounds from the Black Shadow. How do I be like Pippin to the Merry next to me who doesn't know how to cry for help?

Yesterday, I interviewed for the position of web programmer here on campus and today was offered the position. It will entail maintenance of the seminary's website as well as some archival projects similar to the work I did with Ad Fontes. The pay is half of my previous job, but I trust God to be faithful to me now.

Monday I met with the discipleship team of The Rock / La Roca UMC. I pitched the idea of me teaching a Bible study. You see, interpretation belongs to the people of God. Stuff I read two months ago is still fresh in my mind. We'll look at the Gospel of Mark. The people of God reading the text together, wrestling with the text, being transformed together. No other curriculum or outside sources. What does the text say? How does it threaten my crusty, selfish, comfortable soul? What do the contents of this ancient book have to say about the way I live my life? We may very well wind up creating our very own community commentary of Mark. We'll see what happens. The group loved it. Didn't even want to hear my other two ideas I was weighing. We start September 21 at 7:30.

I've been in a long season of knocking on doors that turn out to be blank walls. It's been a good week.

My new neighbor who moved in over the weekend turns out to be a very big Yankee fan. Tonight we watched together the Felix Hernandez - Randy Johnson duel. I'll be doing some serious prayer for that boy.


At the doors of the Houses many were already gathered to see Aragorn, and they followed after him; and when at last he had supped, men came and prayed that he would heal their kinsmen or their friends who lives were in peril through hurt or wound, or who lay under the Black Shadow. And Aragorn arose and went out, and he sent for the sons of Elrond, and together they laboured far into the night....

The hands of the king are the hands of a healer.

The hands of Jesus are the hands of a healer.

The hands of the Christian are the hands of a healer.

posted by Peter at 12:55 AM
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