Greg DeLoach Author, Speaker Fri, 19 Jan 2018 20:26:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Learning Gratitude From a Dog Tue, 21 Nov 2017 18:03:01 +0000

Annie was a “rescue.” She was one of seven sisters picked up from a shelter by the rescue organization “You Lucky Dog.” Part boxer, part pit-bull, part something-or-another, we met Annie when she was just a couple of months old at The Roswell Farmer’s Market on a hot summer morning. The organization was showing off the pups that were available for adoption, and along with her sisters, Annie was there to be petted and loved. That day a year and a half ago we found ourselves rescued by Annie.

Annie is teaching me about gratitude. Of course I am skeptical that in dog cognition gratitude, as I understand it, is something a dog experiences. Nevertheless there is much I am learning about gratitude from this fifty pound brown pup.

Every moment is purposeful for her. I am not saying that she is always busy with frantic energy as she scratches off items on her “to-do” list. Rather, Annie fully engages the moment: she will thoroughly smell most anything new, different and unique. Butterflies delight her; bumble-bees amaze her, and squirrels engage her. Every moment seems to be filled with possible wonder.

Every creature is a potential friend. Of course not every creature is friendly, including the two-legged variety, but every creature she meets is greeted with an enthusiastic wag of the tail. Instead of fear, anxiety or defense, she chooses to meet another with the hope of kindness exchanged.

Every day is a gift. And in each day, there are many gifts to experience. Whether nosing through the trash to fish out a tasty bit of paper or dozing in the sunshine or furtively staring at us while we try to eat a meal, all things hold the possibility of a gift. When I watch her curl at my feet in front of the fire, she even finds rest as a wonderful gift that she accepts and fully embraces.

A few years ago I was listening to a Ted-Talk presented by David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk from Austria. He said that the one thing that unites all persons everywhere is that we all want to be happy. Some people, he noted, think that when you are happy you are grateful, but this monk challenges us to think again. It is not that gratitude comes from happiness, but that when we are grateful we are happy. I think he is right.

While I know I am projecting anthropomorphic values onto Annie, I nevertheless see a canine that is happy because she is grateful – at least in a doggy kind of way!

Another favorite monk of mine writes: “Every moment and every event of every man’s [sic] life on earth plants something in his soul…we must learn to realize that the love of God seeks us in every situation, and seeks our good.” (Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation)

I wonder if part of our national angst is rooted in our lack of gratitude? We bristle at accusations of privilege, yet behave as if we are entitled. We view not only strangers, but sometimes our own friends and family members with suspicion and fear. We frantically move through the day just trying to get through it instead of live in it.

We set aside one day for gratitude, but why not set aside a life for gratitude? The ancient children of God were exhorted: You shall eat your fill and bless the LORD your God for the good land that he has given you. Take care that you do not forget the LORD your God…(Deuteronomy 8:10-11)

Every moment has a purpose…every creature is a potential friend…every day is a gift – I am thankful for my little teacher who greets me every evening with vigorous wag, a curious lick on the hand, and a hopeful glance at the door where together, with leash in hand, we can explore our small part of the universe.

Grace, peace and gratitude,


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Take a Knee, Take a Stand Wed, 27 Sep 2017 15:07:54 +0000 Last year an NFL player, self-identified as a devout Christian, decided to “take a knee” during the playing of the National Anthem. It was a silent protest on behalf of Black Lives Matter. He is bi-racial and was raised by white parents. I can only assume that matters of race are acutely and personally important to him. Currently NFL players across the country are taking a knee during the National Anthem – some for the same reason, others out of solidarity, and still others for any number of other reasons. I am quite certain that by now you are more than familiar with the issue and have perhaps formed an opinion. Of late those opinions are fierce and divisive. I have no desire to offer yet another voice to this debate by making my own point, clarifying a side, or otherwise adding another remark that will add yet more division. I have nothing to add…

Except to write and say there are times to take a knee and take a stand.

Taking a knee during the National Anthem has created an uproar that has a religious fervor to it. A belief system has been challenged and assaulted. There was a time when making a point against those in power would cost a life. Nero lit up the Appian Way with the crucified bodies of Christians and other “dissenters” that stood against the regime. In this current debate, if you do not stand it will cost you derisive ridicule, your reputation, and perhaps even employment.

Please do not read into this. I stand up for the National Anthem and salute the flag because, in part, I am grateful to live here, I am proud of those who put their life on the line to defend me (and our freedoms, including the freedom of speech), and because I feel a sense of responsibility as a citizen of this country. I have traveled to places hostile to my faith as well as hostile to my country. I am thankful for each return trip to see the flag and the nation for which it stands.

I will leave it to others to debate First Amendment Rights, respect of the flag, the freedom of expression and the cost of such freedoms. While I cannot pretend to be an informed fan of football, let alone the NFL, there are other debates going on that are also important, such as the physical, emotional and mental concerns of concussions; egregious violence on and off the playing field; and the idolatrous veneration of athletes, amateur as well as professional.

It is enough for me to write that as a follower of Jesus, and not football, there are times to take a knee. It is an act of submission to a greater power and a sign of humility. I am to take a knee to side with compassion and empathy for those marginalized and neglected. To follow Jesus calls on me to bend the knee in submission to my own will that I may be open to a greater will beyond my own. I am, I have discovered over and over again through the years, not always right. To bend the knee is to confess that I do not have all the answers.

There is also a time, as a follower of Jesus, to take a stand. The prophets of old continue to declare that all is not right in this world and so I am to stand up for justice on behalf of the down-trodden; I am to stand up for what is right against principalities that stand for what is decidedly wrong. Day by day I am called to stand up and follow Jesus, making a difference in love, by love and with love. Martin Luther famously stated, in the face of ecclesiastical powers that sought to silence him, “Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen.” I strive for such strength of conviction, but I confess that too often I slouch when I should be standing.

Many, many years ago I answered a call that led me through the waters of baptism and into a trembling world. Therefore I am beckoned to take a knee and take a stand – not to a team, a mascot, or any other “way of life,” or culture, or the tyranny of popular opinion. I am to take a knee and take a stand, because my life is not my own and I am wondrously connected with all others, kneeling and standing. Martin Luther King, Jr. once stated, “All…are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be…”

Long ago, Jesus took a knee at Gethsemane, seeking the will of God. Early the next morning he took a stand before Pilate, and in his death, he now most fully lives.

Dear God, help me to know when I ought to take a knee, bowing down in submission to your will and not my own. Forgive me when pride distorts my sight and I seek my own gain at the cost of others. Strengthen me to know when to take a stand, even when it is not popular, on behalf of those whose voices are not heard and whose lives are trampled under by the principalities of this world. And Lord, grant me grace that when others fail to take a knee when they ought to stand, or to stand when they ought to kneel, to see them through your eyes, the eyes of mercy and compassion, in Jesus name. Amen.

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Packing Your Fears Mon, 11 Sep 2017 15:10:35 +0000

Recently I was listening to an interview of a backpacker who hikes as a “minimalist.” I know what you are thinking – this is not about hiking in the buff! Minimalist backpacking – or ultralight as it is more commonly called – is about packing the minimal essentials for the hike. Instead of a tent, for example, he packs a tarp. He cuts the handle off his toothbrush and removes all the tags off his gear. His “stove” is not one of those expensive, fancy kind that I covet. He uses the bottom of a soft drink can that he has modified to burn twigs and leaves.

The interview was intriguing, but I like my gear, tags and all. This guy is so into minimilast hiking that he even shortened his name from “Clint” to “Lint.” Who needs that extra consanant? In the interview he reflected that when he first started hiking trails he quickly learned what he could do without. So far he has clocked over 14,000 miles all over North America and all along the way he has shredded “gear and fear.” He dryly observed, “You pack what you fear. If you fear bugs and weather, you pack a heavy tent. If you fear hunger, you pack too much food. If you fear the cold, you pack extra clothing.” You pack your fears.

I noticed others packing their fears this past week as the threat, and then reality, of Hurricane Irma blowing through. Gasoline was in short supply. Grocery store shelves were emptying. Most all of us were hunkering down at home, myself included, staying off the road. You pack your fears.

When I pack my backpack – whether I am going out for a multi-day trek, or just a long day hike – I try to make sure I can squeeze as much as I can in it in order to be prepared. This means my pack is usually heavier than it needs to be, but I do not like to be cold, or hungry, or afraid. You pack your fears.

Maybe I need to lighten my load a bit, but not just on the trail. I wonder about my own overstuffed pack that I take up each day. Fears are a heavy burden. Insecurity of selfhood is quite a load to shoulder. The tyranny of what others think is practically unbearable. The worry of “what if” or “what could be” can be weighty. I need to take a few things out of my pack and trust that I can carry on in this life’s trek without them.

The belief in scarcity was a load that the ancient Hebrews carried out of Egypt. Wandering through the wilderness, the story tells us much of their time was spent complaining about the manna and craving for meat, and looking back to their enslavement in Egypt as something better than the uncertainty of the future. The burdens of uncertainty was too much, and yet there is this elegant line in Exodus 31:2, “The people who survived…found grace in the wilderness.”

There is grace when you pack less, trust more, and sojourn onward. Grace comes when you realize you are not defined by what you possess or accumulate or defend, but by your inherent worth as a human being, created in the image of God. When you pack less, you have room to love more, especially those who are weighted down by fear and failure. When you shed all those things that are simply not necessary, you are set free to hold things gently and treat others compassionately.

“Let your capital be simplicity and contentment.” Henry David Thoreau

Peace in a world that needs it,


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Wanderings Fri, 25 Aug 2017 15:17:27 +0000


I am very grateful to have this opportunity – a privilege actually – to share a collection of my stories and reflections in my recently published book, “Wanderings: A Pilgrim’s Walk on this Good Earth.” Parsons Porch is the publisher and there are a few ways you can get your own copy. If you would like for me to sign you a copy, the cost of the book including postage and delivery is $21. Please reply to this blog and I will give you instructions. You can also order directly from the publisher with the following link: Finally, you can also order on and if you have a Prime membership you can save a little on delivery.

Thank you for indulging me through the years by reading my stories and sharing your own through this blog. I look forward to the stories yet to be told through The Pilgrim’s Walk blog.



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I Didn’t Mean to be a Preacher Tue, 08 Aug 2017 20:19:35 +0000

I didn’t mean to be a preacher. At least not that young. I had just turned 21; returning from a summer spent in the Philippine Islands serving, as it was called at the time, as a “summer missionary.” Fall semester was about to begin at college and I was one of a handful of early arrivals. My faculty advisor saw me chatting it up with some friends in the student center and walked over my way. I assumed he wanted to ask me about my summer on the mission field, or remind me to set an appointment with him to discuss classes. Instead he came right out and asked had I ever given any thought to being a preacher. Yeah, I thought to myself, when I get old. He said that there was this little country church just north of Rome that needed a preacher for Sunday mornings. There was not much more to the job than Sunday sermons and it would be good experience. The pay was $75 a week. I did not think to ask about benefits.

Since I had nothing better to do, and waiting tables that fall did not seem very exciting, I thought why not. I had plans to go to seminary after college, preparing for a ministerial vocation, but I had no clue what exactly that would look like.

That fall I was introduced to a people who gathered on Sunday mornings, except for fifth Sundays. Fifth Sundays, it was explained to me, the church did not meet. I never really understood why, but then again it was nice to have a Sunday off every now and then. Maybe that preaching gig did come with benefits. They gathered, we gathered, under the name “Unity Baptist Church.”

Every Sunday except for fifth Sundays I pulled into the graveled church yard leading to a simple wooden frame church building, tucked away in a thicket of oaks, hickories and pines in the hill country of Northwest Georgia. During the summer time the windows were wide open, allowing welcome breezes to come in, as well as wasps, butterflies and, on one occasion, a brown thrasher. I only had one suit and it was not a real one. The coat did not match the trousers, but it was on sale at Sears and I was proud of it. My Bible was one I bought for my time in the Philippines.

That was exactly 30 years and several pastorates ago. Now I guess I am old enough to be a preacher.

It was just three or four years go this same church decided it was time to close the doors for good. People just don’t go to country churches anymore and the remaining membership felt like it was as good a time as any to move on to the next season. The church building, a simple wooden structure with two doors in the front – hearkening back to an era when men and women entered on separate sides – was donated to the volunteer fire department. A few weeks ago the little church house was finally burned to the ground, giving its very timbers to firefighters who needed the practice. It was a cremation for a church house, but without much ceremony.

It takes me a bit sad to think that this church no longer meets on Sundays and this sweet old white frame building no longer stands as a monument that it ever existed. Who will know that it ever was? And yet the church does live on through the generations who have come and gone; who have made their mark; and some still making their mark on this world. Every Sunday that I stand behind a pulpit and open up my Bible to say more than a few words I carry a bit of Unity with me, surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses that still encourage me.

It was called Unity and although there is no longer a place that brings the people together, the church continues in a very unified mission, entwined in God’s magnanimous love.

I learned much in the years since serving Unity. They blessed me onward when I moved away to seminary. They kept track of the other churches I would go on to serve as pastor; churches much larger and complex than that simple country church. I still wear a suit on Sunday morning, but I make sure the trousers match the coat. The ensuing decades have made me older and a bit more experienced. I can look back and say with deep conviction that Unity taught me everything I needed to know about serving this world as a minister of the gospel: to love God and love others. A simple church with a simple message.

Nothing remains of this church except for a patch of scorched earth and piles of ashen debris. Yet everything that really matters lives on, and will carry-on. Love will not be kept.

I am a grateful, former pastor, of this little church in the wildwood. Love will not be kept.

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My Hula Girl Broke Her Hip Thu, 22 Jun 2017 20:21:10 +0000 A friend of mine, no doubt thinking I needed a little more levity in my life, gave me a hula girl doll – the little plastic figurine that, well, bobbles and wiggles on top of the dashboards of respectable automobiles. He was disappointed when the hula girl arrived with a broken hip. Not to worry, because this same friend, with the assistance of a little glue, repaired the hula girl and presented it to me as a stand-by until the replacement arrived. I am now the proud owner of two hula girls, one with a broken hip and one who can wiggle her hip just fine. One can never have too many hula girls.

I guess I’m not supposed to have favorites, but I kind of like the girl with the broken hip. There is something about that “flawed but sassy” look I like. I keep her perched right beside a small figurine of St. Francis, which seems to me a safe place for a hula girl to hang out, broken hip or not.

As my beach vacation approaches, I look over at my hula girl and smile. I have friends that will join me on the sandy gulf shores and together we will assemble our children, our stories, and our laughter. For a few brief days we will listen to surf and to music and dance like, well, like a hula girl with a broken hip. More than anything else we will remind each other of the grace of friendship.

We have our flaws – some are pieced back together in a crude repair, and other flaws are out there for the world to see. When we were younger we may have worked a little too hard at vacationing: organized meals; stacks of books that we “had to get through;” designation of responsibilities of chores and expectations. Now we are just glad to be together. Somehow the meals get cooked and dishes get cleaned and there is always a good beat to listen to.

It is a privilege to have the resources each year to take a beach vacation. I know for some people such a getaway is a luxury of time and money only to be enjoyed once or twice in a lifetime. I am grateful. More than the privilege of a vacation, however, is the gift of friendship. No, maybe gift is not the right word. It is the grace of friendship.

Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam summed it up simply in a song:

Oh I’m a lucky man, to count on both hands the ones I love
Some folks just have one, yeah, others, they’ve got none

Grateful to count on both my hands the ones I love. You don’t have to go to the beach to make a friend. Keeping a friend will cost you no money. Loving your friends is God’s grace to you and glimpse of eternal things.

This time next week I will be dancing with my friends like no one is watching…except for St. Francis, but I think I detect a slight smile.

“Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take nothing with you that you have received – only what you have given: a full heart, enriched by honest service, love, sacrifice, and courage.” (St. Francis of Assisi)



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Before I Die… Thu, 18 May 2017 20:22:32 +0000

I was in between appointments in an old section of Knoxville and decided to take advantage of my thirty minutes of downtime by wandering around the city. Deep down I felt certain I would eventually stumble across a good coffee shop, bakery, or maybe both! Turning a corner I was initially disappointed to discover yet another scruffy alley, littered with the usual urban detritus. Along one of the walls of the alley, however, was a painting of sorts – a splash of graffiti from a reflective artist with a philosophic bent. In large letters three words were carefully painted: “Before I Die.” Beneath the caption, lines were drawn in neat rows and columns, encouraging pedestrians to pause long enough to ponder and fill in the blanks with their respective answers. One person wrote, “Date your mom.” Another scrawled, “Dance in the rain.” A beleaguered fan wrote, “Titans make the playoffs,” and a parent wished to “take my kids to the beach.” Jimmy Buffett’s name appeared several times, sometimes inappropriately. The one word I saw over and over again was “love.”

One of the few things that separate us from the rest of the animal kingdom is that we have a knowledge that we will die. Daniel Ogilvie, a psychology professor at Rutgers, was giving a TED Talk about death and the soul. He tells the story of his four year old daughter. Late at night she had been lying in bed thinking and bolted upright, jumped out of bed, and raced into his bedroom crying saying, “I don’t want to be a thing that dies!”

The thought of death, in spite of being surrounded in a culture of death, is terrifying for most us, and a topic usually avoided. Yet, knowing that one day our time will come can give us better focus on how we will live today. This is not about creating a “bucket list” or “seizing the day,” but recognizing that life is too precious and valuable to waste. Henry David Thoreau acknowledged as much when he wrote: “As if you can kill time without injuring eternity.”

The Psalmist writes: LORD, let me know my end, and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is (39:4); and teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart (90:12). We want to know such things because it intensifies how precious this life is. It grounds us in a sense of urgency – not frantic hopelessness.

When we understand, albeit haltingly, that life is fleeting, we can then die to those things that do not count or matter and will not live on. It opens us up, as with the baptism covenant in Paul’s letter to the Romans, to the life God has created for us to live in.

“We have been buried with him by baptism into death…” Death is not something to be denied. Death is not something to be ignored. Death is not something to entertain. Death is not something to be treated carelessly. Death is the teacher of life. And when we die in the mystical union of Christ, we are then set free to be raised up to “walk in newness of life…” (Romans 6)

There is too much emphasis, I think, on eternal life as after life. Certainly in the teachings of Jesus it is clear he believed in life after death. But it is also clear that eternal life begins now. The problem with seeing eternal life as only about the afterlife is that it focuses our attention on the next world instead of transformation in this world. “I have come,” says the Teacher, “that you might have life, and have it in abundance.”

Before I die…Love. Let us then place love not on a list of things to be accomplished before we die, but in our living, day by day, moment by moment. Love is all that remains when our breath becomes air and God receives us back as eternity rolls on and on and on…

Love…just love,


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An Inconvenient Truth Wed, 19 Apr 2017 20:23:47 +0000

There is so much good to say about the church. Through the years I have published articles, written sermons, and publicly and passionately advocated for churches. Goodness, to be really candid, for the last thirty or so years I have made my living working for churches.

But there is an inconvenient truth: sometimes, perhaps much of the time, church and church members can be difficult. Sometimes church and church members can be painful. One person commented recently that she could never seem to fit into any of the observable cliques that she saw in the churches she visited. She knew there was good there, but could never seem to be included in that good.

I get it, I really do.

Deep in our humanity is the need to find community. We live not in isolation, but in relationships. Communities, however, can quickly become closed groups. In a provincial sense of the word, communities can become cliques. This is when communities get twisted, mutated, and fearful. Maybe we do not mean to be, but it easier to turn our backs on others, because we are more comfortable with the familiar.

In my neighborhood live several families from Turkey. The old grandfather, hobbled by age and arthritis, speaks very little English. When I am out walking my dog, he will give me a small, toothless smile, while clutching his cane in one hand and his rosary beads in another. His children are much more comfortable with the language, although they still struggle for the right words when we exchange brief pleasantries. Their children, however, “fit right in.” I assume they were born in this country and so things like language, dress, and sports – what can be called “culture” – helps them adjust in a way that their grandfather will never know. Of course if I were to move to Turkey my plight would be the same as his. I am glad they are finding a place and I am grateful to share a small part of that place with them.

There is an inconvenient truth that churches can be closed: close-minded; isolated; irrelevant; fearful; and exclusive. Here I am not simply talking about ethnic diversity, although that is not a bad place to start. I am talking about anyone who is “different” – economically; socially; emotionally; intellectually; politically…this list could go on and on.

We who go to church and practice church and believe in the church have a responsibility to confess where we have failed to be good neighbors of welcome and commit to practicing a higher truth.

Jesus opened his arms wide and said: “Come unto me all who are weary…” Weary is another word for tired. Many are tired of church, so we have work to do to be the living incarnation of the Body of Christ inviting a tired world to find rest, a place to go to, a people to belong to, and where there is always room at the table for one more.

May the inconvenient truth be transformed to The Truth, The Way, and The Life.



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Why Church? Wed, 29 Mar 2017 20:24:54 +0000

They came bearing casseroles and cakes, paper plates and folding chairs. The tiny house in front of the dairy barn was filled with folks from all over the surrounding countryside. My grandfather died during the night, quite unexpectedly and word of it passed quickly in the farming community of Putnam County. I was 12 years old, confused and devastated, but comforted by all those older women who mothered me in the days ahead. Solemn men wearing weathered Liberty overalls stood out in the yard, kicking dust, telling stories that made me laugh and reminded me what a fine man my grandfather was to so many.

That is church.

I was a young preacher and remembered the time I saw church members surround this well-loved, but now devastated middle-age lady. Her son was arrested the previous week on drug charges. I had visited the young man shortly after his arrest, held his hand while he cried out of shame and disappointment, and assured him that our love was steadfast. His family was not giving up on him and neither was I.

That is church.

One Sunday we awkwardly sang songs in a “blended” worship service – a curious hybrid of hymns, modern praise choruses, drums, guitars and pipe organ. A guy with tattoos running up his neck wearing a sleeveless t-shirt, belted out his praise right beside a demure widow who was a bit uncertain about it all, but grateful for the big crowd that Sunday. Some people groused and complained, but I still carry that image with me of the big man with tattoos beside the little elderly lady holding a hymnal together.

That is church.

A phone call was taken and in the brevity of a few words it was learned that John’s only remaining relative died a couple of days ago. John is an adult with developmental disabilities and was living alone in a dilapidated trailer. He was afraid and lonely and heart-sick, living in a world that too quickly values intellect and power. Once the urgency was discovered, a minister stepped in, rallied her church to do something, and a group home was founded. John now lives safely and lovingly with friends not far from where he grew up. Oh, and John sings every Sunday in the choir.

That is church.

Church can be incorrigible and narrow-minded. Church can be political and short-sighted. Church can be disappointing and frustrating. I can say this about every institution I have ever been a part of, including my very own family.

Often I read and have conversations with people giving up on the church, leaving the church, or never being a part of the church in the first place. I understand, I really do. I have wanted to storm out from time to time too, for all of the above reasons and more. “I can just love Jesus on my own, beyond the walls,” I say to no one in particular.

It is helpful to remember that Jesus was quite frustrated with his religious community too. Yet he kept going, kept worshiping alongside men and women, and kept challenging others to a higher way of knowing, living and behaving. Jesus engaged the community of faith – Pharisees and sinners; Scribes and nobodies; tax-collectors and harlots – with the unyielding hope that together, in community, it is important to love one another, love the neighbor, and love God…Together.

I need a place and a people to love and be loved; I need a place and a people to find community; I need a place and a people who will hold me accountable as we seek to live out God’s purpose and mission for this world. I need a place and a people to practice the faith in community and in the world.

By God’s grace we are kept in this grace…together. There is always room for more.



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Life and Death are Not so Far Apart Wed, 01 Mar 2017 20:26:02 +0000

Some years back I had the opportunity to travel to Kathmandu, Nepal to explore some of the mission work going on that country through an ecumenical partnership our church supported. Kathmandu is a wild, exotic city and every turn offered to me something new to see and experience.

One place I wanted to visit was Pashupatinath; a Hindu Temple where cremations occur all day, every day. I’ve always had a morbid curiosity about such things. I wish I could say it is because I have a high-minded, philosophical bent of pondering my own mortality. More to the truth, however, is I am just curious about many things, death being one of them.

Late one afternoon I made my way to the ancient temple grounds. The air was choked with the dust of human cremains, filling my hair, my eyes, and my ears with ashy remains. There were distant, piercing wails coming from grieving family members, mourning their dead loved ones. Soon I saw the pyres of wood lined up, many engulfed in flames, alongside the Bagmati River. As I squinted through the hazy dust I could clearly see limbs of corpses stacked upon the smoldering piles of wood. Periodically brooms routinely swept the charred cremains and coals of wood into the river, where family members bathed in oblation and prayer.

Ah death. For young and old; Hindu, Christian, Muslim or Jew; death comes to us all.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the day in which Christians are called upon to reflect upon death. Many will attend services today and will be marked by ashes in the sign of a cross, while hearing the words “from dust you come and to dust you shall return.”

As a minister I have led many of these services and can tell you first hand that it is a ponderous thing to impose these ashes upon the foreheads of friends, family, and strangers. I’ve marked the faces of the elderly, wondering would I see them for next years’ service. Marking the children can be particularly sobering when they look up with earnestness, some even smiling kindly, innocently, as they say “thank you,” while I say, “…to dust you shall return.”

Ash Wednesday is also a call for Christians to repent; to change directions. It is not just a time to reflect on ones’ mortality, but to choose a different way to live. While remembering death, it is a day to also choose life as followers of the One who taught us to love abundantly.

As I enter into this Lenten season of 40 days I have been mulling over what it is I wish to give up; what will be my fast, as the tradition holds. Today I am choosing to fast from my language of death and change direction towards what is life-affirming. This means I will need to reject the language of anxiety and brutality that marks our political discourse and selfish ambitions. I will need to choose my words carefully, hold my offenses lightly, and walk circumspectly with deference to others. Only in letting go, Jesus reminds us, can we ever hope to gain.

In this journey where we are marked for death, I’m going to reflect not just on my own mortality, but this very life God has trusted me with to live fully, compassionately, mercifully, and generously with love for all. I am dust, and to dust I shall return. Therefore today and all my remaining days I must love, because in the end that is all that will remain.
Everything else will be swept aside.

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