Category Archives: grace

One side of the coin

Some days I leave work, and my only response to humanity as a whole (or, more specifically, that subset who take advantage of their power and privilege to do violence with impunity) is in line with what Roy here says below:

As I was driving home tonight, I remembered the corollary to the above statement made by the southern theologian Will Campbell when he was asked to define what Christianity meant to him, and he responded, “We’re all bastards but God loves us anyway…”

It doesn’t make the anger go away, or make everything all better…  The problem is still there.  But I’m no longer alone in it.  And neither are the girls…

People are bastards.  Men are bastards.  But God loves us anyway


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Filed under darkness, gospel, grace, hope, life, nsfw, theology, will campbell

The Call of the Rain…

“Water is always an invitation to imersion [for me], an immersion with a quality of totality, since it would accept all of me, as I am. Some primal urge invites me to return whence I came.

At times I have done so. There is some special delight in simply walking into a stream, stepping into a lake. The child’s delight in a puddle is my adult’s in the sea…

No rain falls that I do not at once hear in the sound of the falling water an invitation to come to the wedding. It is rare that I do not answer. A walk in an evening rain in any setting is to walk in the midst of God’s loving attention to his earth, and, like a baptism, is no simple washing, but a communication of life. When you hurry in out of the rain, I hurry out into it, for it is a sign that all is well, that God loves, that good is to follow. If suffering a doubt, I find myself looking to rain as a good omen. And in rain, I always hear singing, wordless chant rising and falling.

When rain turns to ice and snow I declare a holiday. I could as easily resist as stay at a desk with a parade going by in the street below. I cannot hide the delight that then possesses my heart. Only God could have surprised rain with such a change of dress as ice and snow…

Most people love rain, water. Snow charms all young hearts. Only when you get older and bones begin to feel dampness, when snow becomes a traffic problem and a burden in the driveway, when wet means dirt – then the poetry takes flight and God’s love play is not noted.

But I am still a child and have no desire to take on the ways of death. I shall continue to heed water’s invitation, the call of the rain. We are in love and lovers are a little mad.”

~Matthew Kelty, Flute Solo, Reflections of a Trappist Hermit, pp. 117-19


Last week, I woke to thunder and lightning. As I sat at the table and watched the rain gush in sheets down the big picture window, I was reminded of the above quote. I came across it several years ago in Don Poestma’s wonderful book, Space for God, and since then it has been a reminder for me of the joy of water, of life, of finding God in all things.

That afternoon as the sky darkened, my brother and I prepared for a short bike ride – cooling off on a ride to the house we lived in ten years ago, just a couple of miles away. As we were pulling the bikes out of the garage, it started to sprinkle just a bit. I glanced at Jon with a wondering look, and he grinned back – of course he was still up for it.

So off we went… Something about bike riding makes me feel like a kid again – the jumping off the curb, swerving and skidding around corners, riding with no hands and standing up, speed and grace… the entire way there, it was gently sprinkling – a cooling, calming rain. When we arrived, we spent a while in the church parking lot across the street from our old house, trying to drift around the corners on our bikes, taking advantage of the slick asphalt as we skidded around corners in our makeshift racetrack…. so much fun (until Jon tried to take a corner just a little too fast, and wiped out – and even though there was no harm done, that ended that specific game.)

As we turned around and began to make our way home, the heavens opened – thunder, lightning, howling wind, driving rain… I could barely see as we crossed rivers and streams that had formed on the streets near our home. Yet as we rode, the above reflection resounded in my mind, and my heart, and joy and laughter exploded and overflowed from my heart. And in the midst of that overflow, there was gratitude… I am so blessed, and that is for a purpose, a reason beyond myself… may that life continue to spill over into all around…

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Filed under Amusements, beauty, bike, bittersweet, food for thought, grace, gratitude, joy, life, memories, rain, reflections, water

Visual Parables – Grace

A few weeks ago I was walking in downtown Rio. I had the afternoon free, and was taking advantage of it by visiting one of the free art exhibits at the Federal Justice Cultural Center. The featured artist, Sergio Chavez, uses cardboard, trash, and found objects as a medium to sculpt objects and scenes from the lives of the common people of Brazil. It’s beautiful, and I like it.* As I walked through and SAW what he made, I was reminded of the lines from U2’s song “Grace…”

~ “Grace finds goodness in everything… Grace finds beauty in everything… Grace makes beauty out of ugly things…”

I love the praxis of Sergio making art – beauty – out of trash.

Later that afternoon, I walked up Avenida Rio Branco, heading for a coffee shop and a quiet place to write. As I darted across one of the streets, dodging cars, bikes, trucks, taxis, and the occasional rabid pigeon (you might think that not being mammals, pigeons can’t get rabies… Let me just say you’ve never met Rio’s pigeons. Rats with wings… but I digress), I saw her walking ahead of me. I don’t remember what she was wearing, or much about what she looked like. The first thing I saw were the scars. Across half her neck. On one of her arms. Her back. Her leg. One of her cheeks, moving up the side of her face towards her temple. Thick, ropy scars that, though faded and softened with time, still traced livid tracks across her body.

I’ve always been attracted – maybe even captivated – by contrasts. It’s one of the things I love most about photography – and seeing the contrast of this young woman, her scars in tension with her poise, smile, and evident grace, was a thing of beauty. Her grace was beautiful – no self-consiousness, no covering up of her scars, but an acceptance and transcendence of them.

Our kids on the street have many scars – knives, broken glass, razors and rocks will slice through skin and muscle. Cars and busses, soccer games, fights, and abuse by drunken parents leave broken bones, sprained and swollen arms and legs, bruises dark and tender. And then there are the scars you can’t see – the scars of being unwanted, unloved, rejected by society, or just plain ignored. People are afraid of them. People don’t want them around. People pretend not to see them. Scars from those wounds last just as long.

Yet Grace takes these broken lives, and finds the beauty in them. We sit with them on the street because we love them. We break up fights because we love them. We bandage their wounds, listen to their stories, remember their birthdays… because we love. We want the best for them – to leave the streets, the drugs, the addictions and poor choices… because we love.

Ultimately, I am a creature of hope… I want to believe that as they soak up grace, change will come. I want to believe in redemption, in the future day when God will make all things new. Sometimes, I catch a glimpse of it… but I am still thirsty. I will keep walking towards the well of water that won’t run dry though. And maybe, one of these days, we’ll all find it together… Until then, such glimpses of grace like the girl with the scars and the smile help keep me living and loving…

May we find beauty – or learn to make beauty – out of everything as we learn to see through grace-stained eyes…


*For more pictures of Sergio Chavez’s work, go here or here. For an article in English, with a bit of analysis of his work (as well as a bit of Paulo Freire-ian subtext, which brings joy to my heart) go here


Filed under art, beauty, daily life, food for thought, grace, healing, hope, scars, streets


Lately I have felt a bit overwhelmed as I ponder the future… It’s exciting, but I see so many possibilities and things that could happen that it is almost paralyzing. Tonight is one of those nights. I’m tired – worked around the house in the morning, took care of office and correspondence, waited out a gunfight so I could leave the house to go to the streets, and came home tired and headache-y. In light of that, I thought “this would be a great night to go to bed early.”

So I lay down, and now, four hours later, I’m still awake… I decided that I might as well try and make use of being awake and get something productive, or maybe just a little relaxing, done. So, I’m on here.

Yesterday was St. George’s Day – a holiday here in Rio. And of course, Monday was a holiday as well – (Tiradentes (The Teeth Puller) Day, named after a 19th century republican who plotted against the emperor, and was executed for it – he was also a dentist.) Naturally, Tuesday became a de facto holiday for many in the city. Not us, however… Life, work, ministry – they go on. Anyway, I digress…

So yesterday was a holiday, and when we went to the streets we expected a smaller crowd than usual. We didn’t quite expect only one of our friends to show up – Felipe (not his real name) – a young deaf man about whom we’ve only been able to get the most basic information. He can write a bit, but doesn’t know sign language – thus our communication is limited to smiles, thumbs-up, and basic pantomime. It’s not ideal, but together we make it work.

Upon our arrival, no one was there. No one. Downtown was a ghosttown – hardly a person in sight – kind of like I would imagine in some post-apocalyptic zombie movie… So we sat down by the bay, I tuned up my guitar, and we began a small time of worship in and prayer for that area, and the people who live there. Maybe someone would show up, and if they didn’t, well at least we were putting on a show for the few fishermen hanging out down the way…

After about half an hour, Felipe showed up, smiling and grinning, his usual joyful self. He told us he’d been up at the cathedral praying, and was coming back. We explained we had some food and snacks, and asked if he wanted to join us – he did. As I continued playing, the others sang, and he watched us all with hungry eyes. At the end of the song, I lifted my guitar and asked if he wanted to play it… Of course he did – gap-toothed grin, light in his eyes, body tight and coiled with anticipation…

I handed him the guitar, which he took and proudly placed the strap over his neck… it was upside down, so we fixed that. He then gently wrapped his left arm around the body of the guitar, cradling it close to his body and allowing himself to feel the vibrations and resonance through his chest cavity… and then he played.

The next 10 minutes flew by – they lasted forever – they were over too soon – I still carry them in my heart… He strummed the open strings, over and over, and I realized that something was still missing. Felipe couldn’t hear, but he could see that we were no long singing as he played… So I began. Poetry, Scripture, prayers, thanks, and music came out – and his grin threatened to split his face. And we sang and played and watched the ferries crossing the bay and smelled the sunset and listened to lapping water… And I looked and saw that life is good. Life is so good.

(We also had an older gentleman who was a bit drunk who stopped by later on to sing along with us. He noticed the water, the boats, and the fishermen, which combined in his mind to remind him of the story of Peter walking on the water. As he talked louder and became more excited, he drifted closer and closer to the edge. His monologue climaxed (or so I thought) in him saying “And just like Peter walked on the water, I can walk on the water too – all the way across the bay to Niteroi” (about 5 miles or so)… I was listening very closely at this point, sure that he was about to demonstrate for us, and only able to think to myself “Please don’t jump in the water… because then I’ll have to jump in and pull you out… and the water is polluted, and the sun is setting… please, just step away from the water for now…” Thankfully he backed up, and continued talking with us for a few minutes before continuing on his way…)

Yes, life is a good thing. Not perfect. But it can be (and often is) so good. I think of Jesus describing why he came – “I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full…” an abundant life. A rich life. A full life. A life of meaning. A life of hope.

And I’m thankful. And so is Felipe…

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Filed under grace, gratitude, joy, life, rio de janeiro, streets

Running away from reality

I’m not a big fan of running for pleasure. If you’re on your way somewhere, or are late, or are playing some sort of game, or even if you are just trying to beat your last record for how long it took you to race down the mountain (or Masada), it can be useful, and even fun.

I realize though that my flight from “reality” is much more insidious and pervasive – I don’t know if you could say I enjoy it… But I do get something out of it. Or rather, I avoid facing the hard, difficult things in life.

There is something about the way my brain is wired that though I notice things and can be fairly perceptive in certain areas, I don’t really notice them unless I take the time to sit, process, think, and most importantly, write about them. They don’t sink in and become real. They’re not a part of me until I write about them.

Like tonight. I don’t want to write about this evening, because it will make it real. And when I distract myself (through books, music, TV, movies, video games, food, relationships, or jus plain busy-ness), I buy myself some time, and allow the painful, the disturbing, the unsettling, the tragic morsels of life to dwindle and lose their power. I make life less painful. I make it more comfortable. But I also make it less real. My sin differs in degree, but not in kind, from the youth we see on the streets – using thinner, glue, cocaine, marijuana, crack…

Around 5 o’clock this evening, Jannika (a Dutch friend of ours who, along with her husband, runs a program in the favela I used to live in) went for a walk through the boca de fumo of Manguinhos. It was raining off and on all day, so by 5 the streets were muddy and the air was damp and chilly. We normally go to the bus station to spend a few hours with kids on the street, but decided (because of the rain) to focus our efforts a bit closer to home.

It doesn’t matter how many times I have walked through the boca… I never really get over it. These are boys and girls (but mostly boys) who I know. Some used to be my neighbors. Others I know from Lapa and downtown. A few more know me from Timonis. I know them. And they know me (or rather, many of them would if they weren’t high) – the dull stare and hacking cough of one too many hits of crack, the collarbones protruding from thin shoulders hunched against the autumn chill…

Jannika and I invited pretty much everyone we saw under the age of 15 to come back with us to the building that Timonis owns – probably 60+ people – for snacks, hanging out, a time of prayer, and games. At the very least, it was a warm place out of the rain… About 10 accepted. One hasn’t eaten in four days. Another is missing one leg – he arrives carried on the back of another boy. Two young girls join the crowd. And we make our way back through the boca, dodging men with AR-15s, handguns and grenades, young men competing as to who will give you the best price on crack, glassy-eyed stares, nervous twitches from the lookouts holding fireworks, side-stepping mothers walking their young children home from school, small stores closing and churches opening… We are a strange procession – two fools, leading a motley collection of misfits and rejects down the road. We are the Pied Piper. We are trying to be Jesus’ hands and feet. We are looking for Christ, hidden among the poor. And sometimes, we catch a glimpse of him.

But most of the time, I can’t see him. Instead, I see children who have been abused and kicked around all their lives turn and do the same thing to their friends. I see fights break out and blood shed over blankets and food and pride. I step into their midst – not thinking at all about “blessed are the peace-makers” – the only thoughts running through my mind “how can I defuse this and make sure no more blood is spilt, no more bones broken… what are the words I can say, the actions I must take, to halt this…” It is no spiritual calculation, but a gut-wrenching instinct that at the same time goes against what my “instincts” should be – self-preservation, seeking comfort and safety, etc. It is love.

And at the end of the night, it is time to walk away. I don’t know how many hundreds of times I have shook hands, hugged their bodies to mine, made some type of human contact, and then turn around, and gone home. It is the worst on nights like this – cold, rainy, windy, miserable… Yet I cannot stay. And I cannot stay away. Love compels me back. Love for the least of these – no matter how badly they smell, how broken they are, how violently they treat each other, how much they take advantage or abuse grace… Love for Jesus… Love.

In writing about it, I enter into it again. I re-live it. They are here with me. And as painful as it is, I don’t want to lose that. I don’t want to live running and hiding. I want to remember, and live as one fully alive.

And as we remember together, let us hope. Hope for a future where wounds are healed, lives restored, the wounds they have caused and the wounds they have given…

Kyrie Eleison.


Filed under entering in, favela, grace, hope, love, remember, streets