Everybody faces tough times and difficult circumstances in life. For some, the pain seems deeper and more severe than for others, the episodes more frequent. But discouragement, disappointment, and pain—whether physical, financial, or emotional—visit us all at one time or another. Bad things happen to good people as well as to bad, the rain falls on both the just and the unjust, and the only constant in all of this is that nobody is immune.
After a lifetime relatively free of trauma, apart from periodic bouts of near-debilitating depression, things changed for me in 2007-08. The bottom fell out, and it was my turn to walk through some dark valleys. They were horrible, awful, painful years filled with one bit of bad news after another. Continue reading →
I read your recent Facebook post in which you indicated you were exploring several options for your Lenten discipline this year. I would like to make a suggestion in that regard. Would you be interested in devoting your blog, for the entire season of Lent, to responding to a series of questions from me (and maybe a few others) about the changes that many of us have observed in your life over the past few years?
This would not be an unpleasant inquisition for the purpose of challenging you to defend yourself. It would simply be an opportunity to ask some questions, mainly for clarity and better understanding, that have arisen in my mind as I have read your blog posts and Facebook updates, particularly in the past two or three years.
To save time, I’ll pose the first question now. If you would prefer to go another direction for your Lenten discipline this year, just ignore it. If you’d like to take me up on my suggestion, then we can begin that endeavor with your response to this question. In any event, here it is.
I think you would agree with me that you’ve changed a great deal in many ways since the time I was your student at Plumwood Bible College more than ten years ago. Before I ask you anything about the specific areas in which you’ve changed, I’d like to know what prompted those changes in the first place. In my own limited experience, I have to say that I’ve never met anyone else, whose life has been devoted to Christian ministry, who has changed, in outlook and belief and practice, to the extent you have. What was it that triggered that change in your life? Can you point to a particular factor—maybe an incident or a set of circumstances, maybe a book you read or a speaker you heard—that served as a catalyst for change as profound and fundamental as you have experienced? If you are willing to take me up on this suggestion for your Lenten discipline, then I look forward to reading your response in the next few days, perhaps as soon as Ash Wednesday.
In late 2012, I created a character called Arthur Lough and introduced him to readers in my final blog post for that year. At the time, I never dreamed Arthur would become the instrument through which I would tell my story to all who were interested in knowing more about my pilgrimage, but here we are, more than three years later, and Arthur is more important than ever to that enterprise.
In the fall of 2014, I published my first book, an autobiographical novel in which Arthur Lough becomes my alter ego and the subject of the narrative. I created a back story for Arthur so that I could think about him as a person distinct from myself throughout the process of writing the book, but that would be, as the philosophers say, a distinction without a difference. Arthur is mainly me, and his story is mainly my story. Continue reading →
Well, it didn’t take long for me to break my self-imposed fast from Facebook and this blog, but I need to say something in response to some personal messages I have received lately (based on the assumption that if some people are voicing thoughts like this, at least a few more are probably thinking them without saying anything).
My daughter is a single mother with an active, healthy eight-year-old son who is in the third grade and doing very well in a challenging academic and social environment. She is employed full-time in a helping profession that requires her to travel extensively in the local area and to be on-call and available for emergencies even when she is off-duty. Continue reading →
I love dilemmas that resolve with a win-win outcome. For example, I decided that my Lenten discipline this year would have to do with my online presence and productivity. That, however, posed a dilemma for me. On the one hand, I sensed the need to take some time away from Facebook and my blog, as a way to de-tox from all the verbal clutter that has accumulated in my thought processes. So I considered just disappearing from social media for the duration of Lent. On the other hand, I could see how the discipline of publishing a blog post on each of the forty days of Lent could be beneficial, at least to me and maybe a few others.Continue reading →
This is my first blog post in more than six weeks. After I published a post every day during the month of October, I hit the wall, so to speak, and have found it difficult to generate the energy and enthusiasm required to sustain this endeavor.
I’ve been here before. Call it writer’s block or just apathy spawned by a sense of the futility that comes from trying to do something that so many others are doing, with most of them doing it better than me. In the past, one pervasive thought has provoked me to throw off my self-pity and get back to writing. I’m happy to say it has worked again, and that is what I’m sharing in this post. Continue reading →
Standing in line at his favorite downtown coffee shop, Arthur waited to order and pay for his overpriced beverage with the fancy name. At times he thought the use of foreign terms and phrases to describe the sizes and contents of the variations on the theme of coffee to be pretentious. Today, he was feeling a bit more mellow, however, and he had to admit that caffè latte, caffè mocha, and macchiato sounded a lot classier than simply coffee with different additives.
As he stood at the condiments bar, stirring milk into his caffè Americano (espresso with hot water added), his peripheral vision caught sight of a familiar figure. Ralph Gruben lived not far from Stauf’s Coffee House. Even though Arthur lived more than thirty miles away, for three years he had worked out of an office in a building just around the corner from Stauf’s. He spent a lot of time in that quirky coffee shop during those years, and as often as not, he would see Ralph at his favorite table in the corner, often reading but sometimes simply lost in his own thoughts. Continue reading →
I had never heard of the term “epic fail” when I went through one in 1986.
At age 36, I was in my second year as pastor of a large Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, VA. I had joined the church’s staff as an associate pastor in 1982 and was called, by unanimous vote of the congregation, to succeed my popular predecessor, who had served in that role for nearly twenty years, when he moved on to a church in Pennsylvania in 1984. Two years into my term, things were not going well. I was exhausted—physically, emotionally, and spiritually—and discouraged. In early January, I resigned, fairly sure that I lacked the gifts necessary for effective pastoral ministry and maybe for vocational ministry of any sort. Continue reading →
My soul is at peace. I haven’t written those words very many times in my life, because for most of my life, it simply was not true. But it is today, and I’ve experienced a growing awareness of that deep, inner peace for the past several weeks. (Oddly enough, the keenest awareness has developed and intensified since early March, just about the time we started the Gathering for Worship in the Liturgical Tradition.) Continue reading →
Four times over the past couple of weeks, someone responding to something I posted on Facebook referred to me as a leader. Each time the term was preceded by an adjective. Twice I was called a Christian leader, once a church leader, and once a spiritual leader. Three out of the four references commended me for my role and service as a leader. The fourth was more along the lines of “You call yourself a leader and still write the stuff you do?”. Continue reading →