Saturday, August 27, 2011

“Whither Thou Goest…” (for Katie and Curtis)

Would that our speech was still
so full of color, but then
we might also be stuck with
such a worldview and
barbaric treatment for
classes and peoples deemed lower;

not that the flora of the language
has direct impact on behavior or,
for that matter, that we’re completely
(if at all) immune from such
provincial thought and behavior now.

It is a promise of the highest order,
spoken in the midst of a strange redeeming,
where land and mouths to feed
seem to be of greater import than
emotions and relationships.

Ruth, the outsider of outsiders,
Moabite that she is,
throws ethnicity to the wind
and pledges her troth to a mother-in-law
who is as good as dead.

It is really the pledge of all
who abandon self for the sake of God;
home and kin, vocation and comfort,
all tossed into the whirlwind
of God’s tempestuous travel plans.

Who knows how many times
it has been used to caulk wedding vows,
betrothed cleaving themselves one to another?

I do not claim to understand
the mystery of enduring matrimony,
but it does seem to me that when
both partners are willing to live
(not just speak) “Whither thou goest…”
first to God and then to each other,
the grace not only of longevity
but also of joy is within their reach.

Ruth 1:16 (KJV)
1And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.

© 2011 Todd Jenkins

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


As a culture, we often dabble in obsessive behavior, not because we are possessed by Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or because we are capable of comprehending the enormous tragedy of this illness, but because we are so afraid of change and letting go to what God has in store for us - so devoid of trust - that we fixate on controlling everything around us. Ours is Obsessive CONTROL Dis-ease.

If you don't think it’s true, or that you don’t suffer from this malady, try this experiment of modernity and development: the next time an unexpected event or the prolonging of a scheduled one encroaches on the time, person, and place for another activity that you have planned to do, pay attention to how long and how often you are fixated and worried about missing the planned event as opposed to immersing yourself in whom and what is actually going on around you.

It is pure illusion to believe that we can control much of anything. We can control appearances, but only for a while. The thin veneer of appearance will “grow strangely dim” as the old hymn goes. About the only thing we have a chance of controlling is whether we are paying attention to the here and now.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote:
Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.

I have a metaphorical freezer full of blackberries. I wonder how many burning bush conversations I've ignored and how many times I've missed the opportunity to sink my toes in holy humus?

© 2011 Todd Jenkins

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


My first public act, after a 10 week sabbatical, was to attend the graveside funeral of a friend’s brother. It was a slow and painful death, by all accounts, even though the family never let on. Theirs was a life of simplicity and dignity to the end.

Almost 11 years ago, my own brother died. It was a surreal period in my life. I have no recollection of how long it took for a new normal to finally seem genuine. I do remember a beautiful note composed with unsurpassed cursive penmanship, sound theology, and deep passion. It was from this same friend whose brother was laid to rest today.

The funeral service was brief and simple; a reading of (I believe) “The Order for the Burial of the Dead” from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. Keeping the tradition of their forebears, the deceased had requested that this, and only this be read at his graveside. As the service began, and the surviving brother explained his brother’s wishes and his intentions, I was skeptical about this ancient rite’s ability to relate and offer sustenance to the multiple generations gathered.

I needn’t have been. Even though I was standing far back (seeking the shade of a friendly old cemetery tree) and am growing deafer with each passing year, I could hear enough. The scriptures and phrases emanating from beneath that canvas tent brought to my mind a comforting collection of hymn lyrics and scriptures, as well as time-tested prayers of promise and hope. It seemed synchronous with the family and resonated with the gathered congregation.

I hope that I and others, in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead, will be able to offer my friend the comfort and assurance he needs to see his way to a new normal. Isn’t that a big part of why we’re here?

© 2011 Todd Jenkins

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


Life and faith are less about answering the questions that are handed to us or the questions we want answered or the questions whose iron-clad answers will give us a comfortable position and advantage, than they are about wrestling with the deeper questions that scare us. It is when we cease and desist with the pursuit of easy answers to the less important questions that we will find the energy and courage to do the critical work of reframing the questions.

Truth, in all its beauty, is less about certitude with regard to common questions, and more about struggle with the kinds of questions whose answers may never be fully known or understood. God did not put us here to confidently conquer the content of junior high questions, but to risk living with ever-evolving ones. The important question is not, "What are the answers to the questions people are asking?" but "What are the questions we are afraid to ask, much less answer?" It is here, in the deep places, where meaning and purpose find their roots.

© 2011 Todd Jenkins

Thursday, August 4, 2011


Rowan Williams tells us to take the risk of hospitality. When we turn to the Rule of St. Benedict, we are shown the fullness of what hospitality can mean. It is not merely the open door or the open gate that offers warmth, food, and drink, but also the open heart offering acceptance and love, and not least the open mind ready and willing to listen and to receive and exchange. St. Benedict tells us to give a welcome to all who come because we see in them the figure of Christ himself. This means not judging or labeling, not being critical or competitive, not imprisoning the other in our demands and expectations.

[Esther de Waal. To Pause at the Threshold: Reflections on Living on the Border (Kindle Locations 169-173). Kindle Edition.]

Hospitality isn't the willingness to accommodate people who show up to our house if (and only if) they are willing to play by OUR rules. This is actually closer to the definition of HOSTILITY. Hospitality is leaving the light on to welcome ANYBODY who shows up and joyfully learning how to play, sing, worship, and eat by THEIR customs and culture.

Monday, August 1, 2011

We Are How We Pray

Our listening to God is an on-again, off-again affair; God always listens to us. The essential reality of prayer is that its source and character are entirely in God. We are most ourselves when we pray.

Eugene H. Peterson. Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading (p. 104). Kindle Edition.

If we are most ourselves when we pray, then HOW we pray defines who we are! Do we pray smally and selfishly, seeking much and being willing to do little? Or do we pray largely, open to all that God is at work doing in the lives and world around us? How revealing it would be to realize, not that "We are what we eat." but that "We are how we pray."