The Wounded Healer

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

“Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.” – Isaiah 40:1

The psychologist Susan Silk published an article about the psychology of comfort called “Ring Theory,” or, for short: Comfort In, Dump Out. It’s personal for her: after she was diagnosed with breast cancer and in the hospital, she got tired of having to comfort people who were supposed to be comforting her.

Ring Theory puts the wounded person at the center of a circle, and everybody else in concentric rings around the wounded. Their distance from the center corresponds to the closeness of their relationship: spouses are closest in, followed by family, close friends, work colleagues, and, finally, Facebook friends.

The rule of Ring Theory is that you have to comfort anyone in a circle smaller than yours, and get your own needs met by someone in a circle larger than yours.

The priest Henri Nouwen didn’t coin the phrase Wounded Healer—Carl Jung did that—but Henri popularized it. He said that we Jesus-people are called to put our wounds, once they have begun healing, into the service of the newly wounded, and he also told this story:

A Rabbi came to the prophet Elijah and asked, “Tell me, when will the Messiah come?” The reply, “Go ask him yourself,” surprised the Rabbi. “Where is he?” he asked. “He’s sitting at the gates of the city,” Elijah said. “But how will I know which one he is?” the Rabbi inquired.

“He is sitting among the poor, covered with wounds. The others unbind all of their wounds all at one time and then bind them up again; but he unbinds his wounds one at a time and then binds that wound up again. He says to himself, ‘Perhaps I shall be needed and I must always be ready.'”

If we are the hands and feet and wounds of Christ in the world, what does it mean to be “always ready”?

It has something to do with sitting among others who are wounded. 
It has something to do with only unbinding one wound at a time. 
It has something to do with acknowledging that we are not only here for ourselves, but might be needed, and called by God to respond to that need, at any moment.

Dear Lord, bind up my old wounds, and help me to get a grip, that I may comfort in, and dump out, as the day requires, in and through Jesus. Amen.

Grace and Peace


PS: Due to circumstances beyond my control and for the good of the church, I will be suspending my blog. Thank you for reading the blogs and devotions over the years. It has meant a lot to me to be able to share with you in this manner. God speed to all of you.

Those Crazy Teens

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

And this is His commandment, that we believe in the Name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as He has commanded us. 1 John 3:23

Seventeen-year-old Courtney Thorp goes to Shell Rock Senior High School in Iowa. There’s another thing you should know about Thorp. You should also be aware that when she was nine months old she was diagnosed as having cerebral palsy. It is an illness which can negatively affect speech, balance and many other aspects of an individual’s life.

Mainstreamed in her education, Thorp, along with her parents, were always dedicated to minimizing those negatives.

Even though she knew her daughter was an upbeat kind of kid, when Thorp’s mother heard her only child had been nominated for homecoming queen, she was worried. Yes, the kids at Thorp’s school always seemed to be nice, but … maybe this was some kind of prank: a cruel hoax which some bad-attitude students were playing on her daughter.

Thorp’s parents received some degree of peace when the school’s associate principal called and assured them the nomination was legitimate, and there was no ill will or cruelty in it.

I have to tell you the night the homecoming king and queen were crowned, Thorp’s mom ended up in tears. In her words, “I lost it.”

Had the assistant principal been wrong? Nope. Not at all. Mom “lost it” because her daughter’s coronation as queen was marked by applause, cheers and high-fives by the rest of the court. The homecoming king said, “It was such a great feeling when she won. She comes to school every day with a big smile on her face. She is happy 110 percent of the time. She loves life and she makes the best out of everything. She’s a big inspiration to everybody.”

So, that’s the human-interest story from Iowa.

Now there are two reasons that narrative has been shared. The first reason is because it’s easy for these days for my blog (and me) to center on the sad, the sick, the terrible, and the tragic. For you and for me that can be discouraging and depressing. I felt it was time (after the Mad as Hell rant) for something upbeat. The second reason the story is shared is because here is a high school filled with kids who get it.

I think they get it partly because of parents, partly because of their stable community, and partly because most of them are members at one of the churches in Shell Rock. These kids may not know it, but part of their specialness has to do with their belief system. It is a system which says we are redeemed sinners, no one is perfect, we all fall short of the mark, but we have Jesus who loves us and by his mercy lifts us to the Father’s throne, and restores us to the Father’s house.

Knowing this Jesus the teens of Shell Rock, Iowa, have put into practice an attitude of love and acceptance… By God’s grace may their attitude become contagious all around the world.

Hopefully, our time together tonight has made you feel a bit more thankful for Jesus and a whole lot more thankful for some of the Christian kids who are coming after us.

Dear Lord, today we give thanks for kids who conquer problems and those who support those who need it. Most of all we give thanks for Jesus who taught us how to love and support someone else. In His Name. Amen.

Grace and Peace


PS. We think our cat is watching the Animal Channel while we are away every day. We even found cat nip on the TV remote the other day. She has learned to sit at her bowl and rattle it until we come fill it. She is almost 14 years old… so old cats can learn new tricks.

On The Back Pew

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

“Finally, [the spirit] took me to the inside court of the Temple of God.” – Ezekiel 8:16

Have you noticed that most people, when they come to worship, don’t sit up front? The back of the church tends to fill up first almost as predictably as the bottom of a glass will be the first to be filled with water. You have to get there early to get a good back seat. Why is that? If we are attending a concert or a lecture, we would charge down front where the “good seats” are, even pay extra for those seats. But why not when we come to worship?

I have heard a number of theories. People want to be able to see who else is there, which is easier to do from the back. And it is easier to slip out quickly during the last hymn if you sit in the back. Some say I am just more comfortable back here.

Those explanations may be part of the story, but I have heard another theory. That theory states that we don’t immediately go to the front because that would feel like a definitive declaration of faith. Sitting in the back you can still feel like you have one foot in and one foot out. To stride down the aisle and sit in the front feels like skipping right to the “your whole self in” part of the hokey pokey, and we may not be ready for that. Our own experience of faith often is more qualified, more tentative than that.

If doubt or uncertainty disqualifies us from worship, we will have many empty churches. Some of us live lives of doubt, diversified by faith. Others of us live a life of faith, diversified by doubt. And in the church there is room for us all. Even at the front of the church.

In the Temple in Jerusalem there was an inner court, reserved for the righteous, and an outer court for everyone else. Gratefully, in the United Methodist Church, it is all an inner court and we are all invited there – no matter who we are.

Thank you, O God, that your invitation to me is not based on my righteousness, but instead flows from your graciousness, in and through the love of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Grace and Peace


Really, Paul?

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

“To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. […] To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people . . . .” – 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

Dear Paul:

All things to all people?  Really?

Here’s the thing, Paul: you had a wonderful, tradition-inspiring gift for words.  You were, let’s be honest, the creator of the sound-bite.  But sometimes those 30-second snippets are misleading.

I am positive you were not a full-time tent-maker and traveling evangelist, while also being a loyal and devoted family-man, who took care of his relatives, made dinners, cleaned the house, and still had the energy to take his spouse out on a romantic date now and then.

You know why I’m certain? Because it’s not possible.  

I know plenty of people who try to do all those things (except, maybe, the tent-making) because they think it is their good, Christian duty. “I must,” they repeat, “be all things to all people.” They end up – frazzled, anxious, depressed, and suffering from one broken relationship after another.  

I know this isn’t what you meant. You know that being everything to everyone usually means nothing to anyone. I’m pretty sure you meant you were able to do one thing, with one person (or group) at a time.  And that one thing?  It was love.

Jewish, Gentile, weak, powerful – whoever, whatever, however – you loved them.  You joined people where and as they were, so they might know the love of God who joins them where they are.  

So can we publish a clarification – an editor’s note, of sorts?

You, Paul, called to be an apostle of God by Christ Jesus, were not all things to all people.  You were one thing – love – to one person at a time.

Yet, through the miracle of the gospel, that’s more than enough to reach us all.


Steve (on behalf of the tired everywhere)

All-knowing, all-capable God, remind me I am not You – and you don’t want me to be. When I’m tempted to do it all, remind me it is (hard) enough to do the one thing you do ask of all people – to love the  person in front of me right now. And then help me do it, in and through Jesus.  Amen.

Grace and Peace


I Thank God For You

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the Gospel from the first day until now. 7a It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart….” I Philippians 1:3-5, 7a

Yesterday I was honored to preach the homecoming service at Ruffin UMC. This was the church I served while going to seminary at Duke. We spent five years there – stayed an extra year after school to allow our son to graduate from high school.

I am not sure that homecomings really meant all that much to me early on in life or in my career. I guess it is perhaps because I didn’t understand their importance to us as a community. Now that I am older, retired, and have been in ministry for 40 years, I understand and appreciate homecoming celebrations. It is a celebration of a time you spent together, perhaps a time that changed your life, but especially the people who surrounded you as you shared that time together. So we go back to remember as we walk those paths again with friends we have made and lives that have touched us with the love of God. We tell stories, laugh, maybe even brush back a tear. But we travel back to another time and appreciate time shared together.

Yesterday I spoke to a congregation about a congregation that cared for and nurtured me, a young struggling student pastor, and helped to prepare me for ministry and sent me on my way to serve others. Their guidance and nurture was a gift from God which the Ruffin Church did with such compassion and care. I had been at other churches who didn’t give a hoot if I became a good minister or not, who really didn’t care all that much about us. But Ruffin was a special church that accepted its calling to nurture young people preparing for ministry.

There may not be any rewards or recognition for what you have done here on earth, but God knows your heart is filled with compassion. He knows all the young ones you have tried to help prepare for ministry. And in God’s heart you are loved, you are appreciated, you are a great church.

Thank you Ruffin UMC for loving us, caring for us, and nurturing us in the direction of being a good servant of Jesus Christ.

Dear Lord, thank you for the people of the Ruffin Church, and people like them in churches all over the world, who take on the thankless and some time troublesome task of preparing the young for ministry. I thank you for them, O Lord, for they changed my life and blessed me for all the work ahead, in and through Jesus. Amen.

Grace and Peace


The Gospel Exposed

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

“Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.” – Ephesians 6:10-20

A young woman once asked for an appointment with me. When she arrived, she immediately popped this question: “Why is my mother getting a tattoo?” My response was to say something that would give me more information about what was really going on: “Tell me more.”

She talked her way into understanding. She figured it out on her own. She got a glimpse of her own boldness. She overcame being an ambassador in chains, one who knew she had something to say but didn’t know what it was.

She had something to say to her mother, which was not so much anti-tattoo as it was pro-Mom. When her mother realizes that her daughter understands whatever it is that mother is saying with the tattoo, all will be well. The daughter, especially, will be well as she understands that the mother understands. Chains off. Messages exchanged. Gospel realized.

The Gospel exposed is when we say yes to each other, the way Jesus said yes to all we are—wounds, tattoos, aging, all and more, all chained up, yearning to be free.

O God, help us find each other. Help us look for each other. Help us understand each other when we just don’t get it. Unchain your ambassadors in and through Jesus.  Amen.

Grace and Peace


Get Your Perspective On

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, [God’s] mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”  – Lamentations 3:22-23

Tomorrow is Sunday. I will go to worship to get my attitude adjusted, my perspective restored… even though I am preaching. I will go to be reminded that God’s mercies never cease, that God’s faithfulness has been with us all along.

Left to my own devices I forget this. I tend — like the  author of Lamentations — to fix on how things are hard or unfair or just irritating.

The Lamenter, in verses just before those quoted above, puts it this way, “Brooding on my anguish and affliction is gall and wormwood. My spirit ponders it continually and sinks within me.”

That’s a pretty fair description of a spiritual rut to which most of us are prone every now and again. We focus on our grievances, our disappointments, life’s little injustices — and go slowly nuts.

It doesn’t mean these aren’t — at least in some measure — real. I’m sure the author of Lamentations had plenty of genuine lament material, and so at times do we. And it can be important to tell it like it is, without cover-up.

But that’s never the whole story. Focusing on our pains or problems, we tend to forget the larger and longer story of mercy. We tend to forget how gracious God has been, and all that we have received that we can’t honestly claim to deserve.

One Sunday, when I was the guest preacher somewhere, an elderly man with a cane hobbled up to me after the organ postlude. Grinning he said, “At my age, most every conversation is an organ recital.” It took me a moment to get it, then we both cracked up. Despite his ailments, he was there in worship remembering God’s mercies, laughing at himself and sharing the medicine of laughter and gratitude.

So, the Lamenter broke in on his own lament to say, “But this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, [God’s] mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” A good reminder. A perspective restorer.

Dear Lord, speak the truth of your grace into our sometimes too small, resentful and self-justifying lives, that we may be healed and set free, in and through Jesus. Amen.

Grace and Peace


We’ve Only Just Begun

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

“It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” – Galatians 2:20

Once upon a time, a dandy named Francis heard the gospel. He gave away his own money, then stole his father’s to help the poor. Dragged before the bishop for judgment, he stripped off his clothes and, naked as a jay, strode out of town, a newborn. He’d been baptized as an infant, but this was the moment it took.

He became poor himself, suffering with the ragged on the streets. He sang about Brother Sun and Sister Water, preached to birds, did therapy with killer wolves, and lured the cream of Assisi’s youth into the evangelical madness of his mercy. To everyone’s revulsion, including at first his own, he embraced lepers, kissing their sores. Townspeople pelted him with stones.

He hung out in a ruined chapel, the Portiuncula. One day its crucifix spoke to him: ‘Repair my church.” Stone by stone, he rebuilt the chapel. Some say Jesus meant him to reform The Church, but Francis was literal-minded, inclined to the concrete, doable things in front of his nose.

Hungry for honor, he’d once gone to war. He returned traumatized, a haunted peacemaker. Which is why he’s the patron saint of stowaways, having hidden on a boat headed to Egypt where he crossed enemy lines, found the Sultan, commended the gospel to him, and tried to end the fifth crusade. It didn’t work, but the Sultan thought he was a rare lovely Christian and made sure he got home safely.

Francis loved everybody, even the luxurious Pope down in the holy cesspool of Rome (who’d surprised everyone by approving the Franciscan Rule). But most of all, Francis loved Jesus, following him with unhinged joy down to the last detail of Christ’s freedom and agony. One night, legend says, seraphim lasered the wounds of Jesus onto his scrawny flesh.

Before Francis died, naked on the ground outside the Portiuncula—dust to dust—he told his brothers, “I have done my part. Christ teach you to do yours.” He also said, “We have only begun to live the gospel.” We, even dying Francis, have only begun.

Now he’s in Paradise with Jesus. It’s said that in the morning mist, angels can’t tell them apart. His heaven teems with talking birds, repentant wolves, laughing water. The Pope’s there too, singing duets with the Sultan. And lepers, thousands of lepers, roses blooming on their skin where Francis kissed them.

Most merciful God, on this day when we remember your servant, Francis, grant your people grace to renounce gladly the vanities of this world, so that by following his example, we may delight in every creature with perfect joy, and seek a path to peace in all we do, in and through Jesus. Amen.

Grace and Peace


St. Francis Oct. 4, 1182

Hurry Up and Wait

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

“It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” – Lamentations 3:26

Over the last several years I have spent my share of time waiting in doctors’ offices: waiting to be seen, waiting for tests, waiting for news. I don’t like this waiting. Never have liked it and I am never sure just what to do with the lost time. I remember in the Marines having to get up earlier to run somewhere, to get to stand outside in formation waiting for breakfast. We called it: “Hurry up and wait.” When I wait, sometimes I people-watch; sometimes I just stare into the middle distance. Sometimes I read old magazines, which is the only reason I know that Brad and Angelina have adopted a bunch of kids or who Lindsay Lohan is. Really needed to know that stuff??? I have come to the point where I work on devotions, check emails, and people watch while I wait.

This type of waiting is passive. It is just killing time.

There’s a whole lot of waiting going on in the pages of the Bible, but it is a different kind of waiting. There’s an active quality to the waiting. It is an act of faith in the God who is Lord of time and history.

In the Psalms, in Isaiah, and elsewhere we hear of the faithful waiting quietly in the midst of their troubles, and the troubles of their broken world. They didn’t have our distressing 24-hour news cycle, but they still knew their world was often a cruel, unjust and broken-hearted one.

So they waited, quietly and prayerfully for the One who would bring about the changes in them and their world that they longed for.

And then as now this active waiting changes people. Those who wait for healing tend to become healers. Those who wait for justice and for peace tend to become peacemakers and justice seekers. And as we work for what we wait for, we get enough glimpses of God’s new future to give us the gift of hope.

Great is your faithfulness, Lord. Your steadfast love never ceases. Inhabit our waiting, and give us hearts full of hope in your promised future, in and through Jesus. Amen.

Grace and Peace


Great Is Thy Faithfulness

Steve & Shirley

Steve & Shirley

Jesus said: “Truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’, and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” – Matthew 17:20

I’m not comfortable with heights. It all started after Vietnam. Not sure if it was a motion thing, height thing or a combination of these two along with experiences in Vietnam.

I have flown in choppers, airplanes of all sorts, repelled from choppers, and been in many high places. I was okay with it all until one day I started having problems with it all.

I am better with it now… not sure why… still, heights give me the willies. Therefore cleaning the gutters, riding the Ferris wheel and scaling mountains are all tall orders I tend to avoid.

Even though we live by faith (why else did you get out of bed this morning?), we also view faithfulness as a tall order. When we think of faithfulness we think of someone who is firm in his commitments, someone who is steadfast in her position,  someone who is reliable and unfailingly consistent. In other words, when we think of someone who is faithful, we think of someone other than ourselves.

Few people, in their right minds, believe they are shining, towering examples of faithfulness.  After all, we don’t sing: Great is MY faithfulness!

The Bible agrees. The Bible is not a book to turn to if you want to find faithful human beings. Turn to the Bible if you want to find a God who is faithful to us despite our consistently wavering faith in God. Jesus said having faith the size of a mustard seed would be a huge accomplishment but that’s hardly a ringing endorsement for the human capacity for faithfulness.

On the other hand: 

  • A seed of faithfulness can move a mountain of fear in the face of a life threatening illness;
  • A dash of faithfulness can help us scale a cliff of resentment with our employer or lack thereof;
  • A drop of faithfulness can pull us out of the gutter of guilt and regret.

Great and faithful God, for me faithfulness feels like a tall order. Assure me today, that however little faith I have, it is enough to do great things by your grace, in and through Jesus. Amen.

Grace and Peace


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