Guest post – my daughter Maggie

For a school assignment this summer, my daughter Maggie must publish something online. I’m delighted my high school freshman chose her dad’s blog as the platform, and hope you enjoy her short story as much as I did!

Maggie: So, here I am publishing something on my father’s blog. I have been writing almost every day this summer and this was my family’s favorite short story.  I hope you enjoy it!

“Kids these days”

The meeting began with decaf coffee, Earl Grey tea, and homemade sugar cookies and ended in a fight between a youngster and an oldie.  There was only one reason for the violence:

Kids these days.

The discussion started with a proud eighty-two-year-old bearing witness to her grandson’s numerous misdeeds. “It all started with his father’s well-intended gift of the 20th century’s terrible mistake: The Mobile Phone. Within a month of receiving this technological device, the boy was texting at the table, Snapchatting on the sacred Sunday, and following dozens of makeup-caked, scantily-clad teenage girls on Instagram.”  There was a collective gasp from the gathered group of grandparents.  “My once darling, innocent grandson cursed at his poor father after he threatened to take away his Xbox because of his many failing grades.” The assembled body all replied with a well-rehearsed,

“Kids these days.”

Another elder stood up gingerly, gripping his walker, and began railing against his next-door neighbor’s daughter. “Every day, she’s up before sunrise curling her hair, putting powders of many unnatural shades on once beautiful skin, taking showers! Why, that girl wastes more water than anyone else I know! She takes two thirty-minute showers every day. Her din awakens me every morning, long before I want to be woken during my retirement.  Her young mother pays no heed to my complaints. She just smiles sweetly down at her daughter and says that ‘My darling needs to look gorgeous every day.’  The assembled listeners shook their heads and muttered a collective

“Kids these days.”

On and on, aged men and women stood and raised their voices in complaint and anger, railing against “the kids these days.”  They spoke of the horrors of children and technology, “…not only are kids bullying kids in person, but they are now killing thousands through the internet.”  One Ancient even discussed the average cost of raising a child today.  “By the time they’re out of the house they have stolen $233,610 from their parents,” adding that that sum is quadruple how much it cost to raise her.  After every testimonial the congregation would respond like they were at church, except instead of “Amen,” it was “Kids these days,” that came to their lips.

Everyone but a hunched over figure sitting on a wooden rocking chair had said something and now all eyes landed on the character waiting for him to give a rousing finale.  A testimonial worthy of praise.  When he stood up, the group realized that this man stood at a towering height much different from the hunched over forms of the previous speakers.  The audience looked around nervously trying to remember his name on the guest list.  When he cleared his throat, the crowd began to titter, whispering behind wrinkled hands for his voice was not ragged at all, but in fact sounded young!

“Shut up you pile of moth balls!”  the man – or should I say, teenage boy – yelled as he ripped off his wig and glasses and began shouting over the din.

“You think you’re so much better then the younger generation.  At least we don’t have meetings to discuss how terrible our grandparents and elderly neighbors are. Really, you pretend you’re so much more mature then us, but have you seen yourselves lately? You have to bad mouth your grandchildren?  Did you ever consider that you were once a crazy kid too?”  The assembly got quiet.  But then a particularly grouchy old man stepped across and threw a heavy punch at the young intruder.  Quickly the boy blocked the attack and karate chopped the elder down.  Pandemonium ensued.  The crowd began yelling and attempted to hold back the loser’s wife, who looked mad as a hornet.

“See what I mean, you all threw the first punch.  You’re so concerned about kids these days when you should be worrying about your own mental state.”  He began striding out of the room but looked back and hollered over the din, “Grandparents these days!” and opened the door and walked out.

“And that’s a wrap,” called out a middle-aged man. “Way to go folks!  This will sure bring lots of laughs.  This is going to go viral!”  The group began to clap and laugh as they all removed costumes, wigs, wire-rimmed glasses and face masks, to reveal a group of young millennials.

Watching from the balcony, a janitor with greying hair shook his head and muttered,

“Kids these days.”

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Breaking down walls: lessons from a compost bin

From time to time I write about what my garden is teaching me about life. Paying attention to the plants, insects, birds and soil with which I share space helps cultivate within me the practice of listening to my own life. The informal education my garden provides continues to shape me as a person: humus making me more human. Sometimes formal education in gardening does the same.

Three years ago, I participated in a Master Community Gardener course offered by Seedleaf, a wonderful organization in our neighborhood committed to “nourishing communities by growing, cooking, sharing and recycling food.” The most interesting session for me was the one on recycling food, better known, perhaps, as composting. We’ve been trying to turn kitchen scraps, grass clippings and leaves into compost for more than a decade, with varying degrees of success. I had always heard if you could just get the pile hot enough, it would break down everything you put in it into ‘black gold,’ the nourishing soil amendment that is compost. But there were always those woody stems – thick cellulose walls – from the bigger plants that never seemed to break down. So, I assumed my pile wasn’t producing enough heat, pulled out those woody stems and put them in the yard waste bin.

But then in the session on composting I learned why that was the case, and how to change the way we went about composting in order to break down those thick walls. Along the way, I began to think about other walls that need to be broken down, (tasks in which we seem to be making little progress) and what we might learn from the humble compost pile.

There is no question that at this moment in US history, the walls with which we live – walls which divide us from each other – appear to be growing stronger. Walls that divide us based on the amount of melanin in our skin. Or the language we speak. Or our religion. Or the political party we identify with. Or the amount of education we have. Or our gender and/or sexual identity. Literal walls that create ‘gated communities,’ whether those are high-end housing developments or prisons. Walls that separate families, communities and sovereign tribal nations across national borders.

Protesters outside a federal courthouse in Seattle, May 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

Over the past few years we have witnessed people take to the streets to protest these walls, in their hundreds and in their hundreds of thousands. I’ve walked in some of those myself. It feels good to be reminded that not everyone is in favor of such walls. These protests generate a lot of heat, both in real life and online, especially those that have drawn large crowds across the country. But when the cardboard signs have been placed in recycle bins, the hats hung on hooks by the door, and words to catchy chants forgotten, the cold, hard reality is that all that heat rarely makes a dent in the walls.

Enter compost. Yes, compost piles generate heat. But that’s not enough. In the Seedleaf course, I learned that there are two phases to composting: bacterial and fungal. The first ‘wave’ of bacteria are cellulose eaters, and they are mesophilic – they don’t like it too hot, nor too cold. They begin to break things down for what comes next – the heat. Because the second ‘wave’ of millions of individual bacteria are thermophilic – they love the heat – and they get the pile up to about 160 degrees, which kills the weed seeds and pathogens I don’t want in my garden beds. But then they die off, and unless the second phase happens, for all that heat, I’ll be left with half-finished compost, with all those thick woody stems – tough, cellulose walls – remaining. The second phase sees the rise of mesophilic fungal communities, who are lignin eaters (the woody stems). And their long, slow, steady work will eventually break down the toughest of those walls and leave me with the ‘black gold’ I’m looking for.

Marches and protests and the heat they generate are important. But they’re not enough. And they’re sometimes co-opted by people with personal and political agendas who are drawn by the heat of the moment, but who often overlook those who’ve been doing this work for a long time. Because just as my compost pile needs fungal communities to break down walls, we need people committed to the long, slow, unseen and non-heat generating work of building communities that will – in time – break down the walls we live with. People who may themselves march in the streets, but who then return to their neighborhood, roll up their sleeves and get back to their ongoing and unheralded work of dismantling the walls that have been built to divide people.

In my neighborhood, the people cultivating ‘fungal communities’ are often women of color. People like my friend Tanya, who opens her family’s home on Saturday mornings for a neighborhood breakfast. While she fixes waffles and brews the coffee, you might find a city council member sitting at the dining table talking about affordable housing with someone whose landlord takes their disability check and gives them $20 a week, while refusing to fix the stove/broken window/plumbing/heating in their draughty apartment of last resort. People like April, who, together with her sister Sarah, has quietly been doing this work for years. You’ll find April at a Fresh Stop market, organizing more equitable access to fresh produce with an innovative CSA. People like Anita, who lost a son to gun violence in the park at the end of our street, and who organizes ongoing ‘Peace Walks,’ and advocates for more creative ways to address conflict in our community. People like Christine, a master gardener herself, who helps bring all kinds of people together to grow food and flowers and friendship.

If we really want to do away with the walls that divide us from each other, while we may be drawn to the heat of whatever the next protest is, dismantling those walls will involve showing up within the fungal communities that already exist, and joining the long, slow, often unnoticed – and unfunded – work that has been going on for a long time. Especially when that gives us the opportunity to be led by people who have as much to teach us about the work as my garden has to teach me about life.

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The Naked Man – pt. 52

Mark caught up to Yiftach and laid a hand on his shoulder as he walked across the courtyard. Yiftach flinched at his touch and spun around to find a look of concern etched in the wrinkles of Mark’s face. “You are troubled my young friend. What has happened?” Yiftach shrugged Mark’s hand off angrily. Then his shoulders slumped, his chin dropping to his chest. Mark gestured towards the stone seating under the olive tree. “Why don’t we sit down, and you can tell me what’s causing this pain – perhaps over a cup of what remains of my mother’s excellent wine?” Yiftach allowed himself to be led over to the low wall and sat down.

Mark poured two cups of wine, handed one to Yiftach and sat down beside him. Yiftach stared into his cup as he swirled the wine, the moonlight flashing in the deep red surface. Finally, he said, “It’s Simon.” They sat in silence for a while, and then Yiftach began to relate the exchange he had had with Simon earlier that evening. Angry to find himself fighting back tears again, Yiftach said, “I love that man. I would die for that man. And now he wants nothing to do with me.” He laughed bitterly, as he lifted his eyes from his cup to Mark’s face. “I don’t know why I’m telling you all this. It’s not like that would ever happen to someone like you.” Mark held his gaze for a moment before responding softly, “I wouldn’t be so quick to assume that, my young friend.” Now it was Mark’s turn to look down into his cup, as painful memories resurfaced.

“In the early days of the church in Jerusalem, the apostle Paul – who had once persecuted members of the Way – was understandably viewed with suspicion as he tried to convince those very people that he, too, had met the risen Jesus. It was only when Barnabas intervened that Paul was – reluctantly – welcomed into the fellowship. When the two of them left Jerusalem to carry the Message to other cities, they took me with them. I confess I was overjoyed to be invited to travel with them. God was using them in mighty ways, and I soon grew to love them both. We sailed to Cyprus where they began to proclaim the word of God in the synagogues throughout the island. After a while we sailed to Perga in Pamphylia.” Mark paused before continuing in a voice so quiet Yiftach almost missed what he said, “And there I deserted them, and came home.”

They sat in silence for several moments before Yiftach asked, “Why?” Mark continued to contemplate the contents of his cup and then lifted his eyes to Yiftach’s. “Oh, I’m not sure that’s all that important. Let’s just say there was a significant…disagreement. And so, I left and returned here.” “Did you ever see them again?” asked Yiftach. “Oh yes.” Mark replied. “They returned to Jerusalem to report to the other apostles all that God was doing among the gentiles. And ran into opposition from some former Pharisees, who insisted the gentiles had to be circumcised in order to be saved. As I said earlier, the question of who belonged to the Way generated frequent conflict. And – as you clearly know yourself – continues to do so. Well, the apostles and elders came together to discuss the matter, and after Peter spoke up about his own experience with a Roman centurion’s household, the Council determined not to require circumcision of the gentiles. Paul and Barnabas returned to the site of the original controversy – Antioch – and chose Judas and Silas to accompany them. Barnabas invited me to join them on the journey.

“After reporting the decision of the Council to the congregation in Antioch, Paul and Barnabas stayed to teach and preach the word of the Lord. Then Paul told Barnabas he wanted to return to visit the communities of the Way in all the cities where they had proclaimed the word of the Lord and see how they were doing. Barnabas wanted me to continue with them, but Paul insisted that they should not take me, because I had deserted them in Pamphylia. They argued – sharply – and in the end they parted company, Paul taking Silas to travel through Syria, while Barnabas took me to sail back to Cyprus.” Mark held Yiftach’s gaze as he said, “So trust me, I know what it feels like to respect someone, to follow someone, to love someone, only to have that person want nothing to do with you…because you let them down.”

As Mark’s eyes misted over at this painful memory, Yiftach finally allowed the tears to fall that he had fought back as the pair sat in silence for a long time. Then Mark spoke again. “I am truly sorry about what happened between you and Simon, because I understand the pain it’s caused you. Not just because of what happened between Paul and I, but also because of the ongoing estrangement I experience from my brothers – because we have competing views of God’s promised future, and how to achieve it.” Yiftach nodded slowly, and then asked, “Were you and Paul ever reconciled?” “Yes!” Mark responded. “Paul sent for me during both his imprisonments in Rome.” He laid his hand on Yiftach’s arm. “There is always hope, my friend. But Simon is committed to the way of violence. He has made his choice: I believe you are still making yours. I know you’re confused, and afraid – and I understand why. Know that I am praying for you – and if you’re wondering where you belong now, know that you are truly welcome here…”

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Radishes and radicals

Twice a year, I clear out our chicken coop, piling up the pine shavings and poop against the fence to cure over the course of 6 months. If I were to put it straight on the vegetable beds, the ammonia would burn the plants, so I give it plenty of time to break down before it’s ready to apply to the soil.

This spring I dressed the beds as normal with that nutrient-rich mix a couple of weeks before planting greens, lettuce, beets, carrots, parsnips and radishes. I love radishes. Not just for the crunch and their peppery flavor, but because they’re ready to harvest in 30 days – the first fruits of the soil every spring. They were the first seeds to germinate, and after such a long winter, I felt a little giddy to see those beautiful spring-green shoots start to emerge from the rich loam. And then they just kept growing. And growing. And growing. I’d never seen growth like it. At first, I was excited – how big are the radishes going to be this year?! – but then I began to think something was not quite right. So, I gently pulled back the soil from the base of one plant to check on the growth of the root, and as I did so, the plant began to fall over. I eased it out of the soil so as not to disturb others and found a slender root – not the swelling bulb I had expected to find. I was truly impressed that that tiny root could support that much growth above ground! But all the energy was going into the leaves, and not the root. And what I’m interested in is the root.

Consulting the oracle of Facebook, my friend and farmer Bill Guerrant (author of the delightful novel, Jim Wrenn) diagnosed the problem: too much nitrogen. Now, nitrogen is essential for green growth, and I must say the kale, collards and mustard greens were very happy this year. But the root crops? Not so much. Where had that excess nitrogen come from? Well, we endured a lengthy and very cold winter, and obviously that pile of poop and pine shavings had not cured enough, and so it appears I have ruined any chance of root crops this year.

My garden has much to teach me, if only I’ll pay attention. Nitrogen is an essential nutrient, but is only one among many. Clearly when it comes to nitrogen, you can have too much of a good thing. Someone with no knowledge of vegetables may have seen all that leafy green growth above ground and been impressed. But all that visible display was at the expense of the root, which is where the goodness lies.

The garden teaches me more than just how to grow food. It teaches me how to grow a life that is in harmony with the One who creates life, and – for me – a life that more faithfully embodies the radical nature of the Way of Jesus. There are all kinds of good things I can do towards that end, but the danger is always to over-emphasize one at the expense of others. Mine is reading. I would happily spend all the hours available to me to read, and probably still never finish all the books on our shelves at home. But that just fills me with what my dad always called “head knowledge.” Valuable to a point, but not an end in and of itself. To get the true benefit of reading requires taking time to reflect on what I’ve read. To enter into conversation about it with others; to listen to what the Spirit is saying; and then to embody what I’m learning through action. When those things are in balance in my life, it begins to bear fruit that serves more than just myself.

What are you tempted to over-emphasize in your life? Endless discussion (or arguing!) over important things on social media – or in person – without taking time to be better informed about those things? Or maybe you’re prone to action: you’re out there “doing it,” but at the expense of relationships, or your health (physical, emotional and/or mental). Perhaps you’re prone to endless reflection: to the point where you find it difficult to take action, or to contribute to the conversation, “in case I’m wrong.”

Now, people may look on at our lives and be impressed by all our passionate talking. Or our activism. Or our thoughtful reflection. Or even our library. Lots of leafy green to admire in our lives. But if we scrape back the soil, maybe we’ll only find a slender root, barely holding us up. And when something disturbs the soil in which we’re planted, we’re in danger of falling. A productive, fruitful life requires all those things. Such a life truly becomes “radical” (a word derived from the Latin word for root, radix).

What’s your “nitrogen”? What do you over-emphasize in your life that keeps you from growing the strong roots necessary for the sustainable and fruit-bearing growth for which you were made? How might you begin to right-size that, and give yourself to the other things that together make for a healthy, productive life?

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A painless anniversary

PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

A year ago today I was lying on a hospital bed, awaiting a second surgery to address the staph infection that had developed in my knee following a routine ACL replacement procedure. Some surgical thread had been left in my thigh following the original surgery, which had apparently provided a pathway for the staphylococci bacteria on my skin to make its way into my knee joint, eventuating in a midnight trip to the Emergency Room two months later.

My memories of those first few days in hospital are somewhat hazy. Mostly they consist of the electronic sounds of medical machinery, the constant darkness of the room, and people in masks leaning over me to draw blood, give me oral meds, take my temperature and blood pressure, and whatever else is involved in treating a serious infection. I also remember the strong scent of deodorant or perfume that lingered after the nurses left the room, mostly because it triggered the nausea that was a never-distant part of my overall misery.

The one crystal clear memory I have is of a brief period of profound fear when I believed I was going to die. I realize now that, until that moment, I had never seriously considered my own mortality. Sure, I knew that I would die like everybody else who has ever lived, but that was a distant reality, just another piece of information  about life which I possessed (albeit, a significant one), and one that I had never – apparently – truly internalized. I confess that after the intensity of the fear passed, I was shaken by the experience. In the lonely hours of the night, unable to sleep, the echoes of that fear would re-surface like waves lapping at the shore, and as I became more coherent, I began to wonder about these feelings. Didn’t I believe in the resurrection of the body? In “life after life after death,” as N. T. Wright is fond of saying? Had I not spoken of the “sure hope of the resurrection” at funerals at which I had presided? Was I not confident that death does not have the last word in life: God does? And yet there I was, in the wee hours, fighting off the fear of death.

I didn’t appear to be making much progress physically, and my surgeon became concerned that a pocket of bacteria somewhere on the pathway created by that thread was “re-seeding” the joint, and decided another surgery was necessary. And so, one year ago today, I was taken down from my room to a freezing cold surgical waiting area to await the surgeon’s arrival from another hospital. The nursing staff had stopped giving me pain medication in anticipation of the surgery, but unfortunately the surgeon was delayed, which necessitated my first and only experience with Fentanyl, which truly is a powerful and scary drug. As I look down at the six inch scar which holds the memory of that second (and successful) surgery, I am truly grateful to be alive, to have had access to healthcare, and to have had only a brief brush with opioid addiction during the whole experience (which I wrote about here).

At this point, you might expect me to pen something inspiring, perhaps about my determination to “make every moment count” following that experience. But the truth is, I have made no such declarations. I’m on what is proving to be a long and slow road to a full-ish recovery. I worked hard at physical therapy, and am able to kick a soccer ball around with my kids’ team (though I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to sit back on my heels again, which really bugs me). But it’s the mental and emotional recovery that has been hardest. I didn’t sleep well for three months, and my mental acuity has suffered for it. I often struggle to focus on the task at hand. My short term memory is filled with holes. I find myself fighting off anxiety in lots of areas that I have never had to before. And I allow my inner critic way too much head space. This infection and all that came with it have knocked me far further back than I could have anticipated.

Nevertheless. (One of my favorite words, and the word which Walter Brueggemann says summarizes the entire Hebrew scriptures.) There are other memories from that time that offset the painful ones. Hearing my daughter Maggie play one of the piano pieces she was learning a year ago evokes the memory of her and her brother playing the piano for me while I was in withdrawal from the opioids I had been prescribed, and which eased the misery for a while. Kicking back the leg rest on the recliner my sister-in-law Erin bought for me after she drove from Illinois to care for our kids so Rebecca could be with me. Neighbors who put their hands in their pockets to offset the financial challenge that season presented. Members of First Presbyterian Church who brought meals several times a week in the month after I got out of hospital. And the hundreds of people who left encouraging words on my Facebook wall, and who prayed for me throughout the worst of it. Those memories provide comfort when the waves of fear still lap at the shore on the nights I can’t sleep, and invite me to turn again to the God whose Presence I felt in those acts of kindness.

I still have a way to go. But I am, indeed, going, and that is something I celebrate today.

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Four 3-word sentences that lead to wisdom

It’s no secret that my favourite fiction genre is the murder mystery. And of the many, many detective series I read, my favourite character without question is Louise Penny’s creation, Inspector Armand Gamache of the Québec Sûreté. If you’ve never visited the village of Three Pines, I encourage you to begin with his first outing, Still Life.

The Inspector sometimes invites police officers to join his team who are faltering in their career, because he sees something in them that their superior officers do not. Often they are flawed individuals, wrestling with personal demons. Perhaps that’s why I like Gamache so much. They soon learn that Gamache’s approach to policing begins with four simple 3-word sentences that, in his words, “lead to wisdom.” I think they’re helpful for more than just police officers, and so they’re posted on mirrors in our home as a reminder:

Perhaps you’ll find them helpful as well.

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The Naked Man – pt. 51

For the setting and a cast of characters for this series, click here.

The awkward silence that fell across the courtyard following Yiftach’s outburst was broken by Rachel. As all eyes turned towards her, her own were turned towards Yiftach, a mixture of compassion and disquiet writ large on her face. As she began to speak, her gaze turned to Mark. “I confess I also find it hard to believe that someone could walk on waves. It is…unprecedented.” Her eyes lost focus, imagining the scene. “But what I find almost harder to believe is that Jesus – seeing their obvious distress – would just walk past them. I mean, he’s the one who sent them out across the lake after all. You’d think if he really could go out there, he’d want to help them!”

Before Mark could respond, Simeon interjected. “Your choice of words is interesting, Yohannan. ‘He intended to pass them by.’ Does that mean what my young friend here suggests? That Jesus was merely taking the shortest route to the other side while his friends in the boat fought the waves and the wind? Or are you possibly alluding to something else?” Mark raised an eyebrow and gestured for Simeon to continue his line of thought. “I’m sure it was disturbing to see a figure above the storm-whipped waves. To be struggling at the oars, and then see someone out there. Someone who intended to pass them by? I hear echoes of our people’s story in those words.”

As Simeon paused to take a quick drink from his cup, Rachel spoke up. “I don’t think I hear those echoes. What do you mean?” Simeon nodded to himself, as he continued. “I’m thinking of Moses, and the time when G_d assured him that G_d’s presence would go with the people as they journeyed to the Promised Land. Do you remember?” Rachel shook her head slowly. “It was the time when Moses asked to see G_d’s glory.” He paused, and the light of recognition came to Rachel’s eyes. She smiled, and said, “And G_d put Moses in the cleft of the rock and covered him until G_d had passed by. Then G_d took G_d’s hand away so Moses could see G_d’s back.”

Adina leaned forward and spoke. “And it’s like Elijah! When he was afraid of Jezebel, and on the run. He was in a cave, and the Lord passed him by – in a strong wind! No, wait, he wasn’t in the storm. G_d was in the gentle breeze that came after.” “Indeed,” responded Simeon. “Both men were afraid, and G_d passed them by, to reassure them.”

“Well,” Mark said, “Peter told me that the twelve certainly were afraid when they saw him walking on the sea. They supposed that it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke with them and said to them, ‘Take courage; it is I, do not be afraid.’” Yiftach found himself drawn into the story despite himself. “The fishermen in my village often spoke of water spirits – ghosts at night – who could bring disaster upon them in an instant, dragging their boats down into the depths. I’m sure the twelve were terrified!”

“And,” Simeon added, “Jesus’ response is to reassure them with the words G_d so often speaks to the terrified, ‘Do not be afraid.’” He looked at Mark. “I am curious as to the exact words Jesus spoke when he said, ‘It is I.’ Or word, perhaps?” Mark smiled. “Indeed, one word. The word. HaShem.” He turned to Rachel. “Jesus did not abandon them. He got into the boat with them, and the wind stopped; and they were utterly  astonished,  for they had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but their heart was hardened. Exhausted from straining against a fierce wind, drained by the terror they had felt, in some ways it’s no wonder they’re astonished. Perhaps they hadn’t taken time to reflect on their experience of that remarkable meal with the crowds on the hillside. Or perhaps they really were just obtuse.

“Whatever the case, as we discussed a few nights ago, they would come to understand the larger purpose of this sea crossing – and the previous one – in the years to come. It prepared them for the conflicts that arose concerning the inclusion of the gentiles. For the pain and chaos caused when people disagree about who belongs.” As Mark said this, he saw Yiftach shift in his seat, a look of anguish flashing across his face. Ah, something has happened. He decided to dismiss the gathering, and, after offering a blessing, strode across the courtyard to catch Yiftach before he could leave…

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