We Are Not Pools

Commentary (Thoughts Running Amok)

Ever since I began writing poetry on a regular basis, I have also pondered what this activity indicates about me: what are the weaknesses a poet needs to acknowledge, and what are the strengths he can celebrate?

A Sample Weakness
[EDIT: I oringinally wrote and published this late at night, but woke up before dawn with the realization that I had to UNpublish the post and come back with some edits. I had revealed more than I ought to reveal, which is the very tendency I lament in a paragraph below. Someday, the world will suit a poet like me. But not today]

Today, I had a conversation with the senior pastor of a local church. Before I headed over to his church, Susan cautioned me: “Don’t reveal more than you should.” She knows me well. I said, “Pray that I’ll control my mouth, and that I’ll be a blessing to him.”

So, I met the senior pastor at the back door of his church. We walked in, and I immediately began pelting him with questions about his church: how they interact with the neighborhood, how well that is working, etc. After looking at his sanctuary, and talking about how it has served during the pandemic, we went to a more private setting downstairs. I began….

“These last few years, I have been developing as a poet. While some think that poets conceal, their actual drive is to reveal. That’s my natural inclination. But today, I need to control that. I’ll be talking about [something private], and there are things I should not say. Forgive me.” The pastor was understanding, and we talked for another 40 minutes. I believe that by God’s grace I did not tell him more about [the private matter] than I should. Reflecting on what I shared, the pastor gave me hope that I 1) am not alone and 2) serve a God who is changing lives.

The Poet as a Lithe Cat Who Loves Counselors
The little story above is about how I deal with the downside of being a poet: I have to be extra careful about not revealing what’s in my heart. But I usually am not so guarded. Think about it…. A poet is always digging into his own heart to surface emotions and thoughts that would rather stay hidden. He drags them up and exposes them to the light of day where they can be dealt with, sometimes by the poet himself, but more often by the reader, by wiser souls, by counselors. That’s why the poet is a friend of counselors. Like a domestic cat, he brings his daily offering of lizards and rats, and lays them at their door. “Here’s a rat that was running through my heart. What’s its name, and how do we deal with it?”

“Wine That Fills Our Cup”
In the poem I refer to “wine that fills our cup.” Believe me, I like wine, and wine’s not a dead rat. Forget about rats and death. A poet at least this poet celebrates life in his expression of emotion. It is not despair that drives me, but hope. Even when speaking of negative, deadly emotions, there is an essential optimism: “This emotion is not my master. I discovered it, am revealing it, and by God’s grace I will see its cure. He will make me whole.”

Even the Wine of Lament
I have been seeking lately to replace anger and bitterness with sadness and sorrow. In essence, to learn lament. Here’s what’s great about lament (at least as I understand it): it is sorrow felt and expressed in the presence of One who can change things, who will change things. When I move to lament, I move closer to hope. Wine is that which dulls, but also cheers.

A Long Road to Lament

I’ve always had to find creative ways to cope with my short attention span. In seminary, one of my stranger tricks was to find good climbing trees in out-of-the-way places, climb up to a comfortable perch, and do reading assignments there.

On one such foray, I encountered a nest crowded with baby doves all eager to be fed. Figuring that my presence would make the Mama Dove nervous, I climbed back down and found another tree.

A couple of days later, I returned, armed with a camera instead of a book. I climbed up to where I’d seen the doves’ nest. IT WAS EMPTY.

My wish to photograph something beautiful was foiled. I began imagining what might have happened to the baby birds. They could not have developed quickly enough to leave the nest. Had a predator found them? Worse, had my brief presence resulted in the failure of that nest?

TWO SEQUELS

A year or two after the story above, I was about to graduate from seminary. By this time, I was tired of the studies. I was also tired of a handful of classmates who, though they were “big men on campus” seemed very foolish. Let me tell you a story about them….

One day, I was heading home from the seminary. On the tree-lined walk between Mosher Library and Stearns Hall, I encountered these — God forgive me — fools. They were taking turns throwing books up into one of the trees, trying to dislodge a nest. Need I say more?

Skip forward several decades. In semi-retirement now, I have had more time than ever to focus on the beauty of God’s creation. On one of my long walks, I found a nest on the ground. I took it home, and placed it carefully in the Japanese Yew just outside my home office. It was just a decoration.

This brings us up to a second sequel one week ago….

Looking out my office window, I was astonished and delighted to see a bird sitting in the nest I had placed. At first, seeing its tail sticking almost straight up as it sat in the nest, I thought it must be Christopher Wren or his wife. They often flit about, inspecting the architecture of my secret garden. But then, I caught sight of its beak, and knew it was Carnelia Cardinal.

The next day, poking my smartphone on a selfie stick into the Yew, I snuck a photograph of the nest. There were three speckled blue eggs!

I found a way to position a camera inside my office such that it had a clear view down to the nest. From that vantage point, behind the glass, I was able to film the mother cardinal returning to her nest after food “runs.” She would always chirp several times as she arrived, so I knew when to turn on the camera. Then she would settle into the nest, fluffing out her belly feathers to warm the eggs. And she’d sit there for hours, patiently warming her developing brood.

[In the video below, I think she may have been agitated by a mayfly. She usually just settled right in after two or three chirps]

Yesterday, when I drove home from an errand, I stopped by the Yew long enough to inspect the moss, violets, and wheat grass growing below. A blue egg was sitting on the ground. I turned it over, and found a gaping hole, with ants crawling in and out. Need I say more?

I went inside, and watched through the window for Carnelia to return. Four minutes. Eight minutes. She had never left the nest this long. An hour. She didn’t return. The nest had failed. There’s still one egg in the nest. By now, it has cooled, and died.

Now, in place of expectancy, there is sadness. 

I’ve been here before. Last year, when our old cat Princess was dying, excruciating sadness introduced me to sorrow. In a moment, a small window opened, and I recognized that a pet’s death is partly my fault. Beauty is sullied, life is snuffed because I — in Adam — sin. [see “A Very Small Window, Open at Last“]

SORROW AND LAMENT: MY HEAVENLY FATHER’S ONGOING LESSON

Recently, I cried out for help. I am keenly aware of the sin of people I must answer to God for, even when their sin takes the form of vile accusations against godly friends. Knowing the sincere love of many acquaintances on Facebook, I wrote,

MAY SORROW REPLACE ANGER….
I need desperately to substitute sorrow for the anger I feel about people’s hurtful ways. If your prayer list is not too long, please add this.

Brad Hepp

One amazing friend, a counselor in Portland Oregon wrote this beautiful prayer, though she is still grieving the recent death of her beloved husband, Phil:

Heavenly Father, hear Brad’s heart cry to morph the deep response to other’s fear & confusion in the brokenness of life into mercy and compassion. Jesus, thank you for making a way for us, at such an extreme cost to Yourself, to know truth and embrace life as you intend it to be. Holy Spirit, thank you for your relentless work, moment by moment, handcrafting our way to imaging God’s character. I join Brad’s request today to respond to brokenness and pain with sorrow and grief. May each of us who yield to Your will find the courage to extend the grace You are so eager for us to know, first to ourselves, and then to others. Amen.

Debbie Johnson

Was Debbie’s prayer heard? Is it being answered? Does a cardinal nest fail for no reason? Or does it fail to remind me of the little I have learned about sorrow? The road behind me now is long. In contrast to all I know of beauty, this road is strewn with ugliness and failure. Is it a road to bitterness, or is it a road to lament?

I Never Was an Expert

Reflecting this morning on the responsibility church leaders have to make somewhat informed decisions about important matters, I thought back to Sunday School in 1965….

The teacher handed us line drawings to color in with crayons. Although I was five, I had never done that before. I looked at the mess my classmates were making with their crayons and said, “No thanks. I’ll wait until I’m old enough to stay in the lines!”

I’ve told this story before as an example of debilitating perfectionism. It is that. And I thank God that the perfectionism is dying off.

But here’s what MUST remain: a sense that I am not sufficient for the tasks I’m given. From that kernel of humility, I must cry out, “Help me! Forgive me!” I never was an expert.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Had I Been a Neat Freak, I Might Have Died

In my nightmare last night, it was college all over again. I was exhausted, and couldn’t keep up with the lectures. A group of professors started hassling me about my inattentiveness. It made me mad! One professor in particular was busting my chops. In the dream, I was sprawling over a desk, lethargic but angry. With every ounce of strength, I dragged myself off the desk to go over and strike him.

Wham!

Suddenly I woke up. My face had struck the nightstand a foot below my pillow. Susan cried out “Brad! Are you okay?” She was worried. But when she heard the nightmare, and figured out I wasn’t injured, she couldn’t stop laughing.When I landed face-first on the nightstand, the blow was softened by a pile of junk. Had I been a neat freak, I might have died. So there! Let that be a lesson.

Sour Grapes

[first published June 25, 2020]
On long walks recently, I have listened to Ezekiel and Jeremiah. They cover a time of turmoil in Israel. I’m thinking about how both prophets handled a proverb that was apparently popular at the time: “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” Some quote the prophets’ apparent abrogation of that parable in a future time as reason for Christians now to not be concerned about the sins of our ancestors or of our surrounding culture. But I have my doubts. As I wrote a friend, it seems we must carefully delineate sin, responsibility, guilt, and consequences. That we are forgiven in Jesus Christ is not license to continue in the ugliness of sin. It is certainly a poor reason to miss out on the beauty that results from obedience! THE PHOTO: mustang grapes I found and tasted on my walks.

THE IRONY OF PROUD “SUCCESS”

[first published June 29, 2020]
Once, when I was in my mid-twenties, I tried to publicly shame one of the elders of my church. At the time, I thought I was successful: I really put that guy in his place!

Decades passed. Older, and slightly wiser, I myself served as an elder. This time, I watched another young man do what I had done. He resented that the church leadership had “failed” to honor him. So he wrote us an email, slamming us for our bad decision. But there’s more…. He also sent the email to a couple dozen other church members. Did his email convince us that we should have honored him in the first place? Of course not! Rather, it confirmed our earlier judgment. He wasn’t ready for honor. [Let’s hope by now he IS ready]

Back to the action of stupid young Bradley…. When I look back now on that episode in my twenties, it’s clear that what I perceived then as a “success” was one of my worst-ever failures. What irony!

Note: I wrote this after watching a young lady eviscerate a church elder on Facebook. In my opinion, he didn’t deserve her rebuke AT ALL. She had used the word “irony,” so I picked up on that word and used it in hopes that she would read MY post and remember what she had said.

PRO TIP: PIERCE THE BUBBLE OF FACEBOOK

[published July 2, 2020]
Like most people, I have lived much of my life in one bubble or another, isolated from the beauty and wisdom of others’ perspectives. The bubble is not always intentional. But breaking out of it takes BEING intentional.
One of the best things I have done for myself over the past two years is to reach out to black brothers and sisters in Christ and add them to my Facebook feed.* In this divisive time, that is helping me negotiate the intersection of Christianity and culture far more productively than I was able to before. It’s part of a bigger initiative to surround myself with wise voices and then not drive them off with my stupidity (which has happened once or twice).

ABOUT THAT STUPIDITY
It’s easy to say stupid things and get by with it when your audience are all like-minded or share your sub-culture. But when you have to consider that what you write may be read by a very smart, spiritually mature brother or sister from another culture, or another perspective, it forces thoughtfulness. It forces THOUGHT.

*and then foster the friendship outside of social media
(Image below by ArtTower from Pixabay)

Oh! This Boulder Was On My Foot!

[originally published July 25, 2020]
A friend from way back (Scott Thibaut) sent me one of his poems this morning. Its self-awareness, honesty, and imagery gave me goosebumps. We talked about honesty. I wrote him what’s pictured below.

BUT THERE’S MORE
When we start recognizing our deep-seated character flaws late in life, the result is not merely sorrow. As the Holy Spirit unearths such things, there is tremendous hope! Perhaps, with the removal of this impediment, I can run, maybe even fly. To God, the Potter we can cry with Browning,

So, take and use Thy work:
Amend what flaws may lurk,
What strain o’ the stuff, what warpings past the aim!
My times be in Thy hand!
Perfect the cup as planned!
Let age approve of youth, and death complete the same!

Robert Browning in “Rabbi Ben Ezra”

Selfishness, Suffering, and Polarized Cow Patties

[written January 11, 2021]
In recent months, I have been pursuing a theory that selfishness is an underlying motive in many of our sinful attitudes and actions. Discovering an adamant core of selfishness in myself was revolutionary.

But selfishness, greedy as it is, does not account for everything. I am noticing how it joins forces with deep-seated fear of suffering. Think of how often now we hear Christians expressing concern over what they perceive as rising persecution (and presumably its attendant suffering). How do they deal with this fear? Do they — do we — say, “As a follower of Jesus, I expect suffering, and will not run away from it?” I’m afraid there’s very little of that. Instead, we see many in the Church run to the shelter of whatever political ideology seems most likely to insure their safety, in the process giving aid and comfort to the selfishness that drives others to that ideology. Unfortunately, we tend to become like our companions. If our companions are driven by selfishness, we’ll tend to become more selfish. Thus, the deep motives feed each other [I need to work out this relationship a little better].

Am I saying that there’s another political ideology out there that IS safe harbor, that is driven by pure motives? ABSOLUTELY NOT! Rather, I think we must hold very lightly any association we have with a particular spot on the political spectrum. For Christians, marching orders must come from Christ, not from the polarized cow patties of politics.

Feeling Agitated?

[written January 14, 2021]
One of my jobs as a web designer is to NOTICE how I’m responding to design, and to discern how others respond. It’s a useful habit.

Every now and then, I wisely observe how other things affect me. In High School, I became very aware of the effect different genres of music had on my ability to do homework. Since I wanted to keep my options open by making good grades, I sometimes listened to rock (good for math), but increasingly listened to classical or even the despised “easy listening” offerings. Many a night, I was still reading or writing as the radio station signed off with “Stardust” sung by Nat King Cole: “And now the purple dusk of twilight time Steals across the meadows of my heart….”

About two years ago, I realized the effect talk radio was having on me: it stirred up anger. I could drop in on a 3-hour show at any point, and know what was being said — the repetition is really astounding. That pounding repetition of outrage from the radio personalities would immediately echo in my mind, and predictable feelings of outrage would swirl up within me.

I have gotten away from listening to talk radio, and it has made a huge difference in my ability to think straight, to contemplate GOOD things, to see beauty, to concentrate on what matters for eternity. Adrenaline may be good for “fight or flight,” but it’s lousy for loveliness and delight (see related post).

Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life.

Proverbs 4:23 NASB2020

A Memorable Prayer

I wish I could remember the content of a fellow student’s prayer at the beginning of a seminary class some 35 years ago. It was almost other-worldly in its simple sincerity. One had the sense, “This guy talks a lot with God!” Hearing that brother — who was NOT a “big man on campus” — forever set my benchmark for public prayer. I’ve heard plenty of skillful, smooth, inspiring prayers since, but none that moved me so. Where is that guy serving now? In obscurity? Do people still react to his prayer with arched eyebrows, saying, “I want THAT kind of relationship with God”? I sure hope so. God knows.

My “Bernie” Memes

A photo of Bernie Sanders sitting at the Presidential Inauguration on January 20, 2021 made its way into thousands of Photoshop memes on social media. Here are my three contributions:

With apologies to Dr. David Lowery, who I replaced in this screen shot from a December 2017 Dallas Seminary Table Podcast. Below is a screen shot from the same video:

Next, I thought of one of my favorite images: Tutanbernie

Finally, one of my friends asked on Facebook if there are “Any posts today that are NOT shared pictures of Bernie?” This was all I had, a pretty mountain picture:

You may recognize the background shot from other recent posts. It comes from a 2017 climb of Mount Belford. I used this in my post “Wobbly at the Immense.

My Adventures With Whatshisname

THE MUSICAL ARRANGEMENT
When I was assigned a new roommate in college, they installed an old wooden desk for him before he arrived. Since I was building music boxes at the time, I took one of the movements and did my own installation…. I hid the movement in the back of the desk and arranged for it to start playing whenever he opened a desk drawer. For some reason, that guy didn’t last very long. I don’t even remember his name. Ask me sometime what happened when I took him to church with me. [see my reply to Don Regier below, when he did just that]

LONG-WINDED
I was working as an all-night security guard at that time. Staying awake for classes or church services was a real challenge. So there we were — Whatshisname and me — on one of the front pews. I was employing my various surreptitious stay-awake techniques. Just before a long pastoral prayer, I took a big gulp of air, hoping the physical effort of holding that breath would keep me awake. It didn’t. Somewhere during that long pastoral prayer, I relaxed. Seconds later I woke up to a weird sound. It was me! The air was coming out in an involuntary low moan. Now mind you, this was Grace Bible Church, where low moans are rarely ever heard (at least not back in those days). I don’t recall what happened next. Nor do I recall whether this was before or after Ralph Busby invited me to sit in on elder meetings.

Wobbly at the Immense

About five miles into my walk today, I suddenly got all wobbly. In my ear, Sir Kenneth Branagh was reading “The Magician’s Nephew,” by C. S. Lewis. Maybe you remember what happens in that book. I had forgotten. Shhh… don’t give it away.

Blessed by a spotty memory of books I read long ago, and verses I read this morning, I was led to a mountainside. There, in the company of our older Brother, I imagined what it was like in the beginning, when…

The “walk” I referred to above was just one of my around-town hikes. But the background photo is one I took from high camp on a climb of Mount Belford in 2017. There were several great photo opportunities on that climb. See, for example this PHOTOSPHERE (opens in a new tab). Also, I used a photo taken by Peter Beverage on that climb as the background for my poem “Job’s One Good Friend” (also opens in a new tab).

Let’s Help One Another Grow in 2021!

I recently asked some young people, “How are we going to make 2021 better than 2020?” At first they didn’t understand me. After all, what can we do that makes a difference? But I pointed out that the worst of times externally can be the best of times internally. In the midst of chaos and conflict, we can be growing more like Jesus.

How do we do that?

How do we grow more like Jesus? God gives us the Holy Spirit, who causes growth. But it isn’t completely passive on our part. We put ourselves in a place where the Holy Spirit is unhindered in His transforming work. That involves engaging in spiritual disciplines that are as old as the Bible, disciplines that Jesus Himself engaged in. A key phrase in this regard is in 1 Timothy 4:7

Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness

New American Standard Bible

Or here is Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of 1 Timothy 4:7b-8:

Exercise daily in God—no spiritual flabbiness, please! Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a discplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever.

The Message

As we get started in the year 2021, I want to encourage all of us to grow in spiritual disciplines. To that end, I invite you to fill in the form below, so I can know how to regularly pray for you during the months of January and February.

Ephesians 1:1 in Modern Hebrew

Composing Before You Decompose

My friend Marco Ciavolino wrote, “Keep composing before you decompose. This is a hidden talent. I love your short song!”

I told him, “Thanks. It’s VERY hidden indeed. Long ago, five-year-old Bradley walked around the house constantly singing made-up arias in made-up Italian. They flowed effortlessly. And then the stream went underground. Seriously… I’m so glad we have Eternity!”

Election Day 2020

Susan asked me recently if I am more concerned for the Church or for America in this year’s presidential election. I said “the Church.” Because of polarization, echo chambers, social media algorithms, and a cozy relationship between Evangelicals and President Trump, I believe there are many in the Church (especially my fellow Evangelicals) who are adopting attitudes that are out of step with Jesus Christ. They are increasingly inured to the sins characteristic of the political right.

Sins on Both Sides
I also see evidence that some non-Evangelicals in the Church align themselves more with their political preference (more often closer to the left end of the political spectrum) than with Jesus Christ. However, I am not in as good a position to discern the motivation of these Christians as I am the motivation of my fellows on the right.

A Hymn of Praise

I recently participated in a project for Kelly Stern’s doctoral dissertation. She hopes to earn her doctorate in Educational Ministry from Dallas Seminary in May 2021.

This was my favorite part of the project, and is particularly meaningful to me today — the day before the presidential election in the United States. The words of this short tune are just going over and over in my head.

Production note: I discovered a piece of free software called “Musescore” that enabled me to put notation to the tune I had worked out on my accordion. I’m not proud of my voice, or really all that proud of this little tune, but I thought it an appropriate act of worship and encouragement for me to also make a video of this for my friends.

Rejoice, We Are Allied

I just listened through Luke, considering GENEROSITY as a sub theme. It’s pretty moving to think that God wants us to reflect Him in our generosity! Once again, I thought as well of my Dad’s favorite poem. Browning nailed it so often!

By the way, I don’t know Browning well enough to be SURE what “tribes” he refers to in this stanza. Hopefully, he was using it to refer to the creatures which he contrasted with man in the preceding stanza:

Poor vaunt of life indeed,
Were man but formed to feed
On joy, to solely seek and find and feast:
Such feasting ended, then
As sure an end to men;
Irks care the crop-full bird?
Frets doubt the maw-crammed beast?

My thinking on this subject worked its way into a devotional I did later this month: “Generosity, A Fruit of Godliness.”

Generosity

GENEROSITY: That’s what’s on my squirming Scottish mind. As I observe how Luke deals with wealth in his Gospel and the first few chapters of Acts, I want to say that generosity is one of the chief fruits by which we should be known. Love may be warm and fuzzy; in action it is often green, cold and hard (like cash).

(image built from two images on Pixabay, one by Bru-nO and the other by Gerd Altmann).

My thinking on this subject worked its way into a devotional I did later this month: “Generosity, A Fruit of Godliness.”

How to Use Flashlights

Does the bright light in the bottom right bother you? Me too.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.— Psalm 119:105

I hope it doesn’t ruin anything to say this…. What I wrote above was the most positive way I had of expressing a mounting disgust I have when Christians stab at each other with broken shards of Scripture, snippets that SEEM to make a case against the target without really doing so. It’s haughty, lazy, and vile. People who grieve their own brokenness are not obsessed with pointing out the brokenness of others (a sermon to myself, if there ever was one!).

Background image was from Pixabay.

WE’RE IN THIS TOGETHER, FELLOW SINNERS

Something is now coming into sharp focus for me: we believers are responsible to deal not only with our own sin, but — very carefully! — with the sin of our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is not enough to merely take notice and be disappointed or disgusted. We must at least pray for one another, and sometimes plead. I can’t help but think of righteous Daniel: “O Lord… WE have sinned.”

Don’t Run From Suffering

This is a video I recorded for the August 19, 2020 Midweek Devotional of Redeemer Bible Church. What I say reflects a fair amount of the progress I have made over the last few months. Some of it is a veiled protest to the power- and security-seeking motive that is wrecking the witness of Evangelicals in America. My pastor had to point out that “Pursuit of Suffering” is going too far, that the concept has been abused in Church history. He and I did agree that the proper response to suffering looks a whole lot more like “pursuit” than the terrified and often proud evasion that is rampant right now.

Production Note: I recorded this with my Pixel 3a, and only noticed later on that the white balance is constantly changing: white-yellow-white. The camera on that phone is terrific, but there doesn’t appear to be white balance lock!

Selfish Core, Out of Place

I’m slowly writing a prose piece I call “Belonging and Belongings.” The poet in me would rather be done with it.

When I posted this on Facebook, an elderly friend commented with what he admitted was a “tirade” against the political left. Here was my response to him:

[Name], I’m aware that the left is full of godlessness and evil intent. I’m also painfully aware that Brad Hepp is a self-centered, and selfish sinner, saved ONLY by grace. I want to follow Jesus Christ on paths where neither the left nor the right can serve as guides. The day may come when I regain an interest in politics, but right now, I find that politics has commanded the heights of my heart far too often. I’m an exile, trying to reserve all my allegiance for another Kingdom.

Brad Hepp

Double Barrel Rebuke

THE SETTING:
When I was attending seminary, I worked at a ministry, and one of the ladies there drove me crazy. She’d go around saying “Praise the Lord” whenever there was a problem. It got annoying, so one time, after she had repeated those words for the umpteenth time, I smarted off, “You first.” With a confused look, she asked, “What do you mean?” I said, “You just said ‘praise the Lord’ and I am encouraging you to do that.” She was still confused, so I explained, “Saying ‘praise the Lord’ has no CONTENT; I think you should specify HOW the Lord is praiseworthy.”

THE REBUKE:
She looked at me and said, “I’ll tell you something my husband always says about you Dallas Seminary students…. Your theology is as straight as a double barrel shotgun, and just as deadly. “Well, uh, uh, uh…. She didn’t know me well enough to be saying that. OR DID SHE?

Your Paths to Affection?

When I read biographies or the writings of men and women who inspire us long after their own time, one thing I look for is how they fell deeply in love with their subject. Simply put, I want what they had.

For instance, in reading the poetry of George Herbert, I see that he liked to go through his day repeating simple truths, ruminating I suppose. In the poem quoted below, he refers to a simple phrase that he contemplated: “Less than the least of all thy mercies.”

George MacDonald wrote entire novels exploring one or another beautiful quality in the lives of his characters. That’s a long contemplation of one quality!

What are your rituals, your paths to affection?

Beauty

Beauty, that’s what’s on my mind. Arguments are being made left and right by people who want to put an end to ugliness. And I’m on board with that, especially as it relates to the ugliness in my own heart. I see deep-seated ugliness in myself many times throughout the day, as I make quick judgments about people, based merely on appearance or their confusion about reality.

That I should have a lower opinion of man than God does is probably the epitome of my poor judgment, the basement of my stupidity. But there it is: I think poorly of what God loves. This is ugliness in my heart, and I project it on the world around me.

But Beauty

This attracts me. I’m never repulsed by beauty, are you? Want to convince me of something? Show me not just the ugliness of what you would have me set aside, but the beauty of what you would have me reach for.

We are sometimes blinded to ugliness. We are also blinded to beauty. Arguments should open eyes to beauty, to what could be, and in the end will be: a world fully aware and appreciative of beauty, perfectly reflecting God.

I’m reminded of a poem by Gerard Manly Hopkins. I can’t say that I understand every line of this yet, but let me attempt a reading, nonetheless:

God’s Grandeur
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
— Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1877

Coffee at “The Restoration”

It’s Monday, February 3, 2520. The Storyteller has invited me to grab coffee with Himself and one of my old enemies. It’s not the first time this has happened, so I know what to expect.

An angel serves us coffee and the Storyteller tells him, “Pull up a chair. This one involves you.”

“As you know, Brad, I have invited an old enemy of yours. He should be here shortly. In the meantime, how about that view!”

It’s the view I used to describe to my son: “When you grow up, and make your first million, buy me a house in the hills. It should have a covered porch, and it should overlook a valley with tall mountains across the way.” Clearly, this location was hand-picked. Someone remembered!

About then, my former enemy shows up, guided by another angel. He looks around and flashes a sheepish grin. Apparently, this is not his first story.

After dismissing the guide angel, the Storyteller says, “Have a seat, John. You remember Brad?”

An angel from the kitchen brings out another pot of coffee and an additional cup and leaves them on our table. The Storyteller pours a cup for John, and then begins….

“Brothers,” he says to me and John; “And you as well,” He smiles at the angel. “It was 500 years ago. Brad here was praying, in that distracted way that always made me chuckle. He got to the part of his list that he titled ‘Difficult.’ I agreed with his title. Praying for his enemies was difficult for him. Hearing him pray was difficult for me! In addition to his distraction, there was always his struggle with bitterness. But he tried, and that pleased me.”

“John, Brad prayed for you. He asked the Father to grant you success in your ministry, physical, mental, and emotional health, and continued spiritual growth. Brad didn’t have a lot of imagination, so his prayers for you were usually along those lines. Now let me tell you how we answered his prayers….

The Storyteller goes on for several hours, with a tale totally out of proportion to the minutes I once spent in prayer for John. He includes the angel, pointing out how he was employed in answering my prayers.

A few cups of coffee later, He concludes, “So, that’s how Brad’s prayer moved Heaven and Earth in your behalf.”

Then He turns to me.

“Brad, come back tomorrow. I have also invited a fellow you probably don’t remember. But he remembered you, right at the top of his ‘difficult’ list. Boy, do I have a story to tell him!”

— Brad Hepp, 2/3/2020

MOTIVATED? See my Resources Page for recommendations on a little app that may help you pray more regularly: https://www.bhepp.us/resources/#prayer

A Veneer of Knowledge

One of the few card games I recall playing in my youth was Authors. If I remember correctly, the object of the game was to trade cards until you had a full set of cards representing an author’s major works.

As a result of playing that game, I was a young nerd who could reel off the most famous writings of Louisa May Alcott or James Fenimore Cooper WITHOUT HAVING READ A WORD OF THEIR WRITING.

I also had collections of cards for identifying mammals, and a nifty rock identification guide. I tried to imitate my mother’s impressive knowledge of flowers and birds. I still am trying.

That was Phase One of an education, and it has lasted almost six decades. As Phase One draws to a close (I hope!), I find myself possessing a veneer of knowledge. It isn’t all bad. Knowing just a little about this and that opens the door for many useful and fascinating conversations. But sometimes I look back on a conversation and am embarrassed that I confused my Authors cards. To my creative writers group: “I referred to Nathaniel Hawthorne, when I meant James Fenimor Cooper!” Last night, I came home after a conversation and realized I had spoken of the Fifth Amendment, when I should have referred to Article Five. Scratches in my thin veneer of knowledge reveal the particle board below. I want more. I want better.

Phase Two of my education is going to take infinitely longer. I’m not a fast reader. And some things just take time to learn. For instance, it takes walking around a lake many times, over many months, over many years to know more than rudimentary facts about the plants and animals I observe there. I can’t help but think of the latter chapters in Job. There, God poses questions for Know-it-Alls regarding basic facts that weren’t listed on their mammal identification cards.

This is why I love eternity, and the infinitely creative God who enables Phase Two of my education. Piece by piece, over time without end, the particle board and its thin veneer will be replaced. I’ll come to really know.