Impossible Life

I’m posting this from St. Michael’s Maryland where I’m performing the wedding for my niece, Jenny Robinson and her love, Greg Ruchti in a couple hours. This has been a week full of family life including last Sunday’s deep breath of life at Oakhurst Baptist Church in a service led mostly by Lauren reflecting on how the story of her life has been so shaped by growing up in this place of great stories. Karen, Kathryn and I all played supporting roles. Like Lauren, much of what I know about life, I’ve learned in that most amazing place of grace and hope. (Check out it’s website–especially the Covenant– at

Most of what I know about congregational strengths I first observed in this special place. So if you’ve read Deeply Woven Roots, you’ll know. But it continues to evolve–as does live–in ways that are adaptive and unpredictable. Already, having been in Memphis for only two years, we see so many new faces and note the absence of others we’ve come to love across the years. Jake Swint passed on a few years ago i his late 80’s after being such a key part of our life. We had hoped his wife Kathy would read a poem, but was not well enough to attend. But a congregation lives on the blessings of all those who have contributed to its life–and on the hopes for all those who will. Both ends of the web extend out of sight and mind and memory, but are felt in ways that are more real than the bricks.

Here’s the prayer for the world I prayed last week:
God of impossible graces; God of life,
We confess that the gifts of communications have informed our fears far better than our hopes; disclosed the failures of mercy for more than it has shown where the arc of history bends towards justice. As we read the paper we richochet from one urgent fear to the next; one collapse to the next injury only to be distracted by a disaster in a place we know so incompletely that we can barely be curious. And then we gather in this small room to raise up our praise and doubts. We need your help even to ask for your help. So we begin our prayers for the world with a plea to sort out the distractions and mere curiosities from those events where you would have us know your intentions and draw us along side of your work of life.

Dampen our superficial desire to be everywhere even as you feed our fire of passion to be where you can use us. Help us see where you are already in motion and learn to trust even more the breadth and surprise of how many like ourselves you have already called into motion; how many already stirred to give their best word, and quiet witness where there would otherwise be only lament.

There is no suffering where you are not already present; and no possibility of life where you have not already drawn a partner—even like one of us—to your unfinished creation. But we cannot see what we do not expect; cannot hear a story we do not think possible. Our readiness to despair marks our unbelief just as it freezes us in place.

So even as we pray for the world, we can sense you moving in the most surprising place—inside and among us here giving us a mind of hope and informing our imagination that perhaps you have not given up on the restless world or even on us.

Thank you; thank you, for this most impossible grace and for the world in which we experience it.

And so we begin

This is a blog about life written in the language of life. Larry Pray and I wrote a book about the leading causes of life which has (as life does) emerged into a growing swirl of activities, projects, experiences and, above all, friendships. Those causes of life — connection, coherence, agency, blessing and hope–are a simple trellis on which a great deal is growing.

My life grows through a rich web of relationships, many of which are linked in one way or another to organizations: Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, Interfaith Health Program, Africa Religious Health Assets Program, World Council of Churches, United Methodist Church, schools and others on the ground in Memphis where I live. Some are mostly academic, others programmatic, but all are about life.

Although I play some official role in many of those organizations, this blog is purely personal. I do not expect any of my comments to reflect on them or obligate than in any way. Sometimes I don’t even agree with myself!

The Leading Causes of Life is one of four books I’ve written, all of which are ways of seeking to frame life as a positive movement toward the possible. Although many of my relationships tend to arise out of engagement with problems of different scales and types (hunger, AIDS, violence), my focus has always been toward the possible. Deeply Woven Roots (Fortress) is about the strengths of congregations; Boundary Leaders (Fortress) is about creating life in the “boundary zones” of community; Strong Partners (Carter Center) is about aligning religious health assets. The point is leading a life about life.

I will be posting about once a week. Hopefully, others, such as Larry Pray will also post, enriching the discourse.

You’ll see links to all of these associations, institutions, books and programs. If you haven’t come to the blog from one of them I encourage you to find you way from the blog toward them.

This is probably enough of an introduction for a blog. I’m posting this from my cabin in the North Georgia mountains on a clear day in the 80’s stirred by just enough breeze to hold the hawks up and to invite me away from the keyboard toward the hardwood paths. Looks like life out there.