Forwarding Address


I’m over at a new blog now. Or rather two.

The first is associated with Burning Down the Fireproof Hotel, a recently published spiritual memoir. I’m on the road a bit of the time these days doing a book tour. And I’m telling stories of the road and of life in DC here. 

For a while now, I’ve also written on our SPACIOUS blog, the storytelling arm of a community organization I started so that good people could conspire together to turn strangers into neighbors.

So join me in either place. And let’s keep up the conversation.

Swerving to Avoid Those Eyes


Her eyes were equally dead and defiant.

Last night I left a nice event, and I headed home on North Capitol Street. It’s a major DC thoroughfare that bursts northward from the U.S. Capitol and then cuts a swath through promise and gentrification, pain and squalor. Mostly the latter.

It moves quickly; I moved speedily, darting in and out among the three lanes heading north.

As I approached R Street, I could see shadowy movement in my lane ahead in the dark night. I slowed. As I caught up with the shadow, I found it to be female, older than not, and very slow. The woman seemed intoxicated, such was her lack of interest or concern over the fact that cars were barreling towards her. Just past my lane, she stopped in the middle lane and stared at me as I passed. I’ll never forget her eyes — partly defying me to hit her, mostly looking at me like “Go ahead; do it; you’d be doing me a favor.”

In the split second during which we exchanged eye contact, I also willed the cars behind me, barreling forward towards her in the lane she occupied, to slow down, to see her, to be alert, to not kill her and make me witness it.

And I drove on. Fast. To home. To warmth, to safety, to a man who loves me, to security. To enough, to hope, to a tomorrow worth looking forward to.

And I was struck by those eyes. And by how often we join people in believing that their lives, sinking, sunk, desperate, are not worth much, not worth the relatively minimal effort to get safely across the street in the dark and avoid getting hit.

And we’re wrong.

And implicated.

Hablo Español (Badly)


Here’s to having crappy foreign language skills… but using them anyway. Or having barely passable dancing moves, and still asking somebody to dance or getting out on the floor with your friends.

I’m speaking up in defense of “good enough,” of mediocrity even.

True… “good enough” does not belong in the realm of brain surgery, or tight-rope walking or even bus driving.

But there are plenty of realms in which we don’t show up, don’t try, and — most importantly — don’t connect with other people because we worry about how we’ll come across. We might sound dorky; we might look super awkward.

So what?

I’ve studied Spanish a bit. Emphasis on the “bit.” And I never have gotten good enough to really converse or read or, well, feel competent. But I’m good enough at it to express interest in someone, to ask about their family, their work, or their day. And if they speak very slowly in reply, I can even take in their answer.

There’s something about being that bad (present tense only, please) that makes it possible to speak to people whereas if I thought I were better at Spanish or even aspired to be (it’d be nice but it’s not a priority today), I’d be dissatisfied with my abilities and not try. Instead I start with a declaration that my Spanish is bad, I love practicing, and I need more words some day. Continue reading

Family Peace Talks


There are atrocities that we consider unforgivable. The Rwandan genocide springs to mind as one of the worst. And The Troubles in Northern Ireland.

When we see photos or hear stories of reconciliation, we are awed. Forgiveness  seems impossible. In my own experience, it is impossible to offer kindness to enemies apart from the power of God’s love which drips or pours in when I push beyond my reticence and muster enough guts to beg for it. Forgiveness has been possible but only through that pathway.

I love being a witness to surprising reconciliation, shocking forgiveness, enemies becoming friends.

So why, why, why do we sometimes refuse to think of our daily struggles (minor or more serious) with those we love most as being within the realm of redemptive possibility?

We think, “Yes, in rare cases a Hutu can forgive a Tutsi,” or “There actually can be forgiveness in Northern Ireland though I don’t see how it’s possible.”

At the same time, we say, “But my husband and I will never see eye to eye” or “My brother is beyond forgiveness”… not always but generally for something far less heinous than the worst conflicts the world offers up.

We pass up the power that is available. Forgiveness power. Even in families. Even yours.

Skipping the Sunglasses

DSCN4053 I wanted to grab my sunglasses and camouflage the fact that tears were beginning to puddle in my eyes and would soon begin their descent. “Estoy triste,” I said. Or should it be, “Soy triste?” I tried both. My friend didn’t tell me which was correct; I’m still not sure. We’ve been friends for nine or ten years, during which he’s worked a custodial job at a tony place I frequent. We don’t have a common language so our interactions have tended to stick to the same topics…with a few additions from time to time. He hasn’t had a lot of time to learn English since he works three jobs to send money home to El Salvador. We work with my rudimentary Spanish. This morning I was able to understand that my friend is returning home. Forever. As far as I can tell he hasn’t seen his family the whole time I’ve known him. And now his presence is needed more than the income he’s been able to make in America. So he’s leaving. Soon. Hearing that, I was flooded with regrets. Regrets that, although I did choose for a time to learn Spanish simply to understand him better, I didn’t pursue greater levels of proficiency that would have allowed me to really hear his story and not just get the gist of it. Regrets that I didn’t at least find a third-person translator and have my friend to dinner. Regrets that I was content having our friendship be a bit symbolic and not exploring how far it could go. Hearing that he was leaving, I felt that I’d failed him somehow. Yet my gracious friend said that I’d been a “real friend.” He said that we’d be friends forever, even beyond this Earth’s bounds… friends “under God.” At least I think that’s what he said. The gestures helped. And as much as I wanted to grab my sunglasses and act cool, pretend that I wasn’t a bit broken up over his leaving (and its finality), instead I decided that — especially in a relationship with limited words at my service — the best way I could honor a friendship that had enriched us both was to simply let him see the tears rolling down my face. So I cried.

Dribbling with Heaven Knows Whom


God loves basketball. Or at least people who hang out on basketball courts.

And soon I’m going to have a fun encounter with one of his cool people.

Randomly about ten days ago I got obsessed with getting a basketball. The obsession came out of nowhere.

Yes, I shot baskets when I was a kid. I played “PIG” and “HORSE” and multiple games with neighborhood kids when we weren’t tying someone to the trampoline and bouncing them to high heaven or exploding golf ball’s in a vise in Mr. Boyd’s basement.

But that was 40 years ago.

And last week I started feeling like I’d just burst if I didn’t own a basketball.

I told my friend Ben about this. He pointed out what should have been obvious: that I should go get a basketball, start shooting hoops around town, and that I should expect some sort of divine appointment.

Because I expect them everywhere else.

And the basketball craving has no other explanation than the Holy Spirit’s impetus to get me to show up somewhere I’m “supposed” to be.

That’s how my life tends to roll.

I bought it.

I’ve started shooting.

My first shot was nothing but net. My next 28 were nothing but wide.

“Spalding” is in my car. I’ll make a habit of stopping when I see a hoop waiting for me.

I can’t wait to see who God plans for me to meet.



Dealing in Grace


I don’t know where I heard this story, but I’ve never forgotten it.

A man owed a lot of money to another man related to drug deals.

He’d stopped all behaviors and associations with his former drug life. Yet he remained scared all the time of running into the man whom he owed. So he didn’t really have much freedom of movement. He was still imprisoned by his former habit, his long-lived way of life. He was inhibited and choked by fear.

One day he dared to go to a twelve-step program meeting. And when he stealthily exited the backdoor of the church where the meeting was, his nemesis was in the alley.

He thought about running but it seemed pointless…he’d been found.

The hardened, still-using, still-dealing man crept closer to him, eyes narrowed, body tense. And he leaned in and whispered, “I’d give anything to be out of this life. And you look like you’ve really gotten out. I’d heard that. Now I see it’s true. As long as you stay clean, I’m not going to bother you again. But if you ever, ever, ever slip up and go back to doing or selling drugs, I have a contract on your life, and you owe me everything you ever owed.”

Dealing drugs, yes. And also dealing grace.

Walk Right In


There are friends whose houses you can just enter, without knocking, waltzing right in and grabbing a banana out of the fruit bowl and yelling out for your friend.

I’m in the space between my first such place and, well, my second.

The first one was in about 1970. And memory may not even serve me well — perhaps I actually knocked when I entered through the screen door of my friend Price’s house.

But it’s the feeling that matters more than the facts.

And I felt welcome.

And although I know for a fact that I have several friends who would welcome me to walk right in their houses (because they’ve said so), even fervently wishing that I’d get over my whatever-it-is-that-keeps-me-from-doing-it, I’ve never done that again since Price and I grew up.

That just hit me tonight. And it’s a little sad. Continue reading

When Knocking Seems to Yield Nothing


Knock knock

Who’s there?

Actually… nobody.

And sometimes I want someone to answer the door.

And fling it open and convince me that I matter.

Much of the time I know I’m loved. I have real friends, really good ones. But sometimes I just come up short in the “who’s there?” department.

Because no one is.

“There,” I mean.

Continue reading