An Acceptable Fast Manuscript


What is the Kingdom of God?

Before you answer that, and it’s a real question, I asked this question to a group of young adults and they all looked blankly at me. One finally raised his hand and tentatively said, “Heaven?” That bummed me out. Severely. If we’re teaching so little about the Gospel of Jesus Christ that they don’t know about God’s Kingdom, we’ve really missed the boat.

Okay, no pressure. What is the Kingdom of God?

One more thing: Heaven is part of the answer. It just isn’t the whole answer.


Jesus came to proclaim the Kingdom of God. That was his stated purpose. Mark’s Gospel, chapter 1 verse 14: “now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, [the Gospel], and saying “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Matthew 1:17 beginning of Jesus’ ministry: from that time Jesus began to proclaim, repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Kingdom of God and Kingdom of Heaven are the same thing, interchangeable terms. Matthew 1:23: Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people. Luke 4, the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus has healed a bunch of people and done crazy stuff, healed Simon’s mother-in-law, cast out demons. The next morning, Jesus goes out to pray before the sun comes up. And the folks who’d had a really good day with Jesus the day before went looking for him and when they found him, they said, “That was amazing! Let’s invite some more people here and you can do more of these miracles.” But what did Jesus say? “I must proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God to the other cities, also; for I was sent for this purpose.” For I was sent for this purpose. Why did the Father send Jesus? The first reason Jesus gives is to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God. That’s. Why. Jesus. Came.

So Jesus came to proclaim the Kingdom of God, and in Luke 4:18-19, we get a glimpse of what that means: Jesus stood up to read and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah ws given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the bling, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Then he sat down, everyone watching him, and said, “Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

The Gospel is the Gospel of the Kingdom. The good news is the good news of the Kingdom. When we’ve told people that the Gospel is “Jesus died for your sins so that you can be forgiven and go to heaven,” we’ve missed the whole what-is-life-here-for part. That’s a big deal. The Gospel is not only “God wants to make you clean from your sin so that you can be with Him in Heaven.” I would go so far as to say that God’s forgiving your sins is just a crucial step to get you started with the Gospel. God definitely wants you with Him in Heaven. He wants you to be part of His Kingdom, here, now.

After John the Baptist, who proclaimed the coming of the Messiah, the coming of God’s Kingdom, was arrested, Jesus began his ministry. And John is in prison. He still has disciples, he’s still trying to live the calling God has given him as faithfully as he can. And he’s hearing these funky things that Jesus is doing. He’s in prison; he can’t see for himself, he can’t go ask for himself. But he’s confused, so he sends some of his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who was to come, or are we to wait for another?” Get the gravity of this: John the Baptist went out into the wilderness to proclaim the coming of the Messiah, who was Jesus. He said things like “I’m not worthy of untying his sandals” and “I baptize you with water but one is coming who will baptize you with fire and the Holy Spirit.” John baptized Jesus! And now he asks, through his disciples, “Are you really the one? Or did I misunderstand and we should wait for someone else?” This is John’s purpose, John’s calling before he’s born, while he’s still in utero, remember? And how does Jesus answer?

Luke 7:24 Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sigh, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.

Yes, I’m the one, yes, these are the signs of the Kingdom of God, yes you got it right, and blessed is anyone who receives the Kingdom of God, not with offense but with joy.

Jesus did miracles. He healed and restored. Now tell me what all these people had in common in Jesus’ time: the lame, lepers, the deaf, the dead (uh, what?), the poor. What do they have in common?

They have need, and they are outcasts from society. They are the unclean. They are the rejects, the disadvantaged, the persecuted, the oppressed. They are the poor.

Isaiah 58

Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
2 For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.
3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’

Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.
5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?

6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

We’re near the end of our series in Isaiah and I consider this passage pivotal. I wanted to begin with the Gospels so we could see clearly how this prophetic passage foretells Jesus’ declaration of the Kingdom of God. It also rejects, I would say categorically, a self-centered religion that allows people to pray and go through their rituals while living unjustly.

Get this: Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.

These are sins. This is rebellion. Ready?

For day after day they seek me out;
seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
seem eager for God to come near them.
3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’

Fasting is, arguably, the most intimate thing we can do with God. We are praying, we are seeking God, and we are foregoing food, so that we can focus exclusively on God. Fasting is not “Okay, God, I’ll make you a deal. I won’t eat for a day and you do what I ask.” Fasting is “I am utterly dependent on you, and I am throwing myself before you.” In the Old Testament, you see five categories of fasting: (1) fasting as a sign of grief or mourning, (2) as a sign of repentance and seeking forgiveness for sin, (3) as an aid in prayer, (4) as an experience of the presence of God that results in the endorsement of his messenger, and (5) as an act of ceremonial public worship. We first see fasting in Exodus 34 when Moses fasts before the Lord.

The way God describes fasting is like, “Okay, you want to seek me, here is a direct route. Here, take this megaphone, not because I can hear you better, but because you will feel more like you’re getting through to me.” When we are desperate, truly desperate, we fast. That’s not a bad thing. God says to. It’s a good way to express grief or repentance. It’s also a spiritual discipline that many people incorporate into their regular rhythm of life. There was a stretch in which I would fast one day a week, and doing so really impacted me. It helped me focus more on God, it brought me into a place of clearer dependence, it actually helped me be more peaceful, which I thought was a surprising fruit of that discipline. I’ve been returning to fasting lately.

But like prayer, we can fast wrong. Can you think of an example of people praying wrong in Scripture? Good. Jesus says, “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray int the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Turly I tell you, they have received their reward.”


The people of Israel are asking, “Why have we fasted and you have not seen? Why have we humbled ourselves and you have not noticed?” God answers.

Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.
4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.

You are doing the “right” acts of worship, but you are not worshiping! Your hearts are not toward God! You say you’re humbling yourself and going before God, but you’re quarreling and fighting! You’re exploiting your workers! You’re oppressing instead of siding with the oppressed! You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.

Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it
only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?

What kinds of questions are these called? Rhetorical questions. No, no this is not the kind of fast God has chosen.

You should humble yourself. You should bow your head before God. You should lie in sackcloth and ashes. You should forego food and call out to God.

That sounds pretty good, right? That’s fasting, isn’t it?

The key word here is “only.” Is it only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing your head? For prostrating yourself before God?

Absolutely not. And why not? Because the Gospel is not just me and Jesus, getting me “clean,” going through the right rituals, showing God my piety. That’s not the Kingdom of God.

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

Do you understand why I began with the Kingdom of God and with John the Baptist’s questions? This is the Kingdom of God. This is not some discarded Old Testament instruction that some old prophet told the people of Israel that doesn’t apply to our lives. This is the heart of the Gospel. Why? Because this is God’s heart.

I didn’t plan it this way, but this is my third consecutive sermon on biblical justice. I don’t know how you’d preach Isaiah 58 without talking about justice—it would be like fasting while fighting with wicked fists. Now I said that fasting is foregoing food for a time of focused prayer and seeking God with your heart. And I do believe that’s a decent short definition of the spiritual discipline of fasting. But our inward spiritual disciplines must coordinate with our outward ethical lives. The Israelites here were bowing and humbling themselves, but rejecting God in their hearts by continuing with their immoral practices.

But hear what God says is an acceptable fast, the fasting God has chosen:

to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Poverty doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Poverty is a cycle that is both a result of people’s choices and of systemic injustice—which, when you come down to it, is also people’s choices, but powerful people’s choices, usually rich people’s choices, choices of people with something to gain by oppressing others. If you believe that people are poor only because they make self-destructive choices, you have not understand the depth of sin in this fallen world nor the teaching of Jesus about wealth. Hear me, yes, people’s choices play into their condition, but the state of poverty in the world first comes as a result of massive injustice, exploitation, oppression, and greed. When we get out our magnifying glass and look at one household and see that they are making foolish choices with their meager resources, we are choosing to be blind to the bigger picture, to the spiritual battle happening before our eyes.

When I tell you that Jesus is always on the side of the poor and the oppressed, that doesn’t mean merely that he is compassionate and feels bad for hurting people. That means in the spiritual warfare between those who evilly oppress and defy God and those who suffer oppression, Jesus chooses sides. That means he chooses sides for us, too. That means we follow the King by living out his Kingdom in all the ways these passages describe: loosing the chains of injustice, untying the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke.

That, God says, is an fast he will accept. That is fasting from our power, fasting from our desire to be favored with the wealthy and the powerful and the successful when it means we have to turn a blind eye to injustice, when we have to pretend we don’t notice how things got so imbalanced in the first place—and continue to stay imbalanced.

In case I’m upsetting you here—and I’m okay if God is upsetting you, he does that—having wealth does not in itself make you sinful and greedy and oppressive. How you use your wealth is how God judges whether you are greedy and making the chains of oppression or just and breaking the chains of oppression. We have wealth and power, all of us, and God calls us to use it to make His Kingdom more present here, today. I’m not a legalist, I don’t believe we have to tithe our herbs and spices or that God expects us to eat only bread and water; God is extravagant and lavishes us with abundance. And. And we are called to share, and to use our power for righteousness and justice. Period.

I hope, I actually pray, that you will understand this is not my hobby horse or my soap box. This is God’s heart for his people. God seeks to set the oppressed free, to liberate those suffering poverty, and God seeks to transform us into his image by making us his partners in this purpose. That’s another way to describe God’s Kingdom: our partnership with God to love hurting and broken people and seek justice, through which we will become more like Jesus.

Do you see how different this is than the personal, private, just-me-and-Jesus approach to the Gospel? Because I don’t believe that is the Gospel. If I think the Gospel is only about me and Jesus, then my fast is not acceptable to God. Can you read this passage any differently? [I’m going to go a step further: we can make an idolatry of our ] Because this is acceptable fasting, this is the heart of seeking God:

Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

This is a dangerous road. What if we understand the people suffering hunger and illiteracy and depression are our own flesh and blood? What if they are our family? What if they belong to us and we belong to them? How will that change our choices? Our priorities?

God speaks through the prophet to make clear how fasting this way will change us:

8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

I had someone suggest, with a very good heart, that we could preach more on the Glory of God in Isaiah. Okay. This is the glory of God. To share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—who is the poor wanderer?

Yeah, that’s Jesus. That also might be the immigrant, but it’s definitely Jesus. He says so. And God, our glorious, almighty God, cares for all people, and will say especially those suffering—not because he loves them better, but because they have more need. God’s glory is many things, a sermon series in itself, but one thing I know shows God’s glory is the horrible enemy, the Samaritan, kneeling down beside the bleeding, bludgeoned Jew to carry him to the inn and save his life. That is God’s glory, that action glorifies the Almighty God of Heaven and Earth. These matter to God. When TJ’s One World Health opens a clinic and people who were suffering get the medical care and medicine they need, God is glorified. That reveals God’s glory! Can you read this passage any differently? ‘

then, then, your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.

Two more things and I’m done.

Why will God respond to us when we do these things but call us in rebellion and sin when we do the opposite?

9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.

The answer is: Because this is who God is. I said this before: Grace is for freeing us to seek God with all our hearts and minds and to live God’s calling, to be free for obeying Jesus’ words and having our joy made complete in him.

God loves us first. God doesn’t wait for us to be acceptable to love us, God loves us and his love changes us and makes us acceptable. But—and this is crucial to our understanding of Grace—when we sin and rebel and oppress and abuse, God doesn’t say, “Welp, I gave you grace, so I guess you’re good.” God says, “You’re killing yourself and you’re abusing my beloved and you must stop!” Grace doesn’t mean God’s turns a blind eye to our obedience, ever! That’s the point of Isaiah telling them their fast is unacceptable—they are exploiting their workers, they are doing as they please instead of as God pleases, they are opposing God’s Kingdom instead of seeking it. Grace means God will forgive you no matter what, and nothing you can do will make God love you more nor can you do anything to make God love you any less. Grace also means that God will keep calling you to repentance. If we’re not living for God’s Kingdom, we’re wasting our lives. It isn’t that God is manipulative and will only bless us when we finally do the stuff he prefers; the true blessings God desires to give us come through seeking God with our whole hearts, we are made in God’s image and He himself is our blessing, is our home, is our treasure. “Christ is enough for me?” Yeah, and also Christ is everything. Everything that matters.

That’s one. Acceptable fasting and grace go hand in hand. They are inseparable. God’s grace leads us to acceptable fasting. We can get there no other way. We only seek God’s Kingdom through God’s grace.

Two: God makes and gifts each of us uniquely. There are, literally, seven billion ways to seek God’s Kingdom, to fight for justice, to care for the oppressed, to love the least. God gives some of us gifts of healing. Then go heal. God gives some of us gifts of preaching. Then go preach. If you love kids, love kids—they need it, so bad. If you can disciple young people, disciple them—they need it, so bad. If you hate injustice, then fight it. If you feel compassion for depressed people, learn to counsel, learn to listen. An acceptable fast to the Lord our Glorious God, to Jesus Christ our Savior, happens when we seek God with our hearts and our gifts and join Him in the work to which he calls us. Yours doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s. How can you spend yourself in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed? How can you help loose the chains and set the oppressed free? How can you share God’s love with people who don’t know they are loved and forgiven?

What part has Jesus given you in His Kingdom? Live that and 11 The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,

8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.


Winning, or Something More Important


Nicaragua Diary, Day 95

This past weekend, I played on the Managua team in Nicaragua’s inagural two-day ultimate tournament (organized by Breaking Borders) and we won.

One of my teammates asked,”Will we see this in a blog post?” Well, I have noticed not all my multitude of readers share my  interest in ultimate and writing about another tournament victory would be rather self-indulgent.

Yes, absolutely I’m going to write about this tournament.

I’m not going to tell you about winning.  Okay, maybe a tiny bit at the end.  I’m going to tell you a few things that were more important.  Yes, you may quote me on that.

At our games, we had a Nicaraguan guy, Israel, keeping score.  He’d never seen ultimate before, much less played.  In theory, keeping score is easy: one team catches the disc in the end zone, the opposing team walks to the other end, you know it’s a score.  Mark one on your sheet next to the correct team.  In practice, he had the score wrong within four points because he didn’t understand that a catch had been out of bounds and thus not a goal.

So I decided, social and friendly person that I am, to talk with him and keep checking on the score.  No, not because I was concerned he would mess up and give us fewer than our correct number of points.  Of course not!  How could you even think that of me?

Here’s the cool part:  as life goes, when I got home Israel had sent a Facebook friend request, which I accepted.  We started chatting.  Then he asked, “Are you Christians?”

I always feel a tinge of nerves when I’m asked that.  What did he see?  What stereotype did I fulfill or contradict?

“I am.  I think all our team is.”  

Hold my breath.  Wait for his response.

And Israel wrote, “Your behavior in the game and the respectable way of dealing with his [sic] rivals told me a lot.”


Christians (or self-proclaimed “Christians”*) are known for some horrible things currently.  Before our team started the tournament, we prayed: “God, help us to glorify you, do our best, and not get injured.”  

We looked to Israel like Christians from how we behaved and treated the other teams?  Could I hope for more than that?

I’m not always on my best behavior playing ultimate because I’m intense and competitive and I really like to win and sometimes I lose focus on what’s most important.**  But I believe you can be both competitive and godly at the same time.  I do.  I even believe I can be.

I think hearing this about our team matters more to me than that we won the tournament.  And I’m really, really glad we won the tournament.

However, at the end of our conversation he asked, “¿alguien le ha dicho que usted se parece a Tom Cruise?”  So that shoots his credibility.  But it was a really nice thought.

Disco Magnets, Campeones 2017!

Next thing I’ll tell you: I loved our team.  We don’t practice together as a team.  They are, however, most of the people who play at our weekly pick-up games against one another.  We never get to play all together at those.  This exact group will probably never play together again (one member is moving back to the States in December).***

But see, that thing my new friend said?  I felt it all weekend.  No one yelled at anyone else on the team.  Yes, strategy corrections and discussion of choices, but I did not hear one negative word addressed at a teammate all weekend.  Not one.  We played 7 games of ultimate together, including an extremely close final in which we were far behind, and we built each other up the whole time.

I received this correction on Sunday:

“You need to play more.”

At age 49, when I’m in my head with self-doubt, that’s amazing to hear and powerfully encouraging.

Not everyone on our team has the same level of ability or experience. These people who in their own imperfect way seek to make the world a better place got to spend one full weekend together playing the best ultimate we could.  Everyone contributed.  People knew their roles.  No one’s ego got in the way.  I’ve played ultimate for 30 years and that last statement, by itself, astounds me.  We got along in Nicaragua blast furnace heat, we laughed and high-fived and gave each other crap (as friends should in sports) and those relationships matter more to me than winning.  A lot more.  And I really like winning.

Our team with the Costa Rica team, Osos Perizosos, after the finals


I’ll tell you one more thing.

This may not sound humble when I say it publicly; if you need to balance it with when I write about how screwed up I am, I’ve provided ample material.

There’s a Nicaraguan ultimate team here, Los Tornados de Chiquilistagua. They are not my team.  We may play informal pick-up together but in team tournaments we play against them.  They are our opponents but I care deeply about these guys.

Me and Zeke being interviewed at the tourney

Sunday evening, I was talking with their coach, Zeke, who is a dear friend of mine (and one of the hardest people I ever have to guard).  His players are teens and young men and women growing in their maturity and, some of them, in their relationships with God.  Others aren’t.  They are not middle-class Americans but mostly working poor Nicaraguans, some coming from very troubled homes, and I love these kids, though some are arrogant and mouthy and typical teenage boys in other ways.  But absolutely lovable, too, and walking through some serious challenges.  Zeke invests his life deeply in theirs and though he plays because he loves ultimate, even more, this is his ministry.

Los Tornados

I would love to coach them but that is not my role.  I don’t know their lives like Zeke does, I don’t understand their culture from the inside as he does, and they try not to laugh at my Spanish (and often succeed).  He is their coach and their pastor.  I’m the gringo who loves ultimate and tries to encourage them.  They are the future of ultimate in Nicaragua, which may not seem like a big deal to you but that is a vehicle for helping them break the cycle of poverty and addiction–and then reaching more kids to do the same–and I hope that seems like a very big deal to you.

Cesar, Zeke’s co-leader and a ferocious defender

My role, as I’ve understood it, is to be the foil, the guy whose team sets the bar a little higher so that they grow more and work harder and don’t decide they’re already the best around.  Eventually, they will get better than us; I’m fighting tooth and nail (figuratively) to put that off as long as I can.

Then, as we were debriefing the tournament, my friend told me,

“My team loves you.  And love to play with you… You are not just a great example for them as an ultimate player, but as a Christian person too.  They say this many times during practice.”

And there it is.  That’s why I play ultimate.  Yes, I play for my own sanity and health and because it’s fun.  Yes, I like to win–has that come up yet?–but when Zeke told me that, and putting that together with how loud and strong their team cheered for us in the finals, I got it.  I have more of a role than to challenge the young guys to step up and beat me at King of the Hill.

They are seeing Jesus in me.

Yes, that is more important than winning.

Or, perhaps, that is winning.



*God knows which, not me.

**And sometimes I’m venting negative emotions in the least damaging way I know how, which my children and pets appreciate.

***NO, it isn’t me.

Who (actually) Let the Dogs Out


Nicaragua Diary, Day 82

We have dogs.  We have three dogs who serve the crucial function of protecting our house.  We live in an impoverished barrio where a lot of theft happens.  I get that.  People don’t have enough food, people don’t have what they need, so it’s tempting to figure out how to steal things.*  That comes with this territory.  

I get it, but we also have to guard against it (having compassion doesn’t mean it’s good for people to be able to steal from us).  Therefore, we live in a house that has a gate and walls around it.  Therefore, we have three dogs.  

Zoe and Mumford, looking like guard dogs.

Many Nicaraguans are scared of dogs and for good reason. I’ve had many conversations with poorer Nicaraguans who can show me a scar where a dog bit them.  Kim was out jogging once and watched a wealthier Nicaraguan let his dog run out the gate, attack a ragged-looking guy walking on the street, and only when she approached did he call his dog back in.  


Mumford helping raise puppy Sunny.

Two of our dogs came from friends here and one was a puppy whose mother was a street dog rescued by missionaries.  Mumford is a Belgian Shepherd, Zoe is a Rottweiler mix, and Sonny is a mutt who looks just like all the other short-haired yellow mutts on the street.  Mumford has an  enormous head; when he opens his jaws all the way, he looks like he could put your head in his mouth.  Zoe has a huge chest (plus she’s a little fat) and a deep, threatening bark.

 And Sonny?  Well, Sonny is the one who would actually bite you if you snuck in and ask questions later.  The other two would wag their tails and lick you, or maybe run out the gate if you opened it.  We joke that we have three guard dogs: two are for show and while the little skinny one would protect the house.  

This morning, we had one of those getting-the-family-to-school mornings.  But this one wasn’t caused by our kids arguing or dragging their feet or falling back asleep.** This morning, Mumford made a run for it.  Twice.

I’d mostly finished making breakfast and was trying to get the dogs fed.  Kim opened the gate to pull the car out…and Mumford saw that the back door was open, so he ran in, and the front door was open, so he ran out–through the open gate, into the street.

Now I have to explain two things quickly:  Kim loves Mumford and we have a new road.  

Mumford and Kim, also providing perspective on just how big his head is.

Kim has adamantly insisted that we are taking our 120 pound giant-headed dog back to the U.S. if and when we ever return.  The kids complain that she loves him more than she loves them.  She denies it.  They produce evidence.  I’m not weighing in on that argument (I saw her give birth to them, so I know her commitment level), but two of the dogs live outside and the third comes and goes through the house as he pleases when she’s home.  He gets to eat separately from the other two because he’s a slow eater.  He’s pampered.  

I’ve chronicled our experience of living on a rutted dirt “road” and then finally, finally having a beautiful new road laid before our eyes.  It still feels like a luxury.  The downside is that people now drive fast by our house when before they had to pick their way through the hazards.   Our son had a near-miss on his bike the other day which I may write about eventually, when it stops making me sweat cold to remember it.  Or I may not.  

Sonny says, “Let them try it. Then we’ll see who’s the real guard dog.”

So whereas before we could let the dogs out and have them run up and down the road a bit–thus getting them exercise and reminding would-be thieves that we have huge, intimidating and not entirely-controlled dogs–now we can’t risk that for the danger of their getting hit.  

People think it’s “a pack” of dogs; the proper term is actually “a confusion of dogs.”

Then there was this morning.  Mumford goes charging out into the street.  Kim doesn’t exactly panic, but it makes her very nervous.  I’m trying to feed the other two less-spoiled dogs.  I go chasing out after him.  For once, he obeys relatively quickly (his training, such as it is, doesn’t usually extend to when he’s out roaming the streets) and comes back.  We’re at the two-minute mark for leaving for school.  I put Mumford in the back, discover that my last piece of French toast is still cooking, then also realize I’ve fed Zoe but not Sonny yet–and Zoe is a bully who will gulp her own food down and go for the others’ in a split-second.  I learn these things because I’d chased Mumford into the street with our dogfood dispenser in one hand and a spatula in the other.  

So I go back out to feed Sonny. I set down the container from the French toast mixture to keep Mumford distracted.  But while I close the back gate (the one between the carport and our outdoor sitting area/kitchen) behind me, I don’t reattach the carabiner that holds the latch closed.  Mumford shoves the latch aside with his massive snout and goes charging by me out into the street, again.  

At this point, our friends the Ndoros, with whom we carpool–we drive in the morning, they drive in the afternoon–are arriving.  They look a little nervous that I’m rushing past them, shouting “Mumford!”, but they’ve seen our crazy before and they get in the car.  I again convince Mumford to come back inside before he’s run over and try to herd him to the back again–but he disappears. I’m convinced he pulled the freeze tag trick of running one way around the car, having me follow him, then going all the way around and out again.  But no.  He’s not back out.  

Then Kim says, “Mike?  He’s in the car.”  

Yep, he’s sitting in the front seat, until I try to retrieve him, at which point he climbs into the back seat, over the kids.  Not our kids.  Because if you’re going to have your huge, muddy dog (did I mention it’s been raining for the past 18 hours? Did I mention he ran out twice?) climb over young people dressed in their clean school uniforms, best to have that be your friends’ kids, for maximum embarrassment.  

It is now T+several minutes past departure time.  Mumford finally agrees to leave the car more or less willingly, apparently somewhat nervous at my (ahem) urging–did I mention I’m still carrying the spatula?–and I can’t even look to see how those kids are doing or what their uniforms look like now.  Our children close the doors, Kim pulls out, and Mumford trots happily to sniff at his food which he still won’t eat yet. 

I’m about to rescue the last piece of French toast when I hear Kim yell, “Mike?  The car won’t shift.”  She’s pulled out, but now it won’t go into gear.  Oh, that car.  A friend had just bailed me out last night by taking the gear shift apart and fixing the problem  when it wouldn’t shift (a clip had fallen off–does not give me confidence about the sturdiness of construction) and this after being in the shop 6 weeks for a broken head gasket and then back with us for four whole days before the starter went out.  

But then it did shift and she got to school okay and the car is also a post for another day.  

The French toast burned solid black.  I fed it to Zoe.  

Zoe, always willing to help with burnt food.

*Before you get on your high horse about hard work and bootstraps and providing for yourself, come see what finding work looks like in a country where there’s 50-70% unemployment.  Then we’ll have that conversation. 

**Hypothetically speaking, of course.  These things never happen at our house.  

The Team on high alert, ready for anything.

On Aging, Confidence, and Sporting Still


“Do… or do not. There is no try.”  –Yoda

Disclaimer:  For those of you who don’t share my love of or interest in sports, no apologies for this but you don’t have to indulge me, either.  Sports take up about 3% of my blog posts, which is a wee bit less than my real life percentage spent on sports, between coaching, playing with Corin, playing myself, and spectating (happily, that is a distant fourth, as I think it should be).  We will soon return to other topics in life.

Aging is tough in sports terms.  I’ve been holding off saying that until I qualify, but I’m one year from fifty and almost never guard or go against anyone of my own age in my sports of choice.  I don’t mind.  I enjoy/need to be the underdog and this is one sure way, in my own head, that I always am.  I guard guys in ultimate who can run circles around me and I hold my own.  But it gets tougher, by tiny increments.  

I’m not a great basketball player.  I am a scrappy, relentless basketball player, an above average passer, and I just really enjoy the game.  I’m a pretty good shot, but I rarely shoot well in games.  It’s not a mystery.  I’m too in my head.  I’m thinking about whether or not I’m going to make the shot, which is a great way not to make shots.  To make the shot, one should a)think “I’m going to make the shot,” or, even better, b)not think.  Just do.  

That sounds so simple.  It is simple, but difficult.  If you shoot in a game and the first shot or two swish, you feel like, “Okay, I’m hitting tonight,”  and it becomes easier to keep shooting.  If you miss or airball a shot or two, it’s harder.  This is ridiculous, because of course the act of shooting the ball through the hoop remains the same…except it doesn’t.   When you think you can, it’s easier; when you suspect you can’t, it’s harder.  When you know you can’t, it becomes nearly impossible.  Even though it’s the same physical act!  Ridiculous.  

To put this in perspective:  Driving a car, you do some very fine, very precise maneuvering.  You buzz between cars with 12 inches on either side without slowing or flinching.  You don’t think about it, even though it requires precision and screwing up would be extremely costly.  

Walking on a curb is easy.  Walking on a ledge of the same width 100 feet above the ground is, for most people, very difficult and scary.  Same physical act.  Thinking about failing makes the act harder.  Thinking hard about “If I fail, I’ll die” is an extreme version of thinking about failing.  It’s focusing on failing.  

There is a fantastic series of books I read many years ago, by Timothy Galloway: The Inner Game of Tennis; The Inner Game of Golf; and Inner Skiing.  Inner Tennis dramatically improved my game.  If you’ve ever wondered “how intense/competitive/obsessive is Mike?” and you didn’t ask Kim, I do not and will not play golf; I read Inner Golf to improve my disc golf game.  It worked.  I once held, briefly, a course record for amateurs.  I won money in the weekly dg tournament for that round, for which I have ever since joked that I was a professional athlete, albeit briefly.

 Inner Skiing did me no good at all; I still suck.  Go figure.  

The biggest take away from these books is simply that your body knows how to do stuff and your brain, by trying to help, just gets in the way.  If you can learn to shut your brain up, you will perform better.  

Again, this is the simplest of instructions yet can be crazy hard to follow.  Some people’s brains shut up better than others’.  Some people can just decide to focus and carry that out.  Other people will find this impossible even to conceive of*:  “Telling myself ‘don’t worry’ does not cease my worrying!”

In ultimate, by far my best sport, as in, the sport at which I ammost proficient, I can throw very well.  I can hit a moving target 75 yards away.  I’m often amazed that I can simply do this, with no second thoughts, and moreover that my freedom from second thoughts comes so easily.  In contrast, though I love tennis, I can drive myself berserk because I think too much and too loudly, even knowing what I should do.  

Here’s the difference:  I don’t practice tennis enough to have the confidence I need in order not to think.  While not thinking–or not overthinking, if you prefer–improves my game, I seem able to do this (or not do this) only in direct proportion to my confidence to succeed.**

It’s kind of poor-get-poorer, rich-get-richer:  If I think I can’t, then I think too much about whether or not I can, which makes it even more likely that I can’t.  If I think I can, it’s easy enough not to think about whether or not I can, and therefore my rate of success (my canning?) increases.  

If you play sports and you’re out of your twenties, you probably  know what comes next.  You can’t do what you used to do.  You can still play hard.  You might be even better at certain aspects of your sport.  The average age of a Tour de France stage winner is 28, suggesting that nineteen-year-olds don’t have the advantage.  The average age of Mr. Olympia winners is 33 years old.  

But I don’t cycle or body build.  I play ultimate and basketball.  And the latest challenge, I’ve noticed, is keeping my confidence.  This also functions as a cycle:  If I know I can, then I can, and I don’t start overthinking.  When I start wondering, “Am I too old?  Can I not anymore?” then the downward spiral starts spiraling downward.  

Playing sports can be a “create your own reality” show.  There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance.  There’s another fine line between competitive and belligerent.  What you think you are capable of doing often–though not entirely–dictates what you can, in fact, do.  I mean, within reason. I’m excluding delusions of grandeur and mental illness here.  Deciding you can, especially if your sport is directly you against someone else, requires both confidence and competitiveness.  

The reality of aging is that my physical abilities are diminishing, (ever so slowly, thank God), and the more I pay attention to that, the less I can create my own success-at-sports reality.  However, completely ignoring my age leads to frequent injury and results in spending more time rehabbing than playing.  Not fun.  

So far, this means I have to train and condition more carefully, less aggressively, more gradually.  I don’t play with the same heedless abandon that I once did–I can’t–but I still feel like I can play all out, and that’s satisfying.  Conditioning and whole-heartedness contribute to confidence.  I’ve recently lost nearly all the weight I annually make a point of gaining when I’m visiting the U.S. (“States Weight”) and less of me makes it easier to move fast.   I can because I feel faster and because I am faster–believing I can do it helps me do it, and seeing that I can do it helps me believe.  You’d think that would be simple physics, but even this is mental as well as physical.  

I’ve enjoyed playing basketball recently, but I’ve also felt frustrated.  Right now, my pre-season for basketball coaching, I’m playing once a week.  I’ve been shooting terribly.  My shot feels fine, nothing off in my mechanics that I can detect, but I’ve been missing most of my shots.  I’m a pretty good shot, though not always a good shot in games, which can be an important aspect of playing basketball (unless you specialize in “H-O-R-S-E.”)  

But lately it’s been ghastly.  Now, at 49, that means I’m wondering if I still can, as opposed to just noting that I’m off at the moment.  I remember Michael Jordan playing in the 2002 NBA All-Star game, missing a wide-open dunk.  In his interview afterward, he said, “You want to do something spectacular, but then you don’t know what you can do, you don’t want to hurt yourself, a lot of things go through your mind, the next thing you know, you’ve missed a dunk.”  I’m not comparing myself with Jordan here, at all, I’m saying even Michael Jordan reached the point where awareness of his age and limitations (“you don’t want to hurt yourself”) impacted his play.***

Then tonight, I was on.  Made most of my three-pointers and other jumpers, hit two game-winners (game point can add another layer to if-we’re-thinking-or-not-thinking), and swished almost everything I hit.  

Where did that come from?  I missed my first shot.  This usually bodes poorly for the evening’s festivities.  But thereafter I “found” my shot and by the end, I had a wide-open three, which can somehow be the toughest shot because it’s the easiest to overthink (“Ohmygosh, I-have-to-make-this-because-nobody’s-on-me-and-it’ll-look-bad-if-I-” CLANK!), and I just relaxed, stepped in and swished that, too.

Was I just lucky tonight?  No.  I wasn’t throwing up ridiculous or crazy shots, only the jumpers and lay-ups I can make (my drives were still off, alas), the ones I usually hit in warm-ups.  And I made them.  

So two conclusions I can draw here, you who have read to the end, faithful sports fans, fellow weekend warriors, and doting sister:  

1)It’s even more in my head than I thought it was, i.e. no matter how I shoot next week, that won’t primarily be a measure  of how well I can shoot or how well I can shoot at this age but how well I think I can shoot and then allow my body to do what I’m capable of doing without more thinking;

2)If I can remember #1, I will enjoy myself more and, regardless of performance or outcome, have an easier time being grateful for the continuing ability to play.  That is, I need not waste energy or kill my own endorphin high with “Am I too old for this?  Do I just suck?” etc.  

Since sanity and emotional health remain the biggest reasons I play, those conclusions help a ton.

Or they should…



**There is a much deeper issue for me concerning how my ability to do most things rises and falls based on what others think I can or can’t do.  But I’m not talkin’ about that here.  I’m just talkin’ about some sports.

***He also scored 43 points in an NBA game the next year, at age forty, against New Jersey, who would make the NBA finals that year.  So, you know, it’s Jordan.    

A Few of My Favorite Things (and some of the other)


Nicaragua Journal, Day 79

I took our car into the shop again this morning.  We’d had it back for a grand total of four days after six weeks of repairs.  But now it won’t start.  I think the battery is okay, expert that I am, so perhaps it’s the starter.  That’s unrelated to what they were repairing last time, so no fault laid on the mechanics.  We’re just stuck with a car that is like a bucket with a hole in the bottom–we keep pouring in money for repairs, and then we need to pour in more.

Lest this sound like a complaining post, I’m very grateful that we discovered on Saturday evening that it wasn’t starting.  Sunday morning, leaving for church to preach, would have been a bad, stressful time to learn we had a problem.  Saturday night, though inconvenient, gave us time to adjust and some kind friends lent us their truck so we could get to church without an adventure.   

Thus, we roll-started the car this morning, then drove Kim and kiddos to school this morning where I dropped them off and then headed back to the taller (shop).  I was telling myself, probably audibly, “Don’t let it stall.”  I’m feeling pretty good, gonna walk home after I drop it off which will be 5 or 6 kilometers, still reflecting on yesterday’s sermon.

Then I miscalculated.  I took the more direct route to ESVO (esquela vocacional).  But we’re in rainy season.  That road is a disaster.  It hasn’t rained hard in a couple of days so it’s not muddy or dangerous, just severely rutted.*  So I’m happily listening to the radio, paying good attention that I don’t stall the car when I drive into a deep rut, the front tires hit and bounce back–and the car stalls.  

Of course, because I’m a dreamer, I turn the key one or twice, in case stalling the car also temporarily fixed the starter.  Nope.  So there I am, probably 2.5 kilometers from the taller, dead car.  In a rut, literally.  I jump out, assess my situation, and start trying  to rock it from just outside the driver’s seat.  I can’t move it.  I go behind the car and try to get it rocking back and forth to see if I can get out of my rut.  

I can’t move it.  

Cars and minivans and school buses are going by.  I’m no longer having a pleasant morning.  I look behind me and up on a porch, a Nicaraguan is looking down at me.  Watching what I’m doing.  He nods.  

Less than a minute later, four Nicaraguan men are walking out of the house toward me.  I start to explain that it won’t start, but they just nod like “Yes, go ahead, Gringo, we know the drill.  Not our first rodeo.”  Needless to say, I’ve never seen these guys before in my life.  

I jump in the car, make sure it’s not in gear, and there’s one bounce forward, one rock back, and then I’m rolling.  Fast.  I slam it in first, pop the clutch, turn the key, and vroom!  I’m off.  

They don’t want me to stop and shake all their hands and risk a replay.  I honk and wave back out my window and shout “gracias” loudly (and I am loud) and they’re gone from my rear view mirror.

And that, arguably, is my favorite thing about living in Nicaragua.  Strangers help you.  I’ve never been stuck in a car without having someone come up and ask if they can help.  We once had a flat, in the road, on a windy, rainy night and a taxi driver stopped in the storm to use his industrial-grade jack and help us get our tire changed.  Kim once unknowingly drove into a manhole (someone had “borrowed” the cover) and we were dead stuck.  Tire in manhole.  A grandmotherly looking Nicaraguan walked by, staring at us.  Two minutes later, six burly Nicas came walking up, saying, “Mom told us to go help the gringoes.”  They lifted the van out of the hole and on we went.  

As I drove, exceedingly, conscientiously aware not to stall the car, a Land Rover came up behind me.  Right behind me.  And made his (I’m assuming here) intentions to pass very evident.  Sigh.  I’m not going to go flying over these bumps and craters in my car that won’t start again.  I wasn’t creeping but neither was I going at Land Rover speed.  So he passed me.  Only semi-recklessly.  Right before a corner.  We then proceeded to the school (the vocational school auto shop is a part of the school campus) and of course he was going to the school and yes, I was right behind him when we pulled into the school.  So he gained one space.  Which I’m certain made all the difference in the success of  his day.  

I know that strangers jumping out to help and people driving rudely are not unique to Nicaragua.  I would say the consistency with which people here stepping up to help is what makes it stand out so much for me.  That, and perhaps the feeling of being more vulnerable here, so the random acts of kindness matter more.  

Conversely, Land Rovers, very expensive vehicles, feel more audacious here.  In real terms, maybe it makes no difference whether you own the Land Rover Discovery in the US or Nicaragua, but when ninety percent of the country lives at some level of poverty and 50-70% of people are unemployed or barely employed, driving around in that vehicle appears, in my (very judgmental) opinion, like conspicuous consumption.  Driving rudely and aggressively in that vehicle is the lemon juice in the paper cut.**

A couple highlights of my walk back home:  as I was walking, a friend passed on his way to work (at the same property as the school) and shouted out his window at me, “Corporate!  Corporate!”  

Now my friend is weird and would do inexplicable things, but in this case, he was referring to my sermon yesterday, which was on corporate judgment.  That was amusing and somewhat gratifying.  Said friend has confided before that he lacks the attention span for my sermons (I’ll leave the interpretation to you), so I count this a victory!  He got the theme!  That, of course, got me pondering my sermon again.  

Nearer home, I passed my beloved elderly gentleman, who with his two metal crutches was out cleaning up the street in front of his house.  We shouted our customary fond greetings to each other.  Today I was “Señor” instead of “Amigito.”  

About a kilometer+ from home, I passed a fruit stand*** that a man runs about halfway down the narrow street.  I’m always walking past him on the way to school, four kilometers to go and not returning home for hours, so I rarely buy from him.  So it was great to be able to buy from him today.  From what I can tell, the narrow street has a rougher culture than ours.  They also have a crowd of borrachos, but these do not seem as neighborly as ours are–they may lack a leader as good as Manuel.  They were shouting and raucously debating prices on naranjas when I approached.  All the more reason to give him my business and I could even tip him the change, since it wasn’t too much and I am not such a regular customer.  Among my other items I bought a fresh bag of mint (hierba buena).  It’s possible heaven will smell like fresh mint.  

The last kilometer carrying 15 pounds in produce in plastic bags increased my workout significantly.  I passed an elderly woman selling food from a tiny table, then went back to see what she had.  I bought a bag of dried beans from her.  Here’s a little tip: if you don’t enjoy sweating, or at least tolerate it fairly well, you shouldn’t live in the tropics.  It’s not my favorite thing, but neither is it one of the other things.  For me it’s just a thing, and I like the feeling of having exercised.  Plus, cold showers are lovely instead of punishing when you’re overheated.  

Eight A.M when I arrived home and time to cross the street to buy my morning tortillas.  I could still be trying to get my car moved from that “road.”  Thank you, Lord, for the kindness of strangers.  On with the adventure.  


Post-Script:  Yes, it was the starter.  70 bucks, as long as it’s fixable.   


*No, you probably don’t have the right picture from “rutted” unless you’ve done off-roading.  When I say “ruts” imagine driving up one peak and down to the next valley.  That level of ruts.    

**Am I angry because I’m jealous?  No.  Trust me, I’m pretty open about my faults.  I could not drive that here.  I certainly could not park it in our barrio.  And yes, of course life is complicated and they may have good reason for driving that SUV and even for needing to hurry past me.  Maybe.  

***If it seems sometimes as if I spend half my life buying fruit, I do.  Since I eat approximately as much fruit here as I eat everything else combined, that makes sense.  

Simple Errands


Nicaragua Diary, Day 73


A brief one today. Sometimes the simple errands are profound.  

I walked three blocks up to our closest fruteria (fruit stand).  Sadly, our favorite fruteria closed recently, under concerning circumstances.  The owner is the woman who spoke up about the horse we were trying to protect.  Within a week, she had closed her business on that corner.  She and her son now drive around with their own horse and cart, selling produce ambulante.  She told me she can make more money this way.  I hope that is the reason, but I fear she was threatened.  But other than that she tell us, there’s no real way for me to find out.  

When I arrived today, the woman who owns it* was sitting in her chair, kind of reclined with her legs extended.  She greeted me and asked me what I wanted but didn’t get up, which was unusual.  Then she pointed to her foot.  

Her right foot was bandaged up.  

“I just had an operation,” she told me.  “I had an infection in my leg.  They cut out something.”  Except she didn’t say “something,” she said a word I didn’t recognize.  It might have been toe.  I know the word for toe, but that doesn’t always mean I catch it correctly.  I don’t know the word for gangrene, but she described something like it.  She had an infection, it got bad, and she had to have something removed.  

I asked her if she had pain.  She said yes, she has much pain.  I told her how sorry I was to hear it and that we would be praying for her.  

So I asked for my pepinos, my huevos, my piña and tomates and limones (limes, actually, though they use the word for lemons).  First her granddaughter (maybe 8?) helped me, then her adult daughter came and waited on me.  I could see she wasn’t comfortable with the math.  If you’re picturing cash registers, you have the wrong image.  She asked her mom about the price for each item and waited for her to calculate the total, so I started helping her with the running tally.   She grinned at me when my and her mother’s numbers agreed.  

My total was 101 cordobas.  The owner rounded it down to 100.  That means I spent almost exactly $3 to buy twelve eggs, two cucumbers, six limes, six tomatoes and a pineapple.  If we ever move back to the States, I don’t know how I’m going to readjust to U.S. produce prices.  We may have to grow everything ourselves.  

As I stood waiting for the daughter to return my change, I noticed some leafcutter ants, doing what they do–to the one head of cabbage still for sail.  If you’ve never seen leafcutters, they are an impressive variety.  They cut off parts of whatever plant material they’ve targeted, usually pieces bigger than their bodies, and march off with them in line.  And there they were, taking that cabbage off, piece by piece.  I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t have gotten away with that if the owner had been on her feet.

I got my change, thanked them profusely, reassured the grandmother that I would be praying for her, and left them with a blessing.  

It’s a daily interaction.  It’s supporting a tiny family business in our neighborhood.  I know this makes a difference.

But this is also the face of poverty:  I’m certain she didn’t go to the doctor until it was desperate.  Did she know how to treat an infection?  Maybe.  I can vouch that cuts seem to become infected before your eyes here.  But for an infection to require an operation, that’s severe.  

Her adult daughter doesn’t multiply or add, at least not confidently enough to attempt it with simple problems.  That may be not wanting to try it in front of the gringo, which is its own issue.  But I’m guessing I’m being too hopeful with that interpretation.  

Finally, I love the inexpensive produce, and truthfully Kim has wondered if they buy the ones that are already nearer the edge of ripe.  That may help explain their prices.  But how much do they need to sell in a day to earn a living?  As an inexperienced missionary, I would have said, “just pay them a lot more.”  Now we have the negative personal stories that we had to learn for ourselves–even though we were warned–about how trying to overpay (or giving indiscriminately) can cause damage and ruin relationships.   

I talk about simple interactions.  I often wish solutions were simple, as well.  



*Often it’s the woman who runs the business out of the home, sometimes because the man works elsewhere, sometimes because he drinks and works on and off or not at all.  

49th Birthday: The Good, the Bad, and the…


I turned 49 today.  Forty-Nine.

Dang, that’s a lot of years.

I played ultimate this morning.  The high school team happened to have practice so I scrimmaged with them.  I’m not young and fast anymore, by any stretch, but I’m still playing at 49.  It requires wrapping ankles and yoga and caffeine and psyching up, but I’m still playing sports I love.  Today I threw a score to Annalise, who at 4’9″ rose up and pulled my throw down in a crowd.  That’s what my father eyes saw, anyway.  She is mighty.

I came home after ultimate and took a nap.  I really like naps.  I don’t know if I would if I slept like a normal person, but sleeping like an insomniac, a nap becomes a highlight.  So young enough to play ultimate, old enough to need a nap afterward.

Post-nap, I took Corin to play baseball.  Usually I pitch to him, hit grounders and pop-ups for him to field, and we play catch.  Today, though, we brought his friend Israel.

I had mixed feelings.  I wanted some good father-son time for my birthday.  But we’ve also hoped Corin would make friends in our barrio.  Israel is Corin’s closest friend here.  He’s older and a lot taller but he’s a great kid and they love hanging out.

So we all played.  We  spent most of our time playing a rotation game with each guy taking a turn batting while the other two played the field.  Corin had us keep score of total bases we got from our hits.  I hit two home runs and a triple!

Corin really enjoys that I can hit the ball far (farther than they can, anyway).  If it were up to me, I would just pitch to them and let them take turns.  But I think there’s something healthy about admiring what your dad can do that you can’t, yet…but someday will.  Plus, I’m keeping my commitment to myself that I will not be an old dad but will keep playing sports with my kids as long as they are kids.  

“¡Pero si era tuya!”  But it was to you!

Corin and Israel treat each other like real grade school friends–rudely, with lots of hassling and “giving each other the business,” as my school friends and I would say.  I hit them pop-ups, and anytime, every time one missed the other would say,”¡Pero si era tuya!”  They fought over the better glove (we have Corin’s new one and mine from little league).  They chased each other around.

As I watched all this, bit my tongue, and kept hitting them pop-ups (most of  which they missed), it occurred to me that Corin gets more real practice when it’s the two of us, but he might have more fun with Israel along.  Israel seemed to enjoy it, though he’s not going to play in the Majors nor in Nicaraguan Professional Baseball.  Because of his home situation, no one has taught him anything about how to catch a ball.  We started today.

One other thing I have to mention about our baseball time: as I’m chasing after balls they hit, racing them to the bases to try to tag them, feeling young and spry…I threw the ball up in the air to hit a fly ball to them, whiffed, and felt a shooting pain just below my left hip.  What?  I had to walk it off and was nervous to swing hard again after that.  Young enough to play baseball, old enough to hurt myself doing it.  Sigh.  

When we got home again, we had to get cleaned up quickly to go out to dinner.  So we hurried…and then sat in Managua traffic for an hour.  Managua is not a huge city.  But I’m wondering lately if traffic is getting worse or if we’re just getting lucky.  More cars could mean a growing middle class here, which would be great.  Our twenty-minute drive took an hour.  

We finally arrived at The Malecon, in the rain (once again).  Of the improvements I’ve seen in Nicaragua, this is the most dramatic. The Malecon is the pier and lake front area on Lake Managua, which long ago was a beautiful and a night life spot, then was largely destroyed in the ’72 earthquake.  When we moved here, we were warned to stay away because it had become beyond sketchy, a place to sell drugs and settle disputes.  But now the Malecon has been renovated and made

beautiful again.  There are many different types of restaurants, playgrounds, even a large water park with sizable water slides.  We went to an Italian restaurant.  They had the Yankees’ playoff game on and the Yankees were kind enough to win on my birthday!

For as long as Kim’s known me, lasagna has been my favorite meal.  I ordered seafood. It was delicious.  On the way home, I told her how good it felt not to be rolled away after dinner.*  

Finally, my family gave me presents.  Annalise gave me chocolate and salty lemon peanuts (mani con limon–an addiction I’ve developed here).  Kim gave me a new pair of shorts and a shirt, a bottle of vino, and Corin teamed up with her to give me a coupon for a new baseball glove!

 I lost the receipt, but I suspect my dad bought me my glove when I was seven or eight, for my final year of teeball.  1976?  Last week it lost one of the leather ties that holds the fingers together and I repaired it with duct tape and a bread tie.  That may be why Corin and Israel fight over using the other glove.  I would call this a timely gift.  

I intended to conclude this with some profound insights about my near half-century of life.  I also intended to post this on my birthday night, but I fell asleep…and again last night.  Perhaps that’s my summary:  still playing, albeit held together with tape and bread ties and more likely to doze off…



*Picture Violet Beauregarde in the original Willy Wonka, being rolled away by the Oompa-Loompas.  

Word Pictures


A family of four on a motorcycle.  Father driving, young son on back, mother in between holding a baby.  She’s holding the baby in both arms.  They’re wedged on, kind of, but motorcycles don’t have doors.  Or sides. She’s holding the babies in both arms.  She’s not holding onto anything else.  

Driving home today in the fancy vehicle that we’re borrowing because our car still isn’t quite–all the way–fixed (we last drove it on August 27) and I pass a little girl sitting in a tree.  A tree is a good place for an 8-year-old girl to be sitting.  But she’s up there because she has to stay close to the ice cream cart she’s “manning” while her father, who drinks too much, isn’t.  She isn’t there every day, but she is often.  

We just suffered Tropical Storm Nate.  It was a mess.  It still is.  Managua was not in the direct line of the storm.  We got a crazy amount of rain, but we live in the tropics, so we’re more or less used to that.  Some of our friends were 24 or 48 hours without power and/or water, but those are minor inconveniences in the big picture.  

But it was strange.  We knew the storm was hitting part of the country, but for us in Managua they were normal days, except that Thursday was a half day of school and Friday school was cancelled altogether.  So we got a day off.  We waited for a deluge but got only heavy rains.  We have clothes that haven’t dried for a week–clotheslines don’t work as well in constant rain–and our power flickered on and off throughout the days.  I took a walk (yeah, in the rain, there weren’t a lot of other choices) and people were going about their lives, laughing and working, while elsewhere in this small country, lives were destroyed.

Right now, a group of us are gathering donations for 13 families who live in Tola who lost everything.  They had little to begin with but the rains caused floods that destroyed everything in their homes.  Houses collapsed or were so submerged that there is nothing left.  Cesar, who works with Fellowship of Christian Athletes, is heading up collecting clothes, hammocks, mattresses, food, kitchen ware, silver ware.  They are starting over with nothing.  

Tola is 113 kilometers from Nicaragua.  Kilometers.  Sixty-something miles. 


Then there was the vela last week. A young man, 23 years old, was riding in a truck, sleeping in the backseat on the way back from work.  The driver crashed into a guardrail going 140 kph.  The young man was thrown through the front windshield.  He died on the scene.  I hope he died instantly.  

His sister and mother live up the street from us.  When poor Nicaraguans die, they have their memorial the same day and it goes all night.  Early in the morning, they walk behind

 the hearse (in whatever vehicle is available–our van has served as the hearse) to the cemetery for the burial.  

This woman works for our friends.  I’ve talked with her before, but only briefly.  Last week I went to her home and we want straight to her.  I hugged her and told her how sorry I was and then I just held her there while we cried.  It wasn’t filing past for a brief hug and a word of condolence while taking a quick glance at the casket. We sat in their tiny room, the four of us, with the body of the young man in the open casket.  He died horribly and they did their best to make him presentable.  An 8×10 photo of the young man sat on the casket.  He was handsome with a boyish smile and happy eyes.  His face no longer resembled that picture.  A relative came and served us coffee and finger sandwiches.  Then we sat together.  

Under the casket, they had a bucket of ice.  Fans faced toward the casket.  It was a decent night here, not too warm.  One of the things we talked about was whether the body would be okay this way until morning.  We thought it would.  

I’m staggered sometimes by how desperately poor people are here; other times I’m bewildered by how normal this has become to us.  I think that might be good and bad.  We’re not uncomfortable here with our neighbors.  Jesus’ words don’t seem so far-fetched on our street.  But the degree of deprivation we see every day could make us callous.  I don’t know where the balance is.  A friend described it as “seeing an accident, but then watching that accident every day.”  

I’m reading and watching the news out of Puerto Rico where millions of U.S. citizens have been without power, medical care, even food and water.  I’m reading and watching the news from Las Vegas, where people were dying from gunshot wounds in the street.  Hurricane Nate, as it’s become now, hit Louisiana tonight. 

And tomorrow, tomorrow is Annalise’s 18th birthday.  

There is too much to do and not enough resources to do it.  But I believe in redemption.  I believe that doing something is better than doing nothing, even when that something feels small and feeble and hiding our eyes is so tempting.  

So if we’re going to love this mangled world, if we’re going to follow Jesus, it’s possible the first step is to open our eyes.  

In Case It Helps


I recently did a thing I say I’ll never do and followed that up with breaking another personal rule.  

I tell myself and sometimes the world that I won’t read the comments on Facebook.  Then I do.  And I get angry.  And start to hate and disparage humanity.  The whole cycle is very predictable.  The final step, of course, is when I pull out of this misanthropic tailspin and remember that God loves me in my wreckage and equally loves these stupid people and the stupid things they say.  God’s amazing like that.  

I’m not excusing my rule-breaking, but someone insulted Kim.  She had commented (also breaking her rule not to read comments) and the response to her was dismissive and condescending.  She had tried to cite evidence, which the person dismissed.  I brought it back up, cited a study, and told the person I thought that this attitude was not particularly conducive to fruitful discussion.

What would you guess happened next?  

A)We grew to understand and respect each other and became lifelong friends.

B)One of us saw the light and recognized lifelong-held wrong beliefs, to which that one fully admitted and of which that one completely repented. 

C)”You mean dismissive like [insert previous perceived insult comment]? And your example is a red herring because [insert repeated arguments and cliches] and your study fails and is cherry picking because [insert repeated argument and cliches].  [Counter-example that I disbelieve], [counter-example that I think proves nothing], even though you want to be right you’re completely wrong, and you DON’T love America, or freedom or pie made from apples and yes this is a bad situation but there is no solution and your suggestions are naive and groundless.”  

I’m not going to belabor this discussion because I got what I knew I would before starting, which is what makes my choice so stupid.  But there we are.  It probably won’t be the last stupid thing I do.  

Kim and I talked through the interaction later.  I learned a few things, not even counting that the amendments to the Constitution were made in order of importance.*

I realized that I’m very upset about the current situation in the U.S.  I feel helpless and angry and I want to do something to make a difference.  Then I get on Facebook and read words from people who, from my perspective, contribute to the problem.  And some little part of my brain thinks, “If I could change your mind, that would help.  You would stop adding to the problem.  You might even help solve it, a little.”  So even though I’m helpless, this feels to that speck of my brain like something within reach that I could actually do.  

But it isn’t.  It really is not.  

People argue on Facebook because they like to be right.  People argue on Facebook because they like to feel powerful and telling off strangers gives them that.  People argue on Facebook because there are so many stupid people out there who desperately need to be corrected.  

I don’t argue on Facebook because I don’t want any of these…except for when I do.  

I’ve caught myself reading through comments that I knew would piss me off, simply for the purpose of..what?  Like I want to see how stupid people are so I can be angry about it. How does that help me? How does that lead me to love?

I think the best I’ve ever seen or experienced is when both parties speak respectfully, make their points, acknowledge their disagreement, and part on civil terms.  Usually when I see these, they are accompanied by solid self-congratulations on all sides.  Nothing wrong with that; patting ourselves on the back when we’ve done well is healthy.  But the fact that civil interaction is the exception, not the norm?  Yeah, we’re in trouble.  

So in case it helps–and because I need to return to these–here are my commitments to being a decent human being on Facebook:

•Don’t read the comments on any political posts.  Just. Don’t.

•Don’t wade into the arguments of political posts by responding to the comments I didn’t read.  Double don’t.  

•Choose very carefully and wisely** what to post, remembering that my desire to “contribute to the conversation” or “challenge people” can just as easily backfire.  When I do post, don’t be surprised when others respond without following my commitments.  

Treat others as I want to be treated.  That probably sounds familiar from somewhere.  Don’t call names or use any of the illegitimate methods of argument.  

IF I think there might be fruitful discussion with someone, message them directly.  I’ve done this a few times, with varied results, but I will say doing so has never resulted in ugly arguments.  

When I think I have some deeper contribution, write a blog post.  Of course not everyone agrees with what I say on here (someone right now is thinking, “Bull!”), but taking 500-2000 words to form and express a point beats three lines with ALL CAPS and (&#@(*%&@#(&!!!!! 

In all of this, how can I be a peacemaker?  Because even though it doesn’t feel like much of a time for peacemakers, I’d argue that we need them–we need to be them–more than ever.  

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.  

And, Lord, remind me to pray that every time I get on social media.  




*They weren’t.  

**I know, this presumes wisdom.  More cause for prayer.  

Manuscript: Blessed Are the Shalom Makers


In Houston, where flooding has displaced 42,400 people as of Friday, a man who owns a giant mattress warehouse took in refugees from the storm. He let them stay in his store and sleep on his new furniture. He sent out his delivery trucks and helped carry over 200 people out of the water to safety. He has a National Guard company on break sleeping on his beds. Mattress Mack. I was watching a news clip of this and there was a woman and her little dog, sitting on a $9,000 couch. I don’t know if he has “help people suddenly homeless from hurricanes” insurance. But I know what I saw.

I saw another video clip about a program for holding babies who are drug addicted at birth. When a mother is doing drugs while pregnant, her baby can be born already addicted. They’ve studied how these children suffer withdrawal from the time they are born and what can be done to help them. Do you know what helps them heal faster, reduces symptoms of withdrawal, and allows them to give the babies less medication? Cuddling. Having someone sit and cuddle these impoverished, addicted-at-birth babies. Physical contact and affection.

In Matthew 5, verse 9, in the midst of Jesus longest and, arguably,’ most central teaching, He declares “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Here it is in context:

 5 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

 5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

I watched this video of men and women holding these tiny, helpless, suffering babies and I started weeping. And it struck me: this makes me cry because I’m seeing what love looks like. A tiny glimpse. The babies can’t pay these people back. The drug-addicted moms won’t be. They’re just loving for love’s sake, loving someone suffering, loving someone who can’t repay them. I John 4:10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Jesus said “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Children of God. People who resemble God, who are made in God’s image and act like Jesus, who love like God. God’s own children. God’s image in the world, love with God’s Spirit, incarnate in the world.

I cry when I see this video because these babies are so helpless, such innocent victims, but even more I cry because that’s what God’s love looks like. That’s a snapshot.

The biblical word for “peace” is Shalom, a Hebrew word, and it’s one of the coolest words in Scripture. Strong’s concordance defines Shalom as completeness, wholeness, health, peace, welfare, safety, soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest, harmony, the absence of agitation or discord.” It means reconciliation and right relationship in all dimensions. Shalom means living in right relationship with one another. Shalom means being in true relationship with God.

John Driver defines Shalom this way: It meant well-being, or health, or salvation in its fullest sense, material as well as spiritual. It described the situation of well-being which resulted from authentically whole (healed) relationships among people, as well as between persons and God. According to the Old Testament prophets, shalom reigned in Israel when there was social justice, when the cause of the poor and the weak was vindicated, when there was equal opportunity for all, in short, when the people enjoyed salvation according to the intention of God expressed in his covenant.”

Lisa Sharon Harper writes, At its heart the biblical concept of shalom is about God’s vision for the emphatic goodness of all relationships.”

The shalom makers are blessed, for they will be called children of God.

Mattress Mack, letting wet, cold, suddenly-homeless people be warm and dry and safe on his fancy, expensive furniture, is being a shalom maker. Adult volunteers holding drug-addicted babies are bringing shalom.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “True peace is not the mere absence of tension but the presence of Justice.” To be a shalom maker requires more than not fighting or arguing. Again, Shalom means wholeness, completeness, well-being, living in right relationship, and biblically, that requires justice. The biblical view of justice is God’s justice, of course, in which all the victims of oppression and persecution and racism and discrimination are upheld, in which God’s people stand by those who are suffering. Shalom and justice are intertwined, because to be a shalom maker is to address the conditions that prevent others from living in shalom.


Here are a few verses on God’s justice

I know that the Lord maintains the cause of the needy, and executes justice for the poor.Ps. 140:12

Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the LORD understand it fully. Proverbs 28:5

The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern. Prov 29:7

Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy. Proverbs 31:9

For the LORD is righteous, he loves justice; upright men will see his face. Psalm 11:7

My whole being will exclaim, “Who is like you, O LORD? You rescue the poor from those too strong for them, the poor and needy from those who rob them.” Psalm 35:10

3 Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. 4 Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. Psalm 82:3–4


Isaiah 1:11, 17 “I am sick of your sacrifices,” says the LORD. “Don’t bring me any more burnt offerings! I don’t want the fat from your rams or other animals. I don’t want to see the blood from your offerings of bulls and rams and goats.” 17Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the orphan. Fight for the rights of widows.”

Isaiah 56:1 This is what the LORD says: “Maintain justice and do what is right, for my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed.”

Jeremiah 22:16

He defended the cause of the poor and needy,
and so all went well.
Is that not what it means to know me?”
declares the LORD.


And when Jesus describes this in Matthew 25, he makes it even more personal.

Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.

When, Lord? ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.

That’s a handful of passages. There are over 2,000 verses in the Bible concerning the poor. You can’t understand what God means by justice unless you understand the Lord maintains the cause of the needy, and executes justice for the poor.

In Leviticus 25, God commands a year of Jubilee among the people of Israel: 8 You shall count off seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the period of seven weeks of years gives forty-nine years. 9 Then you shall have the trumpet sounded loud; on the tenth day of the seventh month—on the day of atonement—you shall have the trumpet sounded throughout all your land. 10 And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property and every one of you to your family.

That means if you screwed up financially or suffered a drought and lost your land, your family’s land, you would get it back in the fiftieth year. If you lost everything, your family would not have to suffer poverty generation after generation. That was the point. God’s justice in the Year of Jubilee required that if you lost your property, you got it back, if you had to hire yourself out as a laborer, in the fiftieth year you and your children returned to being landowners, providing for yourselves.

A couple points on this: fifty years is still a long time. God isn’t being a helicopter parent who swoops in and rescues his children from the consequences of their own actions. But what the Year of Jubilee sets out to prevent is generational poverty, generation after generation born into poverty, with little to no chance of changing their circumstances. What we see in our barrio, which is kids at 12 who can’t read, little girls pregnant at 14, and what’s the outlook for the baby of an illiterate 14-year-old?

Justice, God’s justice, is that child, who didn’t make poor life choices or invest unwisely, will be cared for and loved and have advocates among God’s people. “The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.”

My wife, who is the teaching coach at NCAI, also runs a preschool out of our carport, to give the little ones in our barrio a little better chance to learn to read, to know their numbers, to hear that Jesus Christ loves them and died for their sins, to give them a better chance of breaking out of the cycle of poverty.

Right relationship with God and with one another requires God’s justice. The work of God’s Kingdom is bound up with justice for those who are poor and abused. To bring shalom is to work for God’s justice. I John 3:16-18 We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17 How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? 18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.

This can look a million different ways: if you have fancy couches, share them with hurricane victims; if you have two arms, hold a recovering baby. Love some preschool kids from a home where no one is yet literate.


We talk about grace a lot here. I talk about grace a lot here. And we should. In my opinion, we should talk about grace first and last, because without God’s grace, there’s no hope. If God didn’t love his enemies, [pointing] his enemies, then we would be without hope in this world and absolutely doomed in the next. But God does love his enemies, Jesus dies for his enemies—you and me–and we can’t repeat this too often: In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.

Grace leads to a desire for justice. As we live and grow in grace, we come to understand shalom in our lives. We learn, day by day, what it is to live in right relationship with God. We grow in our love for others. We start to grasp how to do to others as we would have them do to us. And as we hang out with God, we start to see others more as God sees them.


Jesus says, “Blessed are the shalom makers.” Who is the shalom maker? Jesus is. Listen to the description of Jesus making shalom possible in Ephesians 2.

Eph 2:11-18 11 So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision”—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands—12 remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.4 For he is our peace; he is our shalom; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making shalom, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17 So he came and proclaimed shalom to you who were far off and shalom to those who were near; 18 for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.


One way to read the Beatitudes, and the whole Sermon on the Mount, is as a description of Jesus, so that when we talk about “being like Jesus,” we have very concrete directions of how to do it. To be peacemakers in the world, to be shalom makers, is to walk and act as Jesus did. As Jesus does.

Our question is how do we bring shalom in our circle, in the place we live and work and go to school and hang out, in our circle of friends and acquaintances and co-workers and enemies, honestly.

We’ve chosen to live in a poorer barrio here so that we can be neighbors and seek to build relationships there. That isn’t the “right” way to do this, it’s the way God has led us.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” We are the children of God. We are the shalom makers, beginning with our own lives and then reaching out the lives around us.