70 Times 7

I FIRMLY BELIEVE that there are spiritual realities that are beyond human understanding. Here, here’s an example: “…God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand…” [from Philipians 4:6 The Living Bible]

Of course that doesn’t stop us from trying to understand, to seek meaning, to boil it all down to an unequivocal absolute. The danger there is that we might strip away the beauty, the mystery and the wonder. We’re left with someone’s interpretation, and in our desire to comprehend the incomprehensible, we settle for the opinion or worldview of another; for better or worse.

Forgiveness. That’s a tough one. In my sixty-some years of Sunday school, sermons, and scripture reading; not to mention prayers for wisdom and simple answers, I still don’t understand Forgiveness. I believe it is right up there with Peace in being “far more wonderful than the human mind can understand.”

Jesus was pretty clear on the subject, at least regarding the relentlessness of Forgiveness.

Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”

“No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!
—Matthew 18:21-22 New Living Translation

So, what is it? Exoneration, making amends, mercy, absolution, forgetting about it? Let’s just say it’s complicated. Here’s an example:

One of my favorite singer/songwriters is Brandi Carlile. I have all her albums except for her newest which is to be released on February 16. I have heard the album and it is amazing. It’s called, “By The Way, I Forgive You”.


In learning more about the album, I’ve learned more about Brandi. As a part of the album’s release, she and a couple of her bandmates decided to talk about their forgiveness stories and encourage others to do so as well, even going so far as to use social media and the hastag #ByTheWayIForgiveYou to provide a forum of sorts for sharing.

One of the stories from the Twitter thread was in video form, a young lady granting forgiveness posthumously to her father who died of alcoholism when she was only eleven. It is all extremely moving and affirms the fact that the process of forgiving and being forgiven is deeper than our understanding.

It all caused me to think about my personal encounters with the concept. Without a doubt, if the thing is a dichotomy with Forgiving on one end and Being Forgiven on the other, by far I have been on the Need-to-be-Forgiven end than I have the Need-to-Forgive side. 

Back to Brandi Carlile and her story of the gnarly, knotty, beautiful, spiritual affair of Forgiveness. Her story rang so true and relevant for me. Here, in her words:

I would like to forgive Pastor Tim.

I forgive you for deciding not to baptize me when I was a teenager for being gay.

It was not so much that you wouldn’t or couldn’t do it because of the tenets put in place by the baptist rules and traditions, but because you waited until all my family and friends were present and waiting in the pews for the ceremony.

I don’t believe you did it to humiliate me - I think you struggled with the decision and simply ran out of time... I think you probably still do struggle with it.

I’d like you to know that I still love you and that I understand we’re all on a journey together, trying our best to walk through the world with honor and dignity - but what I want you to know most of all is that you did not damage my faith. Not in god, not in humanity and not in myself.

The experience inspired me to help other gay kids and my spiritual LGBTQ brothers and sisters come to terms with the disappointments they’ve endured on the rugged road to peace and acceptance. I think you’d appreciate that process.

You’ve helped far more people than you’ve hurt and you helped me too.

Thank you



I don’t know Pastor Tim, but I do know “Pastor Tim” in the sense that he could be so many other well-meaning, God-fearing humans making human messes in God’s name. I would love to visit with him to see how he feels all these years later about that day, about Brandi’s amazing grace-full statement of forgiveness. I hope he feels somewhat healed by it and that he can hear her saying that she is somehow healed by it too.

Notice that she seems to have come to terms with the understanding that he might have made the decision based on doctrine, dogma, or reductionist religion, but the thing that hurt her most was waiting until the moment she was to take a step of spiritual obedience into the waters, with her family and friends gathered to celebrate with her, before he said, No. Not now, not like this.

And then her words, baptized with grace, “I’d like you to know that I still love you and that I understand we’re all on a journey together, trying our best to walk through the world with honor and dignity…”

Maybe that’s what forgiveness is: understanding. understanding we’re all on a journey. a journey together. trying our best.


because like Jesus affirmed to his Father while on the cross, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

For more on Brandi’s project click here.

Can You Hear Me Now?

LAST SUNDAY NIGHT, upon receiving his Grammy award, Kendrick Lamar, in his acceptance speech said, “Most importantly it showed me a true definition of what being an artist was; you know. From the jump I thought it was about the accolades and cars and clothes, but it is really about expressing yourself and putting that paint on the canvas for the world to evolve, for the next listener, the next generation after that. You know what I’m saying?”

There is so much in those few sentences and between the lines (if could be so bold, Kendrick). There is self-awareness, emotional intelligence even, and humility. There is the recognition of the power of art and the creative process. But to my ears, the most wonderful part is his affirmation of the beauty of the generative process.

That last sentence, when he says, “You know what I’m saying?”— that may be a rhetorical question, but it truly caused me to stop; to think, really think about what he is saying, to rewind and listen again. 

Language, through turns of phrase, has its way of calling for full attention and certain communitcation doesn’t it? 

  • A father might say, “Do you understand me?”
  • A mother might say, “Are you listening to me?”
  • A teacher might say, “Are you paying attention?”
  • The preacher might say, “Can I get an Amen?!”
  • Pops might say, “If you’ll listen to me you can have an ice cream sandwich and then stay up until the wee hours watching Peppa Pig!”
  • The Grand-Girls, say, “Hey Pops. Hey, Hey, Pops Pops Pops!”
  • Malachi just looks at me with his glorius, slobbery smile and bright blue inquisitive eyes.

An actor playing an Italian mob boss might say, “Capisce?”

[Capisce, 1940s Italian slang (pronounced as cah-peesh) derived from the Italian word capire "to understand" and from Latin capere "to grasp or to seize". It is now used in american slang to say "got it" or "understand.”]

Throughout the red words of the Bible (you know, the words that Jesus spoke) there is a phrase that is, to my ears, Jesus’ way of saying, “You know what I’m saying?”

Jesus would tell a story, a parable, and then he would say, “He who has ears, let him hear.”

My dear friend and mentor, Doug Manning, is in my opinion sort of a listening savant. A few days ago I asked him, “What does it mean to really listen?” While that last word was still on my lips he said, “To understand.” He went on to explain “understanding” with beautiful, colorful illustrations. I am hoping to have him write a few words about it all so that I can post them here at About Pops. For now, check out his blog called THE HAPPY HERETIC.

Does it seem like we listen less these days? Maybe there are too many distractions, too much noise. Plus, listening to more fully understand seems so hard. It takes a selflessness that is rare in our culture of arrogance and narcissism. And yet, we need listeners more than ever. For example:

From Huffington Post: Twenty years ago, Larissa Boyce confessed to a gymnastics coach at Michigan State University that the school’s lauded sports medicine doctor, Larry Nassar, had touched her inappropriately. She was 16 at the time.

Boyce was seeing Nassar for lower back pain. But during many of her appointments, he inserted his fingers into her vagina, she says. She was only a teen, but her gut told her the treatment didn’t make sense. So she told Kathie Klages, one of her instructors, about what was happening.

But Klages downplayed her concerns, Boyce said in a recent phone interview with The Huffington Post. She told Boyce she must have misunderstood the procedure. Boyce, paralyzed with shame, concluded it must all be in her head.

For two decades, that’s what she continued to believe. Then, in September 2016, news broke that two former gymnasts, including an Olympic medalist, were saying they’d been sexually abused by Nassar.

In the months since, more than 100 women have come forward with horrifying allegations of being molested by Nassar under the guise of medical treatment. The abuse is alleged to have occurred over the course of two decades, with some of the earliest reports dated in 1997, and the most recent in 2016.

Finally, someone listened. Twenty years and 100 some young girls later—someone listened; to understand.

Remember what Dr. Frasier Crane would say when he took calls on his radio show? “I’m listening.” Healing words right? If we really mean it.

I’m going to do better, starting here: I promise that if we are talking with each other, I won’t check my iPhone, my iPad, or my Apple Watch. One caveat, if while we are visiting my watch makes a sound and I stand up and move around, don’t take that as a lack of listening and engagement on my part. My watch tells me every so often to get up and move. I don’t know how to turn off those alerts and I don’t have the moral courage to ignore the admonition. Other than that, I will try to be all ears, because I want to understand and be understood. 

You know what I’m saying?


SOMETIMES IT'S GOOD TO HAVE CROSSED THE THRESHOLD; to be on the inside when the sign on the door says, “Sold Out.” It means you’re in, your place at the table is secure, you have a seat for the show—a show that is worthy of being sold out.

DSC_0949 2.jpg

What it is like to assume there would be room left, a ticket still available? You’ve looked forward to it, you got all dressed up, all psyched up, only to arrive, to come face to face with the “SOLD OUT” sign. You can see the others in the room. They made it. They signed up early. But you’re out: disqualified.

I am sure I’m too stupid to understand something as complex as immigration policy. Add to my stupidity the fact that I don’t  care much about economic theory. I'm intensely skeptical of the statistics regurgitated by ruminants, politicians and pundits regarding increased crime within immigrant populations. Even a hint of attitude of racial superiority makes my old, wrinkly, white flesh crawl.

I have always found anecdotes more persuaisive than analysis. I get that many people love the charts, the graphs, the conclusions drawn from some suspect concept of historical perspective, but I am persuaded when I hear a brilliant, eloquent law student from the Congo tell his story about how he gained access to the USA just days before new, heightened immigration policies, enforcements and theories, while his equally brilliant wife, whom he met in a refugee camp in Malawi, was not so lucky. Her paperwork wasn’t processed until a few days after the changing of the guard. He’s on one side of the door, she on the other.

Don’t try to explain it to me. I’m too stupid to see it all as anything but stupid.

Speaking of “selling out”, can we think about Faustian Bargains* for a moment. In my naive, stupid, liberal mind and soul, that is a threshold too costly to cross, but we do it? Why?! Why does that have to be a part of our human story?

Would you believe me if I said I’m not trying to be political, just human? But, I guess it inevitably has to be about politics. If so, here’s a viewpoint on one thorny issue of the current immigration debate which even I can grasp:

"We should have a better understanding and better relationship than we've ever had. Rather than talking about putting up a fence. Why don't we work out some recognition of our mutual problems?” —Ronald Reagan speaking of Mexico as "our neighbor to the south." Houston, TX, 1980.

*Faustian bargain, a pact whereby a person trades something of supreme moral or spiritual importance, such as personal values or the soul, for some worldly or material benefit, such as knowledge, power, or riches. The term refers to the legend of Faust (or Faustus, or Doctor Faustus), a character in German folklore and literature, who agrees to surrender his soul to an evil spirit (in some treatments, Mephistopheles, or Mephisto, a representative of Satan) after a certain period of time in exchange for otherwise unattainable knowledge and magical powers that give him access to all the world’s pleasures. A Faustian bargain is made with a power that the bargainer recognizes as evil or amoral. Faustian bargains are by their nature tragic or self-defeating for the person who makes them, because what is surrendered is ultimately far more valuable than what is obtained, whether or not the bargainer appreciates that fact. —from Encyclopædia Britannica

To wrap things up on a lighter note—here’s my favorite rendering of the Faustian bargain.

O Brother Where Art Thou

O Brother Where Art Thou

Magical Beans

CONSENSUS ON COFFEE AND ITS ORIGIN seems to be that the first cup was poured in the 11th Century AD.  I feel confident in saying, I bet the first beans were roasted, ground and combined with scalding water in the First Century.

Why and on what authority? Sixty-Seven years ago I was carried into a Baptist Church for the first of many, many times. One thing I know for certain about Baptists—coffee is the official drink and caffeine the permissible drug of Baptists. So, I can only assume that John THE Baptist percolated the first pot. If he was not the first Mr. Coffee he probably should be known as John The So-Called Baptist.

Coffee is much bigger than Baptists. Currently there are 27,339 Starbucks stores. (Statista: The Statistics Portal) According to  an article in Huffington Post, “America’s Coffee Obsession…”:

• Americans consume 400 million cups of coffee per day, equivalent to 146 billion cups of coffee per year, making the United States the leading consumer of coffee in the world.
• Coffee represents 75% of all the caffeine consumed in the United States.
• The United States imports more than $4 billion dollars’ worth of coffee each year.

My amazing-missus enjoying a cup from the top of a double-decker bus

My amazing-missus enjoying a cup from the top of a double-decker bus

I am one of those who starts the day with a cup or so and later too, especially with the occasional dessert. Given a choice, I prefer a bold, dark roast, served black.

It seems to me that coffee is the best grease for the gears of social interaction. Anytime of day, we can meet for a cup. Even if we don’t actually all drink coffee, we can be open to gathering around the idea of it—“Let’s grab a cup of coffee and catch up.”

Years ago, I heard Nora Ephron speaking about her movie, “You’ve Got Mail.” She mentioned the idea of something called the Third Place. I was utterly intrigued. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

In community building, the third place is the social surroundings separate from the two usual social environments of home ("first place") and the workplace ("second place"). Examples of third places would be environments such as cafes, clubs, public libraries, or parks. In his influential book The Great Good Place, Ray Oldenburg (1989, 1991) argues that third places are important for civil society, democracy, civic engagement, and establishing feelings of a sense of place.

In the early 70s, I played drums with a group that played at these little venues called coffeehouses: third places for people in their lated teens and twenties. With a little stage for music and poets, candles on the tables, posters on the wall, and lots of coffee. The pay was lousy, but the gigs were fun and relaxed. 

I have a brother-in-law who served several tours of duty in the middle-east. I love to hear his stories about times spent at the little coffeeshops on the bases in the middle of nowhere. Third Place indeed.

How about coffee and solitude? You know the scene: a single man or woman sitting in a diner, a back booth or on a stool at the end of the counter, having a cup and probably a cigarette, maybe half looking at a newspaper or staring out the window. On the jukebox, Tammy Wynette sings:

Sometimes it's hard to be a woman
Giving all your love to just one man.
You'll have bad times
And he'll have good times, 
Doin' things that you don't understand
But if you love him you'll forgive him,
Even though he's hard to understand
And if you love him oh be proud of him,
'Cause after all he's just a man
Stand by your man...

One of my favorite works of art is Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks. We can’t talk about hot coffee at the diner without a look.


In case you don’t still have your notes from Art History 101, my favorite commentary on the painting comes from that little nun with the speech impediment, Sister Wendy:

Apparently, there was a period when every college dormitory in the country had on its walls a poster of Hopper's Nighthawks; it had become an icon. It is easy to understand its appeal. This is not just an image of big-city loneliness, but of existential loneliness: the sense that we have (perhaps overwhelmingly in late adolescence) of being on our own in the human condition. When we look at that dark New York street, we would expect the fluorescent-lit cafe to be welcoming, but it is not. There is no way to enter it, no door. The extreme brightness means that the people inside are held, exposed and vulnerable. They hunch their shoulders defensively. Hopper did not actually observe them, because he used himself as a model for both the seated men, as if he perceived men in this situation as clones. He modeled the woman, as he did all of his female characters, on his wife Jo. He was a difficult man, and Jo was far more emotionally involved with him than he with her; one of her methods of keeping him with her was to insist that only she would be his model.

From Jo's diaries we learn that Hopper described this work as a painting of "three characters." The man behind the counter, though imprisoned in the triangle, is in fact free. He has a job, a home, he can come and go; he can look at the customers with a half-smile. It is the customers who are the nighthawks. Nighthawks are predators — but are the men there to prey on the woman, or has she come in to prey on the men? To my mind, the man and woman are a couple, as the position of their hands suggests, but they are a couple so lost in misery that they cannot communicate; they have nothing to give each other. I see the nighthawks of the picture not so much as birds of prey, but simply as birds: great winged creatures that should be free in the sky, but instead are shut in, dazed and miserable, with their heads constantly banging against the glass of the world's callousness. In his Last Poems, A. E. Housman (1859-1936) speaks of being "a stranger and afraid/In a world I never made." That was what Hopper felt — and what he conveys so bitterly.

Text from "Sister Wendy's American Masterpieces"

We have some dear friends who are opening a coffeeshop soon. As soon as we have a chance to visit, I’ll tell you all about it. Or, better yet; let’s meet there for a hot cup and catch up.