THERE’S THAT PHASE kids go through around three or four, their favorite word is “Why?” You know the one. We offer a crescendo of answers (as if there is an answer that will pacify them).

Because one ice cream sandwich is enough… You’ll spoil your supper… You’ve had too much sugar already… You don’t want all your teeth to rot and fall out do you?

Then finally, you thrown down your coup de grâce: “Because I said so!”

AS WE AGE, the questions change; the routine, not so much. Can I get a new (fill in the blank)? Are we almost there? Can I have the car tonight? And my go to answer: “Ask your mother.”

I remember about half-way through adolescence I began to long for adulthood, when I thought I would either have all the answers, or I could at least answer my own questions. But here I am staring at 69 and I still have questions, and many times the answers I find are unfulfilling: “That’s just the way the electoral college works.” “Yes, tattoos sort of hurt.”

Just the other day, a close friend asked me a question. He put it this way: “Hey, I want to ask you a question and I want an honest answer.”

“Sid’s in El Reno!” I quickly answered, hoping he was going to ask me my favorite burger joint.

“What is your concept of heaven?” He asked.

When it comes to burgers, Sid’s is about as close as you get. But, he wasn’t talking about burgers.

Was this a trick question? Does he know something I don’t? Is it a test?

Certainly, there are ideas and imagary, in my head of heaven which come from my upbringing in church. As I page through those mental pictures now, I see that much of it comes from the old hymns I grew up hearing:

  • “I’ll Fly Away”

  • “We’re Marching to Zion”

  • “When We All Get To Heaven”

  • Or this from the old hymn, “Sweet Beulah Land”:
    I'm kind of homesick for a country
    To which I've never been before.
    No sad goodbyes will there be spoken
    For time won't matter anymore.

I told my friend that at this point in my life, to say that I have a concept of heaven would seem pretty arrogant. Who am I to even guess what it may be like? Or, to quote the latest and greatest opus on heavenly speculation: “I Can Only Imagine”.

Part of my mental heavenly tableau comes from memories I have of traveling evangelists. I always thought of them as arrogant, pompous, flashy, hucksters. These guys would stand in the pulpit telling of a place with mansions, streets of gold, painless eternal youthfulness. One guy went as far as to say he believed everyone would be 33 years old. Rationale: “Because that’s how old Jesus was when he died.”

I remember thinking, surely heaven won’t be an eternity of hearing this blowhard and his ilk rant and rave and wag his finger and King James version of the Bible in the air.

And then, as if he were reading my mind, he would seem to insinuate that anyone who didn’t see things as he sees things wouldn’t make it past the pearly gate (or is it gates?).

Before anyone begins to wonder if I’ve abandoned the faith of my youth; I do believe there is a heaven, I just don’t think any human has the capacity to conceptualize it. Our imagination is too limited. Our vocabulary lacks the words. Our faith is too constrained. Our belief is too conditional. Our understanding of God is too small.

TAKE PEACE FOR EXAMPLE—the kind of peace the Bible talks about, the kind of peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7). Occasionally you get a sense of this peace (or, I hope you do), and when you do it is wonderful, but you can’t explain it or even understand it. There is a mystique about it.

For me, spiritual stuff is like that; and I like it that way. I don’t want a predictable, understandable, knowable religion. I want the mystery, the wonder. I’m okay with NOT knowing what it will all be like.

About that peace that passes understanding; we can get a sense of it from time to time. Here’s an example: not long ago, standing next to my dad as he died; at first, I couldn’t believe he had breathed his last breath. I even slapped his hand a few times to try to rouse him. But then———Peace. I don’t know how else to explain it. Because it is unexplainable. It passes understanding. Please don’t patronize me by pretending you understand it. Don’t try to preacher-splain it to me. Don’t try to dismiss it with some contrived rationalization or spiritualization. Please don’t assume a lack of faith. Can’t we just rest in the mystery of it?

I believe, as with this un-understandable peace, we also get an occasional glimpse of heaven—not a grasp, but a glimpse. For me, I see it in the sublime. The sublime defined in the Oxford Dictionary as: “of such excellence, grandeur, or beauty as to inspire great admiration or awe.”

TAKE NATURE FOR EXAMPLE—some people see heaven as a mountain-top experience, thinking the valley is full of shadows of death. But I’m more of a valley guy (not the 80s dudes of southern California, counterpart to the Valley Girls) when it comes to the vast splendor of the mountains. Sure the mountaintop offers majestic views, but of what?

“We’ve got some difficult days ahead, but it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop … I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.” A few hours after this speech, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated by James Earl Ray.

That’s a powerful glimpse! A perspective from the mountaintop seems to belong to true visionaries.

For me, I prefer to be knee deep in the mountain stream, the deepest point of the valley, where there is life. Here are a few of my favorite lines from literature, from one of my favorite books, “A River Runs Through It”, by Norman Maclean:

“Like many fly fishermen in western Montana where the summer days are almost Arctic in length, I often do not start fishing until the cool of the evening. Then in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise.

“Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of those rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.

“I am haunted by waters.”

TAKE ART FOR EXAMPLE: I see the sublime and get a glimpse of heaven in art.

“If a work of art is rich and vital and complete, those who have artistic instincts will see its beauty, and those to whom ethics appeal more strongly than aesthetics will see its moral lesson. It will fill the cowardly with terror, and the unclean will see in it their own shame.” — Oscar Wilde

Experiencing art is sensory: full-on, right? Whether it’s a walk through The Met, or The Philbrook, or sitting at a beautifully decorated table to an artful meal surrounded by good people and good conversation with good music playing in the background. Full-0n sensory. And even that sometimes passes understanding for me. There are times I get the inkling that I may have another sense beyond the five. I can’t explain it. But, what if, maybe one of these days as heaven-dwellers, we discover that we now have seven or maybe more senses? Because maybe it will take that many.

I’ll never forget the first time, my first Grand-Girl, the one who made me Pops, played her first piano recital. I was transported: how or where, I don’t know. It’s un-understandable to me. But, it gives me a glimpse.


So, what is my concept of heaven? Maybe it will be many, many firsts—new and fresh every day. Like this:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,

for his compassions never fail.

They are new every morning;

great is your faithfulness.

I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;

therefore I will wait for him.”

— Lamentations 3:22-24


[DISCLAIMER: If you're reading this as a sermon or admonition you're reading it wrong. If you're assuming I'm a theologian, you'll be disappointed.]

UNRELENTING HOPE REQUIRES AN OCCASIONAL GLIMPSE OR GLIMMER OF GOODNESS. At least that’s how it is for me. I have to know that sometimes RIGHT matters. From time to time I need for the bully to lose. I need for someone in a position of influence to call out arrogance and manipulation—even when I am the arrogant manipulator. I need to spend time in truth and beauty.

I’ll admit it, hope is waning for me. Wait. That may not be accurate. Certainly hope in many institutions is spiraling down, but hope in institutions is misplaced anyway. Ultimate answers and meaning are not found there.

So what is HOPE anyway? Especially the durable, unwavering, unrelenting kind?


Take a look at this picture. This is one of my beautiful Grand-Girls, Nora, a few years ago at her church’s fall fun festival. I watched her play this game over and over. The game goes like this: players walk around a circle of chairs while music plays. When the music stops each sits in a numbered chair. The MC then draws a number, calls it out, and the person in that numbered chair wins a prize.

Nora played round after round. Each time she would look to the MC for the announcement and each time she was not in the winning chair. She didn’t complain. She didn’t swear. She didn’t kick chairs. She didn’t question the fairness of the rules. She didn’t storm off to another game. She didn’t assume there was some sort of conspiracy against her. Here’s the weird thing—she actually seemed delighted for those that did win. And then, when the music resumed, she did too—her little march around the circle.

Then it happened. All the other kids moved on, leaving only Nora. When the music began, and she started her solo trek around the circle. When the music stopped, she sat down and looked at the MC with all the unwavering hopefulness she had maintained throughout. You can see it here, in this photo. I, too, looked at the MC thinking, hoping, surely this time she’ll win. And she did!

Let me quickly point out that this Nora-brand of HOPE is not the same as buying a lottery ticket every week hoping to retire “rich”, or hoping that redemption can spring from narcissism without passing through humility. This is about trusting that there is a certain fairness to it all, that people will ultimately do the right thing, that if you put on your pretty, Halloween costume dress and put your Mimi-made bag on your arm and march around the circle, sooner or later you will win the prize. Frankly, I’m not even sure it was totally about the prize for Nora. She seemed to genuinely enjoy the experience.

Maybe I’m just naive—68 years old and still naive—but I’m now, in new ways, understanding that good doesn’t always prevail.

Can we be hopeful? I’m still strongly on the side of YES. I still see those important, occasional glimpses of rightness, justice, otherness, and true Jesus-following that keep me hoping.

There’s a story in the Gospel of John, chapter 5, the scene is a pool and gathered around: “a great number of disabled people—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.”

One of these is a man who’s been there for thirty-eight years. That’s a long time to march around the circle; so to speak. So, Jesus sees the man lying there and asks him what seems like a really stupid question: “Do you want to get well?” Then the dialog goes like this:

“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the music stops—wait, that should be—when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

Surely the man had days of hopelessness. There must have been times he cursed something or someone—those new to the pool who would jump in ahead of him, someone from out of town... I’m just guessing.

But what about that weird question Jesus asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

Let’s do a self-check: individually, culturally, politically, societally, spiritually. Are we healthy? Are we getting healthier? Now that religion and politics are in bed together (again) are we better?

What if Jesus’ question to us is: Do you want to get well? Do you really?

Maybe true hopefulness hinges on knowing we want to be well and then getting up and walking. Walking in freedom, wholeness, boldness and hopefulness.

If you do; count on this: there will be a chorus ready to say, “Hey, stop that. There are rules against that.”

From John 5:

The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.” But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ” So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”

I might have replied with something like this: “Apparently he’s a guy who cares more about a broken person walking for the first time in 38 years than he does about your Sabbath rules.”

Good doesn’t always win. Right doesn’t always prevail. But every now and then... someday... ultimately... I’m hoping.

Christmas Cards

CHRISTMAS CARDS ARE IMPORTANT. I’m just sentimental enough to believe that traditions are important. The keeping of traditions is one of the things I like best about the holiday season. But Christmas cards; they’re special, at least to me, because they are one of the last bastions of congeniality. Remember when people used to write letters, notes and cards? Just last night, following a magnificent performance by one of our Grand-Girls in the school Christmas musical, I returned to the car to find a hand-written note on my windshield. It was a note of encouragement, telling me I should do a better job of parking next time.

It takes a certain human intentionality and connectedness to sit down and write a note, put in an envelope, address it, lick the flap, apply the stamp and drop it in the mail. Now we text, email, send birthday greetings on Facebook, etc. This season I’ve received a few virtual Christmas cards via email. Next time save yourself the trouble, I’m not buying the sincerity.

MANY CARD-SENDING SEASONS AGO, I was looking through an assortment of boxed, pre-printed, Christmas cards at a bookstore: “I like this one, but I wish it said this… This one is cool except for that creepy angelic creature lurking among the clouds. Surely Gabriel didn’t resemble that!” and so my mind went; on and on. And, then, I thought, “Why not design a Christmas card of our own?!”

There have been several of these homemade, bespoke card designs over as many years now. BTW: If you don’t get one in the mail, don’t despair. Your Christmas will be full and complete without one.

Several times, I’ve collaborated with other designers and artists for the card design. These are my favorites. My all time favorite was with an amazing Japanese/American artist named Julie Robertson, aka: Juuri. Julie and her husband Eric are very dear friends and special people to us.

For the collaboration, I gave Julie a poem I had written and asked her if she would do a watercolor to go along with the poem. The front of the card looked like this—

Copyright 2010. Juuri & Dave

Copyright 2010. Juuri & Dave

The inside of the card looked like this—

Copyright 2010. Juuri & Dave

Copyright 2010. Juuri & Dave

Julie is, among other things, an amazing mural artist. She has painted murals around the world, literally.

Julie at work.

Julie at work.

Work in progress.

Work in progress.



I invite you to visit Julie’s website to see more of her work. Good news—if you would like to have one of her works, you don’t have to have a giant wall for a mural. She has smaller works as well. And, even prints.

So, that was our card in 2010. Now it’s 2018. I struggled more with the design of the 2018 card than I have with any other design. That’s largely because of the inner struggle I am having with the twisting and distorting that I believe is being done to the nature and beauty and truth of Jesus by the religious right. Compared to the card Julie and I did for 2010, the 2018 card may seem like I just threw something together—it’s black and white, looks cheap, and cynical.

That verse though… the one from the Gospel of John… about the Incarnation… It doesn’t need adorning or beautifying. It just needs to be wrestled with. So I’ve been searching my soul and my world for evidence of that mysterious, mind-blowing, heart-changing, soul-searching thing called Incarnation.

In case your copy of the card was lost in the mail, here’s the front—

Artboard 2.png

And here’s the inside—

Artboard 1.png

Where can we find and pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews? We observed a star in the eastern sky that signaled his birth. We’re on pilgrimage to worship him. —Matthew 2:2

Follow that star. Merry Christmas.

Do You See What I See

ONCE UPON A TIME, I had some ping pong skills, and then an optometrist said, “Here, try these bi-focals.”

I guess, technically, I still had the skills, but it helps if you can see the ball. If you’re over 40, you can empathize.

Ping ponging while bi-focaled is hard; heck, stepping off of a curb is an adventure.


Measuring your skills at things like ping pong, making chili, loud whistling, turkey calling, etc. requires a reference point—something or someone to compare thyself with. For several years in my ping pong career, my reference point was my oldest son, Corey. Early on, I could beat him every time we played (except for when I would “let” him win). And then he turned seven. The table turned, so to speak, and from time to time I got the feeling that he would occasionally let me win.

A vivid memory, and one of the last ping pong games I played: a fairly arrogant fellow (as compared to the norm in my head) come in to a rec center of sorts. Someone came over to me and said,

“That guy over there wants to know who the best player here is.” (They didn’t know Corey was there.) I walked over and said I’m the second-best player here, unless you’re better than me.

He smirked one of those cocky smirks and said let’s find out. He was good. I was better. My life as a human being is more significant for that win that night. Had we played a few more games he would have beaten me—he would have figured out how to return my serve. You see, if you have bi-focals and have a hard time judging the proximity, speed and spin of a ball coming at you, you solve the problem by having a nearly unreturnable serve so that it doesn’t come back over the table at you.

As the sun set on that day, I was still the second best player in the building. I know that because I had two points of reference: Corey, the best player, and this old guy with a Baker Mayfield-like obnoxious arrogance, whom I was better than.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching and hearing the stories about President George H.W. Bush. He is being remembered, and rightly so, as a war hero, and a humble and gracious leader who held his family in high regard.

I can’t help but wonder if his quintesscence isn’t somewhat heightened because of the current presidential point of reference. That’s not to take anything at all away from G.H.W.B.’s contribution to our nation through his service. Rather, I’m thinking that in ping pong and presidenting, maybe comparisons don’t tell the whole story at all. Maybe it’s best to remember each on their own.

In my understanding of the Divine, it IS that way. We are not graded or judged on the curve—compared with or to others; although the modern fundamentalist/evangelicals in their myopic, political worldview would have us believe it is so.

Here try these bi-focals or maybe these rose-colored glasses.

"For now we see through a glass darkly.” 1 Corinthians 13:12