What Do You Look For In a Church?


Not long ago someone who was moving to a new city asked  a group of us what we looked for in a church.

Some people said they valued good preaching, or good worship music, or a good children’s program. Some wanted a place that offered the old time religion and salvation message that was good enough for Grandma. Some wanted something deeper or fresher or more relevant. Some wanted standards. Some wanted to be open to everyone and everything. Some wanted a place where they could take an active part and others wanted a service that ended on time with easy access to the exit and the parking lot.

When they asked me I said I don’t know anymore.

I’ve been in rooms with brilliant teachers teaching brilliant thoughts to eager learners.

I’ve been in open fields with people willing to lay down their lives for the nations,

in kitchens where folks fed the poor,

in safe houses with two or three friends who understood my brokeness patiently worked toward my emotional healing,

in giant cathedrals with choirs and organ music that carried the echoes of a thousand years of faithfulness,

on patios around the barbecue where people talk about the love of Christ and things that matter,

in backrooms where street people loved each other with the deepest sincerity,

in quiet sanctuaries where the sacraments repeated the promises I needed to hear,

in rented spaces with music and dance so enthusiastic I could feel the beat in my chest,

in accepting ethnic communities where I was the only white person,

in gyms where children laughed and played and recited memory verses,

in creaky old pews where multi-generational families prayed together and stayed together

in halls and airport hangars where the power of the Holy Spirit was so strong people were thrown out of their chairs or fell on the floor with laughter or were healed of incurable diseases on the spot,

and in wood paneled sanctuaries where the elderly found comfort in hymns about heaven.

I have known the safety of basement classrooms with friends who desire to hear the Lord and are willing to graciously speak truth into my life.

I’ve known the church of the internet where spirit to spirit connection rides the air waves.

I’ve known the reverent and the raucous, the richly furnished and the barely maintained, the well-staffed and the unstaffed, the steadfast and the risk-taking.

It’s hard to choose which one I will reject if I cling solely to one and forsake the others.
I love them all.

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.


He Turned and He Heard Me


Morning slunk into my bedroom with half-hearted grey clouds and a feeble effort at rain. The moisture in the air was thicker than fog, but lighter than a shower. I guess, like me, it felt ambivalent about working up the effort for a good cry.

I planned to take photos near Steamboat Hill when I got up. I even set the alarm. When there is no wind and the water is very cold in the early morning reflections of golden trees in the misty river can be stunning this time of year.

If the light is right.

It wasn’t.

The sound of wind-blown branches scratching against my window hinted that the water would be rough and the leaves could be skittering across the ground by now anyway.

I rolled over and checked out Facebook on my iPhone. People again alternately exalted and slimed each other and their chosen candidates in another country, the way they have for the past few months, only this time with more fear and desperation in their posts. I put it down and went back to sleep.

I’m not depressed. Just tired. Lately, I seem to have more than the usual number of challenges parked in the waiting room of my mind. Not being able to do anything – or, more accurately, not knowing what to do until more information is available – can be exhausting.

I waited impatiently for Wisdom to show up, but when she did she only said, “Wait.”

I remember long trips across the prairies in the back seat of my father’s Oldsmobile. We had sung all the songs, played all the games, eaten all the snacks, and still telephone poles filed past the rain-streaked window in an endless procession of minutes. No use asking Dad if we were there yet. He just turned his head and answered over his shoulder, “If you have to ask you have not arrived. Just wait. This will be good.”

So I wait.

snapdragons-ch-dsc_0017By ten I was dressed in a warm sweater pulled from the back of the closet where I optimistically stashed winter clothes one glorious day in the spring. Warming my hands with my third cup of coffee I went out on the deck to see if the flowers in big clay pots in the corner succumbed to the cold yet. Amazingly they still bloomed under the old blankets I throw over them at night. I pulled the covers back and they sprang back up.

The sky hung low and dull, but I noticed a patch of blue in the northeastern corner on the horizon. I decided to grab the camera and go. I needed to get out of the house. I headed toward the light.

Some place in this current spiritual landscape there is joy, there is peace, there is hope. I know it’s there, but sometimes I forget to look for it. I asked the Lord to help me find it.

The light began to shine through in sporadic rays sometime after I passed the appropriately named Bummer’s Flats. By the time I reached the bird sanctuary colours brightened.

At the rest stop on the other side of the bridge tourists marveled at sights I, as a local, have taken for granted. A young German couple parked their bicycles and spread their paper-wrapped bread and cheese feast on a picnic table. They sat facing the mountain ridge silently drinking cups of steaming coffee from a thermos as if they were absorbing a scene into mutual memory with every sip. Perhaps they plan on calling it up over the breakfast table when they have been married forty four years like us. An older couple stood on the bank of the river and reminded each other that these colours did not exist back home. I looked again with their eyes and saw joy.


I stopped by the lake and there was my peace. It rested on the still water in the form of a dock. In the summer it rocks and slaps the water as children dive from it. I can still hear their calls echoing in the hot summer sun. Now their diving platform floated steadfast in stillness under stormy skies.


You know you’re an introvert when your idea of a good time is when nobody else shows up for the party. The Lord and I had the entire beach to ourselves. The sun warmed my face, my hair, my hands. We walked along the shoreline.

Canada geese overhead were teaching their young how to fly in formation. Birds born this last year have no idea of how long the trip ahead of them will take, they only know they have the urge to prepare for something more than they have thus far known.


I waited and waited for God. He turned and he heard me. He said, “Wait. This is going to be good.”

In the meantime I choose to be thankful for joy found in sojourners’ eyes, for peace found in mountain lakes, and hope in the wings of young geese eager to see the world.


Leaving Egypt


I want to stand
on the edge of the hour
and, raising my rod,
part                          time.

I want to see
tired thoughts,
burdened eyes,
heavy limbs,
tumble over themselves
and heart beats surf on holy swells.

I want to see
the impending rend
between keen moments,
morning roll back on mother-warmth,
evening break on fading breath.

I want to stand
on the edge of the hour,
and then

when I’m ready

when I’ve passed through

turn and watch Pharoah drown.



Sometimes we walk on sunny mountain tops. Sometimes we walk through stormy valleys.

Lately it feels like another storm hits before our shoes have had a chance to dry out after the last one.

Can I be honest with you? I don’t feel like I’m doing a great job in this season of my life. I’m so far behind I don’t know if I’ll ever catch up to my expectations for myself. Sometimes the closest I come to resting in the Lord is pulling the blankets over my head and ignoring the clock in the morning.

This morning I had a dream that describes what I have been feeling. I was rushing around in a house (similar to ours in real life but with more stories) that needed work and preparation for the next season. Someone came to the door. I felt grubby, dusty and sweaty and not in the mood for company, but I invited the young girl who waited there into my mess.

She whispered something about wanting to make a proclamation. Before I could say anything another person showed up who needed my attention. As I went to look for something he wanted more people arrived – all in some sort of need or crisis. My house was noisy and confusing and full of people poking into all my private not-so-impressive spaces. I wanted to be hospitable and make something for them to eat, but everywhere I looked something in the house needed to be cleaned, trimmed, painted, organized, or repaired. Too many voices asked questions at the same time.

I felt overwhelmed.

Then the girl who had arrived at my door first put her hand on my arm and said in the sweetest gentle voice, “Can we proclaim now?”

I woke up, the word “proclaim” still ringing in my ears.

All day I’ve been thinking about this. Then I stumbled on this video by a group of young singers called “Proclaim.” The first young soloist looks like the girl who came to my door in the dream.

Okay, Lord, you have my attention. I’m listening.

I will call upon your name when everything has failed.
I will lift my weary eyes to that place where my help comes from
and I will not be afraid
and I will run to you in my time of weakness
and I will remember your unfailing love for me

You are my help, Lord!
Your right hand will hold me when I stray.
You are my help, Lord.
There’s no fear in me.
I will rise again.

I proclaim the glory of the Lord.
I will remember Your unfailing love for me. There is no fear in me. I rise again!