Five Years Ago

Five years ago today, I navigated to and sat for an hour just staring at the computer screen. I had recently received some advice from an editor at a publishing company that I might consider starting a “weblog,” whatever that was. My seminary thesis  reader, Brian McLaren, had put me in touch with this editor (for the life of me, I can’t remember his name), and I’m so glad he did. The editor gave me the best practical advice imaginable for a young writer.

“You need to write,” he said. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it?


“You need to write every day,” he continued. “And that means you need someone or something to be accountable to.” Then he turned me on to the idea of blogging, which was still not quite mainstream in 2008. Thank you, Mr. Editor! (Was it Kevin? Ah well. I really can’t remember.)

So there I was, five years ago today, staring at my computer screen. I was stuck trying to make a decision– namely, what to call my blog. I tried many names, also things I can’t remember now. I was listening to music, and in the moment of greatest despair that I would never come up with a name I was satisfied with, U2’s song “Kite” came on.

“Who’s to say where the wind will take you?
Who’s to say what it is will break you?
I don’t know which way the wind will blow.”


The words Bono was singing bore into me. It was like I was hearing them for the first time ever. The chorus hung in the air. I could have grabbed the word “wind” and held it in my hand. As I looked at the words in my mind’s eye, they reformed into a verse from the Gospel According to John: “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.” So says Jesus to the Pharisee Nicodemus. This encounter is one of my favorite in the Gospel. In it, Jesus shatters Nicodemus’s preconceptions — his entire worldview, in fact — and rebuilds it with himself (Jesus) at the center. Over the course of the Gospel, we see Nicodemus first tentatively and then boldly step into his own re-creation.


For Nicodemus, and for me, it starts with the wind of the Spirit (which, handily, is the same word in ancient Greek). The words from U2’s song shimmered with meaning from the Gospel, and I knew I had found the name of my blog.

Ever since, these words have guided me. I do not know where the wind will take me. But I believe that wherever it is, God will be waiting when I get there. The last five years have confirmed this belief over and over again. Through the blog, I made connections with The Christian Century and EpiscopalCafe. Then, about a year and half in, I came to the attention of the United Methodist Publishing House, and my second book with them comes out this summer! The blog is also partially responsible for the way I met my wife (as well as giving her mother something to find when she googled me). Above all, this website has kept me writing and reflecting on how God is moving in my life and how I am moving in God’s.


Over the month of June, I plan to have a five year anniversary celebration for I will re-post some of my favorite entries, along with ones that marked significant moments and connections. (If you have a favorite post you’d like me to re-issue this month, let me know!) I look forward to the next five years of, and I’m so profoundly grateful to all of my readers for taking this journey with me.

I leave you today with some of the first ever words I posted on this website, five years ago today.

Adam, a follower of Christ,

to all those who find this blog through the Series of Tubes.

Grace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

The Apostle Paul really nailed the beginnings of his letters, so I thought I’d borrow his intro formula to begin my blog. Paul journeyed all over the Mediterranean following the little dotted purple and blue and red lines you see on the maps in the back of your study Bible. I’m afraid I can’t afford the airfares to Thessalonica or Ephesus, so I will have to rely on the Interwebs to make a new set of dotted lines from my MacBook to your computer. Since you’re probably in modern day Scranton or Lubbock rather than ancient Greece, I think the Internet is the way to go.

[…] Who’s to say where the wind will take me? Who’s to say where the Spirit is leading me? In this blog, I will reflect on the movement of God in my life, the movement that dances on the wind of the Spirit. I invite you to follow my reflections and discern how God is moving in your own life.


Guitar Lessons

(Sermon for Sunday, June 3, 2012 || Trinity Sunday B || John 3:1-17)

Playing at VBS in 2003 after my sophomore year of college. That was less than three years in to my guitar playing. It would have been seven or eight if I had never quit.

When I was in seventh grade, my parents bought me a three-quarter sized guitar and procured the services of a guitar expert to teach me the basics. At the first lesson, I learned the names of each of the six strings and how to play notes by plucking them. At the second lesson, I learned how to arrange my fingers on the strings so they made special shapes called chords. At the third lesson, I learned that I would have to practice if I wanted to improve my guitar playing. There was no fourth lesson.

You see, I was a bright kid, to whom pretty much everything came quite easily. I was a good athlete, so baseball and soccer were right up my alley. I really didn’t have to work much to make good grades in school. I had next to no challenges in any of my classes. And so when I was confronted with something that I couldn’t immediately master with no effort, I decided not to try. I put the guitar in the case, and the case sat unopened in my closet for years.

Now, as most of you know, I am a guitar player. So what happened? I picked up the instrument again my senior year of high school, and, being a tiny bit wiser than my seventh grade self, started practicing. I’ve been playing for over eleven years now, and I’m not half bad, but a wistful part of me always wonders how much better I would be at the guitar if I had not quit after three lessons back when I was thirteen years old.

My seventh grade self fell victim to a psychological epidemic that affects the vast majority of the population. Exactly one symptom characterizes this epidemic: people have difficulty agreeing to perform tasks that fall outside of their recognized competencies. This is still true for me: you’ve never seen me do ballet or fix the central heating in the church because these are two things that I don’t do very well. I have no training in either of these areas, and so the likelihood that I will agree to pirouette across a stage or put together an HVAC system is next to zero.

I’d be willing to wager that this fact of life is also true for you. I’m sure each of you could come up with a list of things you are unwilling to try because you know that you aren’t going to be good at them. You know that if you tried, failure would be in your future, and who wants to feel like a failure? And so the psychological epidemic keeps us from attempting new things and keeps us safely ensconced within the borders of our comfort zones.

For us this morning, the trouble comes when the list of things we are unwilling to try includes speaking openly about our faith in God. Why should this be any different from playing the guitar or doing anything else, you might ask? The simple answer is this: becoming an expert in guitar playing is possible. Becoming an expert on God is not.

Today’s Gospel reading teaches us this reality, which is an appropriate lesson on a day when we celebrate the mystery of the Holy Trinity. Nicodemus, a Pharisee and member of the Jewish council, fashions himself such a God expert. He comes to Jesus by night, and at the outset of their conversation, tries to display his knowledge of how God operates. “Rabbi,” says Nicodemus, “We know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”

Nicodemus’s “we know” sets him up as the so-called expert on God. The irony is that his statement is true. But Jesus isn’t interested in whether or not Nicodemus speaks correctly; Jesus is solely interested in moving this so-called expert into the unfathomable depths of God’s interaction with God’s creation. “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above,” says Jesus in response to Nicodemus’s opening remarks. Jesus’ statement is intentionally ambiguous. The words could mean “born from above or born again,” and I think Jesus means both. The very ambiguity of the phrase shows Jesus’ attempt to push Nicodemus out of his comfort zone where “we know” is his default position.

For his part, Nicodemus latches onto the more mundane of the two possibilities: “How can anyone be born after having grown old?” he asks. This response might sound a bit sarcastic, but at least the Pharisee, who has always been the expert answering questions, is now beginning to ask some of his own. The question is the small chink in the armor of Nicodemus’s expertise. Because of Nicodemus’s willingness to ask a question, Jesus sees that there is hope in showing him the expansiveness of all that this so-called expert does not know.

And, boy, does Jesus show him. Jesus opens Nicodemus’s mind and heart to the mystery of how God creates God’s people, and of how God moves in the world like the wind moving through the trees. When Jesus is done, Nicodemus’s opening “we know” now sounds laughably empty in comparison to the mysteries Jesus reveals to him. To begin to walk in and among these mysteries, Nicodemus must change his empty “we know” into an “I don’t know” full of desire and curiosity. And he takes the first tentative steps along this path with the sincerest question in the entire Gospel: “How can these things be?”

In just one conversation, Jesus shows Nicodemus that being an expert on God is not only not possible, but also not the best way to be in relationship with God. Only by acknowledging his lack of understanding can Nicodemus hope to begin to hear the sound of the wind blowing, this wind of the Holy Spirit that breathes life into creation. Nicodemus’s job is no longer to try to explain what makes God tick. Jesus gives him a new job: to bear witness to the mysterious movement of God in his life.

We see Nicodemus twice more over the course of the Gospel. In his next appearance, he puts one tentative foot outside his comfort zone when he reminds the rest of the council about their own rules when they want to put Jesus to death. And in his final appearance, we see that Nicodemus has fully embraced the new life that Jesus revealed to him. In broad daylight on the afternoon of the crucifixion, Nicodemus helps Joseph of Arimethea take Jesus from the cross and bury him in the tomb.

This so-called expert on God had his world turned upside down that night when he went to see Jesus. Jesus showed him that expertise is neither possible nor desired when relationship with God is concerned. There is not a person on this earth who is competent to talk about what makes God tick. While you and I might have difficulty agreeing to perform tasks that fall outside of our recognized competencies, we can take heart in the reality that Jesus released us from needing to be competent in this particular area. We will never be good at talking about God because God is far too glorious, far too mysterious and majestic for our puny words. But that shouldn’t stop us from trying. Releasing us from the need to be competent means that Christ rejoices in even our most halting attempts, in even the simplest expressions of feeling God’s love.

My prayer this morning is that each of us might feel released from the need to be competent when we have the opportunity to speak to someone else about our faith. Don’t be like my seventh grade self who gave up the guitar because he wasn’t an overnight expert. Rather, acknowledge that expertise has no domain where God is concerned. The simple word about how you feel God’s movement, spoken from the heart, is worth more than any treatise on the inner workings of the Holy Trinity. The halting word about not understanding God’s movement is worth more than all the “we knows” like the one Nicodemus speaks when he first encounters Jesus. The good news is that God uses our incompetencies as much, if not more, than our competencies. So I challenge you and I challenge myself: live into our incompetent ability to speak of God’s movement, and perhaps through our witness, someone new might start seeing God’s wind blowing through the trees.

Inspiration (Davies Tales #3)

The irony was unbearable. A theology paper about the Holy Spirit due in less than twenty-four hours, and Aidan Davies had less than nothing. No topic. No thesis statement. No inspiration. No inspiration for an essay about the Spirit, the source of in-SPIR-ation. Davies snorted and shook his head. I hate irony. He focused again on the glow emanating from the screen in front of him. He and his laptop had been engaged in a staring contest for the better part of the morning, and the blank document on the screen was winning handily. He reached into the empty bag of pretzels, forgetting about the last half dozen failed attempts to discover untapped sources of pretzel crumbs from the bag’s darker recesses. No thesis statement. No inspiration. And now no pretzels either.

Davies stood up abruptly. Black spots appeared in the corners of his eyes. He swayed and grasped the back of the chair to steady himself. He shut his eyes, willing the oxygen to double time it to his brain. A deep yawn built in his chest, which he exhaled in a frustrated groan. Then he stretched, and his fingertips brushed the ceiling of his dorm room. He looked up and pushed the square tile with his middle finger. He knew that by evening he wouldn’t be tall enough to touch the paneling above him. No oxygen in my brain. No inspiration. And I’ll be getting shorter for the rest of the day.

Davies looked down at the screen. “You win,” he said aloud to the blank document before shutting the laptop with perhaps more force than normal. He stuffed the computer into his messenger bag and cast around for his trainers. He laced up his shoes, slung the bag over his shoulder, and stalked from the room. He didn’t know where he was going. He had only a vague notion that he might walk a bit before lunch. He passed Mark Riley’s room, whose door was ajar as usual. Mark looked up from a comic book (He calls them ‘graphic novels,’ Davies reminded himself) and said, “Where you off to, brother?”

Davies poked his head into the room, “I dunno. It’s just this Holy Spirit paper. I’ve got—” He cupped his hand into a zero. “Zilch.”

“Same here,” Mark said grinning. “That’s why I’m doing some background reading.” He held up the graphic novel and tapped the title: The Spirit. Davies grinned back, appreciating Mark’s ability to justify his procrastination.

Leaving the dormitory, Davies drifted up the twisting sidewalk. He inhaled the perfume of freshly-cut grass and felt the early spring sun warm his hair. He wandered past the library, down the stairs behind the academic building, and across the parking lot. He watched a pair of squirrels zig and zag up a tree trunk before losing them in the budding canopy. He followed his shadow to the sporting field, its rolling expanse dotted with the stragglers of the flocks of migrating geese.

The moment he stepped onto the field, the geese took flight. Davies watched them until he could no longer distinguish their honking from the ambient noise of lunch hour traffic. As his eyes lost the geese to the distant clouds, a sharp breeze reminded Davies that winter hadn’t quite given up yet. He watched the breeze spiral through the trees, the new leaves spinning and dipping with their unseen partner. Words echoed across Davies’s empty mind: “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”*

Wind and Spirit, Davies thought, remembering his Greek class from the first semester of seminary. They’re the same word. When Jesus tells Nicodemus about the wind, he could be talking about wind or Spirit or both. Wind and Spirit act the same: you can’t see the wind until it moves the leaves. You can’t see the Spirit until it interacts with us. You notice the Spirit when you see the change, the movement in our lives.

Davies raced back up the hill, his messenger bag bumping his back with each stride. He reached the bench outside the administration building and put his hands on his head. His breath came in ragged gasps as his lungs and heart protested the sprint after a winter of idleness. Several minutes later, he was able to catch his breath. Catch your breath. What a strange phrase. It’s not like a baseball or anything. More words echoed in Davies’s mind: “Jesus breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’ ”**

Breath and Spirit, Davies thought, reaching all the way back to high school Latin. Respiration comes from the same root as Spirit. When Jesus breathes on the disciples, they ‘catch’ the Holy Spirit. Every time I take a breath, the Spirit is breathing life into me. The Spirit is always with me, changing me, moving me, giving me life. ‘Giver of life’ – that’s what the Creed says.

Davies sat down on the bench and opened his laptop. No staring matches this time. He looked up at the leaves pirouetting in the wind. He took a deep breath. And he began to write.


* John 3:8

** John 20:22