Friday, July 24, 2015


Q:  greg, we haven't heard from you since july 1st; where have you been?  what have you been up to?


....and, by this time next week, we'll have three more crossed off!  just making memories, and building a life together.  oh, and having a blast in the process.  see you in august.  

Wednesday, July 01, 2015


"MLK" by Derek Russell, 2013

hope.  it's what i've built my ministry on.

well, not exactly.  hope that isn't based on anything is just wishful thinking, or worse.  so i've built my ministry on hope in the love of Jesus Christ, who died for love and rose again.  i've built my ministry on this idea that love wins.  that love wins over hate, over fear, over pain, over addiction, over war, over oppression, over everything, even death.  i've built my ministry on that love.  of course, it is centered on the death and resurrection of Jesus.  which means it takes belief, or faith.  it is often mixed pretty heavily with doubt, but at my core, i believe.

so, to recap: my whole life is really about trying to live and proclaim a wild-eyed and radical hope, which is based on the unthinkable, unquenchable, inseparable love of Jesus, which i experience through a (sometimes diluted) faith that i cling to, with clenched fists and strained muscles.

or, to recap even further: i believe in an unstoppable love, through Jesus, and that gives me hope.

i don't expect you to really care about this, but i feel compelled to share it anyway, in light of recent events.  the hideous face of racism - still a monstrous beast on the prowl in our country - showed itself in a south carolina church.  african american churches are burning to the ground in the south, even as i type.  recent events in missouri and maryland - and many other places - have pitted police against persons of color, whether fairly or not.  within the last week, we have entered into a social-media screamfest about the confederate flag and the meaning of symbols.  and all of this doesn't even touch on the recent maelstrom of media mania regarding the supreme court's 5-4 decision concerning same-gender marriage.  in so many ways, our more-connected-than-ever world continues to fragment and fracture into factions marked by facebook profile pics.

it is in such a world that i still believe in an unstoppable love, through Jesus, and that gives me hope.

a friend of mine (who was my latin teacher in high school!), posted on facebook a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.'s nobel peace prize acceptance speech from 1964.  he then directed me to the whole speech, which i had read before, but had forgotten.  i have included it below in its entirety, both in video and print formats.  you may have heard or read it before.  but i encourage you do so again, for we need to hear it.  we need to see this man clinging to his faith with clenched fists and strained muscles.  his was a world of firehoses aimed at people and snarling dogs.  his was a world marked by racism and sexism and many other isms.  his was a world of fear and hate.  sounds familiar, doesn't it?  and in the midst of such a world MLK asserted what he believed.  "I believe," he said, "that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality."

please read his speech.  and ask yourself, what do you believe?  do you merely believe that a flag should come down or stay up?  do you merely believe in marriage as you define it?  or do you believe in something deeper, something truer?  do you believe in love?  do you believe, with MLK and me, that one day the lion shall lie down with the lamb, and there will be no more tear gas, no more tears? what do you believe?  do you believe that love will win?

"love never fails....for now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we shall see face to face...and now faith hope, and love remain, these three.  and the greatest of these is love."  (1 corinthians 13:8a, 12a, 13)

see?  love wins.

Your Majesty, Your Royal Highness, Mr. President, excellencies, ladies and gentlemen: I accept the Nobel Prize for Peace at a moment when twenty-two million Negroes of the United States are engaged in a creative battle to end the long night of racial injustice. I accept this award on behalf of a civil rights movement which is moving with determination and a majestic scorn for risk and danger to establish a reign of freedom and a rule of justice.

I am mindful that only yesterday in Birmingham, Alabama, our children, crying out for brotherhood, were answered with fire hoses, snarling dogs, and even death. I am mindful that only yesterday in Philadelphia, Mississippi, young people seeking to secure the right to vote were brutalized and murdered. I am mindful that debilitating and grinding poverty afflicts my people and chains them to the lowest rung of the economic ladder.

Therefore, I must ask why this prize is awarded to a movement which is beleaguered and committed to unrelenting struggle, and to a movement which has not yet won the very peace and brotherhood which is the essence of the Nobel Prize. After contemplation, I conclude that this award, which I receive on behalf of that movement, is a profound recognition that nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time: the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression.

Civilization and violence are antithetical concepts. Negroes of the United States, following the people of India, have demonstrated that nonviolence is not sterile passivity, but a powerful moral force which makes for social transformation. Sooner or later, all the peoples of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace, and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. If this is to be achieved, man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.

The torturous road which has led from Montgomery, Alabama, to Oslo bears witness to this truth, and this is a road over which millions of Negroes are traveling to find a new sense of dignity. This same road has opened for all Americans a new era of progress and hope. It has led to a new civil rights bill, and it will, I am convinced, be widened and lengthened into a superhighway of justice as Negro and white men in increasing numbers create alliances to overcome their common problems.

I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history.

I refuse to accept the idea that the "is-ness" of man's present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal "ought-ness" that forever confronts him.

I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him.

I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.

I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of nuclear annihilation.

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.

I believe that even amid today's mortar bursts and whining bullets, there is still hope for a brighter tomorrow.

I believe that wounded justice, lying prostrate on the blood-flowing streets of our nations, can be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men.

I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.

I believe that what self-centered men have torn down, men other-centered can build up.

I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed and nonviolent redemptive goodwill proclaimed the rule of the land. And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together, and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree, and none shall be afraid.

I still believe that we shall overcome.

This faith can give us courage to face the uncertainties of the future. It will give our tired feet new strength as we continue our forward stride toward the city of freedom. When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds and our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, we will know that we are living in the creative turmoil of a genuine civilization struggling to be born.

Today I come to Oslo as a trustee, inspired and with renewed dedication to humanity. I accept this prize on behalf of all men who love peace and brotherhood. I say I come as a trustee, for in the depths of my heart I am aware that this prize is much more than an honor to me personally. Every time I take a flight I am always mindful of the many people who make a successful journey possible, the known pilots and the unknown ground crew. You honor the dedicated pilots of our struggle, who have sat at the controls as the freedom movement soared into orbit. You honor, once again, Chief Lutuli of South Africa, whose struggles with and for his people are still met with the most brutal expression of man's inhumanity to man. You honor the ground crew, without whose labor and sacrifice the jet flights to freedom could never have left the earth. Most of these people will never make the headlines, and their names will never appear in Who's Who. Yet, when years have rolled past and when the blazing light of truth is focused on this marvelous age in which we live, men and women will know and children will be taught that we have a finer land, a better people, a more noble civilization because these humble children of God were willing to suffer for righteousness' sake.

I think Alfred Nobel would know what I mean when I say I accept this award in the spirit of a curator of some precious heirloom which he holds in trust for its true owners: all those to whom truth is beauty, and beauty, truth, and in whose eyes the beauty of genuine brotherhood and peace is more precious than diamonds or silver or gold. Thank you. [applause]

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

summer busy

june is fading into the fireworks which announce the beginning of july and make everyone say something like, "where is this summer going?"  how can it be july already?

i guess summer flies by - at least for us - because we stay very "summer busy."  summer busy is different than regular busy.  regular busy means that there are a million of things you have to do, many of which you would rather not do.  but summer busy is when you are busy taking trips to grandparents houses and going to the zoo and to robotics camp and swim lessons and somewhere in there you have to fit playing with legos and putting together a puzzle.  while i still have a million things i have to do, i am glad that my schedule lightens a bit in the summer so that i can enjoy some 'summer busy' with my family.  here is some of what they've been up to the last few days.

here you have one of Caedmon's newest projects.  he is making colonial style shops out of legos.  this, for example, is the blacksmith shop, complete with hot coals in the hearth, barrels of water for cooling the metal, and all the necessary tools and equipment.

 Jackson, however, has been working on something a bit more modern: a pizza shop.  he nailed the color scheme, and plenty of details, including menus, pizza dough, a fountain drink dispenser, and more.  the roof comes off to show the inside.  the place even has central air, as you can see on the roof.

rain sometimes means getting out a puzzle.  so we busted out this one from white mountain puzzle company (which we love).  it features tons of old cereals, and at 500 pieces of various sizes (some large ones for the youngest, mid-sized ones for the middle, and small ones for the rest of us), it was only about 90-120 minutes to complete.  fun!

and Caedmon is still working on his colonial shops.  he made a tack shop for horses, a wig maker's shop, and this gunsmith shop pictured above.

and that, friends, is 'summer busy.'  it's the best.

Monday, June 29, 2015

happy birthday, vasko popa

happy 93rd birthday, vasko popa.  you would be 93 today, but you never made it to 70.
i must confess i had never heard of you until i found you on a list of today's historical birthdays, but i liked the sound of your name as it made me imagine some exotic eastern european soda in a glass bottle, drunk in small glasses over ice on hot slavic days.  so i looked you up, and found you were a yugoslavian, like my ancestors, even though you came from what is now serbia, so maybe our ancestors might not have gotten along real well.  still, i'd like to think we could have overcome those differences over a glass of cold cola, which i would raise in your honor for your birthday.  i would tell you that i just read some of your poems this morning, and the one called "in the village of my ancestors" really spoke to me.  it reminded me of a good methodist hymn i have sung many times whose title is really a question, "and are we yet alive?"  and of course this is an unsettling irony in that question for you, as you have been undeniably dead for these last 24 years, but your poem raises a rather different question:  are we alive during our living years?  or, as the hymn says, "and are we yet alive?"  i know we are breathing and moving and brushing our teeth and paying our bills, but are we yet alive?  as a traditional funeral liturgy puts it: "in the midst of life, we are in death," and i think that is supposed to mean that there is death all around us, and we are constantly dealing with death, whether it be the loss of a loved one, the dead squirrel we've just run over, or our own lingering sense of mortality.  but maybe it could mean something else, too.  maybe it could mean that in the midst of our living, we are sometimes too busy dying to really be living.  does that make any sense?

(i pause here to take a sip of soda as you ponder these questions).

i think, vasko, may i call you vasko?  i think, mr. popa, that it makes a great deal of sense to you.  you get it, don't you?  that life isn't just having a pulse.  and that part of being alive means being connected to those who went before, even if those who went before didn't always make the best choices or stand for the right causes.  we are, nonetheless, constantly living (or dying) in their legacy, trying to honor it and reshape it and fill it all the more with love.  i think of these things as my world right now seems to be marked by conversations about flags and rights and symbols and marriage and so much more.  i, too, approach my forebears, both those connected to me by blood and those by faith, and i find myself asking them, too, "and are we yet alive?"

so, happy birthday, mr. popa.  thanks for the inspiration this morning. see you soon, you soda-sounding serb.  peace.

One hugs me
One looks at me with wolf-eyes
One takes off his hat
So I can see him better
Each one of them asks me
Do you know who I am 
Unknown men and women
Take on the names
Of boys and girls buried in my memory
And I ask one of them
Tell me venerable sir
Is George Wol still alive
That's me he answers
In a voice from the Otherworld
I stroke his cheek with my hand
And beg him with my eyes to tell me
If I am still alive too

Friday, June 26, 2015

just learning to drive (happy anniversary)

sixteen years.  if a child had been born that day, he'd be driving now, exploring the world from behind a steering wheel, beginning new adventures.

thank God that didn't happen.

still, something was born that day when we got all dressed up in the most expensive clothes we've ever dared to wear, and stood up in front of a great crowd of our family and friends and made some pretty intense promises to one another.  it wasn't our love, no.  that was born long before that day, and continues to be reborn in these days, without crowds or expensive clothes.  but something else was born that day, as we exchanged vows, rings, and knowing glances.  a marriage was born.  it was signed, sealed and delivered, like any new birth, and we lifted our glasses and we sang songs and we shed more than a few tears of joy.  it was a beautiful birth.

and today that marriage turns sweet sixteen.  still just a teenager, still just figuring this thing out, in so many ways.  just learning to drive, and to explore the world in new and exciting ways, beginning new adventures.  like anyone else, we are a work in progress.  we are growing and learning and discovering and driving forward, wherever the road leads us.  what a journey!  what a love!  what a sixteen years its been!  what an exciting adventure lies before us!

happy anniversary, baby.  i adore you more now than i did that day in our fancy clothes, if that's even possible.  and i love this journey with you.  let's keep growing!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

who's the real cracker jack?

cracker jacks.  that's what she called us.  when i asked her what a cracker jack was, she told me it means someone special.  still not sure if special was good or bad, i looked it up, and the mirriam-webster dictionary says it is "a person or thing of marked excellence."  special, indeed.

"you're all my cracker jacks," Rita said, talking to our whole group from her chair, like a queen offering a royal blessing.  then, one by one, we approached her, knelt down toward her, and shared a special hug, as the tears streamed down.

it's always this way.  you plan a mission trip.  you gather support.  you get people to commit. you wonder how your tiny little skill set, which involves barely knowing the difference between a hammer and a wrench, will possibly be able to help someone who lives a 10-hour drive away from you.  but you hope that somehow, someway, you'll be a blessing.  by the end of the trip, it finally sinks in, if it hasn't already, that you've been blessed in far greater measure than hammers and wrenches could ever construct.

and so she blessed us, her cracker jacks.  she embraced each one.  our tears mingled.  our very different paths about to separate after this brief intersection of two polar opposite worlds.  we, from our susquehanna valley; her, from her appalachian mountaintop.  i write these words now, from my air conditioned office, thinking of Rita in her unfinished home, with her children and grandchildren and anyone else who needs a place to stay.  for those few days in which we used hammers and saws to try and put up some decent siding on her home, we lived a wonderful truth.  while we cut and painted and measured and remeasured and sprayed bees nests, we weren't just working; we were learning that truth.

"those who cling to their lives will lose them," Jesus said, then adding "but those who give them away will truly live."  our week in kentucky was an exercise in relearning this crazy truth.  we could have clung to our vacation time, to our week at the beach.  we could have said it was too far, that we don't want to put the miles on our vehicle, that we don't have the money to spend a week doing such a thing.  even once we were there, we could have clung to our presuppositions and our own prejudiced view of the world.  but we didn't cling.  for those few short days, we exercised the ability to open up our white-knuckled hands and give our lives away, in sweat, in elbow grease, in (a little) blood, and yes, in tears.  but from my comfortable chair this morning, it occurs to me that what we gave was only a tiny fraction of what we received: a week of really living deeply, of loving freely, of laughing joyfully.

Rita may have gained some tyvek and some sheets of t1-11, but we gained so much more.  so who is the real cracker jack?

Thursday, June 04, 2015

summer bucket list 2015

it's that time of year again: summer.  the time when everything slows down and we can really take a deep breath and just relax.  the time when we try to suck the very marrow from the bones of life, enjoying every fleeting second, taking advantage of the extra time together, and making adventures and memories that will shape each of us for the future.  here at our house, we do this by making a bucket list with things we hope to accomplish during the summer.  we don't always get them all done, but it gives something to aspire to. and we have a blast.

in fact, we've already begun, by making a mix cd that is meant to be part of the soundtrack of our summer.  here it is:

we went with a jungle book theme, because we just got done reading kipling's "jungle book" at bedtime.  we chose songs that each of us like, and some ones i thought the kids would enjoy listening to in the van.  it's fun to get them to listen to some other music, to appreciate all sorts of styles, and to rock out together in an air-guitaring, head-banging frenzy.

and so the summer begins...