Tag Archives: quote

as mad as a hatter

I try to believe in as many as six impossible things before breakfast. + Alice
There is a place. Like no place on Earth. A land full of wonder, mystery, and danger! Some say to survive it: You need to be as mad as a hatter.  Which luckily I am. + The Mad Hatter

The more I think about it, there is incredible power in a kingdom imagination. Weighted down by constant thoughts of what we could and couldn’t and should and shouldn’t do, our conversations twist and configure to make the kingdom about our own personal pious behavior or lack thereof instead of the whole of redemption and all things new, including our little selves…in the context of the big kingdom.

And this morning, I woke up thinking of the Mad Hatter’s words: There is a place. Like no place on Earth. A land full of wonder, mystery, and danger! Some say to survive it: You need to be as mad as a hatter.  Which luckily I am.

When Mom and Dad would go somewhere and find a little something they thought we would enjoy, whether a bag of coffee or a cd or a book or whatever, they would return and inform us they had brought back “a little happy” … an unrequested, unsolicited, undeserved, unneeded little something that only is a little happy because it hits the spot.

These are my little happys (little happies? who knows…) this morning. Enjoy.

I insist on following Christ with a holy imagination into the kingdom, but even to imagine such a place requires me to be crazy. And luckily I am.

Pine Tree


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because you did not ask

head in the shrubs, photography, surrealism, asking, leadership, authority, questioning, questions

 The questions that learning leaders pose challenge their followers to see complexities and interrelationships in [major issues] and launch inquiries that stretch the bounds of their worldview. Moreover, this work is never done. What is learned one day is used the next as a bridge to considering a new set of understandings and challenges. 

+ from “Learning as a Way of Leading” by Preskill and Brookfield

It isn’t uncommon to reference the idea that Jesus answered most questions with questions. At times when women and men were at risk of facing persecution or losing their lives for following him, it would seem that if there were ever a time to answer directly, clearly, give the people “something to hang their hats on,” break it down because “only a few can understand,” it would have been then; it would have been when guards were carrying him off; it would have been when asked an ultimatum of a question by Pilate; it would have been after coming back to new life. But he only asked questions, adding to the confusion with people who were having a hard time understanding anyway.

There is an ease in going along without questions, resting on what others have said with authority. There is an ease in “taking their word for it,” and leaving the hard stuff to those we think know better. But Jesus engaged those who “wouldn’t understand” with questions that made these even more confusing.

Christ was constantly explaining what the kingdom of heaven was like, and it was always upside-down, backwards, inside-out, heretical, inappropriate. And on-purpose.

And it was always posed with a question. A set of illusive stories with no explanation, but counted on the fact that those listening, who had ears to hear, would indeed hear it.

I had coffee a couple of weeks ago with a friend who had been told not to ask any questions about this and that from those in leadership. Something in her, because of what she knows about what Jesus is up to in her own life and world, forced her to ask more questions. In respecting leadership, she was forced to ask them more questions. Ask others more questions. Listen past the answers sometimes shaped to shut down thought and conversation and merely align allegiance. And she took on the challenge.

What was so thrilling for me was her excitement now on the other side of those initial questions. She is renewed in what her calling is, what her faith is about, what her God is doing in the world, and what Christ has set in motion.

She is reminded all over again of the extreme danger that asking questions poses, and the risks involved when shattering what has been by asking what should be. But more than that, I am reminded of the great job that comes in assuming we are always missing something important, in asking others, in reading and learning, in trusting the largeness of God enough to bring him our questions.

Her face and grin as she sipped her coffee has become a symbol for me of what, whenever I am tasked to lead others, I am really being called to do; God doesn’t need me to tell them what they need to know as if they aren’t smart enough to think…instead, I get to join others in asking good questions about a good God who is making all things new.

Louisville, KY

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with your interfering and your promises

Unlike the other gods
you are not satisfied with holocausts
and the sweet smell of smoke.
Unlike the other gods
you do not let us be
but come and pitch your tent
with ours and sniff out
all we do. You are not satisfied
to have us satisfied,
to leave well enough alone.

No, you sent me out,
an old man, with your interfering
and your promises, and all your countings
of the stars and my son’s son’s sons.
You might have picked a better man
to fall before the terror of great darkness.
Twice, fear for my life
passed my wife off as sister.
Why not, with her barren womb?

And then a son. In my old age a son.
You do nothing like the other gods
and so I know you are my God
and my son’s God and my son’s sons’.
I do not understand the stars
uncountable in number;
nor do I understand you.

I wept. And when,
after all, you did not accept my sacrifice,
the ram brought laughter home.


+ “Abraham: With Laughter” from Madeleine L’Engle’s The Ordering of Love

Pine Tree

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catch us up into reality

View from a restaurant, V&A Waterfront, Cape Town, South Africa

I was cleaning up around the house and found journal pages from Cape Town this past summer. Here is an entry from June 10, 2011, written while sitting in a restaurant at the V&A Waterfront. The picture is from the same restaurant, different trip. Thanks again to the friends who welcome me at the table.


Catch us up this day into the reality
of your good purpose, that by the time we leave
each other we will know – yet again – that your
mercy and justice and love outrun all the needs of the world …

… keep us simple and on task, and we will
praise you by our glad obedience.

+ Brueggeman, from “Prayer of the Church”

We fear that we’ve lost our minds, and perhaps we have.

Perhaps we’ve lost our minds and our life.

Life with.
Life by community.
Life plural.

Broken by the reality of our own struggle against status, power, privilege.

Broken by the reality of our own struggle against dulling.

Broken by the reality of what we see for only a moment when we dare open our eyes
Those things we see in others and then become terrified to see in ourselves

Greed. Pride. Injustice. Dishonesty. Piety. Blindness. Insecurity.
Relentless protection of the status quo under the guise of protecting the church, the faith.
Our arrogance.

And with
by community
in the harsh reality of the present, you call us to join one another

At the table.

And slowly, as our broken pieces sit together
around warm food made by broken hands
around dim candlelight that already threatens darkness
around the giggles of children, around their questions

we begin to become whole.
Only in the context of others.


Broken hands. Threatening Darkness. Giggles and Questions.


At the table.
And for the first time in a long time
Something tells the truth, and we are made new.

V&A Waterfront
Cape Town, SA

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a time for everything

It is with great joy that I enter 2012.

2011 was filled with pain, loss, struggle, sadness, anxiety, and anger.

The year overall was one of seeing the best of circumstances end up as the worst of possible outcomes.

And yet through each season and struggle, there has been tearful laughter, growing community, deeper honesty, brave introspection, and tenuous hope.

And it all feels a little closer to the truth. A little closer to telling the truth.

To others.

To myself.

To the part of all of us that tries to close our eyes to what we know the painful truth is sometimes.

There are times when everything in me wants to arrange my circumstances in ways that hope for the best; those same times, if I were being honest with myself and those around me, I would instead be anticipating the worst. Before this year, I think I’ve tried to push everything, no matter the truth, into a single season.

As if allowing ONLY a season for birth, and then trying to translate death into birth in order to make sense of it.

As if allowing ONLY a season for building, and then trying to add on to things that needed only to be torn all the way down.

As if allowing ONLY a season for embracing, and then awkwardly trying to embrace when I should have refrained from doing so.

As if allowing ONLY a season for speaking out, and then trying to explain why I couldn’t be silent if I had wanted to.

The pain of 2011 has made important room for fall and winter. There is a need and space for dying, for tearing down, for refraining from embrace, for remaining silent. A season for these things.

And in the spaces made from telling the truth about our winters, spring comes on the heels. The ground is made soft, the legs become limber, the imagination becomes ready, and things begin to take root, people begin to dance and build again.

And so here’s to the new year, filled with possibilities for both celebration and mourning. Life and death. Dancing and weeping. Building and tearing down.

And an insistence on the holiness of both––on telling the truth about both–to ourselves and others.

For everything there is season.

Pine Tree Dr.

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whoever you are

This Thanksgiving was the first major holiday that my grandfather’s absence has been felt without the need to try to pretend otherwise. His love of cooking and hosting and dinner partying was well-known, and that flowed into holidays well. As a little boy, a grandson, that was one thing I knew my granddad valued: throwing a good party.

This year, my mom had gotten the bright yellow aluminum dish that my granddad has made dressing in for Thanksgiving every year I have been alive. She made his dressing recipe in it, and there it sat on the counter. His presence was in the room. A party. Drinks. Laughter. Tears. Family. His legacy was strong in the room, even in his first absence.

Much has gone on since we lost him in March. My life has changed. The life of other friends has changed. And interestingly enough, with each shift, I think of my grandfather. When I was in that surreal position of standing during visitation talking to people I knew well and people I didn’t know at all, who my grandfather was became solidified. People didn’t have generic things to say; they said the same thing from different points of view. The refrain was always the same.

Whoever you are, you are worth something. The men he served on board of directors with said he treated them like they were somebody. The man who ran the press at the printing company said to me in the line: “You know how your granddad treated you and your cousin when you were in the shop? Like you were the most important person on earth? That’s how he treated all of us. He treated everyone that way.”

Whether board president of a major bank, or press operator of a small printing company, his legacy was that of treating people with dignity and respect.

I’m thankful for a legacy. His wise planning and generosity has sent me around the world. His encouragement has taught me to believe in myself. But now, in his physical absence, he is teaching me the most important lesson. Whoever you are, you are somebody. Whoever they are, whatever role they play in your world, they are worth all your attention and all your respect.

Thanks, Dabo. In your absence, you are present. And in our lives, you will continue to teach us to live bravely, compassionately, humbly and generously. Thanks to God for you.

Pine Tree Dr.

My comments at Dabo’s funeral in March 2011 are listed below:

On behalf of the grandchildren––Jamey, my older brother, and Katie and Suzanne, my first cousins, we wanted to share with you only a few of the things we think make Donald Laycook, or Dabo as we have all always called him, such an incredible man and the perfect grandfather to all of us. It seems as if a time of sharing these moments would be more appropriate were he to be here sitting with us, listening to us brag about him to all of you. There are other ways, however, that he would not have stood for that. He was a man of incredible talent, knowledge, wisdom, graciousness and fun, but he was not proud. With a list of things that make up only a slice of his legacy, he would have directed your attention to what you had to offer, and to what he saw in you.

But, since he can’t much fight with us today for bragging on him, that is just what we will do.

Last night, as the grandkids sat around a patio table for a good meal and good drinks, we reminisced on the things that Dabo taught us. One of those things was, in fact, to sit around a patio table with good drinks, gourmet food, close family and deep laughter. We all remember seeing Dabo on the other side of the kitchen counter, standing over the stove, explaining what recipe he was trying for the first time, or what family favorite he was cooking for Sunday lunch. I remember sitting pulled up to the coffee table in Mama Two and Dabo’s den as he would set appetizers in front of me and the twenty other family friends who were gathered around for dinner or a party. His newest album would be playing on his Bose sound system, and we would laugh and eat until it was all we could do to fall asleep. Whether in his house, at the beach, or out to eat in Chicago, Memphis, New York City, or even Jackson…he knew how to make a kind of kingdom hospitality come to life.

We have all, now, fallen in love with good food, good drinks, and sitting around patio tables full of deep laughter. Thank you for teaching us to enjoy hospitality like it will be enjoyed in the kingdom of heaven.

As we were picking out pictures and reminiscing about the moments they attempted to capture, we also remembered his love for travel. We saw pictures of mom and Carol sitting in Acapulco in their middle school years with Dabo bearing that trademark sideways grin, camera over his shoulder. We saw pictures of Mama Two and Dabo in front of Big Ben, holding each other and again grinning like they knew exactly the kind of good time they were having. There are albums and albums that capture a family trip to beach every single summer until only a few years ago with all ten of us, Mama Two and Dabo, Mom and Dad, Carol and Van and all the grandkids standing on the deck with the beach behind us. We talked last night about the time Dabo came out to dinner at the beach with a ball cap that had a gray pony tail sewed into its seams hanging out the back. “You like it?” he would say, and laugh. After wearing that hat out to dinner had given him all the fun it could, we remembered him coming back into the condo one afternoon showing my grandmother his brand new nose-ring, a magnetic silver stud that he had put right on the edge of his nostril. “What?” He would say…”You don’t like it?”

His love of traveling not only filled pictures of his photo albums with trips, but that love paired with the generosity of Mama Two and Dabo has made it possible for us to enjoy the world with him. Through his planning and hard work, I’ve already been able to travel all over the world and see the kinds of places I had once only seen in his albums. Even this past Sunday at his house, he asked me where I was going next. “Cape Town,” I said. He asked me who I was going with, what I would do, and not to forget to tell him all about it.

We have all, now, fallen in love with traveling. Brazil, Japan, Nicaragua, Cape Town, Israel, Indonesia, Europe, Kenya. Thank you, Dabo, for teaching us all to do and enjoy the exploration of God’s good earth like it will be enjoyed in the kingdom of heaven.

Finally, and probably most importantly to me, Dabo taught us to value learning over knowing. I remember Mama Two saying that whenever she would open to the door at her home to be greeted by an encyclopedia salesman, the she would apologize, saying that she wouldn’t be needing any encyclopedias because she was married to Don. He could quote Shakespeare and Dostoevsky, pick out Chopin and Beethoven, and tell you the latest Hollywood film and its current reviews. He knew the history of everything, and probably had a few books on the shelf that he could point to without looking. Valedictorian and Latin tutor from what I heard from some of you yesterday, he taught us to study hard. But more than teaching us to be smart, he taught us to consider learning itself as the goal. We talked last night about how he would always pick out the most magical, techno-saavy Christmas gifts that we, his grandchildren, didn’t even know existed. The memory of those gifts now seem to have embedded in them for me the kind of wonder and humility that a value of learning over knowing is wrapped up in. He taught us to anticipate learning from those we work with, those that work for us, those that we serve, and those that we laugh, eat and travel with. If anyone could value knowing, it was Dabo. And yet he was always learning.

Thank you, Dabo, for teaching us to walk in wonder and humility at all the world and its people can teach us through their culture, their food, their literature, their music, and their art. It is a kind of wonder and humility that I suspect we will move within in greater ways in the kindom of heaven.

The four of us learned a great deal from Dabo, and in a commitment to his legacy we will move forward learning from those around us as we eat well, laugh hard, and walk humbly. You were always ahead of your time, Dabo. And as the four of us toasted to you last night at dinner, I felt overwhelmed as I do now, and as I did in those last moments by your bedside, to whisper, “Thank you for everything.” Even today, you are ahead of your time, and closer to the already, not yet kingdom. I pray that we can walk humbly in your legacy.

We love you, Dabo. And we thank God for you.

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a concrete maze

I walked the labyrinth at the hospital today. I can see it from my office window, the maples blooming with a sharp red that distracts me all day long as I watch past my clients through the glass into the courtyard beyond my office. I finished the drudge of my paperwork today in time to spend thirty minutes walking through it.

I see it everyday through the glass; today was the day to walk it.

I have read about them before, but I’ve never walked through one. I found myself taking one step at a time, observing the thoughts passing through my mind with each step.

Loop one: What am I supposed to be doing? Am I thinking solemnly enough? Am I messing this up? The last time I was here was when Brooke’s dad was in ICU after a stroke. Should I even be here right now?

Loop two: Shouldn’t I be learning something profound right now? Isn’t this supposed to be an existential process; a joining of mind and body and soul at one time? Am I doing this right? I have friends going through mammograms right now. I have other friends losing their jobs right now. I have other friends in the hospital with their parents right now; shouldn’t this be about them?

Loop three: You don’t know what you are doing. Be quiet in your mind. Stop working to figure this all out. Just put one foot in front of the other, and know that whether or not you see how the path in front of you plays out, it does––in fact––play out. You will keep walking, and make it to the other side. Stop pushing.

The person going through the mammogram right now is what is on your mind. Let it be.

The person who is losing a job is on your mind. Let it be.

The person who is in the hospital with his mom is what is on your mind. Let it be.

This is not about an existential process; this is about being truthful about where you are, what you can and cannot do, and who God is. Keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Loop four: You, God, are the same. You are the God who changed the course of the story in the garden. You are the same God who made Abraham the promise. You are the same God who anointed David King. You are the same God who gave Isaiah a vision. You are the same God who sent Christ. You are the same God who raised him. You are the same God making all things new. You are the same God whose son is King of the kingdom.

There is nothing magical about that maze of concrete that sits between the walls of the hospital and my Pathways office. There is, however, something sacred about the journey through a guided piece of art that brings me where I need to be: completely unsure about where this winding path leads, but knowing––more than I know most things––that where I will end up is where I need to be.

Be still and know.

Pine Tree

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rise up

We were sitting around a table spread with pads, pens and leftovers a few feet off of Beale Street in Memphis. We had a two-day staff retreat for Area Relief Ministries, and we were closing up our time together with some overarching reflections on our different ministry areas, what we were seeing and feeling, and where we wanted to go in the days ahead.

Having been through the National Civil Rights Museum together, a staff of half women and half men, half black and half white, we were reflecting on our own experiences and those of the people we serve every day at ARM.  One of our staffers, Vakendall, started talk-praying in a kind of musical tone that he often speaks in; what came out of his mouth has been lingering in my head since then.

In reference to the photos and pictures throughout the Civil Rights Museum of men and women standing up to oppression, racism and violence with a kind of sharp meekness seldom see, Kendall asked, “Who told them they were somebody?”

As I think of the people who walk through the doors at Area Relief, the kids who show up at The HUB Club for tutoring and mentoring in the afternoon, the clients that sit in my office at Pathways fighting bravely against all shades of mental illness, I am now wondering who is telling them they are somebody.

Churches often get swallowed up in the business of deciding who is and who is not…somebody.

There seems to be a task at hand, a responsibility and a privilege bundled up together the moment eye contact is made with another. Just as we hope to be bearers of a holy image, we feel a call to look another in the eyes, reach down deeply, and speak of their somebodyness.

The people not in those photos at the Civil Rights Museum were likely their teachers, neighbors, postal carriers––maybe if we are lucky, even their pastors––the women and men who made it clear over and over again that they were somebodies. People who were made to be kings and queens, even if nothing else in the world at that moment suggests that is anywhere near the truth.

I’ll be more satisfied if I ever end up not being the person who speaks at the pedestal for the world to hear, but rather the one who told him or her that she was somebody.

Pine Tree

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