Life at Upton Abbey*

“Breaking” news…

This just in from Upton Abbey: We have a baby chick! I feel like a father!

We knew something was likely to happen eventually when we discovered that one of the peeps we got several months ago turned out to be a rooster. Total accident. At first, we thought we just had a hen with identity issues when we heard some pretty pathetic crowing out in the chicken yard. Alas, it was a real rooster, and a handsome one at that. He is tall, good looking, with a wonderful red Crest and black and dark rust-red feathers. I realized instantly that he was leading man material and so I named him Humphrey Bogart (I call him Humphrey even though it seems there could be an unintended double entendre involved). Nevertheless, as we predicted, his hormonal proclivities appear to have changed the dynamic of the hen house.

We noticed one of the hens, Golda by name, started hanging out in the coop a lot. We were suspicious that she and Humphrey had a relationship.

Indeed they did. Today, to our surprise and delight, Golda emerged with one tiny chick. We here at Upton Abbey are thrilled.

We are concerned, however that we don’t know the first thing about raising a single peep and a pretty protective mama. At this point we are trusting that Golda will do what chicken mamas have been doing for millennia. Otherwise, her progeny is doomed.

I’ll keep you posted, but I should say that the survival of our first home-grown chicken is not guaranteed. After all, there were other nest-mates who didn’t make it because we neglected to gather eggs for a day or two, which apparently confused Golda into sitting on the wrong eggs with the result that some of the nestlings wound up in a bowl in the kitchen.

Meanwhile, Humphrey has been crowing more and louder lately. Way to go, Humphrey.

* Upton Abbey is what I call our country dwelling unit built over my daughter and son-in-law’s garage. Our nearest neighbors are a flock of chickens and two ducks, Helga and Percival Puddles. Percy has been having an affair with LaVern, one of the chickens who … uh, let’s not talk about it.

New Recruits and Combat Veterans

Revival and generational partnership

A few days ago, a missionary friend sent me a link to the Kansas City 24/7 House of Prayer stream. He had stopped over in KC on his way home to the East Coast and thought I might enjoy seeing what he was seeing.

I have been watching it off and on ever since. Something about the continual and uninterrupted stream of worship and prayer has captivated my heart. Perhaps it was my recent viewing of the Jesus Revolution movie that stirred something in me. The memory of being part of that youthful movement of the early ’70s combined with this new generation of young people driving the engine of prayer 24 hours a day 7 days a week made me realize how deeply my heart yearns for a spiritual awakening–reawakening.

And I think it is coming. Moreover, I expect it to come, as it often has in the past, through the young. It seems, however, that many of the young are discouraged. They don’t see a future and a hope, even though God’s intention is for them is to have both. Occasionally, they see a glimpse of it, or what they think is a future, but lose the hope necessary to step into it. They are like a bird who thinks it sees a place to fly only to find that what it sees is only a reflection in a pane of glass. There is a window but it is not a way forward but a barrier.

How can this generation see a future beyond the mediocrity that this world offers? Y’shua said that he has gone to prepare a place for us–for them–and that he would return and receive us all so that we could be with him in the Kingdom. This message seems to be lost in the hopelessness of the world. How can we show them the future and hope that Y’shua holds out to them?

As I consider these things, it seems to be that we older ones need to encourage the younger to adopt the ways of the Kingdom right now as we anticipate the fullness of it then. To do so, is the only hope of finding joy and fulfillment in this world. I am reminded J.B. Phillips’ translation from the letter to the Hebrews 6:18-20.

We who are refugees from this dying world… have a source of strength, that we might grasp the hope that he holds out to us. This hope we hold as the utterly reliable anchor for our souls, fixed in the very shrine of Heaven, where Jesus has already entered on our behalf…

As a follower of Y’shua, I need to be part of a community of hope; and to be that, I need to model with others how to reject the things of this world and the solutions that it offers. That means I need to find a community that has learned from the passing of the years.

Mending My Ways

I can’t help but feel that we, the generation of young believers that emerged out of the renewal of the seventies,  squandered our inheritance. We sold our birthright for a bowl of soup by becoming distracted from the simplicity of the cross–Jesus the Messiah and him crucified. We began to succumb to pride. We had our own music, which mutated from its original call to love and worship. Eventually, it became a product to be sold. Soon it began to imitate the world. It never occurred to us that imitation was evidence that the world was creeping back into our hearts.

Furthermore, we became a market share. We believed that God’s blessing came in the form of material abundance, so we bought and sold and accumulated. We built worship centers and flocked to celebrity preachers.

We became proud of our numbers and felt the validation that comes from being part of a crowd. Moreover, some of the loudest voices among the elders began to invite us to join forces and change society. We became a voting block. We believed God had positioned us to become the moral majority who would confront the Goliath of social decay. We put on Saul’s armor believing we could slay the giant with the weapons of the world, media, influence and the ballot box. We ignored the five smooth stones, unity, empathy, brotherly love, kindness and humility.

This was my generation, born of that revival of 1970.

A number of years ago, I attended a reunion of my peers who were part of that early movement. As we sat around a campfire and shared our meals together, I was aware of a sense of discouragement- -disappointment. The kingdom promises, it seemed, had not materialized as many had thought.

photo of us navy soldier carrying a holy bible

Marriages had crumbled; children had strayed; faith had become dry and habitual. There were moments that I felt I was among a bunch of old soldiers who were casualties of war. They were chafed and bruised by Saul’s armor and now faced the end of their service.

Later, as I reflected on that time, I saw something like hope. The hope came from the realization that by looking back we have learned what we were up against. We are not casualties of war. To think of ourselves as such is to waste something essential for the next generation. Not casualties of war, combat veterans.

My son, as I often say, spent “100 years” in Iraq in 2004. In the years following – – years of recovery – – he explained to me on more than one occasion the value of a combat veteran amidst a unit of new recruits. New recruits were inclined to be cavalier in their attitude towards deployment and warfare; overconfident in the nobility of their mission and the superiority of their weaponry. A combat veteran was a source of balance and sobriety. The wisdom of a veteran was vital training for young, inexperienced, and vulnerable recruits.

Some of us old Christ followers, with decades of combat experience behind us, are going to be vital in the training of a younger generation which is about to be swept up in the next renewal. That thing that happened back in the seventies was not about us – – the 20-year-olds of that season. It was about the 20-year-olds of this season; of this renewal.

But if we are to be of any help to this new generation, we have to repent. We have to take off Saul’s armor and pick up five smooth stones. We need to teach the young the simplicity of following Jesus; teach them how to keep their eyes focused on the things above where Jesus is seated at the right hand of the throne. We have to repent of our confidence in the things that we can buy and own and elect.

We need to reject the notion that we can elect someone who will save the society. When the votes are counted it isn’t God who has spoken, it is the people… and the people are often wrong.

It was not the people of Israel that voted King Cyrus into office so they could be liberated and go back to their homeland, it was God. He established him for that purpose. Cyrus was useful in God’s hands and it was God who removed him once Cyrus had served his purpose.  The King that the people chose was Saul–appealing, head and shoulders above everyone. Give us a king like the other nations, they cried – – fierce and forceful.

It’s a fearful thing when God gives us something against his better judgment.

Now, a new generation is stirring. Fear and hopelessness is nudging them to restlessness, faith and courage. I have a feeling that there is a generation awakening to the hope of Messiah. They will need combat veterans to instruct them not to lose focus, but to be like their King.

Chainsaw Rhapsody

In the distance, I hear the wine of chainsaws. Trees are being cut down–felled–land cleared. I sit among the tall Douglas firs that are part of our little forest. They stand, reaching for the clouds while others of their kind fall to Earth.

clearing desolation destruction fallen tree

I grieve, the relentless stripping of the land–the whine of the saws. They work, tearing into bark and hardwood until the grain snaps and the majestic weight draws the tree to earth. I hear the rhythmic blaring of the truck backing into position preparing to haul away the corpse of decades, perhaps centuries.

My heart hurts. The sound is relentless. It  feels as though it draws nearer to me and the forest in which I pray. I wish the trees that have been lost in the few minutes I have been sitting here could somehow be restored, to be stood up again reaching to the sky. But I know they lie amid shattered branches.

I think of the novel by Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow. In the final chapter Jayber and Maddie grieve over the loss of a grove of old trees. That final chapter takes on deeper meaning today.

The air grows silent. The fierce roaring of the saws cease. Perhaps only two, perhaps three trees needed to come down. Maybe they were diseased and dangerous. Perhaps these were sacrificed so that the younger trees could grow and flourish, so that other trees could drink the Sun and dig deep into the Earth. But then the saws start again. They whine and growl. And I know they will not stop until the ground lies strewn with wreckage to be hauled away, and then the equipment will come and tear the stumps from the ground, the last evidence of a community of living trees torn from the Earth. And when it last a plot of land lies empty it will be ready to receive whatever it comes next.

Red World

During my prayer time this morning, while I was reflecting on the portion of the examen that is called “petition,” I moved to the couch and sat for a few moments looking out the front window at the trees and the sky. The Sun came out from behind the clouds and, uncharacteristically, I decided to lay down on the couch in the sunshine.

I closed my eyes and entered into the warm red-world that happens. I was not hot, which was the blessing. It was warm. And I thought of the Sun 93 million miles away, seething and roiling, sending heat across the expanse until it reaches our small globe. I think of the invisible magnetism that deflects the dangers of our constantly exploding star keeping us safe from its lethal presence. Perhaps I lay there for 5 minutes. During that time I also thought of similar moments when I was a much younger person. Funny how certain feelings and thoughts seem to have their roots in other times and spaces. Life becomes a whole then, not defined by beginnings and ends.

Steps Toward Joy

I spent my morning devotional time in Matthew’s gospel. Chapters 8 and 9. I ponder the work of the master as he gives movement to a paralytic, sight to the blind, speech to someone who could not speak and even life to one who had died. Also, in that list of miracles is a woman whose life was poured out– the life is in the blood– for 12 years.

I realize how easy it is to regard these stories as little more than that, perhaps even legend. Yet, as a follower of Jesus, these are more than stories. They are not fiction, but recollections of observers. Moreover, they represent events that, because they are true, shed light on the nature of our world.

It is at this point that I remember Wendell Berry’s words in Jayber Crow. I stopped, just now, and reviewed that section – – I have it stored among my quotations. I wanted to revisit the imagery that came in the writing. He spoke of the roof being blown off the house so you could see the night sky. He also spoke of being like a bird trapped in a house trying to get out through a window pane and then later, actually finding an opening. Perhaps, that is what it’s like when we finally make peace with the idea that healings and resurrections are part of the world and not just myths and legends. If such things happen, then the world is not an enclosure without an opening; not a box with the lid tightly shut, but a place of waiting; a place of promise and hope. To see the world in that way ought to make us optimists, patient and purposeful. Perhaps, having the roof blown off is the key to Joy.

Spirit Breezes

Along the lines of being thankful, I just received a private message from a friend in Dallas (Oregon). He said that his daughter, Alice, is excited about vacation bible school today. Something blessed my heart as I thought about that little girl being excited. It brought tears to my eyes!

You know, it’s strange how sometimes things touch my emotions. I’ve come to wonder if, when that happens, it is a sign that the holy Spirit is moving in me. These spontaneous moments that manifest by a sudden feeling of tearfulness, have come to mean to me that the Spirit is near and at work in my heart. Today was such a day. But it happens at other times as well. Sometimes I feel it during a song; in a gathering of friends; from a thought or memory. In whatever time or place, when I feel a touch of emotion — like a breeze on my cheek – – my heart says that His Spirit is near.

Slow Down to Listen

The Abbey – deck

It is a habit of mine to give names to things. I have named our cars, my bicycle, the chickens… Why? Doesn’t matter, I guess. It’s just fun. I call my house “Upton Abbey” because we live in a second floor add-on on our daughter and son-in-law’s property in Brush Prairie, Washington. Anyhow, these thoughts came as I was praying at home on the deck.

As I come to prayer again this morning, I realize that I need to renew my willingness to listen for the voice of the Spirit. Slowing down to listen is an important skill.

I remember working in the woods, desperately thirsty and wanting water. My crew partner and I,  would walk and then abruptly stop to listen. We were listening for the sound of gurgling water somewhere nearby. Sometimes it was difficult to sort out the sounds. A gentle breeze moving among the trees can mimic the sound of water. Intense thirst completes the illusion. But the point of importance to me this morning is the stopping to listen. I suppose my heart can create an illusion as well, but I must stop to listen nonetheless. Is what I hear –think I hear– the whisper of the Spirit?

Path around Johnston Park gardens

Another time, I was at The Grotto, a Catholic meditation garden, parish and Servite monastery near our home. Nearly every day I would enter by a back gate and spend time praying. While walking the path around a flowing water feature, I noted the sound of the water as though it were coming from my left, not to the right where the water was flowing.

It was only noticeable in one place on the path. One step more or less and I heard nothing. As I paused, I realized the sound was a reflection–an echo–caused by a bench next to the path. In one narrow place, I could hear the whisper of the water.

I’m guessing that these thoughts–the thirst and the whisper–are Father’s reminder to slow down and listen. Thirsty? Listen. Too often unwarranted feelings of urgency propel me beyond the whisper.

Take me back, Lord, to the place
Where I first learned how to hear.
To the path of new beginnings,
When you touched my deafened ears.
Take me to the place
Where I heard your whispered song.
Take me back, Lord, my Father
To the place where I belong.

More Joy Thoughts

In prayer this morning, I was meditating on John 15:7 and 1st John 3:22 -23. It fell in with the thoughts I have been having about Joy. In these verses he declares that his legacy for us is the same joy that he himself lives in.

What a wonderful promise! That we will be given his Joy – – we are entitled to it. It is almost too wonderful to believe. Moreover, I have to wonder if we really know how to live in the kind of joy that Jesus is describing here. We are to have joy, he says. It is his desire that we have it. We are, in short, entitled to it. I think it is noteworthy that he hasn’t asked us to do anything except stay close to him and to remember the things that he has taught us and shown us how to do. This Joy he speaks of apparently has to do with living in him, through him, and with him. We aren’t to try to have joy, we are to live with those, “unforced rhythms of grace.” We are free. Freedom is the wellspring of joy. We are to say, as Brennan Manning imagines, “yes, Jesus, I believed in your love and tried to shape my life as a response to it.”

Thanksgiving for the Little Things

The Abbey – (our house)

There is a section of the morning prayer that invites me to consider the moments when I was moving away from Father’s Love. It seems to me, that when I become careless about noticing the special qualities of others, especially those closest to me, I am moving away from God’s love. The scripture teaches that I should love others as God has loved me.

Once again, that compels me to notice the small things that comprise those who are part of my life. When I fail to do that, or when I grow careless about it, then I am not walking in God’s love. The apostle reminds us that God is love, which means that he looks at us with tenderness. I am reminded of the passage in Isaiah 43:25. It says that God casts our transgressions far from us and that he chooses not to remember our sins. My observation is that when He deliberately chooses to forget our transgressions the implication is that he has not chosen to forget our blessings and graces. It is apparent that he willingly remembers those things. This is Love, that we pay attention to those gifts and graces in others.


The difficult part of the examen is “resolution,” to set a goal and fulfill it. Today, the goal that I should put before me is to begin to notice small things in others; pay attention to and respond to them with tenderness and fondness. This would be a wonderful habit to cultivate. The challenge for me is that new habits are incredibly difficult. Old habits, as they say, die hard. For me they refuse to die at all, it seems.

Drawing Nearer/Joy

Dandelion Cottage (my office)

There has been a season of writing in my journal– pencil to page; mind to hand. I notice, however, that I swing back and forth between digital and tactile.

I am somewhat reluctant to return to dictating in this space. On the other hand, I feel the need for a change. I have had a sense of malaise lately. I wonder if it has to do with our recent bout with COVID, but it could be the usual cycle –“the law of undulation” that CS Lewis talks about in the Screwtape Letters.  I have become aware of the familiar sense of distance from the Lord.

It happens.

I want to return to a more vibrant prayer life. Part of this transition back is my return to the examen prayer of St. Ignatius. I had gotten out of the habit. As I return to it this morning I remember that speaking my thoughts had been a part of that practice. Therefore, here I am.

As I reached the place of gratitude in the prayer, I found myself being thankful for living where we live. I have fond thoughts of our home on 78th — how familiar I was with every square foot of that 50 by 100 ft. lot and the modest castle that was built there. The memories were fond, yes, but I would not return because I am thankful for being where I am with the country surrounding me and the animals – – the dogs, ducks, horses, and even the chickens. I am thankful for these things.

Along with a sense of distance that I have felt from the Lord, there has been a recurrent thought about the second in the list of the fruits of the spirit: Joy. “The fruit of the spirit is love, Joy…” Moreover, it is occurred to me that Joy is a significant part of our inheritance. Jesus said that he wanted our joy, his Joy, to fill us up. So, what should that look like? It is a question that has returned to me time and again. There are words that, it seems to me, ought to be packed together with the idea of joy. Happiness is one; laughter seems like it ought to be included. Fun. Play. Satisfaction. Thankfulness and peace. Wait a moment… That’s the third fruit of the spirit: peace. I ponder that. Love joy and peace are a triad. The qualities that follow are no less important, but perhaps these first three–love, joy, peace–are foundational.

I take a deep breath. I feel a welcome sense of focus this morning. Perhaps, the sense of distance and disconnectedness has invited a contrast.

As I continue to pray, I meet the part of the prayer called resolution. This is the one I have a hard time with. To resolve to do something is not difficult. I can think of something I ought to do. The challenge is that I often don’t do it. That’s not much of a resolution, is it?