Monthly Archives: January 2014

A Noonday Meditation on John 4:1-42 (and Matthew 25:35)


I thought of you today when I got back from my walk

cranky from too much sun and dying for a drink of water.

You wanted water too when you sat at Jacob’s well.

Then she came along with her jar, and gave you lip

about not having  a bucket. The two of you

talked theology for a while, trying to pinpoint the difference

between well water and metaphysical water,

and then you got down to that business about her life,

which didn’t change the conversation all that much,

because life and water are twins.

Then your flustered followers arrived and raised their eyebrows.

She put her jar down, which is a good metaphor

for surrender, or maybe for change, and went flying off

to tell everybody you were the messiah

because you knew everything about her and still thought

she was worth talking to. Then villagers came to see you

for themselves, begging you to stay with them, like those two

on the way to Emmaus would do, when evening fell

on the eighth day. And I realized, as I was standing

at my kitchen sink holding a glass under cold running water

and thinking about you, that in all the talk and commotion,

nowhere does it say if you ever got the drink you came for.

So I was wondering if you did, and I don’t think so.

Which means you are still thirsty.

Which means if I go to the well today, I will find you.

Which means if I bring my bucket to wherever you are

needing help in the heat of the day,

you could drink.

An Affirmation of Faith (Trinitarian)

We believe in God,

maker and re-maker of everything that is,

in whom there is always more,

and more to come;

and by whose wonder, work, and will,

even the dead find life.

We believe in God.


We believe in Jesus Christ,

maker and re-maker of tables and tales,

in whom the welcome is wide,

the feasting free;

and by whose weeping, words, and wounds,

even the lost are found.

We believe in Jesus Christ.


We believe in the Holy Spirit,

maker and re-maker of imagination,

whose eyes see over the horizon,

beyond the end;

and by whose urgency and fire,

even the truth gets told.

We believe in the Holy Spirit.


Therefore, we also believe

that everything that lives can be reborn,

all hidden things can come to light,

all broken things can be remade,

the empty larder can be filled,

and promises gone stale and hard

can taste like bread again.


And we believe the old, old Story can be told again

to thrill sad hearts like rediscovered love;

that even lost and frightened lambs like us

can be retrieved, restored to courage,

and declare the Truth

that makes the tyrants tumble

and the captives free.

Why I Teach


I teach for selfish reasons. Maybe all teachers do, but I speak only for myself. These reasons are uncomplicated: to share the joy of what I have learned that I love; to have a chance to express and pass on my ideas about what I have learned that I love; and to keep learning about what I love, stimulated by the people who are learning to love it also, in part because of me.

I don’t have a ‘philosophy of education’: I have things I love and a joy in them that I hope is communicative. And because I love what I teach, I want other people to see what is so great about it too, so that they can feel the joy that abides in important things and that can shape a life with a surplus of meaning. So teaching becomes for me a form of testimony, a kind of patterned awe in the presence of wonderful things. I try to take people on tours of the wonderful, and if all we do in its presence is drop our jaws and say, ‘Ah…’,  I’m content.

I don’t hesitate to share what I think about what I love either—how and why I came to think it, and what I have discarded along the way. Sometimes I tell students flat out that I am right in my opinion about something (and they are not, or not yet quite as right as I am). I want them to know that some ways of thinking about things are better others. I believe that if students want to think for themselves, which is one goal of all education, they have to do that on the basis of something other than untested gut feelings or wishful thinking. They have to build a foundation, and that ‘thinking for oneself’ without such grounding is, for the most part, unreliable, not very valuable, and probably not going to lead them to anything true.

In other words, I want students to take someone else’s wisdom for a serious test drive. I want them to rent with an option to buy; to suspend suspicion and develop a bias toward faith in the considered opinions of others; to respect the authority of authorities instead of keeping up the fiction that all ideas have equal value and that all opinions count the same. In the classroom. I have, gratefully, learned more than I can say from students over the years, and I hope always to be open to their teaching of me; but I don’t understand myself primarily as a ‘co-teacher’ or ‘co-learner.”  There is nothing egalitarian about my classes.

My way is old-fashioned, I’m told. I see that it is. But I think it is also a way to treat things that matter seriously. I feel like I made a pact with important things once upon a time, and I should keep it. Besides, I don’t think there’s a teacher alive who doesn’t want to have students on a similar page: when we’re being honest about it, I think we all hope to form disciples. Not ‘clones’, although if the original is worthy, a few copies would not do the world any harm. And definitely not ‘groupies.’ No good and much harm come from personality cults. Why some teachers do not actively discourage them is beyond me. No, we don’t want groupies or clones, we want disciples. And I think if we are doing a good job, we will have them—people who end up with deeper lives because they have found a new love, the one we showed them, and been changed by its attendant joy. They may, almost surely will, end up thinking thoughts different from ours, but they learned to love good things sitting figuratively at our feet.

Teaching is the impetus I need to keep learning. As some of the people I am teaching begin to grasp the importance of what’s on offer, they want more, and I have to help them find it. Because I am a little lazy, it is a great gift to me to be urged on like this by the nascent joy of others. I also try to be open to their discovery of things I don’t know yet about all the things I love, although not merely open: in addition to gladness in new ideas or new approaches, I also have to model a critical eye, a sifting skill, so that treasures can be authenticated before they go into the treasure house. This function also keeps me on my toes, learning.

I teach for selfish reasons. But not for that is it ‘all about me.’ It is about the subject matter, it is about the love, it is about the joy that grounds and changes everything. Not all students are interested in this sort of thing; not all are capable of it; but I still try hard to give these things away anyway, and hope for the best.