Monday, September 2, 2013


Over seventy days ago Rick and I brushed the wet sand from our tires as we pulled them out of the Pacific and started toward to the Atlantic.  So after all of those days on the road we would  finally be coming home.  So I'm sitting in the Minneapolis airport awaiting our next and final flight that would restore me to my family, house, Oogie (Hogg Island Boa), and Baylie, my flop-eared doxie.
  Nothing extraordinary about the flights with one exception:  five foot four Yana.  Yana happened to be our flight attendant for the Minneapolis run.  This fiftyish attendant was not extraordinary in her appearance.   Rather average, the kind of woman you would see but not behold.  Someone you'd pass over on your way to look for someone else. 
It's what she said that caught my attention.  She greeted boarding passengers with a generous helping of Amens!  and you're blessed
Who is this apostle of blessing, I wondered as I devoured my serving of blessing casserole.  Yana's cheerful countenance and joyous belly laugh was clearly contagious to these early morning boarders.  And her antics--she was tactile; she'd throw her arm around someone even as she laughed and blessed them.  It's like someone shook a Coke can and then opened it.  Lots of overflow.  Seems that whomever was in proximity to the overflow benefited and got just a bit of her joy. 
One older man had arrived late holding a cup of coffee that he'd gotten for his wife.  So Yana trailed the guy like a stalker all the way to the back trying to find the missing wife.  I'm sorry you lost your wife, sir.  But don't you worry.  We'll find her! 
Toward the end of the flight Yana the Attendant stopped by Dixie and me and when she found out that I'd bicycled from the Pacific to the Atlantic, she dramatically stood up and proclaimed to God and passengers this man is my hero; he's bicycled across the country on a sit down bike.  I apparently had been the first person she'd met who had done such a crazy thing. 
 I'm juggling two huge carry-ons down the narrow aisle when Sistah Yana once again stopped me.  Actually, yanked me into a side walkway to give me her card.  You are saved by Jesus, aren't you?  Thought so.  I assured her that we were serving the same Lord.  And that shook the Coke stewardess up again.  She fairly bubbled her response:  I'm a pastor too!
So we parted ways with hallelujahs and amens and promises to keep in touch.  Only as I walked toward the parking lot did I read her business card:
Yana (You Are Never Alone)
Servant and Empty Vessel for the Lord
Psalm 11:6
Daniel 12:3
Philippians 3:12
Yana's whole being embodied her business card.  She had truly been a joyful witness for the Lord.  I had been immeasurably uplifted, spiritually caffeinated, and blessed by a passing sistah, Yana (You Are Never Alone).
Praise the Lord.  Hallelujah.  Amen.


Wednesday, August 28, 2013


For years I had been salivating at the chance to pull off a sea to shining sea bicycle tour.  I had come close in 2010 with a solo and unsupported 2,000 mile tour from Missoula to San Angelo, Texas,  But the big tour would span oceans.  What a way to celebrate my boomer generation age--by pedaling from the Pacific to the Atlantic.  I began in earnest the search to find another half-crazed cyclo-enthusiast to travel with.  Lots of hmmmmmms, I'llthinkaboutit,  and letmegetbacktoyou reactions to my invitation.  Then one day a different response came:  Hey, Rick you wanna cancel all your summer plans, jump on a bike, and pedal from the Pacific to the Atlantic with me?   Silence.  Then an unqualified, let's do it!  

So began Tom and Rick's big adventure.  That adventure has included crossing the Columbia, Missouri, Mississippi, and St. Croix rivers, going around Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, through two Canadian provinces and twelve US states, gracefully answering the questions of a thousand on-lookers (doesn't that sit-down bike hurt your back . . . HOW many miles have you gone? . . . isn't it hard going up hills? . . . you're crazy), sleeping on pews, in choir lofts, around altars, and in church youth rooms, dodging roadkill without becoming roadkill, stopping at a hundred McDonald's, Tim Hortons, or cockroach diners, and generally, taking in some of the most breathtaking sights immaginable.

Through all of this Rick has been a true blue friend, pedaling colleague, subtle  humorist, ribald humorist, and salty humorist.  His lyrical poetry (on par with, I'm a poet and don't know it)  and warm southern charm has made this trip enjoyable beyond expectations.  Rick has spoken hope into desperate lives, prayed for others, and listened with the ears of a parent.

The tour is done.  We go our own ways and each of us try to segue back into the old normal, yet with the deep soulful truth that we have been stretched and changed, we have beheld and heard and we will never be completely the same again.

So thanks, Rick, friend, for a great team effort.

Monday, August 19, 2013


It's 93 degree hot.  A hill.  Climbing at a slow walk speed.  I notice something very strange in my peripheral vision.  Is that what I thought it was?  "Rick, we gotta go back to that cemetery we just passed."  So we turned around and there it was . . . a mausoleum with the door ajar!  Yikes!  Had I missed the rapture?  The Second Coming?  (My only solace was that whatever I had missed, so had Rick.)

I know I shouldn't have, but I entered through the open door.  Three crypts filled the room.  I was respectful, quiet, and greatly sobered in that room.  I wondered what bodies were next to me mouldering in those boxes.  What kind of life had they lived?  Had they lived rich, fulfilling lives?  Were they still remembered?  Or were they forgotten over the century and a half since their demise?

I walked through the cemetery and looked at other gravestones.

James Miller
Born September 6, 1845
Died March 6, 1890

Emma Miller, James' wife would survive him by two decades, but on November 4th of 1910, she too would join her husband in death.  Something about persons who lived and died well before I was born, struck me with reverence and mystery.  Sobered me.  Made me feel vulnerable and finite.  I continued to read the stone markers . . . 

Harry H. Beerwort
Died Nov. 17, 1871
48 years & 9 mos.

Capt. Gilbert Bush
Died Aug. , 1875
Aged 81 yrs & 5 mos.
Wife: Lovicy Smith
Died Aug. 8, 1874 & 20 days

I wondered what Captain Bush was like?  British loyalist or American patrtiot?  Did he go to church?  Did he a vital relationship with God?  Did he love his children?  

Most old grave markers usually have a Scripture that describes the hope of the deceased--their hope of the resurrection and everlasting life with God. This cemetery was unusual that way.  Nothing on the stones described any faith and hope beyond the grave. 

Except one:  Martha Ann.  No big sermons on her life or what she did.  You'll not discover whether she was in the church women's sewing circle or if she was a Sunday school teacher.  But at the end of her life, two simple words described her faith . . . 

Martha Ann
Gone Home

Wish I could have known Martha.  I would have asked her about her faith and life.  I would ask her about her favorite hymns and Bible verses.  But I can't because Martha has gone home.  

That's what I want my marker to say someday . . . 

Tom Hall
Gone Home

So everyday I try to live my life as if today I'm going home.    How about you?          

Thursday, August 15, 2013


So we're coming off a loss.  Toronto was a closed door experience as far as gaining any safe lodging in churches was concerned.  Too dangerous.  What denomination you from?--We're not that.  I can't make a decision (as if the decision to help another pastor was too risky).  I was still disruntled and whiney when I entered the Cartona Goodies in Port Hope, Ontario.   Nevertheless, grace reminds us that things can turn around.

I no sooner had slid into a chair in a local cafe when the Asian owner, Tony, and his wife--and cook-- Carman, and their daughter, and the head waiter (the only waiter) Kanen, came over to welcome me.  They smiled when Tony said, we have been opened for two months.  

During the next two hours each of them showed such over-the-top care and kind attention to me that it was as if God had stuck me back in the story with the three strangers for whom Abraham threw caution to the wind in his attempt to welcome and show them hospitality.  He treated the strangers as if they were angels.  (Actually, they were even more than angels.)

More coffee sir?  The sign may say only one refill, but you can have as many as you want.  And when I orded Meso soup, the crew made up a fresh batch of the Japanese delicacy because, according to Tony, Miso doesn't taste as good unless it is freshly made.  

We have wifi, please use it as long as you want.   So I decided to make Cartona Goodies my office for the day.  Three hours in my office time and Tony put on his artist-hat and proudly showed me the pictures that hung on the walls of his cafe.  These are all local artists, Tony began with the relish of a Louvre curator.  The one with the three flowers was painted by a fifteen-year old.  And the one above it was done by an octegenarian.   Tony, the restauranteur, the art museum lecturer, the proud family guy had unknowingly lifted my spirits and put me in touch with generosity.  I had been stuck on stinginess, God brought me back to generosity through another specially-sent friend.

And when you leave, please, you can have any food we don't sell.  

Thanks, Tony  


I heard it before I saw it.  Thick traffic in Kingston, Ontario.  A young woman turned into the lane right behind me.  Cars were bumper to bumper, university students just out of class had formed their own traffic flow.  Horns.  Lights. Then the accident.

She was a fifteen, maybe sixteen year old young lady.  A block later I heard that thud and scrape sound.  You don't want to look back, but you know.  I suddenly felt nauseous.  I pulled the brake levers, stopped abruptly, and looked back all within a second.  The gal was sprawled spread-eagle on the pavemnent, her bike laying to the side.  Then I saw the driver jumping out of the car, saying, Oh my God!  What have I done?  Are you all right . . . are you all right . . . are you hurt!  

 The hit cyclist got up slowly.  I looked for the appearance of broken bones, Rick and I ready to assist.  But she got up, oblivous to the driver and the gathering crowd, and stumbled off the road.   I think she was in shock.  So was the driver.  I have never seen such a pathetic, fear-filled face than the driver's.  It was a close call.

No matter how insulated we are or how unrisky our days are, we are never more than one mistake away from tragedy, from today being the final day of our life.   That's sobering, for sure.  And when you are on a bicycle, the risk goes up exponentially.  We don't have air bags, seatbelts, or doors to protect us from tons of metal hitting us.   Unfortunately, the girl had not signaled when she turned left. That one tiny omission of not putting her hand out could have been fatal.

So when you get up each morning, make sure that you know who is walking with you into the new day.   For me, I have never forgotten Stewart Hamblin's old tattered phrase, I don't know about tomorrow, but I know who holds my hand.

Hope you do too.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


While I have been pedaling my brains out and avoiding being roadkill in traveling from the Pacific to the Atlantic, a small, select team has been quietly changing the world.  I am so proud of them.   The dream team that just signed off on "mission accomplished" included a teacher, six high schoolers, two financial investment reps, and a surgeon.

Each of the team raised at least $3,000 each, put their summer activities on hold, said good-bye to friends, family and vacations and travelled 11,000 miles from home in order to lay bricks and slap dugga on walls under a hot African sun side by side with new South Africans and Afrikaan friends.  In the end, another family has been offered a hand-up, not hand-out toward a more productive, empowered life.

What a great team.   By comparison to the all-too-often ho hum summer same old, these missioners have been extraordinary.  Hats off to you, Drew and Dan and the entire Montana Mission Team for changing the world this summer.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


Speaking of Jesus, Frederick Buechner once remarked, he had a face.  Of course, no palestinian artist sat him down for a quick sketch, or tried to catch emotion in his face.  Yet pictures of Jesus have proliferated through the centuries from the great Flemish painters with a very Dutch-like Jesus to the Caucasian Jesus that romantically holds a lamb while leading sheep somewhere.

I guess it's a good thing to keep changing out the theological art that keeps Jesus on canvas over the baptismal tank or font.  Recent Jesus art has done just that . . . tried to capture some of the compassion, some of the joy and happiness, and some of the empathy that the gospels allude to.

The pictures I've inclued in this blog were hanging through the halls of a large church in Michigan where I spent the night.  Such fresh images of Jesus triggered my imagination.  Yes, he did register hurt when he caught tragic news.  Yes, he did emote pained concern when someone came to him with an injury or hurt.  And yes, he was a good listener and coach when people needed advice.  

So when you read the Jesus of the Gospels, our Redeemer, open your mind to holy imagination--just like this artist has done.  For when you see compassion, empathy, concern, or laughter on the face of the Savior, you might just catch yourself with those same emotions and faces when you face the brokenness of your world.