Category Archives: Jesus a Life


LudingtonLighthouse BLOG

Ludington, Michigan

Photography by D. Plasman

I don’t care if the next President of the United States is (or isn’t) a Christian. I don’t care whether the next leader of the free world is, what some would call, a “believer” or an “unbeliever,” an agnostic or a full-fledged atheist. I don’t care if the next resident of the Oval Office is a Jew, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a fan of Oprah, or a lover of opera.

As an ordained minister in the Christian tradition, I just want the next President to care deeply about the common good for all people—within and outside our national borders.

At this point in the touring circus known as the campaign season, I’m not at all sure who will be or what we will get in the next President. Maybe that’s why I recently caught myself fantasizing about serving as the moderator for the next round of presidential debates.

Here’s how I imagine it. I would hold up a copy of my book Jesus, a Life – Daily Reflections on the Gospel of Luke and say: “I know you haven’t read this. It’s about a man who influenced untold numbers of people in the last two thousand years. His life affected countless lives and changed the course of civilizations. He’s been misunderstood and misrepresented, ridiculed and revered. This is an excerpt found on page 370. It concerns his death by crucifixion and the response of those who watched him suffer and die.”

Bystanders watched while the religious leaders scoffed at Jesus, “He saved others. He should save himself if he’s God’s chosen Messiah!” The soldiers also mocked Jesus while offering him sour wine: “If you’re the King of the Jews, save yourself!” (Luke 23:35-37)

Actually, the scoffers, taunters, mockers, and ridiculers get it right. Up close, they’re the first witnesses to the ultimate expression of Jesus’ life and his approaching death. Honoring their unintended testimony, here’s a ten-part summary of what they see.

The path to greatness is achieved through descent.

Leaders don’t grasp power; they give it away.

Self-sacrifice is chosen over self-preservation.

This one seeks reconciliation rather than revenge.

Prayer is offered for those who inflict harm.

Nonviolence is the posture of resistance.

True power absorbs pain in order to mock the oppressor.

Minority voices are protected rather than silenced.

Losing one’s life is not the ultimate loss.

A non-anxious presence conquers the chaos.

As moderator, this would be my only question to the candidates seeking to become the 45th President of the United States: “We look to leaders to shed light in a world beset with storms. Pick any three statements in that ten-part summary, and tell us in specific ways how your leadership and policies will be shaped by them. Each of you has fifteen minutes to respond. Thank you, in advance, for your thoughtfulness.”

Tagged , , , , , |


Temple Bar Dublin BLOG_edited-2Dublin, Ireland

Photography by D. Plasman

I ended up at the website of the Traditional Values Coalition (TVC). It was an honest mistake on my part, but that’s hardly an excuse. Founded in 1980, TVC is a father-daughter operation that claims to be “America’s largest non-denominational, grassroots church lobby, speaking on behalf of more than 43,000 churches and millions of like-minded patriots.”

TVC’s homepage banners include: Battleground 2016 – Our Fight For Religious Freedom and Obama’s Push to Normalize Transsexuals Put Your Children at Risk. Further down the rabbit hole, several bullet points caught my eye: Securing the Constitution against the growing threat of Islam and Shariah Law and Protecting traditional marriage and family as the cornerstone of society.

Admittedly, I don’t know much about Shariah Law, but I do know that Jesus knew a thing or two about traditional families. Here’s a reflection entitled “The New Traditional Family” in my book Jesus, a Life – Daily Reflections on the Gospel of Luke.

Jesus’ mother and brothers were looking for him, but they couldn’t get near him because of the crowd. Some people said to him, “Your mother and your brothers are here and they want to see you.” Jesus replied, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear God’s teachings and do them.” (Luke 8:19-21)

Considering how often the phrase “traditional family” is uttered by religious folks, Christian talk show hosts, and some politicians, one would think the Bible has a lot to say on the topic. It doesn’t!

A traditional family, some say, consists of a man and a woman (gay couples not included), preferably in their first marriage (though no points are deducted if this isn’t the case), along with their children (adopted children count). The husband is the head of the home. Oddly enough, it’s nearly impossible to find a traditional family in the Bible.

I tested this out on Hebrews 11 where we find a spiritual Hall of Fame of fifteen biblical notables. I applied the following “anti-traditional family” filters: the person was part of a family where members murdered each other; the person murdered someone outside the family; the person got drunk and exposed himself to his children; the person offered his wife as a sexual partner to a world leader; the person was willing to sacrifice his son; the person had more than one wife (simultaneously), or one wife and many concubines (simultaneously), or many wives (simultaneously) and many concubines (simultaneously); the person was a prostitute; the person murdered his own daughter; the person was such a lousy father that God despised his sons.

After applying these “anti-traditional family” filters, only Enoch is left standing. We know little about Enoch other than that he “walked with God,” and apparently didn’t die a normal death (Genesis 5:24). If Enoch was married, you can bet he enjoyed the company of many concubines. The “anti-traditional family” filter would toss him out.

Jesus reminds us that the only family that ultimately counts is the community where the hearing and doing of the life-giving word is practiced. All other definitions are neither biblical nor moral.

By the way, the folks we met last November in Dublin and throughout Ireland think our election process is a source of great entertainment and craziness. We raised a few beers to that sentiment.


Tagged , , , , , , , |

Heaven Bound?


Amtrak Rider

photography by D. Plasman

Is this man headed for heaven? If Chicago’s Union Station is considered heaven then the answer is “Yes.” On another level, however, I imagine most people who consider themselves religiously orthodox would give an answer along the lines of: “Well, that depends. Does he believe that Jesus died for his sins? Does he believe Jesus is God’s son? Does he believe that Jesus is the only way to eternal life?”

I discovered a different answer while spending much of the last two years writing Jesus, a Life – Daily Reflections on the Gospel of Luke. Here’s an excerpt:

A leader in the community asked Jesus, “Good teacher, how do I get eternal life?” Jesus replied, “Why do you call me good? Only God is good. You know the commandments: Don’t commit adultery. Don’t murder. Don’t steal. Don’t lie. Honor your father and mother.” The questioner replied, “I’ve lived that way my whole life.” (Luke 18:18-21)

Let’s give the questioner a ton of credit. He prefers the direct approach and wants Jesus to know what’s on his mind. Let’s also applaud him for an apparent lack of sinister motives. He’s not trying to trap Jesus into saying something that later can be used against him.

The question on his mind is a universal one for all who believe or have a hunch that something exists beyond this life. He asks the question which millions of people have thought: “If there’s something beyond this life, how do I get it?”

However he understands eternal life, the afterlife, the next life, or the good life here and now, he supposes that getting it involves something he must do. Surely, there exists a list of boxes he can check off.

Just the opening Jesus needs! What an opportunity to dispel every misconception about obtaining eternal life! We might expect Jesus to say with evangelistic fervor, “Believe in me and the God who sent me.” Or, “Worship me as the only way, the only truth, and the only life; then you’ll be saved.”

Jesus doesn’t go that route. There’s no “Come to Jesus” sermon here—no emotional altar call either. Instead, Jesus honors his own tradition and that of the inquirer and says, “Live a noble life. Keep the commandments. Be good and do good.” Confidently comes the reply: “Amen, Good Teacher, that’s what I’ve been doing my whole life.”

I like where Jesus starts with this one. He acknowledges and respects what the inquirer already knows. Jesus doesn’t discredit or dismantle the beliefs dearly held. The lesson? We could do worse than honor the traditions of others who seek, as we do, answers to life’s most important questions.

[Jesus ends this encounter by telling the inquirer that he lacks only one thing, and if he can do this one thing, then he will be heaven bound and obtain eternal life. That one thing is to sell all he has, give the proceeds to the poor, then follow Jesus on the way. I wonder if we should take Jesus at his word? Let’s at least put a moratorium in our churches on telling people what they need to believe and, instead, encourage each other to live moral lives, regardless of the name with which we address God.]

In honor and in memory of M. L. King who urged, prodded, and challenged us to pursue a more just and equitable society — the stock market is closed today.

Jesus, a Life – Daily Reflections on the Gospel of Luke is available in print and as an ebook from


Tagged , , , |



Winter Lakefront, St. Joseph, MI

from the window of an Amtrak train

Many of you have inquired if and when my book, Jesus, a Life – Daily Reflections on the Gospel of Luke, would be available electronically. I’m pleased to say, it is now offered as a Kindle ebook from Amazon. $9.99 if you haven’t purchased the print version; $2.99 if you have.

I love this photo. There it was, presenting itself to rail passengers riding Amtrak. Beholding it, I was filled with contentment, abundantly so. I still feel that way whenever I look at it. Here’s a related reflection entitled “The Abundant God” from my book.

Jesus said to his disciples, “Listen, don’t worry about what to eat and what to wear. Life isn’t just about food and clothing. Learn from the birds. They don’t plant or harvest. They don’t have storehouses or barns. That’s because God feeds them. You’re much more valuable than birds!” (Luke 12:22-24)

Don’t worry. Don’t get distracted. Don’t get pulled in two directions. Either we trust God’s care, or we don’t. We might wish it were that easy. Some people seem adept at pulling it off. Saints of past centuries—Francis of Assisi comes to mind—were able to live singularly focused on God. More recently was Mother Teresa, along with the Sisters of Mercy, in Calcutta. All those children. All that poverty. She lived as one under a magnifying glass on a cloudless day, burning with the intensity of God.

I imagine St. Francis and Mother Teresa thought about food and clothing only in the ways those necessities could help others. What they cared about, more than their next breath, was the God who breathed upon them. God wouldn’t fail to clothe them. God would be the food to sustain them. Life starts and ends with God’s abundance.

Where are these people today? Seminaries and theological schools don’t offer courses on “The Imitation of St. Francis” or “Be Like Mother Teresa in Ten Days.” In my thirty-plus years of working in the church, no one (not once!) ever sat in my office and anguished aloud, “How do I live as freely as the birds?” As far as my own track record is concerned, I’m quite sure I wouldn’t have been able to point the way. Saints perceive God’s abundance. The rest of us focus on our scarcity.

What’s keeping you from flying?

Tagged , , , , |

Delivery Time


Santa’s Helpers (also known as my grandchildren)

Here’s a Christmas Day offering from my book, Jesus, a Life – Daily Reflections on the Gospel of Luke, available from Amazon or here.

While Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem, she gave birth to her first son and wrapped him in strips of cloth. She laid him in a feed trough because there wasn’t any room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:6-7)

Luke gives no details about Mary’s labor. We don’t know whether it was quick and easy or a struggle that lasted for hours. Other details are lacking as well. How much did Jesus weigh? What did he measure from head to toe? Was he born with thick dark hair? Were there any features of Joseph—any at all—found in Jesus’ face? Luke gives us only the delivery basics: she gives birth, wraps him in strips of cloths (just like his Hebrew ancestors Samson and Samuel), and places him in a feed trough.

Though none of the gospel writers includes the presence of animals at Jesus’ birth, Christmas cards and nativity scenes seem incomplete without them. If indeed Jesus was born in a stable, it’s not a stretch to imagine a variety of animals present, along with swarming fleas and dung piles. Animals or not, this delivery is anything but the antiseptically clean experience of first-world, modern-day births. No gowns or gloves, no mouth-covering masks, no sterilized instruments.

Nobody of importance is there either. No political attaché standing outside. Not a staff aide from Quirinius’s office checking on things. No reporter from the Bethlehem bureau writing copy. If God wanted the world’s attention, you’d think there would have been a thousand better places than in this poverty-stricken region for Jesus to be born. Nevertheless, here it is, somewhere outside an unnamed inn, in a cattle shed, in an all but unnoticed corner of the Roman Empire. Maybe this is just the beginning of how Jesus shatters our expectations.

When did you last experience holiness in an unexpected place?


Tagged , , , , |

Building a Christmas Wall

Mother&Child Jaipur Train

Jaipur, India

Photography by D. Plasman

The story of Christmas in essence is the story of a middle eastern family seeking refuge in a hostile world. What I heard in the most recent presidential debate is that we’d better close our borders, send the illegals home, and protect ourselves by building a wall that will dwarf all walls. The two narratives don’t match. Here’s my take on the Christmas story, an excerpt from my book available at Amazon: Jesus, a Life – Daily Reflections on the Gospel of Luke.

“God’s arm is strong and has scattered the proud who trust in themselves. God has brought down the powerful from important places, and lifted up the humble. God has filled the stomachs of the hungry, and sent away the rich with nothing. God has been merciful to the people of Israel, just as God promised to Abraham and his descendants forever.” After three months, Mary returned to her home. (Luke 1:51-56)

The second half of Mary’s prayer has endured a variety of labels: a war cry, a political platform, a revolutionary’s manifesto, even a subversive tract. Mary’s prayer moves beyond the personal and private into the reality of God’s great reversals. What starts as a lullaby is now laced with landmines.

Borrowing again from her ancestors, Mary uses imagery uttered by Moses (Exodus 15:1-18) and Deborah (Judges 5:1-31) and David (Psalms 33, 47, 136). The great deeds of God are declared in the past tense as works already accomplished in the life and history of Israel. However, as past actions, they are experienced in the present and will continue in the future. What God has done, God is doing, and God will continue to do.

If we find ourselves among the world’s humble, hungry, and poor, Mary’s Magnificat is powerful assurance of a God who sides with the oppressed and one day will turn the tables. However, if a proactive God troubles our status quo sensibilities, then we tend to spiritualize Mary’s radical message and fashion to our liking a domesticated God.

No doubt, it is from their parents—especially their mothers—that John the Baptist and Jesus learn the radical nature of living into God’s ongoing transformation of the world. From their parents, they learn of God’s deep connection with those who suffer disconnect. From their parents, they learn that God won’t let things sway forever in favor of the rich and powerful. From their parents, they learn of the God who stands in solidarity with the weakest and most vulnerable.

Where have you seen the great reversals of God?


Tagged , , , , , , , , |

Minor Repairs

Book Repair

My book, Jesus, a Life, published three weeks ago, is suddenly not available for purchase—at least for a few more days. My friends at Amazon are making minor repairs. Apparently, personal computers and corporate computers don’t always communicate. The problem was pretty simple. It was a case of over-hyphenation! Words, which were properly hyphenated at the end of a line, sud-denly ap-peared as hy-phenated words in the mid-dle of lines. How an-noying! However, I’m pleased to say all will be well in several days or so when the book again will be available.

I wish to thank the 29,035 people who bought a copy of Jesus, a Life. Oops, that’s the height in feet of Mt. Everest. I am deeply grateful to the nearly 60 people who bought copies in the three weeks since my book was published. I’m in a good mood, and benevolent forces in the universe have made it possible for me to make this offer: If you already purchased a copy of Jesus, a Life, I’d like to send you (at no cost to you) a free copy of the repaired version. However, in most cases I don’t know who you are or where to send it. So, if you’d like a second book, absolutely free, contact me at or find me on Facebook or call me at 616-828-2293. All I ask is that you let me know, in a word or two, what you think of the book.

Speaking of hyphens, an elongated one is called a dash. A dash is the line that separates the year of birth from the year of death—it’s the life we live. Jesus tells a story about a rich farmer who built bigger barns to store all his surplus. Here’s an excerpt from Jesus, a Life.

“But God said to the rich man, ‘You’re such a fool! Your life will end tonight, and who will benefit from all the things you’ve kept for yourself?’ That’s what it will be like for those who hoard treasures on earth but aren’t rich toward God.” (Luke 12:20-21)

God calls the rich man a fool, but there are many names he isn’t called. He isn’t called a crook, a scoundrel, or a thief. He isn’t called a liar, a scam artist, or a cheat. He isn’t guilty of bilking senior citizens out of their nest eggs. He isn’t accused of shredding documents before a pending IRS audit. God doesn’t call him a bad man or an evil man, just a foolish man. His grave marker says it all: He had lots of stuff. He built big barns. His harvests were awesome. He knew how to spend. So much potential. So many opportunities. So little to show for it in the end. 

The story begs a few questions: What people-investments did he make? Did he work to alleviate suffering? Were other lives better off because of him? Did he ever stop to think of the “have-nots” in his corner of the world, and what he could do to assist them?

If this were merely an ancient tale, we could easily forget about it and move on. However, it speaks to us today, prompting some personal inventory. For what will I be remembered? Whose life was touched because I was here? What in this world will be better because I lived?

What relationships in your life are in need of more investment?


Tagged , , |

I Wrote a Book

Chain Man

I wrote a book: Jesus, a Life – Daily Reflections on the Gospel of Luke. It’s 400 pages, sprinkled with more than two dozen, black and white photographs. I’d be honored if you considered owning a copy! You can order it from Amazon or from my website.

Off and on, stopping and starting, hating and loving the process, it took ten years to complete. (John Grisham writes a novel in six months—one every year!) I wrote Jesus, a Life, in part, because I keep running into people who often quote the Bible as a ready explanation of what’s wrong with the world and suggest they—and only they—know what God is up to. If given the choice, I choose not to hang out with that crowd. (Does that make me a bad person?) I have a hunch that many people roll their eyes or look for the exit sign when they hear someone say with no small measure of certainty, “The Bible says . . .”

More to the point, I wrote these reflections to help readers see that the life Jesus lived was not only a compelling one, but the kind of life we are called to live if we desire to make this increasingly terrorized and combative world closer to the world God intends.

Here’s one of the 365 reflections. If it piques your interest enough to want to read more, or perhaps the entire book, you know where to find it.


Jesus asked the demon-infested man, “What’s your name?” He answered, “They call me Legion.” Everyone knew he had hordes of demons living in him. The demons begged Jesus not to send them back into the abyss. Luke 8:30-31

His name is Legion. We can be reasonably sure this isn’t the name his parents gave him. A legion was a division of five to six thousand Roman soldiers. That this man is inhabited by a swarm of demons, the number of which would stretch the storytelling talents of most sci-fi writers, attests to his powerlessness to combat them.

Though we may sympathize with his madness, making a connection to his demon world is no easy maneuver. However, the fleshing-out of his demons may bring us closer to his world than we care to admit or imagine.

He’s a slave to five thousand impulses, none of which he can control.

He’s a prisoner to five thousand urges, none of which he can direct.

He’s beholden to five thousand masters, none of whom he can please.

He’s a pawn of five thousand gods, none of whom he can satisfy.

He’s held to five thousand expectations, none of which he can meet.

He hears five thousand voices, none of which he can identify.

He’s a nail to five thousand hammers, none of which he can escape.

He sleeps in five thousand beds, none of which gives him rest.

With which of these demons do you identify?

Tagged , , , , |



Lafayette Cemetery, New Orleans, LA

photography by D. Plasman

My forthcoming book, Jesus, a Life – Daily Reflections on the Gospel of Luke will be available for purchase from Amazon later this month. It’s 400 pages and will be a reference resource people will turn to more than once. I’d be grateful if you’d consider purchasing it (less than $20). I don’t expect readers always to agree with my interpretation of scripture, and to prove it, here’s an installment to get you thinking. To preface the excerpt, Jesus tells a story about a rich man and a poor man Lazarus who is sick and hungry and occupies a spot at the rich man’s gate.

 “The poor man died, and angels carried him to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. Tormented in Hades, the place of the dead, he looked up and saw in the distance Abraham with Lazarus by his side. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, show some mercy! Send Lazarus to dip his fingertip in water and cool my tongue. This heat is unbearable!’” (Luke 16:22-24)

Rich or poor, death plays no favorites. Both men die. However, something shocking happens after death; a great reversal occurs. The poor man, Lazarus, receives special treatment as he’s ushered into a new community next to the Hebrew patriarch Abraham. The rich man ends up (or down) in Hades and is left without a friend. Hades is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Sheol, an Old Testament reference often translated “the place of the dead.”

At this point in the story, Jesus’ listeners would have raised their eyebrows. Aren’t riches a sure sign of God’s blessing? Aren’t poverty and sickness sure signs that one is experiencing God’s displeasure?

As in many parables, the absence of certain details is worth pondering. Jesus makes no mention of either man’s personal faith. There is no suggestion that Lazarus ends up in heaven because his piety is robust and his belief system is strong. Lazarus is rewarded in the afterlife for another reason altogether. On earth, he was poor and hungry and sick and lonely and forgotten and abused and abandoned. On earth, he counted for nothing. Period. For all we know, Lazarus was not even Jewish—he could have been a Buddhist, a Hindu, or an early Muslim before the arrival of the prophet Muhammad some six centuries later. He’s definitely not a Christian.

Similarly, the rich man’s faith, piety, belief, and orthodoxy are nonfactors in determining where he ends up. He’s where he is for one reason: during his earthly life, he regularly ignored the needs of Lazarus at his gate and of all the Lazaruses beyond his lot line.

Why do we seem to get hung up on right beliefs instead of right actions?

Tagged , , , , |

He Would Have Known!

Cobblestone Woman

From the Introduction to my forthcoming book, Jesus, a Life (365 musings on the life of Jesus from the Gospel of Luke, with 29 black and white photographs, available from Amazon in mid-November):

“This collection is for people who deeply love Jesus, God, and the church, but it’s more purposely directed to those who’ve given up on all three because of the harm authority figures and religious institutions have inflicted on them. This is a long list that includes those who’ve been devalued, discouraged, and denounced because of their gender, their life experiences, their marital status, their ethnicity, their race, their addiction, their disability, their sexual orientation, their politics, their doubts, or their questions.”





 As the religious leader watched the woman washing Jesus’ feet, he thought to himself, “If Jesus were a true prophet, he would know the dubious character of this woman touching him. We all know she’s nothing but a sinner. Luke 7:39

The host is offended, not only with the woman who crashed his party but with Jesus, who was far too at ease with the devotion she lavished on him.

Simon the Pharisee was right about many things; this woman violated all sense of religious propriety. In touching Jesus, she caused him defilement. By letting down her hair in public, she displayed immodesty. If Jesus were a real prophet, he would have protested graciously and sent her on her way. What good is a prophet if he doesn’t recognize sin and call sinners to task when they’re exposed? Like a bloodhound on the scent, Simon knows a sinner when he smells one. The conventional wisdom of the day labels this woman a definite sinner.

The wisdom of conventional religion is nothing if not decisively clear-cut and unambiguous. Conventional wisdom of any sort doesn’t put up with loose ends. That may be why we opt for conventional wisdom more often than not.

Conventional wisdom says: The poor are lazy.

Conventional wisdom says: Not in my neighborhood.

Conventional wisdom says: God helps those who help themselves.

Conventional wisdom says: Close our borders to the south.

Conventional wisdom says: America, right or wrong.

Conventional wisdom says: We’ve got Middle East oil to protect.

Conventional wisdom says: Gays will fray the fabric of the family.

“If Jesus were a true prophet,” Simon protests, “he’d know all about conventional wisdom.” That much Simon seems to get right. Jesus is well aware of conventional wisdom, and has no use for it.

With which conventional wisdom do you agree?

Tagged , , , |

Jesus, a Life


This is for anyone who’s ever preached a sermon, or heard one. A Sunday morning excerpt from a soon-to-be-published book . . .


The synagogue worshippers got up and drove Jesus to the hill on which their town was built. They were ready to push him off the cliff, but Jesus managed to escape and continued on his way. (Luke 4:29-30)

No one bothers to wait for the benediction. Nobody makes a motion for a congregational vote. In an apparent act of unanimous spontaneity, the synagogue worshippers rush the speaker’s chair and hustle Jesus out of town. So much for job security.

The word drove suggests in Greek, as it does in English, a hostile and aggressive action. Here’s blind rage fueled by mob mentality: “No one comes on our home court and makes those accusations. Hometown son or not, nobody gets a free pass spouting that God’s love is meant for people we can’t stand!”

With dust funnels swirling behind them and Jesus securely in tow, the crowd reaches a suitable execution spot. The preacher has to die, and in all likelihood, he would have were it not for a bizarre and mysterious turn of events.

Jesus somehow “managed to escape.” Huh? How’s that possible? Nobody sees him walk away? Are we to believe the hilltop altitude gives them bigger problems than the preacher’s message? Does their prolonged argument over who’s going to push him off the cliff actually provide Jesus the opportunity to give them the slip?

The fact that Luke doesn’t dwell on the logistics of the escape is reason enough to let the issue stand. The Sabbath crowd tries to kill Jesus. (Wait a minute, weren’t executions unlawful on the Sabbath?)

Rather than pointing to a divinely orchestrated rescue operation, this near-death episode is a reminder that Jesus doesn’t stay where his presence isn’t wanted. He may arrive an unannounced visitor, but he doesn’t remain an unwelcome guest. Yet, in spite of the treatment, Jesus doesn’t invoke on them fire and brimstone. There might be a lesson there if we choose to see it.

When was the last time you roasted a preacher?



Tagged , , , , , |