Thank you for the kind reception you’ve given Ordinary Glory: Finding grace in the commonplace. You may order a signed & personalized copy by writing directly to me at 147 Private Road, Waco, Texas 76708. The cost is $19, which covers the cost of the book ($13.95) plus shipping and handling. Please make your check or money order to Dane Fowlkes, and include the name of the person for whom you want the book personalized. My prayer remains that what I’ve written encourages each reader to discover the weight of glory in ordinary human existence.
Everyone loves a room with a view, but I prefer the vantage point not to expose what I work so hard to hide. I stepped outside the sliding glass door and onto the balcony of my 4th floor hotel room. My wife influences my choice of rooms even when she does not travel with me, having convinced me early on in our marriage to always choose space at the end of the hall of the highest available floor of a hotel so as to avoid tromping children overhead, grinding elevators and clacking ice makers. Safe from the threat of disruption above, I stood near the black iron fencerail bordering the five by seven concrete perch, enjoying my bird’s eye view. I noted the ugly details of commercial rooftops in the distance and slow moving ribbonlike patterns of evening traffic, then turned my gaze to more immediate surroundings. I looked down on a woman sitting in a beleaguered wheelchair. She was barefooted and parked facing east on the west side hotel balcony just below my own. A colorful do-rag that reminded me of the bright patterned textiles of Africa barely covered her baldness, and she appeared to be absentmindedly smoking a cigarette that hung precariously from the left side of her mouth, ashes hanging still further down waiting for any kind of breeze to dislodge them. The smoke rose and irritated me. She seemed at home with wheels, and I could easily imagine her as a younger woman sporting black leather, speeding down the interstate atop a vintage Harley. As I watched, she slumped slightly forward and began feverishly swiping gnarled fingers across the screen of her large Galaxy cell phone. She was obviously agitated and voiced her displeasure, oblivious or unconcerned about who might hear. Her demeanor was incongruent to her condition. Although I could not distinguish every word, tone and volume left little doubt as to her state of mind. She was angry, invoking God to condemn someone or something, or a host of both. In knee-jerk fashion I mentally raced to judge, inventing categories to condemn based on deportment and supposition. Almost as quickly, conscience constricted and I reluctantly shifted from insolence to remorse for drawing conclusions about a life I would never have to face myself.
I do not require the vantage point of a high balcony; I am adept most anywhere at condescension. How often do I figuratively look down on outcasts? Why this propensity for avoiding eye contact with those deemed less fortunate? What gives rise to the queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach when one enters a restaurant where I am eating? Where is the grace for others that I freely ascribe to God and greedily apply to myself? I have never sat barefoot and alone, unable to walk, with no one to hear my ranting and with nothing to provide comfort and distraction apart from a cigarette and cell phone. The recognition jerked me to attention, and forced me from judgment into prayer for my anonymous neighbor below and confession before God for a heart grown cold against despair and resignation. Intercession always leads to self-reflection. Contrition chooses to look and see, to hear and listen, to move from pity to empathy. These are not the decisions of a deluded saint; instead, they become inevitable when a sinner admits the awful disconnect of his own heart from those who need it most. Grace is not understood in isolation. Mercy never looks down on anyone.
“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”~Ernest Hemingway
Imagination budded as a child and written expression gave it wings to soar. I learned the comfort of words and the ecstasy of a reader’s admiration. Literary growth stalled in my youth as creativity succumbed to academic necessity. What began as an extension of myself muddled into stifling limitation, graded boxes that confined imagination. I place no blame for this on my teachers or curriculum, realizing the responsibility rested squarely on my shoulders. In college, I found new pleasure in research and academic writing, that in turn prepared me for fulfillment through sermon preparation. I rarely read from a manuscript when preaching, but preparation for oral expression comes primarily through written construction. Words are life.
In the late afternoon of life, I am discovering writing as calling; or perhaps I should say that writing is uncovering me. Instead of sudden insight, self-awareness more naturally unfolds like a quilt removed from cedar chest storage and unfurled into winter service. Personal exploration may be excruciating, but it is necessary preparation for higher expression. All that is to say that I write these days because I hope that my words with their moral and spiritual underpinnings will linger long after I’m gone. Find what it is that allows you to most fully be yourself, and express it in such a way that others may be altered by it. What we do in life should grow beyond our death. Each of us is called to outlive ourselves.
“Once the soul awakens, the search begins and you can never go back.”~John O’Donohue
“But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might.” Micah 3:8
On the surface it appears that Micah is boasting about the contrast between himself as prophet of God over against certain false prophets “who lead my people astray” (3:5). Perhaps Micah does feel a bit of righteous indignation at this point, but the purpose of his declaration is far afield from gloating. The prophet recognizes injustice in the land as an affront to Almighty God, and equates spiritual power with reclamation of justice. God rails against injustice and champions the downtrodden. Spirit-fullness is never self-centered or self-serving. Spiritual power on display always results in shalom; life becomes whole again for those broken by circumstance and conspiracy.
Awakening is solely the work of the Spirit. I can no more cause myself to be awakened than a raccoon can become a mountain lion. What I am charged with is surrender–that is solely my responsibility. While I cannot quicken my spirit to the Spirit of God, I can and must relinquish control to Sovereign Father. I stand in the way of my own deliverance. I dare not trust my emotions; they are far too fickle as to instill confidence at any level. I fling myself at the feet of One who hears me and knows tomorrow. He is best positioned to shape and use me for purposes higher than I would ever choose for myself; it is cruel to settle for the desires of my heart unless filtered through grace and divine intent. A hurting world awaits the outcome.
“Where love is, God is.” ~Henry Drummond
Just before moving to Kenya in my early 30’s, I was pastor of an all-Anglo congregation in a rapidly transitioning neighborhood. I proclaimed ad nauseam that the church should mirror its community, and we eventually made slow strides that direction. In attempt to set an example for others to follow, I made arrangements with a nearby low-income multi-family complex to hold a weekly evening Bible study in its small management office building. I advertised apartment-to-apartment and was pleasantly surprised by the turnout on our first night. It was a Heinz 57 gathering if I’ve ever witnessed one. The collective appearance of the twenty individuals that showed was so diverse as to be comical. One young man stood out from the others because I became acquainted with him best.
Michael was a chain smoker who owned nothing but a pair of tattered jeans, an ochre stained white t-shirt, and a cigarette lighter. We struck up conversation, and Michael told me that he had been a heavy drug user and that he struggled at the simplest of tasks these days. I learned he was older than he looked behind the whispered and nicotine streaked face, and for reasons God only knew, he felt comfortable talking to me. I began visiting Michael regularly in order to encourage him, meet some of his basic needs, and share Christ along the way. We would converse in his smoke thick living space and then he would give me a hug, initially against my will, before making my escape and re-emerging into fresh air. After numerous such afternoon visits, Michael confided in me that he was gay. To be completely honest, I initially pulled away because such a lifestyle repulses me, but perhaps because I had become so well acquainted with him, I pushed beyond my impulse to run and continued the conversation. I am glad that I did. One afternoon several weeks later, Michael bowed his head along with mine and gave what remained of his life to Christ. I could not know at the time, and still am not fully aware of all that changed for Michael that day and the days that followed, but I can say what changed in me. I learned that it is possible to remain firm in biblical conviction against sin while lovingly leaning the sinner toward Christ.
Believers in America are watching the culture march away from biblical morality with increasing speed. For instance, I read this week that the latest version of Beauty and the Beast has a gay scene between LeFou and Gaston. Disney just aired its first-ever gay cartoon kiss, and animators of Moana say they wouldn’t rule out an LGBT Disney princess in the future. While I abhor and actively oppose such perversion and blatant disregard for biblical morality, I will attempt to remember Michael, and refuse to jettison relationships that may be the only chance some have to see the Gospel for what God intended and not what Hollywood condemns. Thank God, Jesus loves indiscriminately, and I must take my cue from him. Rarely does anyone ever come to Christ without passing through a meaningful relationship with a disciple. Sharing Christ is always relational because we were created for relationship. For God’s sake, refuse to compromise biblical conviction for yourself or your family, but for Michael’s sake, allow yourself space to love indiscriminately as the highest imitation of our Lord.
I am extremely grateful for the many who have purchased and commented positively on Ordinary Glory. Thank you! As a result, I have two requests. First, will you consider posting a review of the book on either Amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com? Positive reviews encourage others to read. Finally, I would appreciate your sharing this post with your friends. Thank you for joining me in the effort to inform others about Ordinary Glory: Finding grace in the commonplace. And remember, “grace is always present tense.”
“Many people lose the small joys in the hope for the big happiness.”~Pearl S. Buck
I am satisfied with my life. That may not strike as much of a confession, but it is the grandest expression of living I’ve ever known. While some may see in satisfaction a resignation, an acceptance that life will probably never get better-just glad it isn’t as bad as it once was, I see it as the highest possible enjoyment. No longer my own worst enemy, life has ceased turning in on itself. As the Apostle once remarked, “godliness with contentment is great gain.” To be satisfied is to be free from regret and unbothered by uncertainty, far removed from fatalistic acceptance and more akin to the secure confidence a child finds in a parent’s arms. I am not implying that nothing remains to be done or that I have no room for improvement–far from it. What I am stating is that contentment is a pleasant vantage point from which to embrace and enjoy all possible vistas.