She Couldn’t, and She Did

People May Say I Cant Sing

As Florence Foster Jenkins, Academy Award-winning actress Meryl Streep portrays a woman whose drive to support the musical arts kept her alive for decades longer than her diagnosis should have allowed. The program for Jenkins’ daring performance at Carnegie Hall — undoubtedly the worst vocal performance ever on that stage — is now the most requested program in the entire Carnegie Hall archives. Her vanity recordings on the Melotone label (be sure to listen!) were the label’s largest sellers. Free tickets to the Carnegie Hall concert went to 1,000 US military personnel in honor of their WWII service. And Mrs. Jenkins sang courageously, despite her utter incompetence.

“People may say I can’t sing, but no one can say I didn’t sing,” said Mrs. Jenkins.

Be sure to catch this uplifting film*, which opened this week. And then ask yourself: “What is it that ‘I can’t do’ and could do anyway?” Then: Do it!

*Potential filmgoers be aware: the PG-13 rated film represents elements of life that God considers sin, including a long-standing extramarital relationship.

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One way God could work through candidate Trump

Yesterday, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump called for foreign spies to (further) hack our national interests. Russia already has been credited with the hack of Democratic National Committee servers that permitted a Wikileak of party emails. This week, Trump urged Russia also to attempt to gain access to the email server Hillary Clinton used for State Department communications. *


In a press conference Wednesday, Donald Trump called on the Russians to dig through State Department emails.

Republican leaders, business leaders, scholars of the law, and retired senior military officials have all noted that calling for spies to access US government communications is, by definition, treason. Treason is normally an offense that lands a person in federal prison.

And maybe a prison term is the means by which God will allow Donald Trump to begin a new work of God, as so many of my conservative Christian friends expect he will.

You see, this isn’t the first time that a cloak-and-dagger assault on a presidential campaign has landed people in prison. During Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign, his team’s burglary of a suite in Washington’s Watergate Hotel put Chuck Colson, among other co-conspirators, into prison.

In prison, the late Colson became a firm believer (receiving the highly beneficial support of a weekly private Bible study under church historian and Gordon-Conwell professor Richard Lovelace). On release, he founded Prison Fellowship, now in its fifth decade of helping those imprisoned and their families, and seeking justice system reforms.


Prison Fellowship founder Chuck Colson’s faith was nurtured while he served time for a campaign crime.

So now we have candidate Trump, whose Christian faith has been endorsed by numerous conservative leaders, and whose political activity has placed him — in the normal course of events — at risk of imprisonment.

Could it be possible that our next prison reformer is about to be born?

Only God knows.

Some relevant links

* Also, a day-later “just kidding” from candidate Trump


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Humility by the sea

If Thou Couldst Empty All Thyself of Self

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Pruning for an Abundant Life

grapevines at 301

In June, budding bunches had already begun to hang from the grapevines.

This year, there will be many grapes.

My mother planted grapevines at our Maine home who knows how many years ago, trellising them up a white-painted lattice that stands erect beside our century-old barn. My brother, a master gardener, had pruned the vines as anyone prunes ornamental vines. “They’re very healthy,” he told me, as I stood with loppers, assessing the thick mass of red, woody stems.

Healthy they were. And overabundant. If the goal was to cover the trellis wall with leaves, the vines had been pruned well. Dozens of stems competed for space, twining their tendrils around the white trellis frame and each other as they sought to push their leaves into the sun.

As for the fruit, it had become no more than an afterthought in the energetic expansion of these vigorous vines. Longer stems, more leaves, more tendrils – that was the life these vines were allowed to live. And being unconstrained, these vines chose to live with abandon. Fruitfulness? Who cared!

Abandon and abundance. The words echo with the same sounds, but have such different meanings. To live with abandon is to live, in one sense, with abundance. The abandoned life is one filled with an abundance of anything and everything. Like the grapevine inadequately pruned, it demonstrates endless energy and produces even more. Everything it does is aimed at adding to its own flow of resources. More vines make more leaves to catch more sun to produce more chlorophyll to produce more energy to produce more vines to make more leaves … The circle goes on without end until winter brings it to a temporary close. Then spring returns, and the happily abandoned vines begin once again their energetic expansion.

Abundant Life Begins with Boundaries

The abundant life happens when energies are constrained to a specific end. No more vines than are required. Only enough leaves to support the vines that are allowed. Under those limitations, the vines get the signal that their own lives are not the point. They need to make sure they prepare for the long term. And so, they start to form fruit.

Fruit, as we all know, contains the seed for the next generations of life. It also contains the nourishment for generations of other kinds of life. Birds carry fruit away. Insects bore through it to make nests for their young. Deer and other rambling animals nibble at the windfalls. And the people who grow fruit feed the people of their own families, sell to the people of their communities, and allow people in need to glean.

To make a grapevine fruit in abundance, it must be constrained. By one common standard, the gardener leaves only four branches on each vine stem. The branches are selected carefully for their vigor, but the gardener also knows that each will gain vigor by having been selected. Instead of leaving the vines to find their own way, the gardener creates supports that will allow them to find the sun, then helps them find the supports.

Grapevines Ben Horton

This Ben Horton photo of old grapevines in a vineyard
may be purchased at

If you’ve ever seen the vineyard that supports a winery, you understand how this works. Thick vine stems rise beneath the interwoven structures that support their branches. A winter visitor sees little but the stump-like vine stems. In midsummer, a thick canopy of leaves turns the overhead structure into a shady haven. At harvest, the grapes that have been budding below the leaves have at last filled with juicy, energetic ripeness. They are ready to pass the vine’s nourishment along to others.

When you grow grapevines, the choice between abandon and abundance is obvious. Abandon the vines to their own inclinations, and you get lots of vines. Constrain their growth to a limited few, and you get lots of grapes. Fruitfulness comes when careful constraints are chosen.

The ‘Abundant Life’ Lived with Abandon

In life, the choice can be more difficult. Living with abandon has its own kind of abundant rewards. You turn from one activity to another, try one new thing after another, “ping” the pleasurable dopamine rush over and over.

But as the grapevine teaches me, constraints are essential to the kind of abundance that produces fruit to nourish others.

These weeks and months and even years, as I mourn three great losses, feel like times some of the phony abundance of abandoned living is being pruned that I might have an abundance that brings fruit.

I can only hope.

As for the vines: this year, there will be many grapes.

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Freedom of Religion: Religious Pluralism before the American Revolution

This Memorial Day weekend, while we celebrate the many freedoms won by our nation’s military, I found myself using my freedom of research to uncover and map these 30 pre-Revolutionary US churches. Several Catholic and Anglican congregations were started before the Pilgrims arrived; the first Jewish congregations date to the 1650s.

As a citizen of a nation that values freedom of worship, I’m grateful for this graphic reminder that even the earliest European immigrants to these shores were religious pluralists.


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