Ivory-billed Woodpecker risen from the grave

I was moved by the news today that the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, thought to be extinct for sixty years, has been spotted again . . . the emotion that birdwatchers and scientists. One wildlife expert compared it to Lazarus rising from the dead. Another was so emotional he could not speak, sobbing and repeating over and over, “I saw an ivory-bill. I saw an ivory-bill.”

Here are two good stories:

  • Birdwatchers sob as ‘extinct’ bird found after 60 years
  • ‘Extinct’ woodpecker found in Arkansas

    Praise God for his intricate and incredibly creative work that we are allowed to enjoy.

  • By Greg Taylor Posted in General

    Monastic Top 10

    A few years ago, I compared and contrasted the monastic orders of Benedict, Augustine, and Francis. While Benedict coined the phrase, “The life of a monastic ought to be a continuous lent” (Benedict, Rule, 49), the following top 10 are commonalities of the monastic orders of Augustine, Benedict, and Francis:

    1. life is lent led by a director
    2. humility
    3. community, cloister
    4. celibacy
    5. poverty, no personal property
    6. favor the weak, sick
    7. manual labor
    8. radical imitation of Jesus
    9. correcting one another
    10. prayer

    Interesting . . . one of the major associations we make with monasteries is chanting and solitude. While part of many orders, solitude and chanting are not emphasized in these three orders as much as the above top 10.

    By Greg Taylor Posted in General

    The Boss

    Devils and Dust releases today. Bruce Springsteen was on NPR yesterday singing, “Jesus was an only son . . . ” and Ashley, my eleven-year-old, asked me who that was singing. “The Boss,” I replied, thinking how sad it is yet how fun it is to be able to introduce her to some of the music before her time that endures today.

    “Who’s that? Is he a country singer?”

    “No, well, he sings a lot of things, but he’s a famous rock singer, one of the best, the Boss.”

    So I called her in this morning because they said he’d be singing on the Today show, but they keep stringing us along and Ashley has to go to school without hearing from the Boss this morning.

    One of the best things about the Boss is that he is a lyrical, melodic storyteller as well as a strong songwriter and musician.

    By Greg Taylor Posted in General

    Spiritual Formation a way beyond the battles

    Earl Lavender and I talked yesterday about how Spiritual formation is a great way to get beyond the conflict between old/new, modern/postmodern, tradition/progressive, liberal/conservative. As a friend said to me: reading the Bible more in worship is not easily going to get us in hot water.

    But it’s not that easy. In Spiritual formation, we’re moving from reading the Bible to the Bible reading us. Yes, the Bible reading us. We don’t stand above Scripture, shaping it to our image, but we are read by Scripture, undone by it, being shaped into the image of Christ by it. That’s part of Spiritual formation.

    By Greg Taylor Posted in General

    Wasting time

    I love what my cousin, Clint Davis, said in his Clint Davis Blog about wasting time on God, so we know it’s not us who “produce” but God who is Lord of the universe . . . and we are not. Wasting time helps us remember that vital fact.

    I’m crazy about the new book by Earl “the pearl” Lavender and Gary “smilin'” Holloway, Living God’s Love. Here’s what they say about wasting time.

    We also must be willing to “waste time” with God. Being silent with him for 15 minutes to an hour daily is a way of acknowledging that he is God and we are not.

    Waste a little time reading blogs by a few of my family members:

  • Clint Davis Clint writes about the connection we must make between rich and poor nations, particularly his involvement in Uganda and Rwanda
  • Brent Taylor I remember Brent reading thick novels to my dottling in thinly veiled excuses for literature growing up. He is a builder, CPA, and working on a family book of writings now.
  • Dr. Toby You’ll get a good mix of serious experiences in being a pediatrician and practicing internal medicine in Utica, New York plus some pretty funny stories about childhood or his own kids.

    All three blogs are an enormous waste of time and I think you’ll love them.

  • By Greg Taylor Posted in General

    Tax Day Encouragement: Every word that comes from the mouth of God

    We’re counting beans today, trying to figure out how much we gave to charity, how much money we made, how much we owe or get back.

    When I’m taxed by the attempts to seek my “daily bread,” one thought that “governs” my day to day is what Jesus quotes in the wilderness (and he’s quoting from Deuteronomy 8:3) . . . that we live not by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Manna was given to the Israelites for one purpose: ironically, it was for the opposite reason that we might think on the surface. It wasn’t just for sustenance but so every Israelite would realize that they could not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.

    We receive money, daily bread–most of us way beyond sustenance–for one purpose: to live and breathe the Lord and know he’s the true provider. In the last few weeks, I’ve done nothing to bring the buds on the trees. I’ve done nothing to turn the world on its axis, nothing to twinkle the stars or warm the planet. I’m a steward of creation as one of its companions but as I count my blessings today on tax day, I proclaim my allegiance not of this world or this country but to the Lord and every word that proceeds from his mouth.

    By Greg Taylor Posted in General

    Visitor from Rifle

    Twenty years ago I went with a group to help conduct a Vacation Bible School in Rifle, Colorado. That’s the trip Tony Kocher’s jaw locked out when he yawned while we drove in Mickey Miller’s van, and we had to stop at an emergency room to unlock his jaw. Mickey Miller died last year. It was in Rifle that I met Trent Williamson. We’ve been friends twenty years, both attending Harding and walking into a web of friends that has provided strength, spiritual food, laughter, challenge for two decades.

    Trent is now principal of New Hope Christian Academy in Memphis, Tennessee. New Hope is an inner-city private school with eighty percent of its student body coming from lower income families in section 8 housing. The mission is to help prepare a generation of students who do not have such opportunities for Christian education. Trent and all the staff and teachers are living a missional life in reaching out to students to give them hope.

    Wednesday, Trent was in town with some students in an activity here in Nashville, so he and one of his fifth-graders stayed the night and we caught up on each other’s lives. What great joy it is to have friends stop in.

    By Greg Taylor Posted in General

    Banana split boats

    A seasonal creek runs behind our house. Jacob and I like to get banana split boats–like you get at DQ–and run them down the creek like we are steamboat captains on a mighty river. I used to do this as a kid, even talked about it in Down in the River to Pray. There’s something about the river that draws us, like it did Bevel in Flannery O’Connor’s The River, and some of us just have to plunge in to search for what the preacher said we’d find there.

    By Greg Taylor Posted in General

    Gala Apples

    In the last two weeks I’ve eaten a whole bag of apples at my desk . . . crisp, small, sharp and sweet is the Gala Apple, one of my favorites.

    If you are eating an apple and it’s mushy, the skin tastes bitter and pulp is bland, it is not an apple you are eating.

    No, you would be eating a product of a nationwide supermarket industry that stretches itself to supply our demand for fresh fruit year round. You might also be eating the wrong kind of apple for your tastes.

    See more about apples

    By Greg Taylor Posted in General

    This generation’s most historic funeral

    I joined the world in witnessing this morning the most historic funeral in the lifetimes of most of us. Millions (BBC reports two million Poles alone) gathered in the Vatican for the funeral of Pope John Paul II. More than two hundred political leaders paid last respects to the pope.

    A woman started the service with a reading from Acts 10 and the mass included readings from the Gospels, singing of Psalm 23, reading the Nicene Creed, singing of phrases in Italian such as “Lord, have mercy on me” brought responses ranging from applause to tears in the crowd.

    I was moved to tears several times during the service: for example, at one point the Lord’s Prayer was spoken, and I joined, by myself in the living room but really with perhaps two billion people worldwide. Katie Couric said this is a prayer recited in liturgy of all branches of the Christian faith, and that’s nearly true.

    John Paul II was indeed a unifying pope for the people and one who Poles call not only a national hero but a national redeemer, one who is partly credited for the eventual fall of communism, who traveled to 130 countries preaching the peace and hope of Christ with the words, “Don’t be afraid.”

    Twice I’ve written long posts about the pope but having problems with blogger, so I’ll suffice to say what I have at this point and know that the world is also writing and listening to one another, as Tim Russert said, whether Catholic, Protestant, Jew, Muslim, agnostic, atheist, Buddist, the turning of humanity from this funeral is a turning inwardly to understand how we can be better human beings, to understand how the pope embodied Christ’s mission to the poor and oppressed and hopeless. We then turn back outwardly toward how we might make the world a better place.

    As another observer said, this is not separated by historic event and spiritual. The impact of the pope cuts across those denominational and social lines and helps us see that to be truly human, we live the life that Jesus set out for us, and heed the call of the homily during the funeral, “follow me, follow me.”

    As the simple cypress coffin was taken out, the choir sang the Magnificant, a fitting song for a man who took up the cause of women, who as Sister Rita Burley said, was one of the first popes to fully bless and affirm “the genius of women.”

    As Darryl Tippens, Todd Bouldin, and I write more about on Wineskins home page and Wineskins Blog, the pope was an incredible human being, social and spiritual shaper of generation. May we all learn something from his life and make it part of the life that we live as we follow Christ.

    By Greg Taylor Posted in General

    Grandmother praying Scriptures

    This is a loving prayer of my Mother for her children and grandchildren this week. She prays Scriptures for her offspring, one of the intercessory forms of Lectio Divina, though I’m not sure she’d call it that. Here is one she sent for two of her eleven grandchildren:

    It is rainy here and cool – but we had some sunshine today. I went by Granny D’s house today and she had sweet potato plants sitting on a stand by her chair – she is watching them grow until it is warm enough to put them in the garden. She loves to watch things grow and even though she is almost 94 years old – she still gets itchy to get out in the garden and play in the dirt. Wish you were here to help us plant the sweet potatoes.

    Hope you have a wonderful day in school tomorrow. I know you both will do well because you are good workers! So this is the prayer for you today. From John 15:9-17: “Count Emma and Anna as your friends, Lord. Let them live according to your words, loving others as you have loved them . . . obeying your commands . . . and feeling safe in your life-giving love.”

    We pray that God will wrap you in His arms tonight as you sleep – we love you dearly. Nammy and Papa (Pops)

    By Greg Taylor Posted in General

    What place does the pope have in lives of non-Catholics?

    Pope John Paul IISee today’s Wineskins Blog about the question, “What place does the pope have in lives of non-Catholics?” I’m interested to hear what others think, so please visit and give your two cents worth.

    I didn’t mention on Wineskins that Dan Brown of Da Vinci Code fame wrote a better book called, Angels and Demons, which pivots on the death of a pope and the Conclave, among other things. Just as any book, particularly fiction, should be read with concern for what is actually historical, so you ought to read this book with that caution and more background reading while you learn about the Conclave narratively.

    Yesterday, Jill gathered our children around her scrapbook (she had not pulled it out in years) and showed them the photo she had taken when the pope walked past her in St. Peter’s, posted above. Our children want to know why the pope is so important, why all the attention is on his death right now. We talked about how he’s the leader of one billion people, their church, and he is in the line of many who have decided important things about what Christians have believed about Jesus and his mission. Yet, we temper it with our own understanding of the priesthood of all believers, the message of Hebrews, the way we are shepherded by loving elders in our lives today. Though we are not “told” what to believe by the pope, his office has still influenced what we believe over the years and I would venture to say, still does. His stands make a difference to many beyond the Catholic faith, in what they come to believe for themselves.

    More at Wineskins Blog

    By Greg Taylor Posted in General

    What’s in a name?

    My growing up buddies would sieze on the names of our fathers and use them to refer to one another. My father’s name is Terrel. “Can’t put nothing past Terrel’s boy,” a friend might say. One friend’s father was named Quinten. We’d say something like, “Only the best for Quinten’s boy.”

    I’m the lastborn of five children. Mom would often recite the whole slate of names before getting it right. “Toby, Deb-Brent-Ter, Greg!” I learned to answer to most any name, be it Terrel’s boy, Mom’s new name poem of the day, or whatever my brothers made up for me, such as Persmiggin. Don’t ask me for an etimology of that one.

    Wasn’t it Shakespeare who said, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet?” What if we called someone by the names we are not? Though the idea of “Protestant” embodies much more, it is still used as a word for “not Catholic.” Other religious groups end up named or referred to by what they are against.

    Perhaps my friends weren’t too far off calling one another after our fathers. Interestingly, a Ugandan son does not typically take the last name of his father but sometimes his grandfather or other ancestor. A mother, on the other hand, actually gets a new name after her first-born child. Our first-born has the middle name after my grandmother’s first name, Grace, who died the day before Ashley Grace was born. So Ugandans to this day call Jill, Mama Grace.

    There’s more to the story of Ashley and my grandmother. Grandma Grace died the morning of November 21, 1993. Our first baby was due any day. I went to Bartlesville for the funeral. Jill went to Houston because that’s where our insurance would cover the hospital birth. Toward the end of that long day, I got a call from Jill. “You’ve gotta come. It’s time.” I panicked.

    The family went into action making calls, got me a flight, and Toby took me to Tulsa. I was in the air within a couple of hours of that call. I made my first “airphone” call. I asked the flight attendant to ask the pilot if he could go faster, that a potential new father was onboard. She grinned and patted me on the shoulder and probably had a good laugh with the pilot.

    I arrived in time for the birth just after midnight. We changed our plans for Ashley’s middle name. We called her Ashley Grace Taylor, in honor of Grandma Grace. And new life for the Taylor family screamed from the hospital that is across the street from Houston NASA Mission Command. Amazing Grace.

    There is something in a name. This morning I pledged again to be a good son, to honor the name of Jesus, to call God “My Father” and to be named after him.

    By Greg Taylor Posted in General

    Di-Vine Love

    I’m thinking this morning about Christ’s phrase, God the gardener “cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”

    This is the gardener’s love: to lovingly prune, to rain down grace, to enjoy watching the growth.

    Those who are faithful will still be and must be pruned.

    By Greg Taylor Posted in General

    Why have you forsaken me?

    The most poignant and gripping scene in The Passion–aside from Jesus saying to Mary, “I make all things new” . . . but the most biblically accurate–is Jesus saying in Aramaic in a way I’d never heard it, “Elihi, Elihi lema sabachthani?” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Yesterday’s reflections at Wineskins blog say more about this but today it is a gripping realization to see this and Christ’s other words spoken on the cross as prayers.

    This, I will think about periodically today and perhaps in times of crisis that come the rest of my life.

    I wrote more about this today at our Wineskins blog

    By Greg Taylor Posted in General