14. Prayers of a Life in Tension by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Prayers_of_a_Life_in_Tension_webAlmighty Father,

I praise you for your enduring presence in my life—your glory surrounds me. It wakes me in the morning; its spirits my day; it protects me during the night. Empty me of all bitterness, all despair, all feelings that deflate my life.  Help me to confess my weaknesses, my brokenness, my sin to make room for your glory, your mercy, your love. Heal me in your presence when only your presence will do. Bind up my wounds; give me a hope; guide me in your ways that I might see the new day that your have prepared for me and that the past may no longer attract me or divert me from your glorious future and that I may enjoy the blessings set before me today. In the power of your Holy Spirit and in Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

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ShipOfFools_web_10042015Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.
For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone
when he falls and has not another to lift him up! (Eccl 4:9-10)


By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In the second grade Mrs. S. quickly learned that asking me to stand in front of the class
was not a discipline strategy that worked well with me—I had too much fun!
So I went back to standing face in the corner
And getting wacked on open hands with a ruler.

Still, it was an interesting year.

At one point my class—the whole school—was dismissed to watch Astronaut John Glenn fly overhead.
His space capsule looked like a daytime star racing across the sky—
I don’t remember if we saw him fly around the earth all three times.

It was exciting—how could I forget?

Second grade was the year that I met Phillip.
Phillip was special because he lived on a farm down Good Luck road
Past all the new neighborhoods that had been built.

My mom used to drop me off afternoons or on the weekend.

The farm wasn’t much—just an old farmhouse, a garage, a shed and a lot of fields.
They didn’t have any animals or machinery—
no one seemed to care for the hay fields that it had
But the gravel road out front was just like Iowa.

And we wandered together around those fields shooting his BB gun and just being boys.

Phillip said that I was special because I did not run wild
And shoot BBs in the air like the other boys.
But I never saw all that.

Further down the road in the woods someone built a plywood treehouse
It seemed out of place and whoever built it left a lot of flares behind
Which we confused with dynamite.

It was scary.

Phillip’s mother didn’t mind us—she always made lunch
while his dad mostly sat at the table working on papers.

Phillip and I were friends until the fourth grade
When his father put a 22 caliber rifle to his head and shot himself.
Phillip and his mother moved to Bethesda.

I missed Phillip.

After a bit, I looked him up in the phone book
and called a bunch of folks until I got his number.
We talked a bit, but never spoke again.

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Swindol Introduces an Authentic Abraham

Abraham_review_01212016Charles R. Swindoll. 2014. Abraham:  One Nomad’s Amazing Journey of Faith. Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publications, Inc.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Authenticity. I have always been drawn to people who ooze authenticity.

In grade school, a favorite aunt gave me a biography of Winston Churchill—an authentic war hero and statesman (Malkus 1957). I was hooked. Reading biographies and listening carefully to the life-stories of the people around me became a life-long passion. Author John Savage (1996, 82) calls stories from the past with current meaning rehearsal stories.[1] In more recent years, I have been repeatedly drawn to the story of Abraham—a biblical story of an authentic man of faith who continues to inspire me. So when the leader of my church’s men’s group gave me a copy of Charles Swindoll’s[2] Abraham, I knew it would be a page turner.

Swindoll sees 4 reasons why biographies are worth studying:

  1. A good biography translates truth into life.
  2. A good biography creates a closer kinship with people we have admired from a distance.
  3. A good biography offers stability when we go through similar experiences.
  4. A good biography helps us maintain a divine perspective on life (viii-x).

This idea of a rehearsal story is actually part of the Lord’s Prayer: we pray that “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).  In other words, we take the biblical pattern, such as seen in the life of Abraham (a shadow of heaven), as a pattern for our own lives (here on earth). Are you excited yet?

Swindoll sees Abraham as interesting because:

Out of this mass of theologically aimless humanity, one man emerged who began to proclaim what we might call “radical theism.” The man we know today as Abraham not only claimed that one true Creator existed and that all other gods did not, but he also stacked his entire life on this belief (xi).

In other words, Abraham oozed authenticity.

Abraham’s authenticity was apparently attracted a loyal following who were not, per se, his slaves or relatives. Swindol writes:

Abram attracted a large number of loyal followers because he was a wealthy, influential man. His household grew in numbers because people saw how his community enjoyed provision and protection. (43)

Today we might describe this phenomena as an entourage—people just wanted to be with Abraham. Abraham’s faith was part of the attraction.

Part of Abraham’s attraction was that he was a fearless and cunning warrior. Swindol writes:

Genesis 14 would make an exciting action movie. It contains all the necessary elements of a great story. A riveting plot. Villains. A crisis. A hero. Strategy, swordplay, and acts of daring. A surprising twist and—just as critical to good storytelling—meaningful character development. (42)

Abraham defeats the superpowers of his day at their own game in spite of being vastly outnumbered and he rescues his nephew, Lot, from a life of slavery. Having beaten the superpowers, Abraham refuses to grab Canaan (including Sodom and Gomorrah) by force, preferring to wait on God’s timing to claim God’s promise of land in Canaan.[3]

Charles Swindol was senior pastor of churches in Texas, Massachusetts, and California.  He is the former president and chancellor of Dallas Theological Seminary and has led a radio ministry, Insight for Living, for many years. Swindol’s writes a comprehensive account of Abraham’s life and spiritual journey in 20 chapters.

Based on Abraham’s life, Swindol offers this closing advice:

Wherever God leads, follow.

Whatever God promises, believe.

Whenever God tests, trust.

However God blesses, share (260).

May this book bless you and may you, in turn, bless others[4].


Malkus, Alida Sim. 1957. The Story of Winston Churchill. New York: Grosset and Dunlap.

Savage, John.  1996.  Listening & Caring Skills:  A Guide for Groups and Leaders.  Nashville:  Abingdon Press.


[1] Review: Savage Teaches Listening; Hears Unheard Stories (http://wp.me/p3Xeut-4e)

[2] https://www.insight.org

[3] Interestingly, later in Genesis 18:22-33 he argues (prays) that God spare Sodom and Gomorrah from destruction for the sake of the righteous people found there, including his nephew.

[4]This is a paraphrase of Genesis 12:2-3 which I have used in signing my own book, A Christian Guide to Spirituality (T2Pneuma.com).



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13. Prayers of a Life in Tension by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Prayers_of_a_Life_in_Tension_webResurrected Lord,

Thank you for the hope that comes in the midst of life and death. Be especially present with those that grieve—grieve over the loss of a loved one, grieve over a life not lived according to plan, grieve over sin and brokenness and shame.  Show us the road to recovery, wholeness, and restoration; show us the plans that you have laid out for us—plans for welfare, not evil, for a future, and a hope in you.
Grant us godly grief that produces repentance and redemption and new life in joy.  In the power of your Holy Spirit, wipe away our tears so that we might behold the Father. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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The Farm

ShipOfFools_web_10042015So then you are no longer strangers and aliens,
but you are fellow citizens with the saints
and members of the household of God
(Eph 2:19)

The Farm

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The farm was a home.

Neighbors cared. Family was near. The church was always open.
People knew you and you knew them.
Small town life was available, but not too available.

The farm was more than a farm.

It was a safe place where plants and livestock grew
From spring into summer into fall
And winter was a time to rest and prepare for a new season.
Life was regular and predictable and people enjoyed each other’s company.

When I was young, we moved around.

My father was first a student and then an Air Force officer.
We lived in different places.
Home was where you hung your hat.

The farm grew from a place to a destination.

In the city, some neighbors knew you.
Sometimes family visited.
Sometimes churches were open.
Often we knew just a few people, mostly from church.
City life was ever-present, but never really present.

Home became illusive.

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Lupton Presents Type in a Whole New Light

Type_review_01142016Ellen Lupton. 2010. Thinking with Type: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Editors, and Students. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Often when I talk to friends about my publishing, conversations are short. People get the idea of writing and authorship; they generally draw a blank when it comes to publishing. In particular, the idea that a book needs to be designed seems almost mystical. So my delight in finding a new title focused on identifying and using type (or fonts) has been hard to explain…It is kind of like asking a city kid where food comes from—well duh, it comes from the grocery store!

Ellen Lupton, author of Thinking with Type, has clearly traveled this route. She searched for a suitable textbook on using type for her class at the Maryland Institute College of Art, but resolved that she needed to write the book herself (7).

The first thing to notice about Thinking with Type is that the book is rather heavy (1.4 pounds) and a bit more square (7” x 8.5”) than the more typical paperback (9” x 6”). Thinking with Type has a lot of glossy photographs to illustrate the points being made. Needless to say, it is a visual delight.

The format of the book serves its purpose well.  Lupton writes:

This book is about thinking with typography—in the end, the emphasis falls on “with”. Typography is a tool for doing things with: shaping content, giving language a physical body, enabling the social flow of messages (8).

If the medium is the message, as Marshall McLuhan[1] famously remarked, then the primary medium of a book is type. Good books sport good design and the designer needs to know the role played by type. A good choice of type requires some knowledge of how it came to be, the associations it brings to bear, and the way it relates to the subject of the book. Are you interested yet?

Lupton organizes her presentation into three categories: letter, text, and grid (or spatial organization).

Letters. Early text was significantly influenced by the human body and calligraphy. Johannes Gutenberg, for example, published the first movable type in a Bible in which he attempted to emulate Bibles that were previously written exclusively by hand and included copious illustrations. Movable type caught on in Germany, but not in China where it was invented, because the Latin alphabet was phonetic and could be illustrated with relatively few letters, unlike Mandarin which pictured words rather than sounding them out. Mandarin had too many letter forms to be easily automated with those early printing presses (13).

Text. A text, Lupton reminds us, is: an ongoing sequence of words distinct from shorter headlines or captions (87). Debates about a book, which requires an author, as opposed to “text” are everywhere in the postmodern period when authors, like Jacques Derrida (91), question to the need for an authority figure in charge of producing a text. Lupton enters this debate, in part, by elegantly illustrating alternatives to simple text.

For example, is a webpage with many links embedded a book? Most people would say no. Why? Who, for example, is the author? Is it the programmer, the web-designer, the illustrator, or the copy writer?  Clearly, questions relating to the formatting of text go way beyond the decision to right, left, or center justify.

Grid. Of the three sections (letters, text, and grid), grid is probably the least familiar. Lupton defines grid in this way:

A grid breaks space or time into regular units [all small caps]. A grid can be simple or complex, specific or generic, tightly defined or loosely interpreted. Typographical grids are all about control (151).

Here Lupton’s use of illustrations is amazing[3]. The number of choices in organizing text is amazing because most of the options are not at all obvious. Those of us who use study bibles, for example, are used to seeing footnotes and other annotations down the center of the page, but this is seldom done anywhere else—most people are accustomed to footnotes at the bottom of the page.

Repeatedly, Lupton draws on magazine grid to illustrate novel grids that highlight different dimensions of the text. The influence of graphical artists on how we perceive text is striking and at times even subversive. Presentation matters and significantly influences text interpretation. Think , for example, of the use of red letters in some Bibles—the original Greek was all caps without any punctuation and no red letters!

Ellen Lupton’s Thinking with Type is a fun and informative book.  For those of you who don’t care about publishing and have no interest in design might think of it as a conversation starter.  It is that interesting.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_medium_is_the_message

[2] Of course, I gravitated to the Biblia Polyglotta (154-155) which in 1568 offered the reader the Bible in Hebrew, Latin, Aramaic, Syriac, and Greek. Today, a good program could organize such a text in minutes, but in 1568 all that was done by hand suggesting that proof-readers really did need some language skills.


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12. Prayers of a Life in Tension by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Prayers_of_a_Life_in_Tension_webCompassionate Father,

Be especially near me this morning—blott out my guilt; hide my shame; cover up my sin.  Share an intimate moment with me though I be unworthy. Remind me of better times. Grant me a new day in the sunshine of your mercy—a day when I could loose myself in your love and extend your love to those around me without a thought.  Open a bridge over the gaps that separate us—the gaps of time and holiness and power—that I might spend more time with those around me, might share in your holy affections, might overcome my own weaknesses and bitterness and turn to you instead of into my pain that I may experience godly, redemptive grief. Through the power of your Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Cuaresma Venta, Lenten Sale

Una Guia Cristina a la Espiritualidad cubierta
Una Guia Cristina a la Espiritualidad cubierta

Lent is a reflective time when we anticipate the coming of Easter. For this reason, I invite you to deepen your faith through a Lenten study of A Christian Guide to Spirituality which is now also available in Spanish.

A Christian Guide to Spirituality is organized into 50 daily devotions. Each has a theme, a reflection, and a prayer. Questions also follow to deepen your understanding.

To order with a 30 percent discount from the list price, go to:http://BIT.LY/T2PNEUMA (English) or http://BIT.LY/T2PNEUMA2 (Spanish) and enter discount code: 83WZLNW4.

Thank you for your support!


Cover, A Christian Guide to Spirituality
Cover, A Christian Guide to Spirituality
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Music Lessons

ShipOfFools_web_10042015For if you forgive others their trespasses,

your heavenly Father will also forgive you . . .

(Matt 6:14)

Music Lessons


By Stephen W. Hiemstra


My father and mother met during a couples skate in August 1951

at an roller-skating rink in Guelph, Ontario where she grew up.

At the time, mom worked as a singer with an orchestra

and she played popular music on the piano.


My piano lessons came about more by accident.


One morning as my dad was backing out of the driveway on Trexler Road,

He ran into one of the neighbors—a Mrs. C who was a piano teacher.

I still remember the tail lights shattered and scattered all over the road.

Not long thereafter, my sister, Diane, and I began lessons with Mrs. C.


At the time I was in fourth grade.


Mom used to play hymns and Broadway musical hits in the evening

On the old, second-hand piano that we kept in the recreation room.

Hymns like How Great Thou Art that George Beverly Shea used to sing

Hits like One Enchanted Evening from the Broadway musical, South Pacific.


I was never that good.


I would have loved to play piano and lead folks in signing around the piano

Like they did in movies like It’s a Wonderful Life.

But instead I practiced half an hour a day,

And fretted about not seeing a favorite television show.

Later when I took up trombone lessons, I gave up the piano

Until about 20 years later when my kids were born.


Still, I remember Mrs. C and her accident . . .


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Christian Civility—Learning to Live in the Divine Gaze

Mouw_01072016Richard J. Mouw.  2010.  Uncommon Decency:  Christian Civility in an Uncivil World. Downers Grove:  IVP Books.

Review  by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Our society has become much more diverse. Measured in terms of race, the number of non-Hispanic whites fell from roughly 84 percent in 1965 to 62 percent in 2015 [1].  Among children under the age of 20, the trend is even more pronounced. Stated in terms of perspectives, we are more likely today to meet someone with a different cultural background and point of view than at any time since the Second World War [2]. Consequently, Rodney King’s 1992 question: “Can we all get along?”  remains a serious question for everyone, but especially Christians who are supposed to model the love of Christ to those around them [3].

In his book, Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World, Christian ethicist Richard Mouw attempts to address Rodney King’s question. Mouw defines civility as: “public politeness” where “we display tact, moderation, refinement and good manners towards people who are different from us” (14). He further observes: “being civil is a way of becoming more like what God intends for us to be.” (15)  Importantly, he stresses that we do not have to approve of other people’s views (22) or to like them (24), but only to recognize their inherent right to express their views and to listen to them.

Mouw tells the story about a “crusty old Irish Catholic judge” whose days were filled with judging inner-city criminals. One day this judge had a what-would-Jesus-do (WWJD) moment just as he was about to give a tough sentence another street tough kid. He started to see this kid as a divine image bearer and in terms of his potential, not the person who he currently appeared to be (24-25).  Suddenly, this judge had a completely new attitude about his job and started having good conversation with these street kids. In Mouw’s words, the judge starting seeing “every human being a work of divine art” (26).

The story of the judge is essentially our story as we live day by day under the gaze of our ever-present God.  Mouw reminds us that: “God is always watching listening, some words are so offensive to God that they should never be uttered.” (46)  Two examples that Mouw offers are racist language (46) and a crusading mentality. Racist language is offensive to God because each of us in our diversity reflect the divine image.  A crusading mentality forgets God’s enduring love of the people whom he created. Mouw defines a crusader as: “people who think the cause they are fighting for is so important that they must use all means at their disposal to win.” (50). Using all or nothing rhetoric feeds this crusading attitude (53).

The term, divine gaze, is both novel and familiar. Mouw cites a familiar passage in Psalm 139 as an example of the divine gaze:

“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Ps 139:23-24)

This example of the divine gaze follows what appears to be the psalmist’s reminder to himself to hedge his own crusading spirit:

“Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies.” (Ps 139:21-22)

Would that we were all so self-aware and God-aware!

Having had to confront the question of the Vietnam as a young man, I was intrigued by Mouw’s use of “just war” theory to develop guidelines for public discourse without incivility. These guidelines take the form of questions to consider in sorting through such discourse, including:

  1. Is my cause a just one?
  2. Am I sustained in my commitments by the wisdom of competent authorities?
  3. Are my motives proper?
  4. Is my move beyond mere civility a choice of last resort?
  5. Is success likely?
  6. Are the means I am employing proportionate to the good goals I want to promote? (142-46)

Mouw notes that Martin Luther’s stand against the Catholic church during the early days of the reformation was not an example of a lone crusade.  As a scholar and theologian, Luther was well-informed of short-comings of the church and sought advice from many mentors (143).  He further noted that Augustine, in arguing the case for a just war, was concerned that prisoners be treated humanely and that the rights of civilians be respected (146).  Augustine certainly was not just another apologist for a Roman war policy.

At the time of publication, Richard J. Mouw was president of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, professor of Christian Philosophy, and the author of many books. He is currently a Professor of Faith and Public Life at the seminary [4]  He writes in 14 chapters preceded by an introduction and followed by an epilogue and notes.

In view of the wide range of topics covered, a brief review is inadequate to survey all the topics covered. Nevertheless, Mouw’s Uncommon Decency is both accessible and a good read. I suspect, however, that more than one read is needed to absorb all that he has to offer.  While I believe that most Christians would benefit from studying this book and would hope that journalists would take an interest, I suspect that seminary students and pastors are the intended audience.


[1] Pew Research Center. 2015. “Modern Immigration Wave Brings 59 Million to U.S., Driving Population Growth and Change Through 2065.” Cited: 7 January 2015. Online: http://www.pewhispanic.org/files/2015/09/2015-09-28_modern-immigration-wave_REPORT.pdf.

[2] Is it any wonder that millennials and boomers differ so dramatically? For boomers, the world was entirely different; for millennials, this is the only world that they have ever known.

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1sONfxPCTU0

[4] http://fuller.edu/faculty/rmouw.

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