Dear Friends,

A few years ago Marty discovered this local outfit that distributes donated tickets to shows and sports events to groups like ours on short notice, so long as we send back photos documenting that we took along neighborhood kids. Since then various members of our crew have seen NFL football, college basketball, major league baseball and—best of all by far—a couple of women’s roller derby matches at the old Cincinnati Gardens.

Last Saturday afternoon it was a Xavier basketball game, so in addition to Gina’s three sons (who relish any male-oriented escape from their very hands-on Mom and their very verbal younger sisters) and the two young men I invited to chaperone them, I reached out to my old friend Tre, who is a notorious crowd-hater but loves basketball. Then I cranked up my old minivan, which has a notorious transmission but still holds seven, and off we all went.

Everybody had a great time, but Tre especially. It wasn’t just the basketball, either. From the moment we picked him up, Tre was talking and laughing and teasing the little boys like a guy who had just been released from prison. Or, in Tre’s case, like an ex-felon who finally had a day off from the dead-end minimum wage job that is his only option, and a way out of the two-bedroom basement apartment he shares with his girlfriend and her four young adult children. Honestly, I’m sure I couldn’t handle his daily grind, especially knowing that it isn’t likely to change, no matter how many sandwiches he makes.

At the game, while the others concentrated on the action, Tre and I talked about all kinds of things – his job, my house getting robbed over the holiday, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – until, out of nowhere, he turned and looked me in the eye.

“You know what I love about the fellowship, Bart?” he asked. “I love it that some of us believe in God, and some of us believe this world is all there is, and some of us don’t even care, but we’re all just trying to, you know, appreciate this life and help each other out.”

I thought about that for the rest of the game and later, just before we arrived at Gina’s, I pulled over.

“In a few minutes we’re going to pull up in front of your house,” I told the boys, “and because I like you so much I’m going to tell you right now what I’ll need from you when we get there. What I’ll need is for each one of you to put on a big smile and say, really loud and with great enthusiasm, something like ‘Thanks a lot!’ or ‘Wow, that was super fun!’ or ‘We had a totally terrific time!’”

I explained that expressing their gratitude that way would make me and the other grown ups feel great, and that those great feelings would make us more likely to think of them next time. I told them it would be good for them too, because the more you give thanks, the more you enjoy and remember whatever it is you’re being thankful for. Then I made them practice being loud and enthusiastic, and only then did I take them home, where, to nobody’s surprise, all three boys exited nobly and with great fanfare.

Tre was right. I may never know what Gina or her boys believe. Heck, I’m not altogether sure what I believe most of the time. All I’m certain of is that I’m here, along with Tre and the rest, trying our best to help each other—and especially our kids—more fully appreciate this life.

Thank you—and I promise I am typing that loudly and with great enthusiasm—for your help with our mission and for your part in my life.

Your friend,

Bart

Dear friends,

In the midst of all the holiday greetings and end-of-year appeals pouring into your inbox, I just want to thank you for sticking with us.

So much has changed for Marty and me since we moved to Walnut Hills. It isn’t just that our kids have grown up, or that our metabolisms have slowed down, or that I no longer travel around giving talks. The real difference is in the ways we see ourselves and the world around us. Time and again over the course of these past eight years, one or both of us has had to face up to our human limitations, or to the human limitations of those we’re trying to serve. I honestly believe we’ve gotten better at caring for broken people, but we’ve also learned to lower our expectations. People get saved sometimes, from one thing or another, but all of us have some burdens we just can’t shake off. Marty and I have come to see that sometimes love means making room for those burdens, along with the loved ones who carry them.

Saying all that might seem like a strange way to thank you, but our spiritual education hasn’t come cheap, and you are the ones who have helped us pay for it. Your encouragement and support has enabled our little fellowship to make room here for some of our neighbors, and for some of their burdens too, and for that – and for you – we are very, very grateful.

Our lives and our understanding keep changing, but somehow our deepest values hold fast. We moved here to love people because we ourselves had experienced so much love, and we’re still at it because more love – yours included – keeps coming our way. We won’t last forever, of course, but for now we’ll keep celebrating the good life, and making room at the party for those who need to join. Thanks again for being part of it.

Your friend,

Bart

Dear friends,

On my way back from Chicago a few Sundays ago, I received the following text message:

Hey its Jade and i wanted to know if i could come to the dinner tomorrow if that’s okay with you. i know it’s been a long time since i’ve talked to you but if there is anything i’ve done wrong in the past i’m really sorry. also, can i come early so i can help out?

Marty laughed when I read it aloud to her. “I wonder what she wants,” said Marty, and then I laughed too. We’ve know 15-year-old Jade since she was 6, after all, and in all that time she’s never not wanted something. Then again, after openly shunning us for the past two years, and after being unquestionably the meanest, most spoiled, least grateful child in the history of the Walnut Hills Fellowship before that, I couldn’t guess what more Jade thought we might be willing to do for her. I mean, on the whole we’re a gracious bunch, but when Jade Bellamy stopped coming around, nobody shed any tears.

Jade is short and stocky, like the rest of her family but, unlike her older brother and sisters, Jade’s face was always set in an angry scowl. Really, even as a child, the only times we saw her smile were when something bad happened to someone else. Otherwise she just sat there, a sullen, solid block of negativity. Her one great pleasure in life was eating, but she even complained about that: This don’t taste right! I want more hot sauce! We had this last time! I want more ranch dressing! Why do I have to help clear the table? I want more brownies!

Over the years, different ones of us took turns trying to love Jade. Sarah tutored her in reading. Karen took her trick or treating and helped with school clothes. Marty and Anne gently corrected Jade’s bad manners over and over again at our dinners. Roman and Corbin tried to joke around with her. I hustled up a new bed for Jade when the Bellamy’s had bedbugs, and Mark hustled up a whole new house for her family to rent when their apartment building was foreclosed. None of us ever heard a thank you we didn’t ask for directly. None of us thought anything we did made a difference in Jade. And then she quit us altogether.

Two years later, however, I didn’t hesitate to invite her to join us again. I wasn’t hoping for anything, really, but I was awfully curious. So were my neighbors when I told them. Terrible as it sounds, Jade Bellamy as a full-blown teenager was a train wreck we all wanted to see in person.

She walked in the following night alone, but as soon as she got there she began greeting the rest of us with shy smiles and hugs. She’s very much a young woman now, but as she warmed up, happily reminiscing with us about moved-away friends and summer camp, we could see that she’s still a little girl too. Just not the same little girl.

Jade still has a natural scowl, but over dinner she stayed engaged in the conversation in a way none of us had ever seen before. At one point, she told me her new high school was ‘too ghetto’ for her, which made me smile because Jade is about as ghetto as they come. Afterwards, she even helped clean up and made a point of pulling me aside to thank me for letting her come. “How did I do?” she asked seriously, “Can I come back again?”. I smiled and told her of course she could. “You’re not the same little brat you used to be,” I said.

“Actually I am,” she replied in a matter of fact way. “I still have that little brat inside me. I just do a better job of keeping her under control now”.

Of course, Marty was right about Jade wanting something. Once the rest of us shared our various conversations with her, we quickly figured out that she came back mainly because she wants us to send her back to sleep-away camp next summer. Which is a perfectly fine thing for her to want, as far as we’re concerned, especially if she’s willing to hang around us for six months in order to get it. I mean, what could be wrong about a ghetto kid wanting more fresh air, new friends, and positive adult input?

What the rest of us can’t figure out, however, is why Jade wants all those things of a sudden. Or how she learned to behave herself. Or what gave her the courage to walk back into a roomful of people she mistreated for years, trusting that they wouldn’t hold that against her. As a matter of fact, all we know for certain (besides that we need to set aside some money for Jade’s summer camp registration) is that it’s a good thing all of us stayed together in this neighborhood long enough to see it happen.

Jade is back, and evidently so am I. I figure that if the meanest, most spoiled, least grateful child in the history of the Walnut Hills Fellowship is willing to humbly reconnect after a full two years, the least I could do was to dust off my keyboard and tell you the story. I’ll tell you another one next month.

Your friend,

Bart

Dear Friends,

There’s a big difference between writer’s block and happy person’s block, and the good news is that this year I’ve only got the former. The bad news is I’ve got it bad. It isn’t just these letters, either; lately I can barely scrawl my own name without some kind of prolonged existential struggle. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not sad. On the contrary, I’m still healthy, I still love people, and I’m genuinely excited by all the larger-than-life questions spinning around in my head these days. I just can’t seem to find words to describe them.

So then, you might ask, why this letter?

Honestly, this time I’m writing so you don’t think the darkness I’ve shared about in the past has finally overwhelmed me, or that our little fellowship has somehow been sunk by it. People come and go in this neighborhood, and our interactions change from year to year, but our shared pursuit of understanding and kindness is essentially the same as it has been since we first gave up trying to fix this place. All is well in Walnut Hills, at least as far as that stuff goes. We still laugh and talk our way through Monday night dinners, we still do our best to shower children with affection and encouragement, and we still sit around lamenting troubles we know better than to take on. This week Ric and Karen even ran a music camp for some of our most motivated kids, with the help of some of their uber-talented artist friends…and the Mayerson Foundation. If you have a minute, you’ll get a kick out of this catchy tune the kids wrote together.

As for me, well, maybe the essence of my writer’s block is all the time I spend each day trying to motivate and equip American Christians to care about and actively pursue peace for people on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This new job of mine is a tough one, after all.

Even so, I haven’t given up on writing my neighborhood stories, especially when so many of you have been kind enough to say you miss them. Until I get unblocked, however, I didn’t want you to worry.

Your friend,

Bart

Dear Friends,

Ronnie moved to a better living situation in Chicago, with a friend he met at our Monday dinners. Jasmine took little Malcolm to the projects on the other side of town. Nick and Coral bought a house in a place where buying a house makes sense for a young couple. The Brooks family’s eviction turned into a state-subsidized apartment and a job for TT, but not near us. Adam and Larita moved away, too; our intentional community and this neighborhood worked great for him, but not for her, hard as we all tried. My kids are gone, too, of course, both of them in Los Angeles chasing down dreams of their own. What can I say? Walnut Hills is a hard place to stay, and an even harder place to come back to.

The four households at the center of our little fellowship are more grounded here, of course, but the older I get the less I trust the constancy of anything but change. All I know for sure is that our being here together for this long has been good for at least some of the people who have come and gone from this neighborhood. And that it’s been good for us, too, on balance.

The other day Mark told me Michael and Judy are taking their three little ones back down South in a few weeks. Given all the drama they’ve brought into Mark and Anne’s lives—addictions, adultery, debt crises, screaming fights, separations, nervous breakdowns, multiple house moves, custody battles with former spouses, and more—I thought Mark might be more relieved by this news, but the fact is that he loves Michael like a younger brother, and counts on him now as a hardworking friend. In a real sense, Mark and Anne have conspired to make Michael and his family eminently missable in a positive way.

Later that day I asked Judy about their moving date, so we could plan a going away party. Here is the text I got back:

We’re shooting for April 1. I’m sad, but this is better for the kids. This city makes you hard and I don’t want them to fall into something Michael and I can’t get them out of. I don’t really want a big fuss about us leaving because I’ve got bad anxiety when I’m the center of attention, but I’ll just have to take a Valium that night because you guys have been good to us and we would not be able to go back home if you had not helped us grow out of our old lives.

If that text doesn’t make you cry, it’s only because you don’t know Michael and Judy, or what they’ve been through, or how much compassion and patience they’ve required of Mark and Anne, or what it means that they’re finally making family decisions based on their kids’ futures instead of their own pasts. Regardless, amidst all the coming and going here in Walnut Hills, I hope it makes you think.

Here’s what I think: Nothing in this world lasts forever, except perhaps for that great chain of love that stretches beyond our individual lives and ties them all together. So then, for however long someone lives in our neighborhood, or we in theirs, it is always worth the trouble to try to wrap both them and ourselves in that chain.

Your friend,

Bart

PS Because many of you have asked for an update on my peacemaking work with the Telos Group, I’m sending you another letter about that in a few hours. Think of it as a kind of long, very optional PS. Honestly, the fact that anyone reads these letters at all is both a surprise and an honor for me.

PPS As some of you know, my son Roman is in Hollywood these days, making his way in the entertainment industry. A few weeks ago he booked a speaking part as a wannabe rapper on an episode of TNT’s cop drama, Southland, which airs at 10 pm on April 3rd. If you watch, please help the kid out by giving him a shoutout on Southland’s Facebook page. And remember, he’s acting!

Dear Friends,

I realize this message may get lost in the sea of holiday appeals, but I promise I’m not asking for anything but a little understanding.

The day before Thanksgiving, Marty and I stopped by the neighborhood supermarket. On our way in, we met Benjamin Reed, the father of a great new family in our fellowship, who gave Marty a huge smile and me a big hug. Ben and his wife rent a house with his sister and her husband, and between the two couples there are at least ten kids who are not yet 15, one of whom our friend Adam teaches at the local elementary school. There’s a different lineup every time they come to dinner, but they always bring a lot of good energy.

This time Ben was alone, so we were able to stop and chat a bit, about their holiday traditions and our kids being home from California. As we parted, Ben thanked us again for bringing them into the group, and we told him again how much we all love having them. It was nice.

A few minutes later, inside the store, Marty and I ran into Terry, who left our fellowship three or four years ago after one too many conflicts and disappointments. Honestly, I get tired just thinking about all the doctors, police officers, counselors, teachers, landlords, and welfare officers I dealt with during my long, quixotic campaign to make life better for Terry and her daughter Tanya. All I know for sure is that by the end of it Terry, Tanya, and I could barely stand to look at each other. Indeed, more than anyone else in Walnut Hills, those two taught me that trying to help someone who isn’t trying to help herself is one of the surest ways to wreck a friendship.

Fortunately, all that drama was a long time ago, and Terry doesn’t hold a grudge. Every time I see her now she’s warm and engaging…and I mind my own business. This time she asked about Roman’s rapping and happily reported that Tanya was out on her own, up to God knows what but at least out of her hair. I could have said lots of things, but I settled for “Happy Thanksgiving” and moved on.

On our way home, as Marty and I reflected on the contrast between our relationships with Ben and Terry, the value of offering fellowship and connection unsullied by handouts and hidden agendas, and the wisdom we’ve gained over all these years of trying to love our neighbors in this broken place, I held something back. Honestly, nearly a month later, I still haven’t told Marty the truth. She’ll read it when you do.

In that grocery store, just before we ran into Terry, I was still thinking about Ben and his family, and about how little was in his cart, and I was trying to figure out some not-too-awkward way for us to buy him and his household a big turkey and all the other fixings. Instead of simply accepting Ben’s friendship, in spite of all we’ve been through with Terry and dozens more like her, and even though nobody was asking, I still wanted to help.

Here is my confession: I always want to help, and not always because somebody needs it.

And here is my Christmas wish: That I would want to love other people—really love them—even more than I want to help them.

Sincerely,
Bart

P.S. My other Christmas wish is for you to know how grateful I am for your kindness and encouragement. Thanks for staying with me.

Dear Friends,

A few months ago I told you about my new job with the Telos Group, but I didn’t share very much about the work itself. Well, buckle your seatbelts, because I’m about to remedy that oversight.

My new team’s name is probably the best place to start. In ancient Greek, the word “telos” describes a unique purpose or goal that is rooted in a fundamental principle, towards which all intentions and energies are singularly focused. Ours—and there are six of us—is the freedom, security, and dignity of every human being in the Holy Land, which makes us genuinely pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian, and pro-peace, all at the same time.

Simply stated, we believe that one of the most important keys to the Middle East welfare of everyone—including the United States—is a viable two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That makes us pro-American too, which is a good thing because such a solution will never be reached without significant help from the United States.

Unfortunately, while Americans of faith—and especially American evangelicals—are among the most influential stakeholders in the region, most have never met either an Israeli or a Palestinian, or encountered both Israeli and Palestinian perspectives. On the contrary, important segments of the American faith community persistently advocate for one-sided solutions to the conflict and educate the next generation about it in complete isolation from the peoples and present realities of the Holy Land.

We at Telos are reversing that reality by taking influential Americans from across the political and theological spectra on high-touch, multi-narrative pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and by bringing Israeli and Palestinian leaders and activists to the United States on speaking tours. Then, as more Americans come to know and care deeply about people on all sides, we inspire and equip them to build genuinely pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian, pro-peace movements in their own communities, aimed at radically improving the way America relates to that part of the world.

It is going to take time, of course, to win over enough American hearts and minds to really transform the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Time alone won’t do it, though. Recruiting more people into active peacemaking will take leadership too, especially with a situation as complicated and controversial as this one. That, of course, is where Telos comes in.

I am no Middle East expert, obviously, but the two men who founded Telos—Palestinian-American lawyer Greg Khalil and former Bush State Department staffer Todd Deatherage—are not only experts, but also highly respected leaders, both in Washington, DC, and on the ground in the region. They teach me more about the conflict each day, but they are relying on me to better communicate our vision and help them build a genuine movement for Holy Land peace among Christians in this country.

That movement is growing already, but Telos itself is still a small team of specialized leaders relying on the generosity of a few big donors. That made sense in the beginning, but now that we are impacting communities all over the country, it’s time to build a broader base of support. That, of course, is where you come in.

Please, take a few moments to look through the updated Telos website, including Greg and Todd’s brand new blog, Radically Centered. If what we are doing makes sense to you, and if the security, dignity, and freedom of every human being in the Holy Land matters to you, and especially if you believe in me as a leader, then now is the time to get involved. Really, a commitment of $10 or $20 per month, along with your good word of mouth, would make all the difference. Even if you can’t give, it would mean a lot to me if you just joined the Telos email list.

Can you earmark your gifts to specifically support my work? Yes…and I hope you do, by putting my name in the earmark box. As you know, a few months ago Telos almost couldn’t hire me because a grant fell short. Even now, unless my outreach efforts produce more donors as well as more active peacemakers, this may be a very short run for me.

On both my trips to Israel-Palestine this past year, I met strong families and beautiful children on both sides of the Green Line, whose hopes and happiness are being systematically crushed by a situation that doesn’t really work for either side, and that doesn’t work at all for the rest of the world. Together, I believe we can help transform that situation.

Remember, the best kind of history is made by those who commit themselves to a righteous cause while it still seems impossible.

Your friend,

Bart

P.S. In case you are wondering, yes, Marty and I are still living and loving our neighbors here in Walnut Hills. The motley little fellowship I usually tell stories about in these letters is and always has been a voluntary project, even for us. So then, be sure to join the Telos email list if you want to follow my peacemaking work, because I’ll just be telling more neighborhood stories on this one.

Dear Friends,
I am walking to the grocery store on purpose. It is a bright new day in Walnut Hills, and I want to feel good about this place and its people. Driving would be faster, but the sun is warm on my back and I want to smile admiringly at somebody’s child and make them feel good too.

Last night’s thunderstorm has scrubbed the air clean. On my way I pass some corner boys who, if not entirely transformed by the freshness, are at least feeling friendly enough to return my straight-backed nods and greetings. At the bus stop across the street, an old, bent over woman follows me with her eyes until I stop and risk a wave. She waves back. Now I wish Marty was with me.

Up ahead I see the first stroller coming, but it is worse than no good. The young woman pushing it is on the phone, and I judge her completely at 20 yards. Sure enough, she doesn’t lower her voice: “…yeah, so I tol’ that mothafuckah’ he better back the fuck off, ‘cuz I ain’ taking no more of his bitch-ass sorry shit…”. Her three-year-old must hear it too, but his blank expression gives away nothing as they pass.

In my mind I begin to follow them home, surveying the damage, telling the boy’s future, but then I stop myself. I should judge myself too, but I don’t. The day is young, and I still want to feel good. I wipe the slate clean and move on.

The grocery store parking lot is usually a minefield of petty hustlers and domestic conflict, so I keep my eyes on the big electric doors until I almost reach them, and suddenly there she is on the sidewalk, six or seven years old and all dressed up for a party, her hair tied back with pink ribbons.

Really, she looks like the little black girl in that Norman Rockwell painting, except this one is standing next to a grocery cart, lovely and serious, looking for her mother, whose car pulls up a moment later. Then the little girl smiles, and her mother smiles back, and I know in an instant that neither needs me to make them feel good. Even so, I can‘t resist.

“That child is absolutely beautiful,” I say to the mother, who thanks me kindly. “You look like a princess!” I say to the girl in my safe adult voice, and if I didn’t know better I would say the little princess curtsies. They load their groceries and drive away, and I go inside to buy my milk and eggs, glad to be here. Mission accomplished.

Then, on my way home, a bass-pounding Cadillac full of young men pulls up beside me, spewing misogyny, cigarette smoke, and general menace, and I am at it again, spewing judgement in equal measure. I know it is dangerous to turn and show my contempt, but I am so angry at being robbed of my peace that I do just that. Sure enough, the hoodlums in the car begin talking loudly and gesturing in my direction, but then the light changes and they drive away too. In a moment, even their thudding bass is gone.

Back home, in the Bible on our coffee table, Jesus’ brother James says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

A few feet away, in the poetry collection on our bookshelf, William Edward Hickson says, “If at first you don’t succeed / Try, try, try again.”

I have two more blocks to go, before Marty meets me in the kitchen. Please, God, let the sun shine on Walnut Hills for a little while longer. And please, God, let me pass another stroller. And please, God, if you can manage it, let whoever is pushing it be out of minutes.

Sincerely,

Bart

Dear Friends,
Every morning this week, Marty and I have woken up happy, knowing that Bug (Gerald) and Toot (Sharinasia) are safely asleep in the next room, and that they’ll start smiling and saying cute things the second we wake them up. They’ll smell good too, from last night’s ‘baths and potty before stories and kisses’ routine. It’s been a long time since we had a five- or six-year-old for this long, let alone one of each, and we are enjoying every hug, spill, and tickle war. By the time we drop them off at day camp, however, we are awfully grateful for the six hour respite from their nonstop energy. Caring for Bug and Toot this way is one of the great blessings of our life in Walnut Hills, but it’s a good thing their older brother and sister are away at sleepover camp this week.

What isn’t a blessing right now is caring for Bug and Toot’s parents, Patrice and Frankie, who are homeless again through every fault of their own. We could make room for them too, of course, but we won’t take them – or their 2 month old – in because we know it won’t help. Nothing will help, really, unless Patrice stops having babies and Frankie stops blowing jobs and both of them stop getting arrested and going to jail. They love their kids, mind you, but only the way a child loves puppies, showering them with affection and trusting someone else will feed and house them.

For years our friends here and Marty and I have done everything we can think of to move Patrice and Frankie in a better direction, but they are too damaged by their own families to seize opportunities, and too young and proud to simply take our direction. So on Friday, after the older ones get back from camp, we will drop off all four of those impossibly beautiful kids at whatever shelter or friend’s apartment Patrice and Frankie are at that night, knowing full well that it is just a matter of time before they get swept up in the same system that wrecked their parents.

Tonight, though, Bug and Toot and Marty and I will make chocolate chip cookies and watch a Veggie Tales video. And then, after the kids are tucked in and the toys are put away, Marty and I will lie in bed and talk each other through every possibility all over again, even though we both know better. We’ll love those kids every minute we have them, and we’ll love them every minute we don’t, whether or not it makes one bit of difference in the end.

Are we crazy? Of course we are. And so are you, I’ll bet.

Keep the faith,

Bart

Dear Friends,

Since M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled has been on the NY Times bestseller list for more than 25 years, chances are slim that I can get away with stealing his opening line. So then, I’m going with one of my own:

Call me Ishmael.

What I mean, of course, is simply this: Life is difficult.

When I first read Peck’s book in college, I couldn’t very well relate to his assertion that life—everybody’s life—is a series of problems. As a new Christian ripe with confidence in my religion, I thought we only had or caused problems when and because we failed to obey God. It never occurred to me that some suffering might be a legitimate part of the gift, or that our sins mostly came from trying to avoid or escape from right and natural problems instead of meeting them head on.

This is not another story about the peculiar difficulties of our inner-city neighbors, or about our little community’s most recent efforts to meet their needs. On the contrary, right now we would-be do-gooders are the ones in pain.

One of us has some really bad cancer. Another just fell hard off the wagon. One of us is grieving the loss of her husband. Another just had her heart broken. A few of us are deeply and justifiably worried about our kids or about our parents. A few of us need new jobs. A few of us are no longer sure what we believe.

We are not in such pain because we are so compassionate, or so generous, or so sensitive to the poverty and brokenness that surrounds us. No, the reason my friends here and I are hurting so much these days is just that we are alive, like everybody else.

Really, this stuff is par for the course for any small group of human beings, whether or not they’ve done anything especially right or wrong. Maybe things are especially hard around here, but then again, maybe you and yours are in even more dire straights. Life is difficult, after all.

I picked up The Road Less Traveled again the other day, to see if there was anything useful beyond the famous first line I’ve finally embraced. As much as I appreciated Peck’s description of the four tools for meeting our problems—delaying of gratification, acceptance of responsibility, dedication to truth, and balancing—what struck me most was his definition of love as the will to use them.

Before I became a Christian, I thought love was just an emotion, but my ministry mentors quickly taught me that love was more of a verb, something that you do for others. After many years of ‘doing’ love, however, and especially here in Walnut Hills, where such doing accomplishes so little, I like the idea that love actually consists in the determination which precedes both feelings and actions. I like the idea that love is the choice to confront life’s suffering head on.

In this case, I expect my friends and I will close ranks, doing our best to take care of each other the same ways happy families and similar groups have always taken care of each other. I expect we’ll take turns listening, praying, driving, sharing food, babysitting, crying, getting tired, arguing, and letting each other off the hook.

Frankly, I’m not sure how much extra time and energy we’ll have to share with our even more vulnerable neighbors, but eventually we’ll get back to them, and in the meantime perhaps watching us face down our problems together will draw them to our fellowship in a different way. I hope so, anyway.

I also hope that those of you who read these letters are at least a little bit encouraged by this one. As different as our circumstances may seem to be, all our lives are difficult, or will be soon enough. And, not coincidentally, all our lives are precious and beautiful, too. Really, I’m glad we’re all in this world at the same time.

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

I know, that doesn’t even make sense, but still, it was worth a try.

Your friend,
Bart

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