Tag Archives | my family

George Washington and me

george washington image

For most of my life I’ve admired him from a distance.

George Washington was someone I knew from history classes in school and from biographies I’ve read as an adult.  He deserves to be remembered with gratitude for his role in the founding of our country.

But then, yesterday, the former President and I suddenly had something in common.

I went to see my primary care physician early yesterday morning with a sore throat.  I was certain it was a strep infection.  I couldn’t swallow without pain.  But then I can be dangerous when attempting to make diagnoses while surfing the Internet.  I’ve convinced myself that I’ve had all sorts of serious illnesses, just by reading WebMD.

The primary care physician took a look at my throat and suggested I head over to the ER.  Which I did.  After the usual wait, the ER doctor took one look at my throat and said, “Oh, yeah.”  I like quick diagnoses.  I never want to be anyone’s interesting case.  The ER doctor sent me up to the seventh floor to see the “ear, nose, and throat guy,” who wouldn’t be back from lunch until 1:30.

“How are you today?” he asked cheerily, as he entered the examination room.  By that time I couldn’t answer without pain.

So, he took a look at my throat and said, “George Washington died from that.”

Now, just think, George and I have something in common, with the big exception that I have access to antibiotics.  After a quick, but nasty little procedure involving a lot of blood and pus (one reason many people do not go into health care professions), I was on my way with a bunch of pills, including some Vicodin.  I even stopped in the hospital cafeteria for a little ice cream to celebrate.

On the way home in the car I remembered hearing a similar comment during the birth of our first child.  My wife had been in labor for hours and hours.  (She doesn’t want me to give the actual time, but it was a long time.)  Finally, our OB came into the delivery room and said, “Oh, a hundred years ago, you would have labored and labored and then died.  I think we should do a c-section.”  Of course we quickly agreed.

I’m thankful for antibiotics and other drugs. I’m thankful for the breakthroughs of modern medicine.  I suspect people will look back a hundred years from now and marvel over the painful and barbaric treatments we use today, but right now I’m more grateful than I can say to be alive (and to be the father of a very healthy 29 year old, who came into the world through a c-section).

George Washington ultimately died by suffocating.  For hours, like me, he couldn’t swallow.  And then, at the end, he couldn’t breathe.  It was a painful way to go.

I am more thankful today than I can say.  There’s nothing like a little visit to the doctor’s office to put the rest of life into perspective.

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Becoming a (healing) agent of Jesus

healing place church

My guest blogger today is Marv Hage, whose blog (healingagents.blogspot.com) is one of my favorites.

Marv is my brother-in-law, which is nice, because I didn’t have to pay for this.  Beyond the family connection, he’s also a physician.  A graduate of the University of Michigan School of Medicine, he had a private practice in obstetrics and gynecology in Ann Arbor for a number of years, and then taught on the faculty at the Duke University School of Medicine.  He is currently semi-retired and lives in Wilmington, North Carolina, where he is an elder at the First Presbyterian Church.  He is the author of two books, Equipping Healing Agents: Sustaining Vocation and Healing Agents: Christian Perspectives, both about the vocation of healing.

He and I talk about healing often when we’re together at family gatherings, and I wanted my readers to listen in on our conversation.

Doug:  It’s relatively easy to understand how you would think of yourself as a healer, because you’re a physician, but how is a follower of Jesus supposed to think of him or herself as a healer?

Marv: Thanks for the opportunity to be a part of your blog.  It is important for your readers to realize that you have had an important and significant influence on my thinking.

The question is more difficult than you might believe in that I do not see my vocation as “healer.”  More positively, I think more of how Jesus was the model for me to be His “healing agent.”   He has given all of us “marching orders” to act as his agents (disciples) in this world.

The second part of the question is a little easier given my first response.   What I think is hard for all of us in being “healing agents” is to clearly understand the barriers in living out that response.

Doug: I think it’s interesting that as a physician you don’t think of yourself as a “healer”!  But I want to focus on the last comment – namely, that there are “barriers to living out that response.”  I take it you mean that we are called to be healers ourselves, but that some things get in the way.  Would you identify some of those barriers and tell us why they are barriers?

Marv:  Identifying the barriers is very dependent on the practice environment.  One of the advantages in changing practice locations has been the perspective that it brings.  Starting surgical procedures with prayer is a given at mission hospitals like Tenwek in Kenya [where Marv has worked for a month at a time over the last few years] and very uncommon in the United States.  

The underlying barrier to the vocation of healing has been the dominance of the scientific/technological understanding of the practice of medicine.  There was a time that the Protestant church had a significant impact on the education for and provision of healing care.

Doug:  Interesting.  So, would you say the practice of medicine in our culture today discourages us from thinking in terms of healing?  What are we left with then?  And how can we reclaim the idea that healing can help us understand our calling?

Marv: “Yes,” but there are some important exceptions.  Specifically, nursing education continues to address the healing dimension in our culture.  So one response is to listen and learn from our colleagues in nursing.  Another example can be found in the world of literature.  “Cutting for Stone” a wonderful novel by Abraham Verghese had a tremendous impact.  

My question for you is “what do Christians believe about healing?”   My experience is that mainline Protestant churches have restricted their response or have just gone along with the scientific culture. 

Doug: A good point.  Presbyterians tend not to think in these terms.  We’re more comfortable with language about life change and the forgiveness of sins than the language of becoming whole, but Jesus clearly saw forgiveness, transformation, and healing as belonging together.  With your encouragement over the years, I have started to think more and more about my work as healing the lives of broken people.

Thanks so much for having this conversation with me.  I’m sure we’ll be having more.

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Struggles of a twenty-something Christian

young adults

Okay, since not all parents have children who go to seminary and decide to pursue a vocation in parish ministry, I decided to ask my other daughter to write another guest blog – this time from the perspective of someone who doesn’t work at a church.  I’m happy to introduce this other daughter.  Meet Elizabeth Brouwer.

Because of my dad (Pastor-Daddy or P-Diddy, as we have affectionately nicknamed him), my sister and I basically grew up at church. For youth group, play rehearsal, or just those days when Mom was working and we had to run errands with Dad, we spent a lot of time exploring all the nooks and crannies of First Presbyterian Church of Wheaton.

Now I am a mid-twenties graduate student, and my church life has changed. And my sister accurately described the struggle in her guest blog on my dad’s blog: going to church has become somewhat “difficult” and “uncool.” It’s tough to set aside an adequate amount of time to develop church community, and the apathy of my Christian peers often rubs off on me.

And I can tell that my spiritual life has subsequently become less rich.

But I have discovered inspiration to reinvigorate my church life in an unexpected place: my friends of other faiths.

Take for example my friend and classmate, Amena. She is a Muslim from Flint, Michigan, of Pakistani descent. Amena is sweet, goofy, and crazy smart. She also wears a hijab, prays five times a day without fail, and doesn’t drink alcohol.

One day, while we were talking about meeting people in new places, she told me she likes to make friends at Mosque. In her words, “It’s easy to make friends after praying next to someone.” While she does get some grief about wearing a hijab (people constantly ask her if she knows this one other person in Michigan who ALSO wears a headscarf), Amena displays her religion with a cool confidence that I don’t see in many Christians my age.  And her dedication to her faith moves me.

Next meet my Jewish college roommate and lifelong friend, Deborah. Deborah hails from the Bronx, majored in Judaic musicology, and spent a year teaching orphans in Israel.

I have learned an embarrassing amount about the Old Testament through Deborah, and she challenges me to clarify important questions about my faith. What daily rituals, such as her commitment to being kosher and keeping Shabbos, make God a regular presence in my life? How do my relationships with other Christians reflect my commitment to Christ? Her deliberately spiritual lifestyle makes me reflect on how much I’ve neglected the spiritual component of my life.

As a young-ish adult, I have struggled to define myself as a Christian. It is difficult for me to know the appropriate level of religiosity to display at work and in social situations, especially having come of age in a time when religion is so tied to other uncomfortable topics (cough, politics, cough). But I am comforted and inspired by my religious friends, even if we don’t share the same theology.

I am reminded that, despite the increasing secularism of my generation, I want God to remain the center of my life. And this relationship with God, beyond filling my life with redeeming grace and love, helps me make meaningful connections with others.

And I love him for all the surprising ways he reveals himself to me, even when I question how I want to reveal him to others.

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Stalking for Christ’s Sake

Evangelism clip art


All the cool, successful bloggers out there have occasional “guest bloggers,” and so (wanting to be cool and successful) I’ve invited my favorite blogger to guest blog for me.  Yes, as it turns out, she’s also my daughter, so I didn’t have to pay anything for this.  And I’m also proud to introduce her to you.  Meet Sarah Brouwer.  She’s Associate Pastor for Congregational Care at Ladue Chapel, an 1800-member Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in suburban St. Louis.  The views of guest bloggers are not necessarily the view of the totally cool and so-very-important head blogger here, but in this case I’m totally in agreement (and wish I had written it before she did).

On the rare occasion my whole family is together (immediate and extended!) we almost inevitably end up talking about church.  We’re a churchy family.  I along with two of my cousins have become pastors.  Yes, Doug’s one, too.  And my mother’s an elder, along with half my aunts and uncles (approximation here).  Oh, we are SO COOL in my family.  Except, when we’re not.

The thing is, church isn’t cool anymore.  (Was it ever?)  No one my age goes to church.  In fact, most people of most ages don’t go to church – it’s just not the thing to do.  Granted, most folks in this country believe in something, but you can get that thing in nature (apparently, but I’m more of an indoor girl myself).  My dentist told me the other day that he was leaving to go to his church next week…in the Rockies.

But I’m not here to barrage you with woes about church attendance, or lack thereof.  I want to offer a few ideas, though, on how to get your friends to church.  It’s called… wait for it… evangelism.  Yes.  If you believe that Jesus has transformed your life, you’re called to shout it from the mountaintops!  Not really, but you could!

I’ve learned a few things in my brief time in ministry.  The most important thing being relationships are KEY to evangelism.  Oh, you knew that already.

The thing is, like I said, church isn’t cool anymore.  And frankly, relationships are hard.  People spend all their time dealing with relationships elsewhere, and they’re sick of doing it come Sunday.  They deal with relationships in business, family, friends, children, colleagues, etc., and they don’t want to do more of it in a place that isn’t going to move them, change them, transform them.

So here’s our dilemma: no one’s coming to church because church isn’t cool.  But, those of us who are here, who are not cool, are called to evangelize.  Evangelism, I think, is best done in relationships with others.  But, who wants to be friends with uncool people?

Follow me?

Here’s what I think.  I think people are craving community – real, authentic, genuine community with folks who care about them, and show them what it means to live out the good news of the Gospel.  But, they don’t have time to figure us out.  They think we’re weird with our rituals and our stories and our judgmental stuff, and they can’t see past all that muckity muck to the heart of the Christian life.  People don’t and won’t know what we are all about and how wonderful it is unless we build relationships with them… and stalk them until they come to church.

But, seriously.  The most amazing ministry I’ve started at my new church in St. Louis is a young women’s book club.  We meet once a month.  Hardly any of them come to church on a regular basis, but they make it to book club (maybe for the wine and cheese but, hey, it works).  This book club, which now has almost 30 young women on the email address list, has now become like a little church.  And while I am really going to try and say this without sounding like I’m bragging, though I am, the reason they come is because of me.  I’ve worked my tail off to build relationships with them.  I take them to coffee.  I email them relentlessly.  I don’t back off.  I buy them lunch.  I follow up when they come to book club and tell them how awesome it was that they were there.  I also hold them accountable when they don’t come, though usually it’s in the form of a “we really, really missed you last night, but know you must be super busy.”  Trust me, these girls know that I am NOT COOL.  But, I know they want to be around me, and around each other.  Together, we’re different from the usual people they run into on a day-to-day basis.  They know that I care about them, and I care about them because I love Jesus, and they, in turn, are starting to know about Jesus, too, and love one another.  It’s beautiful.  It’s church.

There are some downsides to this process, though.  As an uncool person, you can tend to feel rejection easily.  I get it but, trust me, it’s not personal.  People do get busy.  They won’t come to stuff.  Deal with it.

So many church people I know often refuse to involve people on the outskirts (especially young adults) because they aren’t reliable.  Eventually they don’t try to include them in anything and write them off.  IF YOU FEEL THESE THINGS, THEN NONE OF THIS WILL WORK.  Just remember… it’s not about you.

Evangelism through relationships is hard work.  But knowing that you were responsible for pulling someone in, for showing them the beauty of being in community and finding Christ?  That’s reward enough right there.  And God will thank you, too.

I know I write more than Doug does, but hopefully you made it this far.

Here’s my benediction:

Go out, you uncool church people.  Go pursue those people on the margins.  Write them emails, Facebook them, call them, tell them you want to SEE them, and do it in Jesus’ name.  They’ll think you’re weird, but they’ll love you for it in the end.  Amen.

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My annual Christmas letter

Advent 2012

Dear family and friends,

Susan and I have been empty nesters for a while now, so you’d think the focus of our lives would be on this exciting next chapter of our lives.

Not so.

We’re still mostly focused on the kids and their lives – to the point of texting each other all through the presidential debates last fall and sometimes even during University of Michigan football games. Lizzy calls us on her way to the library, and Sarah calls on her way to the gym. And then we use the speakerphone to hang on every word. I hope that’s not pathetic.

The highlight of the year for our family – without even a close second – was Lizzy’s wedding, and Susan who is now nearly retired spent the better part of the year getting ready for it. I had no idea weddings required so much preparation.

Lizzy met Daniel a few summers ago when both of them were counselors at Camp Roger in western Michigan – ironically enough, the same camp Susan and I attended most summers when we were children. (All former campers may now sing “On the Shores of Little Bostwick.” If you’ve forgotten the lyrics, which I find hard to believe, click here.)

The wedding and reception were held in Holland, Michigan, where our family vacationed most summers and where we still seem deeply rooted even though we’ve lived elsewhere most of our lives.

The weather on that August day was beautiful. In fact, everything about it was wonderful. Wedding day photos included all the favorite Holland locations – from the Peanut Store on 8th Street to Ottawa Beach State Park.

Lizzy is finishing her Masters in Public Health at the University of Michigan and applying to PhD programs for next fall.  I used to help her with editing and proofreading her school papers, something I very much enjoyed, but the last item she sent – titled “Decentralized Financing of Health Facilities: Policy Lessons From Flexible Financing Under India’s National Rural Health Mission” – was very nearly impossible for me to understand. I’m afraid she may have to find a new editor.

Daniel is riding the crest of the wave known as Apple, and now works at their Ann Arbor location. We’re thrilled of course that he’s part of our family – and not just because of his amazing technical skills, though we do seem to have lots of little jobs for him when he visits (like resetting our chirping smoke detectors).

Sarah is living in St. Louis now and serving as Associate Pastor for the Ladue Chapel in the leafy suburb of Ladue. (Yes, another hyperlink. Once you figure these things out, it’s hard not to make use of them!) It’s fun to have another Presbyterian pastor in the family, but to Susan’s dismay lots of our phone conversations consist of much-dreaded “church talk.” Sorry, we can’t help it.

Sarah and Ben bought a house in an interesting and charming University City neighborhood last spring.  Susan and Lizzy went out “to get them settled” which, from the looks of the credit card statement, meant buying lots of sheets and towels and then going out for dinner and drinks.

Ben has a job he likes – with Lockheed Martin – and seems to be making ample use of his graduate degree in environmental policy which I didn’t think would be possible. Not as much fun as his old job with the Minnesota Timberwolves, but fewer really tall people.

The regular readers of my blog already know about the trip Susan and I took to Africa last month. For those of you who are new to Doug’s Blog, welcome, and here’s a brief recap.

Cape Town is a gorgeous city. Table Mountain is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, and now I understand why. Kruger National Park and the game preserves in the northeastern part of South Africa are fascinating.  And the tiny bit of mission work we did at the end of the trip was, as these things almost always are, life-changing.

Being asked to preach at the Calvary of Hope Christian Church in Acornhoek, South Africa, was fun and humbling. When I first stood up front and looked at the congregation that morning, with my interpreter standing next to me, I choked up and couldn’t go on. Occasionally I have these moments when I realize where I am and what I’ve been given the privilege to do.

Life in Florida is good.  We’re in relatively good health, and if I finally learn to use sunscreen on a regular basis, I might have a few good years left. We like winters here a lot.  We’re not, however, in love with Florida summers, which seem to stretch well into October. Susan is sadly no longer with Habitat for Humanity, but she’s with me, which I like.

We love the people at our church who have welcomed us warmly and enthusiastically. We were drawn initially by the loving group of people we met, and we continue to enjoy that and – I hope – respond in kind.

As always, I look to this season of the year to re-kindle the hope that God is about to do something new in the world. And so we watch and wait along with people of faith down through the centuries. Advent is also the time of year to renew our friendships with you. We wish you a joy-filled Christmas.


Doug and Susan

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A memorable birthday card

I still love the homemade birthday cards from my kids, even when they’re 25 years old. Received this one last week from my (younger) daughter…

Things to do on your birthday:

1. Take a lot of pregnant pauses [something I’m known for, especially among family members]
2. Thoroughly clean the kitchen, then declare that “kitchen is closed!”
3. Bleach the crap out of something [it’s true, I love to use lots the bleach when doing the laundry]
4. Play on iPad until you fall asleep with your mouth open
5. Be generally awesome and wonderful

Love you, Papa!

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It’s not all misty-eyed pride!

Having a daughter who’s a Presbyterian pastor is a mixed blessing. You might have thought it was all misty-eyed pride, but that’s not so.

On the one hand, she’ll say something like, “All of you baby-boomer pastors should retire and make room for us younger pastors to move up.”

I mean, really, it’s hard to disregard a comment like that when it comes from your own daughter.  With other young pastors, I could simply pretend that I didn’t hear, that something was wrong with my hearing aid, maybe.  When your own daughter says something like that, you kind of have to respond.

What she’s saying, I know, is that it’s time for my generation, which to her and her pastor-friends has failed abysmally, to move along to make way for her generation of bright-eyed, energetic, dynamic, clear-thinking friends, who are ready to take the church to new and unprecedented heights.

But then, just when I’m ready to encourage her to find another career path, I’ll read her blog one morning and find that she’s articulated some important truth about the life of faith that, after more than thirty years of trying, I’ve been unable to do.  And not only that, it will be so good that I’ll decide to post it on my own blog, Facebook page, and Twitter account.

This morning, for example, I saw that my daughter had written something on her blog about church members who toil away without recognition, who do tedious and monotonous work without a penny in compensation, and who (generally) ask for nothing except a thank you.

She said it in such a thoughtful, caring way, and she even quoted a lovely bit of scripture (1 John 3), that her words took my breath away.

That’s my kid, I thought. She’s got a pastor’s heart.  And I’m so proud, even if she does think I should retire and get out of her way.

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Marriage, covenant, and crazy loyalty

At my younger daughter’s wedding this summer, the preacher (who happens to be my niece) reflected in her homily on the meaning of covenant, which is at the center of a Christian understanding of marriage.

It was easily, by the way, the best wedding homily I’ve ever heard, and I’m not just saying that because we’re related and because I’m very, very proud to be her uncle, though of course those are also factors.

She described covenant, the relationship God has with his people – and I don’t know if this was scripted or if it just slipped out – as “crazy loyalty.”

God is committed to us, she said, in a way that doesn’t make sense, that defies explanation, and that runs counter to all human expectations.  And that, she said, is a model for our own relationships – in particular, for our marriages.

I like that.  Crazy loyalty.

But the truth is, we don’t see much of it around us.

I read in a recent Christian Century article that we live in “a world marked by infidelity, each of us debilitated in our capacity to do what we say we will do.”

That’s a strong statement, of course, but the author backs it up with a compelling argument, and he ends by writing that “broken promises add up.”  They are so much a part of our lives that we just expect them.  We no longer expect to be told the truth. We no longer expect others to believe us when we ourselves make promises.

Which is where the idea of covenant just might be startlingly good news to a world “marked by infidelity.”

Many of us are familiar with contracts.  We enter into lots of them in the course of our lives.  But contracts are different from covenants.  Contracts are made to be broken. They contain escape clauses and expiration dates.  Human relationships – the kind of relationships we long for, the kind of relationships that are nurturing and life-giving – cannot be defined by contracts.

Marriages in particular cannot be defined by a contract, not if we expect them to be more than they often are.

If more of us thought of our relationships as covenant relationships, modeled after God’s own covenant relationship with his people … why, who knows how our lives might change?

When I think of the promises I’ve made in my life – to my wife, to my family, to my church, to my community, to my country – I realize that all of them have been inspired by crazy loyalty.  I’m in these relationships not because they feel just right – often they do, but not always.  I’m in them because I’ve been inspired to live differently, to promise differently, to act in a way that for many would be just plain crazy.

I’m in these relationships because of the way God has been in a relationship with me.

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The Crybaby

I cry easily.  Just ask my family.

I cried in the delivery room when my daughters were born.  The first time, in fact, I had so many tears and was so overcome that I unfortunately forgot to use the camera strapped around my neck.  I distinctly remember the other people in the delivery room saying, “Oh, he must be a first-time father,” as though the wonder of childbirth wears off quickly.  By the third or fourth child, it’s all business.

Not for me.

I clearly remember crying in 1998 when Mark McGwire broke Roger Maris’ single-season home-run record, though I now regret having done so, given McGwire’s probable steroid use.  Still, it was quite a moving event, and sporting achievements are as likely to move me to tears as anything else.

If Michigan beats Alabama in their season opener in a couple of weeks, I know the tears will flow.  (Don’t call me during the game.)

I also cried at the sun setting over Lake Michigan last weekend, another moving event for me.

Some people cry at hurt, pain, or sadness.  I tend to cry at joy or beauty.  I think Lake Michigan sunsets are the best glimpses of God’s glory we’re going to get until God calls us home.

I remember team teaching a class at my last church about Marilyn Robinson’s Gilead, one of the most beautiful novels I’ve read in the last 10 years.  My co-teacher was an English professor at a nearby state university and, as it turned out, an astonishingly gifted teacher.  He began by reading a few paragraphs for us and then weeping over the beauty of Robinson’s prose.

And naturally I wept too.  Eventually everyone in the class was crying, and I remember sitting down and allowing this gifted teacher to explain to us why the words were so beautiful.  After the first class I dropped the pretense of being a team teacher. I sat in the front row and cried whenever I felt like it.

Tears have been on my mind lately because my younger daughter was married over the weekend.  Nearly every person who found out that there was going to be a wedding in my family asked me if I was going to officiate.  I told each person (truthfully) that I really only wanted to be the father of the bride.

Another reason – maybe a more important reason – for not acting in the pastor role is this thing with crying.  I am pretty sure I would not have been able to get through the wedding without blubbering.

When I walked my older daughter down the aisle a few summers ago, she and I couldn’t look at each other without making each other cry.  Pictures taken at the back of the church confirm that we were both red-eyed and biting our lower lips.

So, if walking the bride down the aisle is difficult for me to do, imagine what handling the rest of the ceremony might involve.  No one wanted that.

I did agree, however, to give the toast at the reception, and – you guessed it – I cried.  And like yawning, crying often has the effect of causing other people to do the same thing.

When I told everyone how much life and joy and delight my daughter had brought into my life, I found that I couldn’t go on, and I found that many other people there that night – those I could see through my tears – were also crying.

The thing is, I wasn’t sad.  I was happy. As happy as I’ve ever been.

And as I type this, and as I remember the wedding and everything that happened that day, I can feel a few more tears coming on.  I just may have to stop typing and find a tissue.

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