May 2010

Taking a little break. Thanks for reading. Back soon.


The Birmingham Botanical Gardens (BBG) in Alabama is a living museum that offers visitors many varieties of fragrant, lovely roses; wildflowers; tropical plants and trees; cacti; outdoor sculpture; and miles of walking paths. Perhaps its best feature, though, is the Japanese Garden.karesansui_wall

That section of BBG features a traditionally-crafted replica tea house, a koi pond with at least a dozen turtles in addition to the fish, and a karesansui. The latter is a rock garden, made of sand meticulously raked to represent waves. Such gardens are considered ideal places for meditation.

The Japanese Garden is not in the interior of the BBG, but on its edge. Just yards from the koi pond, cars race by on a city street, their drivers intent on arriving at their destinations. Standing by the water, one can hear the noise of engines clearly.

Hardly a spot for quiet meditation and centering, we might say. But on second thought, what better place? Surely anyone could achieve peace in solitude, away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. I’m convinced the Japanese Garden was placed where it is intentionally, to remind visitors that the greatest achievement is to find tranquility in chaos and that such a discovery is indeed possible.

Tom Ehrich asks “How else do we find our center except by exploring our edges?” (“On a Journey: Meditation on God in Daily Life,” May 20 , 2010). BBG’s Japanese Garden asks the same question. It puts us right next to the noise and chaos of modern life and invites us to find tranquility in the depths of our being.

© 2010 Tom Cheatham

For more on Japanese Gardens, see

A while back, I wrote about crosses done up in zebra and other prints. I thought I had seen it all then. But as Bruce Cockburn reminds us in a song title, “You’ve Never Seen Everything.”

This I wish I hadn’t seen. I was flipping through one of those free book review Bible coversmagazines from a chain bookstore and ran across the ad pictured at right.

If I thought zebra crosses were silly, this is sillier and more trivial still. Sport Bible covers for men, with free compass, that look like cargo pants or a fishing vest? Urban covers to show your style? Give me a break!

It’s not the Bible kept pristine in a cover that is the book truly revered and obeyed. It’s the dog-eared one with the broken spine from being opened so much. It’s the underlined, coffee- and tear-stained Scripture. It’s the volume not merely taken to church on Sunday in a jacket that reveals your tastes and hobbies, but the book read with attention and care daily for guidance and hope.

Give me a tattered and loved copy of the Scriptures any day. Men, you can show your style in the suits you wear and the car you drive. The way to honor the Bible is to love and obey the God who speaks in it.

© 2010 Tom Cheatham


We can do no great things—only small things, with great love” –Mother Teresa.

“…he [Jesus] had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people”—Hebrews 2:17.

This is the story of two elderly women named Thelma and me.

Thelma #1 was a member of my church when I was a pastor in Kentucky some years ago. Our worship was traditional, but when a month had five Sundays, the fifth Sunday featured a different style of music. Maybe it was jazz or bluegrass or even rock. On one of the rock Sundays, my choir director and I put together a band I named “Head Full of Eyes,” and planned what we felt was an exciting, but conservative, worship experience. It began with my singing and playing on electric guitar “Jesus is the Rock, ‘n’ He Rolls My Blues Away.” The piece wasn’t particularly loud or distorted or even very long. No jumping up and down or other frantic antics. And I was proud of the guitar solo I wrote for the song. But when Susan and I got home after church, she told me, “You scared Thelma.”

That made me very sad, because Thelma was one of my favorites, a sweet and kind lady that was a pleasure to be around. But I guess seeing her pastor in a boldly-patterned shirt playing rock music in church  was too much to take. What I had felt was a conservative performance turned out to be harmful and shocking to one of my beloved members. What I considered little was big.

Thelma #2 I met a week ago yesterday. I write a devotional for the local hospice that’s sent to staff, volunteers, caregivers and patients. So I was invited to a volunteer appreciation luncheon, at which Thelma was also present. As I was leaving, she stopped me. “I just want to see the face of the stranger who knows my heart,” she said. My devotionals had somehow spoken to her, even though I did not know her. Nothing other than God’s providence and Spirit at work can explain that.

Those devotionals don’t take much time to write, truth be told. They’re based on little things that happen to me—seeing a deer grazing by the road, watching my dog run. But again, what I feel is little is big to someone else.

We can never discount the potential impact for ill or for good of our smallest act or word. Jesus took five loaves and two fish offered by a little boy and turned them into sustenance for 5000. He can do the same with our gifts. And when what we consider small causes big hurt, we must trust that somehow in his grace and in his time he will overrule our folly and heal the pain, calm the fear others know due to our actions.

When we do such harm without meaning to, as I did to Thelma #1, our Lord forgives. That’s because he’s no stranger to our foibles, and he knows our hearts.

© 2010 Tom Cheatham