malcolm marler

on a mission to embody grace and compassion in all relationships

Category: My Faith Journey (page 2 of 3)

Life is More than Work

As I write this post on my iPad before going to bed, I hear the words I have been saying to our chaplains on my team at the hospital.

(By the way, my paragraph formatting is a bit off in this blog post at the end regardless how many times I hit the Return key, because paragraphs and new lines do not translate in WordPress when written on an iPad, which is a good metaphor for where I am as well tonight.)

“Life is more than work,” “We are not robots,” “Don’t forget to have fun,” I preach convincingly.  “Spend time with a person(s) whose relationship matters to you.”  I said these things this week.
In the last week, I am one for four of the above.  Not good.

Our Staff Chaplains, Chaplain Residents and Interns are incredible people.  They carry the burdens, griefs, and anxieties of dozens of patients and families every day who are going through the hardest times.  They also pastor our 8,000+ employees through teaching seminars, grand rounds, pausing for hallway conversations, writing personal notes, and making followup phone calls.  They remind persons they are not alone, and that they are loved.  And our team is there 24/7 because a level one trauma center with a thousand patients, a dozen ICUs, never closes.

But back to me, which I often forget and put on the back burner.  Which is the problem.
I know better.
It’s time to remember to actually have fun outside work.  It’s time to remember I can only care for others as well as I care for myself.  It’s time to remember that life is precious.
How about you?  Do you forget to remember these things too?
What do you do to embrace life?
How do you discover your passion especially as we walk through this week of Passion and Passover?
We are not robots.  I heard my own vocal chords say those words.
Quick, help me remember, because my “life formatting” is a bit off.

Remember the Stones

Daisy and I went for a hike today in the woods of sweet home Alabama.  Our twelve year old lab never turns down the opportunity to go for a walk in the woods.

We didn’t have a final destination in mind when we started to drive.  We ended up near Double Springs, AL at Camp McDowell, a beautiful campground owned by the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama.

After we had walked for awhile, I saw a small wooden sign that pointed the way to the “Labyrinth.”   We found it and I was a little bit disappointed initially.  Tree limbs and pine straw made it difficult to know where to enter and how to follow the rock lined path.  Just like life.

We finally figured out where to start and Daisy followed directly behind me walking the labyrinth as well.  A couple of times, the path was unclear due to nature’s messiness, and I had to take my eyes off the ground and look ahead to figure it out.

After a couple of minutes, we made it to the center and sat down.  Daisy lay down beside me chewing on a stick, content to wait.  I looked to my left and was surprised to see several stones that had these words engraved:  BELIEVE, CHARITY, INSPIRE, FRIENDS, HARMONY, TRUST.

The opportunity to hear God’s voice is always near.  The key for me as I walk my daily path is paying close enough attention to the small signs that are right in front of me.  Sometimes I never even see the signs and walk on by and miss the message completely.  Today, thankfully I was walking slow enough to notice.

This labyrinth path is circular and every step eventually leads to the center, and then, back out into the world.  I wonder how my life is like that?

But today, right there in the middle of the moment, there was a still small voice or message.

I was reminded to believe, to love, to inspire, to befriend, to make peace, and to trust.

Along your life path, give yourself the gift of surprise, and remember the lessons of the stones.


My wife, Mary Sullivan, also wrote about walking this same labyrinth about a year ago.  Read it here.

God Questions

This is the tenth in a series on My Faith Journey.  (If you prefer to listen, click on the arrow below.)

Chaplain Mark Allen Johnston and wife, Lisa Compton Johnston

I was going to ask God ‘as there is so much suffering in the world and you are able to do something about it, why don’t you?’ but I was afraid God might ask me the same question.”

Chaplain Mark Allen Johnston posted these words on Facebook today while serving overseas in Japan with the U.S. Army.

Mark’s reflection stopped me in my tracks.

I am aware that I regularly play the role of investigator and ask God most of the questions.

Maybe for a change, I need to stop asking God for all of the answers, and listen to some of the questions God might be asking me?

Questions like:

“Malcolm, when are you going to stop worrying about all of the little things that distract you from living life fully?”


“Malcolm, why do you think it is your job to discover something really big you are supposed to do, when there are people you overlook in front of you every single day?”

I think some of God’s questions begin with:

  1. Who is your neighbor?
  2. What are you doing about persons who are sick?
  3. When are you going to feed the hungry?
  4. Where is the help for the least of these?
  5. How are you going to clothe the naked?
  6. Why are you waiting for someone else to do these things?

What question(s) is God asking you these days?

It’s our turn to listen.

Maybe it’s our turn to answer.

Freedom Prayer

This is the ninth in a series on My Faith Journey.  (If you prefer to listen, click on the arrow below.)

Nine years ago on January 16, 2003, I wrote the following words in my journal late one evening when I was alone:

Tonight, I got on my knees by my couch at home after feeling a strong urging in my heart or gut to do so.

God, I am ready to be free from the effect that my mother’s death had on me when I was 10 and how it has affected me regarding relationships since.

Simple, clear, concise . . . from my heart.

Inside, I felt it was time to accept this truth by faith and begin living “as if” it was true.

I want to love someone with my whole heart, holding nothing back.

How could I know that years of therapy had prepared me to be vulnerable enough with God finally to pray this prayer and mean it?  I had unconsciously locked a corner of my heart around the sharing all of my feelings with significant relationships, thus blocking the possibility of intimacy.

How could I know that I could be changed with a prayer that was so simple?

How could I know that less than two weeks later on January 29th I would be swept off my feet by Mary Beatrice Sullivan in Chapel Hill, NC and marry her nineteen months later?

Vulnerable, heart felt prayers create intimacy with God and others.

Since then, for me the purpose of prayer is not so much convincing God to give me something as much as it is for me to be willing to change.

And then to live like it.

What have you been prepared to pray?  What areas have you locked away due to hurt, grief, or anger?

Go ahead, speak it from your heart, let it go, be not afraid.




Still, a Child of God

This is the eighth in a series on My Faith Journey.

(If you would rather listen, click on the arrow below.)

Some of you are aware that Mary and I joined the Episcopal Church a few years ago.  When people join different churches from their birth families, there is usually a story connected to it.

Mary grew up in a Catholic family and I grew up Baptist.  When we married in 2004, both of us wanted to find a place where we could worship together and follow God’s calling in our lives.

We discovered over time that the Episcopal Church was a good middle ground for us.

The liturgical church wasn’t an easy transition for this Baptist initially.  Learning when to kneel or stand felt like religious gymnastics and distracted me from worship.  I fumbled between the Bible, Book of Common Prayer, and a couple of hymnals during worship.  I left church mad most Sundays because I couldn’t keep up.

Finally one Sunday, I let go and put all of the books down, and closed my eyes, and listened.

That’s when I heard the beautiful, inclusive, formed prayers that became my own.  That’s when I realized how much scripture was actually being read every week in worship.  That’s when I discovered how meaningful communion could be.   And that’s when I knew, the Episcopal church was my new spiritual home.

My faith journey has taught me over the years that God is not restricted to one tribe.

I experienced this lesson of God working through other tribes in a Presbyterian church when they hired me to be their youth director one summer when I was in college.

This truth was confirmed for me when I was a pastoral minister at a Baptist church in Louisville, KY because they were an active part of a community ministry where congregations of all types worked together.   Imagine that.

I was amazed when I moved to Connecticut that a local UCC Congregational church would hire me to be their pastoral minister.  They said, “We have something called ‘dual standing’ so that you can work with us while you keep your other faith connections.”

Some friends have asked me if I am mad at the Baptist church.  How could I be?

The Baptists are the people who introduced me to a God of grace, love, and forgiveness. They are the same Baptists who affirmed my call to ministry by placing their hands on my head to ordain me.  They are the same Baptists who underwrote for my two seminary degrees.  And finally, they are the same Baptists my father and grandfather served as pastors for 50 years each.

Today, I am just grateful.

I am grateful for my wife who is in her first of three years in an Episcopal seminary in Virginia as she moves toward becoming an Episcopal priest.  This is exactly where she needs to be.

I am grateful to be a Director of Pastoral Care in a hospital and going through the process to become ordained in the Episcopal Church.  This is exactly where I need to be.

Thanks to all of you, and my wife, for loving me as I travel this journey of faith.

All I really know is I am a child of God who is trying to find his way.


How have you been surprised in your faith journey?  Please share in the comments below.



Riding Shotgun

This is the seventh in a series on My Faith Journey, and #27 in the series Lessons from My Father.

ri·ding shot·gun

To ride shotgun is to sit in the front passenger seat when riding in a car or other vehicle. It is also used to mean giving actual or figurative support or aid to someone in a situation or project, i.e. to “watch their back.”

My father (Lewis), and my mother, (Martha Lou), and my step mom (Jimmie Ruth) were riding shotgun in the car with me today.

This was happening even though all three are no longer living on this earth.

I took the day off from work to tend to some important family business in Birmingham, Cullman, and Jasper on this ninth day of May, 2011.

As I drove, I turned on one of my Pandora radio stations that plays old Christian hymns.  It took me back to my childhood and the early years of my faith development.  I began to sing out loud.  The words to songs I had not sung in decades flowed out of my mouth.  Harmony filled the car.

Don’t worry, I don’t mean my Father, Mother, and Step Mom were physically with me.  But their influence in my life certainly was.

I could hear their encouragement, “You can do this Malcolm.  Thank you.  We are with you.  You are doing the right thing.  You are not alone.”  Tears streamed down my face and my God it felt good to have a wet face and the company to witness it.

How about you?

Have you felt the presence of positive people in your life during difficult days?

Are you aware that you do not have to do this, whatever “this” is, alone?

Good, because even if the people don’t show up when you need them most, the Spirit who created you is as close as every note you sing, every breath you take, and every tear you share.

Thanks be to God.



Walking the Walk

One of the most meaningful writers I read these days for my spiritual journey is Richard Rohr.

His concise, thoughtful words come from books or articles he has written in a daily email, and can usually be read in 3 minutes or less.  As I walk on my own spiritual path, I find his humility and insistence that God’s love is offered to the entire human family refreshing.

Here is today’s food for thought from Richard (bold print is mine for emphasis):

The mystery of Christ, and Christ consciousness (Romans 12:2, 1 Corinthians 2:16, Ephesians 4:23) is much bigger than Christianity.  Jesus, it seems to me, did not come to earth to create a unique country club or a tribe of people who could say, “We’ve got it and you don’t!

Jesus came to reveal something that is always true everywhere and for everybody.  This is shown in his consistent inclusivity toward all.  Jesus is entirely accepting toward Gentiles, foreigners, sinners by many definitions, those considered ritually unclean, Roman centurions, Samaritans, and outsiders like the Syro-Phoenician woman.  In fact, the only people Jesus does block are those who try to block others (see, for example, Luke 18:9-14).

Many humble people show the fruits and blessings of God-encounter better than those of us who think we have the right words about God-encounter.  We’ve confused having the “right” words, or belonging to the “right” group, with having the actual experience. Just because you think you have the right words for the Mystery does not mean you’ve experienced the Mystery at all.  In fact, any illusion of perfect words destroys the very notion of mystery.  It makes us proud and not humble.

God help me to be a radical example of your love to all people.  Forgive me when I withhold it from others.


(You can get Richard Rohr’s daily meditations in your inbox by signing up here).

A New Freedom

This is the eighth in a series on My Personal Faith Journey.

On the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday on January 17, 2011, it is a time to remember and a time to rekindle his dreams.

I am also reminded of my faith journey and a freedom I experienced as a young boy.

Dr. King has always been one of my heroes which may seem odd.  But it’s true.

When I was born on July 9, 1955, my father was a Baptist pastor in Selma, AL.

A few months later on Thursday, December 1st, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to white people on a city bus in Montgomery, AL, which was a local law at the time.  For over a year, Dr. King helped to organize the black community to refuse to ride the buses (the primary paying customers) until December 20, 1956, when a federal ruling took effect saying that the law was unconstitutional.

We moved to Montgomery in 1960 when my father, Lewis Marler, became pastor of Ridgecrest Baptist Church (until 1970) on a street that is now named Rosa Parks Blvd, just four miles from Dexter Avenue Baptist Church where Dr. King served as pastor.

These were my “growing up years” of kindergarten through the ninth grade.  They were also growing up times for many adults in Alabama as well as in U.S. history for the civil rights of all people.

My father and mother talked to me about Dr. King’s ministry in kind, compassionate language which was in stark contrast to what I heard in our white community.  I remember deacons in our church who would talk about that “trouble-maker King” as they smoked their cigarettes under the big oak tree after Sunday School.

But I never heard that kind of attitude in our home.  My parents talked about how faith and behavior went together.  What we said and how we treated others, mattered.

For me personally, the Civil Rights movement also became the time that my personal faith journey was changing.

In 1963 I made what Baptists called “a profession of my faith” in church. That is to say, I walked down the aisle after my father preached one Sunday and fell into my daddy’s arms and said, “I want to accept Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior.”  I was eight years old.

Prior to this action, I talked with my mother the week before about what this decision meant.  She wanted to make sure I knew what I was doing since I was so young.  So, she asked me to talk with my father on Sunday in his office like most children did in our church who were considering this big faith decision.

I remember walking into my father’s office. We sat down in two chairs in front of his desk and he said, “Malcolm, tell me about what you are thinking about doing.”  Of course, my mother had filled him in about our conversation earlier.  As we talked, he asked a few questions.  He concluded by saying, “This is your decision.  You are the only one who can make it.  You will know when it is right for you.  Let’s pray about it together.”  He put his arms around me and prayed that God would lead me throughout all of my life.

On that Sunday, I discovered a new kind of personal freedom in the heart of the Civil Rights movement. My personal freedom was the realization that my personal sins could be forgiven.  I had the realization in my heart that God loved me and would always love me and be with me, no matter what.  It was a beginning.

It would be years later before I realized that “God loves everyone and that we are all equal” was not everyone’s experience who lived in my community, or in the world.

Dr. King’s words in his freedom speech meant something different at the time to this eight year old, “Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Or was it so different after all?  We are all called to be free.  Free to love, and free to ask for forgiveness when we fall short.

We are called to help others find that freedom.



Drinking from a New Fountain

This is the seventh in a series on My Faith Journey.

I was nineteen years old and a sophomore at Clemson University in the spring of 1975.  As the President of The Fellowship of Christian Athletes during my four years there, one of the things I did regularly was speak at churches on Sundays.  It was great fun.  I had been inspired by various football players at Alabama who did the same thing when I was growing up and it was an opportunity to give back.

One weeknight I had the opportunity to talk to a “youth rally” of high school students from several churches in Greenville, SC.  At the end of the service, a young man in his 20’s by the name of Ben Wham came up to me and told me how much he enjoyed it and added, “Would you be interested in a summer job as our youth director?”

I was surprised and flattered. The church was close enough to Clemson so that I could work out with some of my football teammates throughout the summer.  “Yes, I would be glad to talk to you more about it,” I heard myself say without hesitating.  It wasn’t long before I met Don Collins, the new pastor at Fountain Inn Presbyterian Church.  Don was a gentle, loving man who assured me that being a Baptist wasn’t a problem for him, and that maybe we could learn something from one another.

I had never been in a Presbyterian Church until the summer I worked in one. I discovered that I loved working in a church as much as I loved playing football.  We had weekly programs for children and youth.  We went on an awesome beach retreat and much more.  It was the beginning of my calling into ministry though I wouldn’t know that for another year.

Fountain Inn Presbyterian Church introduced this Baptist boy to a liturgical style of worship.  “The Lord be with you,” Don would say at the beginning of worship, and the congregation responded in unison “And also with you.”  I learned to say the Nicene Creed for the first time and we said The Lord’s Prayer together each week in worship.  I was intrigued by a new form of church government with a “Session” which is similar to Baptist Deacons or an Episcopal Vestry.

But I also experienced that Presbyterians loved God and one another as much as Baptists did.  That sounds silly now but it was news to me at the time.  This was an important internal shift for me.

I thank God for Don Collins, Ben and Dora Wham, Glenn Garrett, and many other friends for influencing my faith journey.  Love is the language of faith, no matter what tongue speaks it.

Thirty-five years later I stand in an Episcopal congregation, and I hear my pastor, Bob, say, “Peace be with you,” and we say, “And also with you.” And the familiar liturgy, prayers, and style of worship of so many years ago remind me that God’s family is bigger than I can imagine.

This Sunday I will close my eyes in worship and thank God for the people of Fountain Inn Presbyterian Church in South Carolina, and for their contribution to my faith journey.

What about you? What or who has broadened your understanding of God in your faith journey?

In the meantime, peace be with you.

Forgiving Father

This is the sixth in a series on My Faith Journey, and #26 in the series Lessons from My Father.

One image of God I had growing up was to understand God as a loving and forgiving Father.

It was easier for me to imagine God this way because I had a father with those characteristics in my life.  My father paid attention to me, told me regularly that he loved me, and constantly showed up when I needed him most. It would only be later in my life that I would realize that many people did not have this kind of relationship with their father.

Lewis Marler made it easier for me to understand God by the way he loved me, forgave me, disciplined me, and guided me.

Here’s a story to illustrate.

I was about seven years old and I knew I was in trouble one day because my mother said, “Wait until your father gets home,” which was not a good thing.  It wasn’t long before I heard her giving him the scoop after he got home from work.  He came into my room and asked me if it was true what I had done.  I nodded yes as I sniffled.

And then he spanked me with his hand. In the 60’s, spanking a child was a normal thing.  He connected two or three times as I jumped around and cried like crazy.  He instructed me to stay in my room until I could come out and apologize for what I had done.

A few minutes later, I walked into the den and before I could get the words out of my mouth he asked me to come stand beside him.  He said, “Malcolm, what do you have to say?”  I squeaked, “I’m sorry.”

“Then I forgive you,” he responded warmly.

He drew me close to him with a hug and said, “I want you to know that I am sorry for spanking you today.”

I looked at him surprised and he added, “I had a hard day at work today and I think I was more frustrated with work than I was  angry with you.  I think I punished you more than you deserved.  I am sorry.  Sometimes I make mistakes too. Will you forgive me?”  I nodded yes and hugged him tighter.

And that was one of the days I learned about forgiveness in my faith journey.  If my parent could ask me for forgiveness, I could do the same.  He modeled forgiveness, offering and asking.  A loving relationship was the result.

So I ask you my reader and friend.  What kind of images did you have of God growing up?  I’d love to hear in the comments section below.


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